ANDOVER, Mass. -- If you can believe it, things just got crazier in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
Coming off an eight-point loss to Central Catholic the week before that essentially knocked it out of contention for the MVC Large title, Lowell came from behind with a minute left to beat previously-unbeaten No. 13 Andover, 42-35. And with it, the fight for the division's playoff berth just got more interesting.
“Whatever the kids have gone through all year, they’ve had a real good attitude,” said Lowell coach John Florence. “It’s a great group of kids, and we talk about whether it was a win, we put it behind us, if it was a loss, put it behind us and move on to the next week.”
Andover (8-1, 1-1) led 28-26 to star the final quarter, when the game became very MVC-ish, in that the offenses completely took over. Minutes after taking over at its own 40-yard line, Lowell quarterback Cam Latta hit Jack Galvin on a short swing pass that he took up the left sideline to give Lowell (7-2, 2-1) its first lead of the game.
Andover would come back and answer on its next possession. After a defensive pass interference penalty put the ball in Lowell territory, Andover quarterback CJ Scarpa (16-of-27, 282 yards, 3 TDs, 1 rushing TD) hit Will Heikkinen (7 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD) on a 35-yard go route down the sideline to put the ball on the six. Seconds later, Scarpa connected with Cam Farnham (6 catches, 99 yards, 2 TDs) for a touchdown.
The away team wasn’t phased, however. With 3:33 left and down by a point, Lowell methodically moved the ball down the field, utilizing its running game and timeouts along the way.
“We were pretty confident, we knew we were running the ball well all second half, so we just kept running it down their throats,” said Latta. “The offensive line stepped up big. They were moving guys off the ball, and we just kept going.”
Finally, with 1:04 left, Latta hit his favorite target, Galvin (15 catches, 159 yards, 4 TDs) on a 10-yard rub route in the back of the endzone for the go-ahead score.
“That’s what we do every day on Thursdays, we go through that two-minute drill,” said Galvin. “We just work on it. It was the offensive line, it was everybody. Cam did a heck of a job. He didn’t quit. That’s what we’ve been saying all week: no quit. That’s what we did tonight.”
Andover got another crack at things with under a minute to go, and it seemed like they could possibly at least extend the game. Scarpa hit Farnham for 18 on the first play of the drive, and a roughing the passer penalty tacked on 15 more yards on the end of the play. This put the ball at the Lowell 35 with about 45 seconds to go. However, a sack brought the offense back 10 yards, then a personal foul brought things back 15 more, erasing all the positive yardage just gained.
Scarpa was sacked on 4th and very long, ending the game and Andover’s any hopes of keeping its undefeated streak alive.
Skipped a beat: The normally efficient Andover offense had some bumps in the road Friday. In the first quarter, with the team driving deep in Lowell territory, running back Jack Sylvester fumbled, and Lowell scooped it up.
Coming off a Will Heikkinen interception with less than a minute left in the first half, it appeared Andover called for a reverse of some kind, but Lowell sniffed it out quickly. When the ball was handed off to Sylvester, a Lowell defensive lineman met him in the backfield. Facing the possibility of lost yardage if tackled, Sylvester tried to make the pitch to a wide receiver anyway. The exchange was bobbled and eventually secured by a defender.
In the third quarter, Sylvester fumbled the ball away again. On Andover’s next offensive possession, with the ball deep in its own territory, the center sent a high snap over CJ Scarpa’s head. With players from both sides converging trying to get the ball, it was eventually recovered in the endzone by Lowell’s Ngiiva Mason for the defensive touchdown.
Scarpa fumbled another snap in the fourth quarter, capping off a tough night for a usually sure-handed offense.
Ground and pound: One of Lowell’s biggest halftime adjustments was its reliance on its run game. Latta was 11 for 19 for 106 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs in the first half, and the team was down 22-13. So in an attempt to not put the entire game on the quarterback, and to neutralize the Andover offense by taking the ball out of its hands, Lowell turned to the run game.
After lining up in the traditional Pistol formation with a quarterback in the shotgun and a running back lined up behind him, Lowell started the second half with another running back lining up next to the quarterback to act as a lead blocker for back that was behind the quarterback.
On its first offensive possession, the offense went 49 yards in 13 plays, all runs, for a touchdown. The lead back was working the same way a fullback would in a traditional I-formation.
“We’re fortunate enough to have five senior offensive linemen,” said Florence. “We just said, ‘Hey, we gotta ride you guys,’ and kinda keep the ball out of Andover’s hands. That was big too. So getting some drives, killing some clock, but also putting the ball in the endzone and the end of the drives.”
Ngiiva Mason, who had two carries for 0 total yards in the first half, had 16 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown in the second.
Latta helped himself immensely with his feet, finishing the game with 28 carries for 160 yards to go along with his 179 yards and 4 passing touchdowns. He finished with 339 total yards of offense in the game.
LOWELL 42, NO. 13 ANDOVER 35
LOW --- 7 6 13 16 --- 42
AND --- 8 14 6 7 --- 35
A - Cam Farnham 48 pass from CJ Scarpa (Cam Davey pass from Scarpa)
L - Jack Galvin 44 pass from Cam Latta (Zach Noel kick)
A - Jack Sylvester 49 run (Will Heikkinen pass from Scarpa)
L - Galvin 36 pass from Latta (kick failed)
A - Scarpa 1-yard run (rush failed)
A - Heikkinen 34 pass from Scarpa (pass failed)
L - Ngiiva Mason 5 run (Noel kick)
L - Quintero Alex 0 fumble recovery (pass failed)
L - Galvin 20 pass from Latta (Galvin pass from Latta)
A - Farnham 6 pass from Scarpa (Oliver Ebert kick)
L - Galvin 10 pass from Latta (Latta run)