NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Starting an inexperienced quarterback and breaking in new players across the board, many expected Andover to struggle out of the gates.
Well, the Golden Warriors did for about a quarter, falling behind rival North Andover 12-3 early in the second. But senior Will Eikenberry provided visiting Andover with a game-changing play, and sophomore quarterback Oliver Eberth refused to let early mistakes sink his team, leading the Warriors to a come-from-behind 33-32 win in overtime.
Minutes into the second, Eikenberry caught a block from a pulling guard and turned a 2nd and 14 into a 75-yard touchdown run. Eikenberry strolled untouched into the end zone, and the raucous Scarlet Knight crowd fell silent for the first time all game.
"(The run) was a big momentum changer," Eikenberry said. "We had two great senior (linemen) step up in Ben Hartford and Matt Sutliff with their blocks on that one, and it was clear skies for me."
The Knights built their lead on the back of play making junior Robert Shkliew. The speedy receiver first hauled in a 30-yard touchdown grab from senior quarterback Casey Walsh, then took it himself on a jet sweep for a two yard touchdown run.
The run came just moments after Eberth was intercepted for the first time, handing North Andover the ball inside the Andover 10. It would not be the only turnover for the young signal caller.
After the Warriors were pinned on their own nine by a Knight punt, Eberth was picked off by North Andover junior James Foote, who ran it back 18 yards for what appeared to be the game sealing touchdown. It pushed the Knight lead to 26-19 with eight minutes to play, but Eberth wasn’t done yet.
"The quarterback competition has been going for weeks, and I just got my opportunity and wanted to step up," Eberth said. "It's hard to even put into words how I feel, I just couldn't imagine coming here and playing like this."
With less than three minutes to play, North Andover took over at its own 17. After three consecutive runs that netted only five yard, the Knights lines up to punt, but the kick was nipped at the line of scrimmage and Andover fell on it at the Knights’ 10. Eberth would complete a short bubble screen for five yards, but then immediately took a sack for a loss of two. Facing third and goal from the seven, Eberth called his own number, keeping it off left tackle for a touchdown to tie the game at 26.
"We just kept clicking, and we knew we weren't going to lose," Eberth said. "There was not a doubt. Not a doubt."
In overtime special teams miscues, both early and late, would come back to haunt the Knights. North Andover had missed a pair of extra points on its first two touchdowns, and went 1-2 on two point conversions. When Walsh found Shkliew for a six-yard score to start overtime, it was obvious that coach John Rafferty was going for two.
Unfortunately for the Knights, the two point try fell incomplete in the right corner of the end zone, and Eberth would again rise to the occasion for Andover, finding junior receiver Christopher Nicholas on a quick out to tie the game. An extra point from senior kicker Ryan Payne would end it less than a minute later, as the Warriors completed the comeback to win 33-32.
"North Andover has a lot of hype around them this year, and Andover had question marks," Eikenberry said. "I knew we could pull it off, we just had to believe in ourselves... We'll be back. As the season goes on, we're just going to get better and better. I think we've got one of the best defenses in the state, so that's gonna really help us. You'll see us in the playoffs."
Next up for the suddenly dangerous Warriors is a home date with BC High next Thursday. Meanwhile, North Andover will have a week to lick its wounds before traveling to Beverly on Sept. 20.