ANDOVER, Mass. -- When E.J. Perry arrived as Andover’s third football coach in the last three seasons, he asked his seniors to find it within themselves to faith in the journey they were about to undertake.
They did, and that faith has been rewarded. Thanks in part to a stifling defense led by Mike McGovern and an Andrew Coke-led offense that hung tough and persevered through some tough stretches, the Golden Warriors defeated Central Catholic, 19-7, at Lovely Field and are going to the postseason for the first time since 1975.
“This is for the kids. I had to come in here and ask them to believe in me and they responded,” Perry said. “For a group of seniors to respond and believe in a new coach for the third time is remarkable. I’ll never forget this senior class. 35 years they haven’t been to the playoffs, 35 years they haven’t won an MVC title. Year one, we got it done.”
Andover’s (8-3) last game saw its defense allow 82 points to Lowell in an 8-overtime classic, and defensive coordinator Shawn Theriault and the rest of the staff knew they had to change that in order to topple the Raiders and capture the Merrimack Valley Conference Large title.
McGovern had an interception in his own end zone, deflected another pass, and made tackles all over the field to lead a unit that held Central Catholic (7-4) to 158 yards of offense and just one drive that traveled further than 27 yards.
“The defense was awesome,” praised Perry. “Shawn (Theriault) came off that last game and he was upset about the 82 points. I told him, when they go to that overtime, it’s like playing 3-on-3 basketball. It’s not real. I just told him to stick in there and this defense was unbelievable.”
Added Andover captain/lineman Connor Clancy, “The defense was awesome. Coach (Tim) Briggs, Coach Theriault, Coach (Joe) Iarrobino and Coach (Steve) Silva, they all had us prepared for this game. We knew everything they were going to do from the screens to the draws. We were perfectly prepared.”
When Andover had the ball, it spent most of its time in the hands of junior quarterback Andrew Coke. Coke finished with 129 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, a good chunk of which came on two fourth-quarter possessions where Coke shifted to tailback and Tom Dempsey took the snaps, including the game’s final TD with 1:54 left to play.
“They were really shutting us down in the second half,” Coke said. “That fourth quarter drive was really what did it. I went to running back, Tommy Dempsey went to quarterback and we just decided we were going to pound it down their throats and do what we always did this whole season.”
Freddie Scribner (9 carries, 78 rushing yards) broke loose for a 60-yard run on the game’s first play from scrimmage, which eventually led to a 37-yard field goal by Mark Zavrl. After trading turnovers, Andover forced Central to punt, and Coke led his team on a 10-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a two-yard TD run by McGovern. Zavrl would add another field goal late in the half, this one a 42-yarder.
Meanwhile, the Andover defense was taking control of the game. The Raiders first five possessions went 6, 9, 2, 23 and 2 yards respectively. Central’s best chance came on the final drive of the half, as big runs by Matt McDermott and Cam Walsh moved the Raiders to the Andover 11. However, McGovern stepped in front of a McDermott pass in the end zone, and the Golden Warriors were able to take a 12-0 lead into the break.
Central had trouble getting out of its own way at times, with a combination of penalties and miscues on snaps leading to big losses. They did make things interesting in the fourth quarter on a drive that started at the Andover 27, went all the way back to the CC 45, and then back into the red zone (aided greatly by three Andover penalties) before Trae Musumarra barreled in from the one with 7:58 left to make it a 12-7 game.
“I tip my hat to Andover because their defense hung in there and we felt like we were treading water all day,” admitted Raiders coach Chuck Adamopoulos. “We got penalties at the wrong times and it felt like we were always first and 25. We didn’t play well enough to win, and they deserved it because they played better than we did.”
Central Catholic 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Andover 9 3 0 7 -- 19
A - Mark Zavrl 37 field goal
A - Mike McGovern 2 run (pass failed)
A - Zavrl 42 field goal
CC - Trae Musumarra 1 run (Cam Walsh kick)
A - Andrew Coke 6 run (Zavrl kick)