TEWKSBURY, Mass. –- With the lights shining bright, for the first time in Doucette Stadium, it would be business as usual for the hometown Tewksbury Redmen on Friday night.
Tewksbury (6-0) secured their third consecutive Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title as they defeated Haverhill 28-14 in the first ever night game played in the history of Doucette Stadium.
The Redmen brought in the portable lights for the “Friday Night Lights” event and the players responded, coming out strong on their opening drive of the game.
The 12-play, 70-yard drive was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Johnny Aylward to fullback Tom Casey, out of the backfield, to give Tewksbury a 7-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Haverhill would respond with 7:57 on the clock in the second quarter, as running back Ian Kessel scored to tie the game at 7-7. The sophomore showed off his speed and explosiveness on the 14-yard touchdown run that concluded an 85-yard Haverhill scoring drive.
Kessel’s touchdown was set up by a beautiful 33-yard completion from quarterback Shane Finn to wide receiver Piero Garcia. Kessel rushed for 43 of his team-high 65 yards on the scoring drive.
“They are a strong team up front,” Tewksbury head coach Brian Aylward said of Haverhill’s offensive line. “They have three very good backs and have a lot of good, hard-nosed kids.”
Tewksbury would regain the lead on the following possession, as they would execute another 70-yard scoring drive that Casey would complete, as the junior took it in from three yards out to give Tewksbury a 14-7 lead with 3:23 remaining in the half.
Key Moment: With time running out in the first half Tewkbury backed Haverhill up deep in their own territory and forced a punt that gave the Redmen favorable field position at the Haverhill 27 yard line with 2:47 remaining in the half.
James Sullivan (124 rushing yards) would capitalize on the short field, as the junior running back would take it in from two yards out, with 1:17 on the clock, to give Tewksbury a 21-7 lead that they would take to the half.
“That was huge,” Aylward said of the final scoring sequence. “It ended up being real huge with how the second half played out. That was a critical time there. We were pretty conservative right there with the timeouts and we have a tremendous amount of respect for that coaching staff at Haverhill.”
Both teams would exchange fourth quarter touchdowns as Johnny Aylward tossed a 38-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dick for Tewksbury and Kessel would run in another touchdown (18 yards) for Haverhill, as both teams turned up the defensive intensity and limited each other’s scoring opportunities in the second half.
Winning Balance: With the win the Tewksbury continued to show a balanced team approach of using a strong running attack, timely passing, strong special teams and a staunch defensive effort.
Tewksbury is now averaging 35 points per game and has outscored their combined opponents 206-82 through their first six wins.
“All around I think our guys made plays when we needed to make plays,” Aylward said. “Special teams too; I thought they made some great plays on the kickoffs.”
The defensive effort and the running game (280 yards rushing) were the stories all night as both factors seemed to eventually wear down the big and strong Haverhill front lines.
Haverhill received strong defensive performances on the night from seniors Michael Kwegyir-Attah (2 Sacks) and Matt Burns.
Tewksbury middle linebacker John Saunders was everywhere for the Redmen on the night as he patrolled the field, going sideline-to-sideline, and exploding through the line to tackle Haverhill ball carriers.
Eddie Matovu also had a big game for the Redmen on both sides of the ball as he had 70 yards rushing on the night along with a strong defensive performance in which he held the edge all night from his outside linebacker/rover position.