EVERETT, Mass. –- Visiting Tewksbury gave Everett all it could handle in its home opener, but the Crimson Tide managed to overcome a slow start, and come away with the victory on the strength of Lukas Denis’ 29-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter.
Everett was on the ropes early in this matchup between high school football heavyweights. The Crimson Tide went 3-and-out on their first two possessions, while reigning Merrimack Valley Conference Player of the Year James Sullivan led a seemingly unstoppable Tewksbury rushing attack down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive.
But that’s when the tide started to turn.
Everett recovered a muffed punt near midfield, and a few plays later, Billerica transfer Nick Orekoya burst through the line on fourth and 2, blazing past defenders on his way to a 47-yard touchdown that evened the score.
The fact that the Crimson Tide converted on the point after touchdown seemed relatively insignificant at the time, but like so many evenly matched contests, this game came down to the minutiae.
Everett was down 20-14 after an exhilarating first half, and scheduled to kick off to start the third quarter, but coach John DiBiasio decided to let his team make their own breaks. The Crimson Tide surprised Tewksbury with a creative onside kick, and while it didn’t directly lead to a score, the advantage of excellent field position allowed sophomore quarterback Jordan McAfee (12-26 for 113 yards) to hit Denis on a post route from 29 yards the next time Everett got the ball.
“I thought we hung in there in the second half,” DiBiasio said. “Our defense played much better, and special teams won the game for us. The three extra points, the onside kick to start the half that gave us good field position. The bad snap on the punt [that junior Omar Herrera ran for a first down to set up Everett’s second quarter touchdown]. We really lucked out on Special Teams”
Having a difference maker like Denis (five catches, 74 yards, TD) doesn’t hurt either.
“You can count on Lukas to make the big plays,” DiBiaso said of the senior.
Tewskbury head coach Brian Aylward shared a similar sentiment about the Boston College Commit, saying, “[Denis] made a couple of big plays on some broken plays, and those were the ones that really hurt us.”
It was tough for the visiting coach to explain why the powerful Redmen rushing attack failed to produce any points in the second half, but a couple of fumbles (all recovered) clearly set Tewksbury back in terms of down and distance.
“I thought we mixed it up enough to move the ball,” Aylward said, “but a couple small mistakes kind of put us off schedule to continue to make some first downs, and that was pretty frustrating overall."
Misdirection By Design: All eyes were on James Sullivan when Tewksbury had the ball, and rightfully so considering the senior back ran for 1,285 yards and scored 23 total touchdowns last season. Yet after using the thunderous Sullivan to run it down Everett’s throat to start the game, Aylward called for senior James Hirtle to provide some lightning quickness, as he took a toss around the edge for a 22-yard touchdown.
That trickery was just a warmup considering what the Redmen executed on their next drive. Junior quarterback Brett Morris (12-16 for 169 yards and 2 TD) looked left all the way on third and seven, even pumping to sell a screen to that side. But when the scrambling Everett defense rushed to prevent a first down, Morris executed a beautifully designed play by hitting a wide open Sullivan on the right sideline, and the standout back did the rest on a 30-yard touchdown reception.
“We worked on those screens, and knew we could try them in the right spot, but Coach DiBiaso is a guy that’s been around for a very long time and has been successful, so I knew that he would make the right adjustments, and he did,” Aylward said.
However, he was able to get Sullivan (six catches, 105 yards, 2 TD) into space on the backside of a few more plays, including a 27-yard score that put Tewksbury up 20-14 right before halftime.
Improving Every Week: Everett played without five defensive starters for the second straight week, and had their troubles stopping Tewksbury just as they struggled against Xaverian’s rushing attack in Week 2.
“We’re put together with Band-Aids and tape right now,” DiBiaso admitted. “Hopefully we get a couple of those guys back within the next couple weeks. We’ve got a rough stretch coming up starting with St. John’s [Prep] next week, and we need to get healthy.”
The Crimson Tide will also need more consistent play out of McAfee, their extremely talented sophomore quarterback. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 27 yards and brought Everett to the 1-yard line with an 11 yard rush to set up a second quarter score, and made three professional-caliber throws to Denis on what turned out to be the game-winning drive.
Yet only three of McAfee’s 14 incompletions were dropped, indicating that he’s still getting a grasp on timing in Everett’s spread offense.
“It’s one day at a time, one chapter at a time,” said DiBiaso. “We’re very pleased with his progress so far, and we hope he can continue to improve each week.”
Everett 21, Tewksbury 20
EVR 7 7 7 0 --- 21
TEW 13 7 0 0 --- 20
T – James Hirtle 22 run (Try failed) 5:41
E – Nick Orekoya 47 run (PAT good) 3:15
T – James Sullivan 30 pass from Brett Morris (PAT good) 1:22
E – Nick Orekoya 1 run (PAT good) 5:25
T – James Sullivan 27 pass from Brett Morris (PAT good) 1:27
E – Lukas Denis 29 pass from Jordan McAfee (PAT good) 2:17