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Sullivan's Versatility Leads Redmen Past North Andover, 27-7

Sep 27, 2014 11:33PM ● By Rick Spencer

Tewksbury's James Sullivan scored two more touchdowns in leading the Redmen to a 27-7 win over North Andover

If your washing machine breaks down and you call for a repairman and Tewksbury High football star James Sullivan shows up at your door, don’t be surprised.

Or if your computer goes on the fritz and your cable company sends Sullivan out to get your internet connection back on track, don’t be surprised.

These days, there doesn’t seem to be anything James Sullivan can’t do.

At least that’s what the North Andover High football team must be thinking after Sullivan led Tewksbury to a convincing, 27-7 win over the Scarlet Knights on a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon yesterday at Doucette Field. Sullivan scored two touchdowns, one on an interception return and one on a rushing play, took a dozen snaps from center in the Wildcat formation, ran back a few kicks, made a boat-load of tackles and had a few passes thrown his way as well. It all added up to Tewksbury’s second impressive Merrimack Valley Conference win in the last three weeks.

“He’s a very special player,” TMHS head coach Brian Aylward said of Sullivan. “He’s been a big part of what we do here for the last four years. He gives us something big every week…He gives a great effort all the time and a great performance on defense. He’s the focal point of what our scheme is.”

Sullivan’s two touchdowns were his third and fourth of the season. And while his offensive numbers weren’t earth shattering -- he finished the day with 46 yards rushing on 16 carries – his versatility gave North Andover’s coaching staff fits, even on a day when TMHS junior quarterback Brett Morris was still feeling the affects of a couple of hand and ankle injuries he suffered against Everett last Friday night.

“He does a lot of things, offensively and defensively,” Aylward said of Sullivan. “He’s like having a coach out there on the field. He’s very bright and we can line him up in a lot of different positions and he’ll know what he has to do.”

Sullivan says he’s just doing his job.

“Almost everyone in our offense bumps around a lot,” Sullivan said. “We spend a lot of time in practice in different positions and different scenarios. We don’t have the numbers that some of the bigger schools have so you kinda have to learn multiple positions.”

The 5-11 senior standout got Tewksbury on the board less than four minutes into the game when he capped a six-play, 45-yard drive with a one-yard plunge. North Andover tied the score at 7-7 when Jukka Morales returned the ensuing kick-off 92 yards for a touchdown. But Sullivan gave the Redmen the lead for good just four minutes later when he intercepted a pass from NA quarterback Seamus Lambert on his own 32 yard line and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown.

With Sullivan participating in almost every play from that point on, Tewksbury took control of a hard fought game and kept the Scarlet Knights out of the end zone for the rest of the day. Senior running back James Hirtle made it 20-7 with a three-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, after  senior defensive back Ryan Bednarek intercepted a North Andover pass deep in Scarlet Knight territory. It would be the first of two key plays from Bednarek, who had a big day on both sides of the ball Saturday.

The two teams swapped punts for most of the second and third quarters, but North Andover never penetrated deeper than the Tewksbury 35 yard line. TMHS junior quarterback Brett Morris hooked up with Bednarek on a 20-yard touchdown pass that sealed the deal with just 1:08 left to play in the game.

It was North Andover’s first loss of the season, and the win improves Tewksbury’s record to 2-1.

It was also the second time in three games that Tewksbury’s defense has not allowed an MVC opponent to score an offensive touchdown. The Redmen shut out Chelsmford, 15-0, two weeks ago. TMHS held North Andover to just 49 yards rushing and 85 yards passing on Saturday.

“So far our defense has done a pretty good job of staying disciplined and just doing our own jobs,” Sullivan said. “There’s been times when we’ve let up some yards, but it’s been kind of ‘bend, don’t break.’ We’ve done a pretty good job of not letting them into the end zone and keeping the field position battle going.”

“I thought we did a good job,” Aylward said. “Our guys worked hard and they hustled. And the hustle made more plays than any schemes or anything like that.”

Hirtle finished the game with 66 yards and a touchdown on six carries. He also caught two passes for 27 yards.  Morris completed eight of 15 passing attempts for 79 yards and a touchdown. Bednarek had two receptions for 22 yards and his touchdown was a thing of beauty as he leaped high over a North Andover defender in tight coverage and came down with the ball.

Overall, it was another rock solid effort for the Redmen. Through three games, the defending Division 3 Super Bowl champs are looking much the part of a team that is headed back to post-season play again this fall. It's still early in the season, but on the strength of yesterday's win, Tewksbury moved into first place in the MIAA division 3 Northeast power rankings.

“I feel good,” Aylward said. “But if there’s space between where we are and the ceiling, I don’t think we’re knocking our heads on the ceiling by any stretch of the imagination. We have a lot of work to do to get better.”

Sullivan agreed with his coach.

“We know we have to improve, we’re a long way away,” Sullivan said. “But we know we have some talent here and obviously if you don’t think you can make a run at it, you’re wasting your time. But we just have to keep improving and getting better and better every week. That’s been the mentality all year.”

Tewksbury hosts Lawrence in a rare home night game next Friday night at 7:00.


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