The defense may well be the difference maker when the Tewksbury High football team travels to Haverhill, Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. kickoff) for a showdown between the two top teams in the Merrimack Valley Conference small school division.
Tewksbury and Haverhill both enter the contest with 4-1 overall records. The Redmen are 4
-0 in MVC action, while the Hillies sport a 3-1 MVC record. Both teams are unbeaten
against MVC Division 2 competition.
Stopping the powerful Haverhill ground attack will be the order of the day for Tewksbury.
The Hillies are led by a trio of talented running backs and are averaging well over 200
yards rushing per game. In their last three games -- lopsided victories over Lawrence,
Methuen and Dracut -- the Hillies have averaged almost 300 yards per game on the ground.
Haverhill's rushing attack is led by junior speedster Ian Kessell, who has scored six
touchdowns and rushed for over 450 yards. Senior fullback Sami Al-Ziab is a 220-pound
bruiser who has rushed for 386 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore halfback Pedro
Santiago has gained over 330 yards on the ground and has scored four touchdowns.
If the Hillies have any offensive weaknesses, it is their passing game. Haverhill has
attempted fewer than 10 passes per game on average, and quarterback Broghean McGovern has yet to have a 100-yard passing game. He has thrown only one touchdown pass, but has rushed for three scores. Eighteen out of Haverhill's 19 touchdowns this season have come on the ground.
Tewksbury's offense is a pretty good match for Haverhill. The Redmen are led by a trio of
senior running backs in James Sullivan (250 rushing yards, seven total touchdowns), Tom
Casey (150 rushing yards, four TDS) and Jimmy Hirtle (300 rushing yards, four TDS). But
Tewksbury has also demonstrated the ability to throw the ball. Junior quarterback Brett
Morris has averaged over 100 yards passing per game, and has thrown six touchdown passes. All three running backs are threats to catch passes, as are wide receivers Ryan Bednarek and Adam Gajjaoui.
While Haverhill has given up an average of over 20 points per game, including 26 to
winless Dracut last week, the TMHS defense has been much stingier. Tewksbury has allowed
just over eight points per game this fall, and has only allowed one team -- Division 1
powerhouse Everett High -- to reach the end zone more than once in a game.
Senior nose tackle Ethan Eloi is the anchor of the Tewksbury run defense, while Casey and
senior Andrew Nguyen have been the standouts at linebacker. Sullivan, Bednarek, Ryan Carey and Troy Carey have made the big plays in the TMHS secondary.
Tewksbury, the defending MIAA Division 3 Super Bowl champion, is ranked in the Top 10 in both the Boston Globe and ESPN-Boston's weekly high school football polls, and continues to sit atop the MIAA's Division 3 Northeast Power Ratings. Haverhill does not appear in either of the Globe or ESPN polls, but the Hillies are ranked second in the MIAA Division 2 power ratings.
Game time is 2:00 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Stadium on Rte. 113/97 along the Merrimack
River in Haverhill.
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