Redmen Repeat As Division 3 Northeast Champions
Nov 15, 2014 12:20AM
By Rick Spencer
Jimmy Hirtle led Tewksbury to a 28-0 Sectional Championship win over Masconomet Friday night.
TOPSFIELD -- They may be smaller than most of their opponents, but when it comes to making big plays, there are few teams in Eastern Mass high school football bigger than the Tewksbury High Redmen right now.
Coach Brian Aylward’s gang of under-sized over-achievers put together a string of interceptions, fumble recoveries, big passes and even bigger runs again on Friday night, and in the process captured the MIAA Division 3 Northeast Sectional championship with a 28-0 thrashing of Masconomet Regional High School on the road in Topsfield.
Andrew Nguyen, Jimmy Hirtle, James Sullivan, Brett Morris, Troy Carey and Ryan Bednarek were just some of the Redmen who came up with big, game-changing plays as the defending Division 3 State Champions captured their second consecutive sectional championship. It was clear from the sidelines that Masconomet had a significant size advantage, and the 8-1 Chieftains had earned the No.1 seed in the Division 3 Northeast rankings after running the table in the Cape Ann League’s Kenney Division this season.
But none of that mattered to Tewksbury Friday night, as the Redmen ground out a 14-0 halftime lead, then struck twice within a span of just 19 seconds in the third quarter to seal the deal and earn the right to move on to the Division 3 state semi-finals next weekend.
“There were all kinds of big plays tonight,” Aylward said afterward. “These guys came to play. They want it just as much as anybody else. We talked about it right from jump street, that it’s about any single team, no matter what your seed is, no matter what conference you’re from, if you’re in the tournament you’ve got a chance.”
One of the biggest plays of the game was actually a first-quarter time out called by Aylward and his coaching staff after Masconomet had seized the early momentum with a run of nine straight rushing plays from the hurry-up offense. Masco had moved the ball from it’s own 25 to the Tewksbury 22, and it looked like this was going to be a night when size did matter until Aylward decided to let some of the air out of the Masco balloon by calling a time out.
“We didn’t really change anything (during the time out),” Aylward said. “We moved a couple of things around but for the most part it was about settling down and having the confidence that you can make the plays.”
Whatever was said, it worked, as a Troy Carey sack on fourth down forced the Chieftains to turn the ball over on downs, and the Masco offense really never gained its momentum back after that.
“The defense holding when they held, that was big,” Aylward said. “Early on, we didn’t convert, we didn’t move the ball, and that (Masconomet drive) could have been devastating for the defensive guys. But they gutted it out, they ground it out, they put them in a good down and distance and they stopped ‘em.”
Nguyen, Tewksbury’s hard-nosed 150-pound senior linebacker, swung the momentum permanently in Tewksbury’s favor midway through the second period when he tackled Masconomet’s Scott Foden for a big loss on a fake punt and gave Tewksbury the ball at their own 43. On the ensuing play, TMHS’s budding senior superstar Jimmy Hirtle flew around left end on a scintillating 57-yard touchdown run that gave Tewksbury a 6-0 lead.
It was Hirtle’s 12th rushing touchdown of the season, and his fifth of the post-season. He led Tewksbury with 90 rushing yards on eight carries.
“He’s gifted with some speed, but on top of that he’s got tremendous balance and he’s tough,” Aylward said of Hirtle. “He’s grown more comfortable with the different things that we’re trying to do on offense and being in the right position.”
Three minutes after Hirtle’s long touchdown run, Ryan “Big Play” Bednarek came up with his third post-season interception of the year, returning it to the Masco 17-yard line. Two plays after that, Morris scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak, then hit Adam Gajjaoui with a two-point conversion pass to make it 14-0.
The big plays kept coming for Tewksbury in the third quarter, as Hirtle picked off Masco quarterback Roby Deschenes at midfield to set up Tewksbury’s third scoring drive. Morris hit Gajjaoui with a 32-yard pass to set up Sullivan, who electrified the Tewksbury crowd with a cutback-laced 16-yard touchdown run that left several Marblehead defenders grasping at air.
If the Chieftains weren’t toast after that play, they were just 19 seconds later when, on their first play from scrimmage Nguyen picked up a Gavin Monagle fumble and raced 37 yards for a touchdown before anyone could lay a hand on him.
It was one of those nights when, no matter how hard Masconomet tried to stop the Redmen, the big plays keep turning the momentum in Tewksbury’s direction.
“It’s always about the momentum,” Aylward said. “We always talk about how…if you don’t have it, there’s got to be a sense of urgency to get it. And if you have it, you have to fight like a dog to keep it. We always talk about that. The urgency piece is so important.”
Defensively, it was another standout night for the Redmen. Masconomet entered the contest averaging over 21 points per game and hadn’t scored fewer than 15 points in any game this season before being shut out by TMHS. Tewksbury held Masco’s normally powerful rushing attack to just 120 yards on the ground. The TMHS pass defense was even better, holding Masco to just three completions in 14 attempts, and intercepting two passes. Masco mustered just 165 yards of total offense.
In addition to Hirtle’s 90 rushing yards, Sullivan picked up 57 yards on the ground on 13 carries. Tewksbury totaled 175 rushing yards while Morris completed 4-of-10 passes for 84 yards
So it’s on to the state semi-finals for the second straight year for the Redmen. They’ll face Division 3 Northwest champion Melrose next Saturday at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium. Kick-off time has not yet been announced. Melrose, 8-2 overall, beat Concord-Carlisle 28-20 Friday night to advance.
“They’re good, they’re strong,” Aylward said of Melrose. “They’ve got some good hard-nosed kids and they’ll be ready.”