Redmen Face Melrose In State Semi-Final Rematch
Nov 21, 2014 12:08PM
By Rick Spencer
Opposing defenses have had a hard time tracking down Tewksbury's Jimmy Hirtle (21) this fall.
History often repeats itself and the Tewksbury High football team hopes that will be the case Saturday afternoon.
The Redmen will play in the 2014 MIAA Division 3 state semi-finals against the exact same team and at the exact same location as last year’s Div. 3 state semi-final game. Last November, TMHS engineered a convincing 32-14 victory over Melrose High School at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium, then went on to win the Division 3 state championship a few weeks later.
This year the Division 3 Northeast Champion Redmen will once again face off against the Division 3 Northwest Champion Melrose Red Raiders with a berth in the Division 3 Super Bowl on the line. The re-match is set for a 4:15 p.m. kick-off on Saturday, right back at Cawley Stadium in Lowell.
Both teams bring identical 8-2 records into the contest, and both teams finished with identical 5-2 regular season records, good for second place in their respective leagues. Both teams were seeded 3rd in their respective MIAA play-off sectional rankings, too, but that’s where a lot of the similarities end.
Tewksbury, ranked sixth in the state in the most recent Boston Globe high school football poll, arrives on an all-out roll, having blasted Danvers, Marblehead and Masconomet out of the playoffs by an average margin of victory of over 30 points per game. Their last two victories (41-6 over Marblehead and 28-0 over Masco) may have been their best back-to-back performances of the season. Melrose, on the other hand, has squeaked out two nail-biting victories over the last two weeks, edging Woburn 20-19 on Nov. 7 before getting past Concord-Carlisle, 28-20, last Friday night in the Northwest championship game. The Globe ranks the Red Raiders at No. 11 in its state-wide Top 20 poll.
Tewksbury is led offensively by a trio of talented senior running backs in James Sullivan, Jimmy Hirtle and Tom Casey. Sullivan and Hirtle have been the workhorses for TMHS coach Brian Aylward in the post season, as each has averaged over 80 yards rushing per game, and each has scored five touchdowns in the last three games. Sullivan scored three touchdowns in the 34-6 win over Danvers three weeks ago, and Hirtle exploded for 144 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the 41-6 pummeling of Marblehead on Nov. 7. Last Friday night, both Hirtle and Sullivan scored rushing touchdowns in the 28-0 romp over Masconomet.
Melrose has been no slouch on defense this year, allowing an average of just 13.9 points per game so far, and posting three consecutive shutout victories against Middlesex League opponents back in October.
But Tewksbury has been even better on defense. Not only do the Redmen have two shut outs of their own to boast about, but their big-play defense has also been at its best in the playoffs, allowing an average of just 4.0 points per game in post-season play. Senior defensive back Ryan Bednarek has come up with critical interceptions in all three playoff games, and senior linebacker Andrew Nguyen has been a force to reckon with, recording several sacks, dozens of tackles and a big fumble return for a touchdown last Friday night. Troy Carey, Sullivan, Casey, and defensive linemen Ethan Eloi and Alex Schelfhaudt have also made huge defensive contributions.
Weather conditions for Saturday afternoon’s 4:15 kick-off are expected to be the best that TMHS has seen in post-season play so far this year. After playing through heavy rains, blistering winds and extreme cold in their first three games, the Redmen will be greeted by light winds and temperatures in the low 40s at game time.