(UPDATED) Melrose Ends Tewksbury's Playoff Run
James Sullivan (3) scored on a spectacular touchdown run, but Tewksbury lost to Melrose, 14-7
Gallery: Tewksbury v. Melrose [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
"There are a couple big plays that are going to be critical in every game, and we've been able to make more of them than our opponents in the last few weeks, but tonight that wasn't the case," said Tewksbury High head coach Brian Aylward after watching his defending Division 3 state championship team fall one win short of earning a return trip to Gillette Stadium this year.
Indeed, there were two big plays in particular that tipped the scales in Melrose's favor in this hard fought contest. After TMHS senior running back James Sullivan dove for the pylon and gave the Redmen a 7-0 third quarter lead on a spectacular touchdown run, Melrose's Jack Hickey answered right back with momentum-shifting 56-yard touchdown run that tied the score at 7-7.
In the fourth quarter, Tewksbury defensive back Ryan Carey deflected a pass from Melrose quarterback Jake Karelas, but the ball fell into the hands of Melrose wide receiver William Caffey, who took it into the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown that ultimately decided the game.
That play earned Melrose the right to play in the Division 3 Super Bowl on December 6 at Gillette Stadium. Tewksbury will finish its season with its traditional Thanksgiving Day game against Wilmington this Thursday.
"It's frustrating and I feel for the kids," Aylward said. "Particularly the (senior) guys that have spilled their guts and done everything that we've asked them to do in their entire four years here. That senior group is a great group of kids. They're tough as nails, they work hard, they came into the season prepared. A lot of people counted them out only to have them fight back and make believers out of people again. They deserve a lot of credit."
Certainly, Tewksbury's 2014 playoff run was impressive, as the Redmen won their first three post-season games by an average margin of victory of over 30 points. TMHS had relied on a dominating running game in piling up those three victories, but on Saturday, the Redmen struggled to mount any type of offensive consistency. Led by James Sullivan's 92 yards on 20 carries, Tewksbury gained 206 yards on the ground against Melrose, but the Redmen were unsuccessful on all four of their fourth down conversion tries, and turned the ball over on downs four different times.
Junior quarterback Brett Morris completed 15-of-21 passes for 136 yards, but he was intercepted once and sacked five times for 22 yards.
"We made some good plays at times, but it never seemed like we could get untracked and get the momentum like we like to get," Aylward said.
Perhaps the most critical series of the game came just four minutes into the first quarter, as Tewksbury took the opening drive of the game from its own 29 to a first-and-goal on the Melrose one-yard line. But the Red Raider defense stuffed Tewksbury's running backs on four consecutive plays, and Melrose took over on downs.
"Not getting in (on that drive)...that's the stuff we've been living with," Aylward said. "We've been able to gut it up and punch it in in those situations, the third-and-shorts and the fourth-and-shorts down by the goal line. But they got off the line better than us and we didn't get in."
The game was scoreless for the first two periods but Tewksbury got on the scoreboard with 1:09 left in the third period when Sullivan capped a four-play, 40-yard drive with his electrifying four-yard touchdown run that included several broken tackles and a sprint toward the corner of the end zone. Sullivan dove for the pylon and knocked it over with the ball out-stretched to score a highlight reel touchdown that had the huge Tewksbury crowd cheering wildly.
But the celebration was short-lived as Hickey, Melrose's senior stud running back, answered with his own highlight reel touchdown run less than four minutes later to tie the score at 7-7.
The game's deciding play came with just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Karelas, who had already been intercepted once by Ryan Carey, tossed a high floater deep into Tewksbury territory. Carey again seemed to have a bead on the ball, but this time he was only able to deflect the ball away from it's intended receiver, William Caffey. Luck was a fickle lady for Carey and the Redmen, as the deflection floated up in the air before landing softly in Caffey's arms. With Carey tumbling to the ground, Caffey turned and ran the final 20 yards into the end zone to give Melrose the victory.
So the defending Division 3 Super Bowl champion Redmen will not make a second consecutive appearance at Gillette Stadium next month.
"We had some kids who worked very hard for us (this year) and I feel for them, more than anything," Aylward said. "It wasn't for lack of effort tonight. They gave it their best. They do every time out. We just didn't make enough plays."
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