ANDOVER, Mass. -- It has been a season of ups and downs for the Andover Golden Warriors.
Come into the season ranked on the ESPN Boston Top 25, then lose to Tewksbury in the third game of the season. Win two after that, then lose to Chelmsford by 20 points. Get a 39-point victory over Methuen, then lose to Dracut by 16 points after giving up six turnovers.
They were able to send things back in a positive direction Friday with a 44-28 victory over No. 20 Billerica.
Andover did not actually come out of the gate well. The defense gave up a 31-yard Nick LaSpada touchdown pass to Matt Clifford on Billerica’s opening drive. On the ensuing offensive possession, Andy Coke lost a fumble at midfield, giving the Indians the ball back with great field possession.
After forcing a 3-and-out, the Golden Warriors (6-3) drove 72 yards down the field for the first of Andy Coke’s two rushing touchdowns of the night to tie the game at 7. He finished with 24 carries for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns.
On the second play of the second quarter, Freddie Scribner intercepted LaSpada and took it back 35 yards to put his team ahead. Billerica (7-2) answered on its next possession when LaSpada connected with Clifford for his second touchdown pass of the game.
C.J. Scarpa made his presence felt in the middle of the second when he finally came in to play quarterback. On 4th-and-8 from the Billerica 46, he dropped back to pass and looked right, but no receivers were open. Under pressure, he rolled back to the left, still searching for an open receiver. He saw Ken Miyachi was behind a defensive back and made a hand motion for Miyachi to take off towards the endzone. Scarpa hit him in stride for a 46-yard touchdown pass.
LaSpada had an interesting play of his own in the third quarter when he hit Mark Duncan on a short curl route next to the right sideline. After making the catch, Duncan kept his legs moving and eventually broke away from the defensive back and sprinted down the right sideline. He got into the endzone for a 92-yard touchdown reception, which kept it a one-score game.
It would not be enough however, as Andover broke away in the second half for the decisive victory.
-- Andover was able to get consistent pressure on LaSpada and slow down the Billerica rushing attack as a whole. LaSpada finished with just eight carries for 19 yards while running back Byron Ramirez had 11 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown. This was about three-quarters the production the two had the previous week in Billerica’s victory over Lowell. In that game, Lowell chose to put an extra defender in the box to take away the run. Friday, Andover chose to play its base defense with two safeties high, but send a varying package of linebackers so that even though LaSpada couldn’t run, he still would not have a lot of time to throw. “We match up well against them,” Coke said. “We have a really good secondary and our linebackers are more athletic, coverage-type guys, so I think we matched up well against them. They were able to run the ball well at first but, then our big boys stepped up.” LaSpada was 14-of-21 for 306 yards, but was forced into throwing 3 costly interceptions.
-- While it is not at all surprising to see Andy Coke get a majority of the carries in a game for the Golden Warriors, it is surprising to see him under center for a whole quarter. That is how Andover started the game Friday. Quarterback C.J. Scarpa spent the whole first quarter on the sidelines trying to stay loose in the bitter cold while Coke had 11 carris for 83 yards and a touchdown in the opening frame. “They threw down the stakes last year when they said it was going to be LaSpada vs. Coke,” Andover head coach E.J. Perry said. “Andy showed the cream always rises to the top and he just did a phenomenal job. It was his overall play, he connected on passes, played defense and got an interception.”
It was part of the gameplan to get Coke that integrated into the game that early. “I think our offense runs a little smoother if we score quickly with me at QB and then let CJ get his confidence up and get going and let him do what he does best and that’s torch a D.”
-- Andover was like many of the other schools in the state whose practice week was cut short due to school cancellations from the power outages from the weekend storm. However, it did not seem to effect the Golden Warriors on either side of the ball. In fact, Coke credited the team’s familiarity with Billerica and the confidence the team gained from its victory over the Indians last year for his team’s success Friday. “We had a lot of confidence coming into this game,” he said. “Last year we had a real convincing win over them that was one of our building blocks to winning the MVC title. I think football is a sport where its whoever comes out harder on Fridays. A good Monday through Thursday definitely helps but if you can just get two days in and get everything down and come out mentally ready, and come out ready to hit, I think that’s the most important part of this game.”
ANDOVER 44, NO. 20 BILLERICA 28
ANDOVER (6-3, 1-1) - 7 15 7 15 -- 44
BILLERICA (7-2, 1-1) - 7 7 14 0 -- 28
B - Matt Clifford 31-yard pass from Nick LaSpada (Steve Trask kick good)
A - Andy Coke 12-yard run (Mark Zavrl kick good)
A - Freddie Scribner 35-yard interception return (Zavrl kick good)
B - Clifford 21-yard pass from LaSpada (Trask kick good)
A - Ken Miyachi 45-yard pass from CJ Scarpa (2-point conversion good)
B - Mark Duncan 92-yard pass from LaSpada (2-point conversion failed)
B - Byron Ramirez 2-yard run (2-point conversion good)
A - Cam Farnham 80-yard kickoff return (Zavrl kick good)
A - Coke 6-yard run (Zavrl kick good)
A - Will Heikkinen 25-yard pass from Scarpa (2-point conversion good)