METHUEN, Mass. – It was all about team defense on Friday night as the Haverhill Hillies received a balanced and poised effort from their defense to shut out the previously unbeaten Methuen Rangers, 17-0.
Haverhill (3-1) used a ground-and-pound approach offensively to complement their staunch defensive effort as running back Tommy Maguire exploded for 160 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Hillie offensive attack.
Proving to be one of the state’s most dynamic one-two punches, Maguire and Ian Kessel (20 rushes, 91 yards) ran around and though the Methuen (4-1) defense, doing the majority of their work in the second half of play.
“We knew we were going to have to win close games this season,” Maguire said after the game. “We pride ourselves in our defense and we came out and played hard to earn the win.”
Despite a scoreless first half Haverhill defensive back Josh Dion made a big interception at the Haverhill goal line to thwart a promising Methuen drive deep in Hillie territory.
With the teams scoreless, Haverhill mounted their strongest drive of the game late in the third quarter, highlighted by a spectacular 35-yard reception by John Ramsdell (5 receptions, 52 yards) on a deep toss from quarterback Shane Finn.
Still scoreless, deep in to the third quarter of play, Patrick Yale calmly stepped in and nailed a 36-yard field goal to give Haverhill the game’s first points and a 3-0 lead with 53 seconds remaining in the third.
It would be all Haverhill and Maguire in the fourth quarter as the senior ripped off touchdown runs of 26 and 61 yards to help solidify the team win.
“I think it really just came down to preparation this week,” Haverhill head coach Tim O’Connor said after the game. “The game was supposed to be Saturday and got moved to Friday and we ended up practicing a little longer than usual ad we put it on the kids and they came though.”
Running back Will Weinhold (85 yards from scrimmage) and linebacker Luis Sanchez played well for Methuen in the loss.
Game Balls and Team-D: O’Connor handed his game balls in the post-game talk to linebacker Phil Panici and defensive lineman Matt Burns. Both players helped lead the shutout effort and played strong games up front. The did a good job stuffing the Methuen run, forcing long third downs and providing pressure in the Ranger backfield all night long.
“If you want to be the best you need to beat the best,” O’Connor said. “They were the best at 4-0 and that is what we did tonight.”
It was a true team effort on defense as a number of Hillies stepped up and made big plays. Whether it was linebacker Michael Kwegyir-Attah setting the edge, linebacker Stephane Bristol making big hits over the middle, or defensive lineman Sammy Al-Ziab firing in to the Methuen backfield for a sack, the Hillie defense was up to the challenge.
“We knew that we were going to be strong defensively this year,” O’Connor said. “We returned nine kids on the defensive side of the ball and I told people, that if we start clicking, watch out.”
The Hillie defensive backfield also played a disciplined game as they stayed at home and read their keys with Dion and Chiedozie Onwuka (big late-game INT) also stepping up to secure two of the three Methuen turnovers on the night.
“We did a lot of film study,” O’Connor said. “It is a credit to the staff, and a credit to the kids. These kids work real-hard in the film room, staying late and just preparing.”
Despite a 40-0 loss to Central Catholic two weeks back, Haverhill has defeated two strong offenses in Beverly and Lawrence and held both teams below 20 points at 19 and 12 points, respectively.
MVC D2 Race: Both teams were coming off big Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 wins last weekend, as Haverhill defeated Lawrence, 26-12, and Methuen shut down Dracut, 35-20.
The victory on Friday night was an important one for Haverhill as they look to keep pace with No. 17-ranked Tewksbury (4-0), at the top of the MVC Division 2 standings.
The Hillies will get their crack at the Redmen on Oct. 18, as The Redmen host the Hillies in a Friday night game at Doucette Stadium in Tewksbury. The Hillies must first tangle with Dracut next Friday as they play host to the dangerous and upset-minded Middies in a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Methuen will travel to Tewksbury next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and will play their final MVC D2 contest at home against North Andover on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.