DANVERS, Mass. -– Keagan Latta was just trying to get rowdy.
The Lowell (6-2) senior defensive back led a spirited and intimidating defensive charge against St. John’s Prep (4-4) on Saturday afternoon, reeling in three interceptions -- one of which was a pick-six -- recovering a fumble and bringing it back for a touchdown, and catching a scoring pass from his own quarterback, Brian Dolan.
The result: a 41-0 victory over a traditional power and a statement to the rest of the MIAA.
“We got here early, [St. John’s Prep] were nowhere to be found. We just wanted to get rowdy and show their fans we were ready to play,” Latta said, face caked with eye black. “Hopefully everybody knows Lowell’s not somebody that you mess with anymore. We’re making our mark on the state football tournament.”
From the opening kick the Lowell sideline was loud, jumping up and down and excitedly yelling every time a big play was made on defense, which came early and often. Offensively, Latta caught the first touchdown of the game, a 26-yard pass from Dolan (9-14, 173 yards, TD), assisted by a bone-crushing block from fellow receiver Mike Holder to allow Latta the space to get in the end zone.
“[Offensive coordinator Brian] Christopher drew up some nice stuff on offense, the offensive line blocked and gave Dolan some time," Lowell coach John Florence said. "I think early in the year we were struggling with that, but we were able to get kids open and he hit them in stride."
Moments later, the Lowell sideline reached its most animated point of the day. On fourth down from the Prep 35, Eagles’ quarterback Mike Geaslen rolled out and was stopped far short of the first down. The Red Raiders defense and players on the sideline erupted. Ngaiiva Mason (90 yards rushing, 3 TD) scored a touchdown three plays later.
Prep started with the ball on their own 29 on the next drive, and it looked like the passing game might be able to get going when Geaslen found Owen Rockett on second down, but Rockett fumbled the catch one step after he pulled it in; Latta recovered the fumble and brought it back for a touchdown.
One could hear a pin drop on the Prep sideline after falling into what felt like an insurmountable 20-0 lead in the second quarter, a theme that went unchanged the rest of the game.
By blitzing often and jumbling up the middle of the field, Lowell forced Prep to throw the football all afternoon. Latta picked off Geaslen twice before the end of the first half, and the Prep quarterback was sacked seven times overall in the game. Prep mustered just 52 yards of offense in the first half.
“We definitely got some lucky breaks early with our defense causing turnovers and scoring, anytime you can do that in a football game it definitely increases your chances of winning. We got that going, we got some momentum, we just kept rolling with it,” Florence said. “We shut [the running game] down, and forced them to try to throw the ball on us. The kids stepped up.”
Latta picked Geaslen off one last time about halfway through the third quarter, and wouldn’t you know it, it was Mason who scored a 34-yard touchdown on the very next play to put an exclamation point on the victory.
“That was really just him making a lot of reads,” Florence said of Latta. “It’s really hard to describe, it was quite a performance. The kid made quite a day for himself. He really made a difference in the game.”
EVERETT AWAITS: Next week’s semifinal matchup with Everett isn’t just another game for Lowell, a fact that Florence and his team don’t just acknowledge, but embrace. The Crimson Tide are in a league of their own in terms of tradition and championships, while this year’s Lowell team may very well go down as the best team the school has seen in the last half-century -- further adding to the emotion of next Friday’s game for the Red Raiders.
“We went harder this week than we did any other week of the year, and I hope we do that again next week," Latta said. "We know Everett’s one of the best teams in the state every year. Hopefully we put it together again."
The Crimson Tide beat Malden with ease last night, by a score of 39-6. Preparation won’t change in the slightest, though. Florence will try to prepare his team and staff the same way they would any other game.
“We’re going to sit down and watch a lot of film tomorrow,” Florence said, “We know they’re a come right at you, smash-mouth type of football team, so we’ve gotta be ready and prepared for that.”