EVERETT, Mass. -- Cody Demers started this one in the hurt locker. He ended it on cloud nine.
His 24-yard touchdown catch with two minutes to go, against one of the state's most intimidating and highly-regarded defensive backs, will go down forever in Central Catholic folklore as one of the program's all-time defining moments, a 20-14 stunner over juggernaut Everett for the inaugural MIAA Division 1 North title and trip to Gillette Stadium for next month's first-ever true state championship.
"We've been coming out from lifting, to practicing, to two-a-days, everything, we've just been coming out full of heart," said Demers. "Anything can happen, and we wanted to make our stand and come back as a team."
It was how it got to that point, however, that might have been the most impressive. Demers took a beating at wide receiver and kick returner, taking on a series of brutal blows, none more violent than the one laid on him by Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Parvelus up the middle returning a kickoff in the second quarter. A feeling of weightlessness overcame him for a brief moment as he lay face down in the turf.
"Honestly, it was a shot. I was running the ball, I thought I was gonna get a block, I forget who it was, but he just popped me, and my whole body went flat," Demers explained. "Like I dunno, I can’t even explain it. It was an incredible hit. I tried getting up, but I got up too quick and I was dizzy."
Demers was sidelined for five plays, before returning to the field and later helping the Raiders in their winning rally.
It started late in the third quarter, when quarterback Mike Milano pulled off a perfectly-executed veer, put the ball in the belly of University of New Hampshire commit D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie for the dive, then pulling it and racing 60 yards off the edge up the middle of the field, for the touchdown and 14-7 lead with :54 to go in the stanza.
"We knew the whole game, they were crashing [linebacker Josh Palmer] off the edge hard," Milano said. "D'Andre told me before the play, 'You know that kid's gonna crash, so make sure you make the right read'. So I made the right read, pulled it, and then it was one-on-one with [Parvelus]. D'Andre made a great fake, everybody flowed to him, and it was one-on-one."
Everett responded with a 12-play, 70-yard drive that was kept alive with a huge break on third and 12 from the Raiders 37. Quarterback Raheem Wingard's pass to Joe D'Onofrio was initially tipped by Raiders linebacker Jon Parsons, but sailed over his head into D'Onofrio's bread basket for a 20-yard gain. Four plays later, Marquis Holman rumbled in from a yard out, then the Tide converted a swinging gate play on the point after for the 15-14 lead with 7:12 to go.
Central had a chance to go ahead on its next drive, when Milano completed a 56-yard screen pass to Markus Edmunds, giving them first and goal at the five after a tacked-on facemask call. But on the very next play, Palmer stripped the ball from Drummond-Mayrie and fell on it. A quick three-and-out and shanked punt, however, gave the Raiders another fortunate bounce, with starting field position at the Tide 36.
This time, they capitalized.
Three plays into the drive, on third and five, Drummond fumbled, but the ball rolled seven yards forward, and lineman Brad Marggraf pounced on it to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Demers gave them the lead for good.
Isolated to the left, in a formation newly installed this week, Demers ran a "sluggo" (slant-and-go) route against Everett's Lubern Figaro, bouncing to the outside and leaning into the highly-touted Wisconsin commit as he tried to jam him to the sideline. At the near pylon, Demers came across Figaro's face and slipped underneath his hands, drawing pass interference as he laid out for the diving touchdown catch.
"That's our big home run play," Demers said. "When that play was called, I couldn't wait."
Everett stalled on its potential game-winning drive at midfield, a last-ditch attempt at a pass landing at Lukas Denis for a 20-yard gain as time expired, as the Central side went into a frenzy.
Drummond-Mayrie was asked about the most important defensive techniques against the Tide's offense, and like the Milano 60-yard score, he veered off. He didn't bite his tongue when he played the tried and true "no respect" card that has become commonplace in these increasingly-heated playoff games, and let it rip.
"We knew it was going to be a scrappy game, when we met the captains [at midfield, for the coin toss], they were eyeing us down," he said. "They didn't have respect for us. We knew we had to come out here and earn their respect...They didn't think we belonged here."
Asked if there was conversation headed into the game that indicated this sentiment from Everett, Drummond-Mayrie said, "No, it was all in their body language."
"It makes it that much sweeter, that much better. I have so much respect for their program, I have no hard feelings at the end of the game. It was a scrappy game, that's how football is. Great team, with great players, but the better team won today. I took some hits, but we gave some hits too."
TOUGH AS NAILS
By now, Demers' gritty performances have become customary around the Central program.
"That's just the type of kid he is," Raiders head coach Chuck Adamopoulos said. "That's his personality, he's thinks he should be able to beat anyone on a pass. He's just a playmaker, a spunky kid."
Said Drummond-Mayrie, "He's the toughest kid I know. He's small, but he packs a punch. That's why he's the best player on this team. That's why I look up to him so much. He's just a great person."
CENTRAL CATHOLIC 20, EVERETT 14
CC --- 0 - 0 - 14 - 6 --- 20
EV --- 0 - 7 - 0 - 8 --- 14
E - Marquis Holman 1 run (Matheus Varela kick) 6:06
C - D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie 1 run (Paul Karamourtopoulos kick) 3:24
C - Mike Milano 60 run (Karamantopoulos kick) :54
E - Holman 1 run (James Hunt run) 7:12
C - Cody Demers 24 pass from Milano (pass failed) 2:10