LOWELL, Mass. -– Some thought it might be a matchup that would surprise the masses; a game where the outcome would be decided in the closing seconds as one team drove for a game-winning score.
Others projected that the multipronged offensive ground attack of Tewksbury and the dual run-pass threat of Melrose senior quarterback Malik Garrett would engage in a high-scoring, back-and-forth battle, especially given both sides’ penchant for points (each entered with averages of more than 31 points per game).
Everyone, however, agreed that the Division 3 North state semifinal winner would earn a ticket to Gillette Stadium and a Super Bowl berth against Plymouth South, which defeated Stoughton, 14-12, on Friday night to capture the Division 3 South title.
So when the final horn sounded at Cawley Stadium around 1:15 pm on Saturday in a game that could have been so many things, the outcome revealed just one: a stepping stone for Tewksbury, which easily dismantled Melrose, 32-14, but was much more one-sided than the final score indicated, to advance to Foxborough for the second time in three years.
“When we were sophomores we got out (butts) kicked by Duxbury,” recalled Tewksbury senior Kevin Dick of his team’s 35-0 drubbing back in 2011. That was “a great Duxbury team. It was two years in the making that we were trying to get back there . . . it’s a great thing. I can’t wait. It’s a great thing for Tewksbury; it’s a great thing for everyone.”
And while many Redmen factored into the victory, especially with five different players recording touchdowns, arguable no one was more significant than Dick.
With Tewksbury, which remained a perfect 11-0, clinging to a 13-7 lead late in the second quarter and Melrose driving, Dick made a play that ultimately changed the game’s complexion.
Behind Garrett, who completed 13-of-30 passes for 171 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, the Red Raiders drove from their own 20 down inside the Tewksbury 10-yard line.
The Redmen lead appeared in limbo as Garrett fired a pass towards the right sideline of the end zone while scrambling to his right and the receiver simultaneously broke back towards the pass and prepared to make the catch.
However, Dick beat the receiver to the ball, and returned the interception from two yards in the end zone to Tewksbury’s 12-yard line.
“We were doing it all week,” Dick said. “We had the scout running it all week. At the beginning of the week they were catching it, completing it. I was like, ‘What the heck?’ But as we progressively moved through the week, I was catching on.
“I just jumped it, and that’s that.”
The play was just as critical to the Red Raiders.
“Obviously, you can’t have turnovers and expect to win,” said Melrose coach Tim Morris after his team fell to 9-2. “We haven’t really turned the ball over this year that much, (but) I think in the two losses we’ve had this year we’ve turned the ball over.”
Dick’s pick preserved the Redmen lead heading into halftime, and also set the stage for a dominant seven-plus minute span to open the third quarter.
On its first two second-half possessions, Tewksbury scored 13 unanswered points to extend its lead to 26-7 with 3:51 remaining in the quarter.
James Sullivan (20 carries, 117 yards, touchdown) started the outburst with a four-yard scoring burst up the gut. After Mitchell Miskell split the uprights on the PAT and Tewksbury held Melrose to its second consecutive three-and-out, Johnny Aylward connected with Dick on a flanker screen in the left flat. Solid blocking and the speed Dick showed to get to the left sideline turned what looked like a short gain into a 55-yard touchdown catch and run (PAT failed).
Meanwhile, over the same span the Melrose offense managed just six plays for minus-five yards. Red Raiders running plays were repeatedly snuffed out in the backfield by Tewksbury’s defensive line, and Garrett was also sacked during the six-play sequence.
“We talked all week about winning on first down,” said Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward of the Redmen defensive line. “If we could win on first down it puts them in position to do stuff that they don’t particularly want to do. Our guys got off the ball pretty good. I give them a ton of credit.”
“We just couldn’t get anything going in that third quarter,” admitted Melrose’s Morris.
The teams traded scores in the fourth quarter.
Tewksbury struck first when Tom Casey (eight carries, 72 yards, touchdown) rushed in from three-yards out (PAT failed) to give the Redmen a 32-7 advantage with 7:12 left. Melrose responded as Garrett found Colby Andrews for a 29-yard touchdown toss. Sean Foley added the PAT to close out the scoring.
Though Tewksbury set the tone early by orchestrating a 10-play, 69-yard drive, which spanned more than five minutes, to open the game and culminated in an 11-yard touchdown run by Aylward off a fake jet sweep handoff in which he sprinted in between the tackles for the score, Melrose displayed resiliency even after its first drive stalled.
The Red Raiders defense came up with a big interception deep inside Redmen territory on Melrose’s next series.
Aylward launched a pass towards the right sideline but the intended receiver, who dove while attempting to make the catch, tipped the ball in the air and into the arms of Melrose's Aaron Aveni. The Red Raiders cornerback returned the pick 12 yards to the Tewksbury 14-yard line.
After working the ball inside the one-yard line, Garrett snuck it in on the first play of the second quarter. A Foley PAT knotted the score at 7-7.
It was, however, the last time the score was tied.
On its ensuing possession, Tewksbury put together a 55-yard drive that consumed 5:10 and ended with Eddie Matovu (seven carries, 27 yards, touchdown) rumbling in for a three-yard touchdown. A failed two-point conversion brought the score to 13-7 and set the scene for Dick’s interception.