FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -– The 2013 edition of the Tewksbury Redmen began the season with destiny in its veins. Four months after opening kickoff that destiny had given way to the sweetest reality of all: victory.
The Redmen played a nip-and-tuck game with Plymouth South for the first 35 minutes before exploding for three touchdowns in the last five minutes to defeat the Panthers 42-14 and claim the Division 3 state title.
The story of the game was Tewksbury junior James Sullivan. Sullivan rushed for a team high 125 yards (78 in the second half) and three touchdowns to power the Redmen's multipronged attack. Sullivan also returned an interception for a touchdown in the game's final minute.
“We just had a couple of things go our way and that's just how it is in games like this,” Sullivan said. “You have to take advantage of your opportunities and I think we did a good job of that.”
Sullivan went blow for blow with Plymouth South star Dylan Oxsen. Oxsen rushed for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He touched the ball on 27 of South's 38 plays.
The first half breezed by as each team only had two possessions, but they made it count. Oxsen scored both of his touchdowns and Sullivan scored his first as the teams went into the break tied at 14.
The Redmen began asserting themselves early in the second half, forcing the Panthers to turn the ball over on downs on their first two second half possessions.
“We had chances to win it but we came up short,” Oxsen said. “We fought hard. I can't complain about that. Very poor fourth quarter. You can't make mistakes in a state championship; you just can't do it.”
The Redmen put the pressure on and pulled away. Quarterback Johnny Aylward connected on 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards as Sullivan and the rushing attack started to power past South. Tewksbury outgained South 179-93 in the second half.
“It was purely just the kids getting tough when they needed to get tough,” Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward said. “We tried to win on first down and that didn't happen a lot, but when we did we got them into third and fourth down situations. That was key for us.”
THE SECRET WEAPON
Tewksbury's rushing attack is prolific, but wide receiver Kevin Dick is its hidden weapon. The tall, rangy receiver forces defenses to stay honest and not overload the box. Tonight. Dick showed what happens when his number gets called.
The senior reeled in seven balls for 83 yards, including a key fourth-down conversion in the fourth quarter and a circus catch for a touchdown that put the Redmen up 35-14.
“We have some great running backs; I know that you can't cover all of them,” Dick said. “Teams can't stack the box and expect to cover me and vice versa. We're so diverse and it won us some games down the stretch.”
Aylward said that having a receiver with Dick's ability has been a huge advantage in earning a title.
“He's appreciative of the running game and our running game is appreciative of him,” Aylward said. “A lot of times the biggest thing that he's done is to take at least another half guy out of the box. A couple of times we just said the heck with it we're just going to give him a shot. He's a good athlete. He's been good all year.”
THE END OF AN ERA
As the trophy presentation got under way Oxsen had a distant gaze in his eyes. The running back had been the record-breaking motor that powered South's ride through the Division 3 tournament.
One by one he went through the line of his fellow captains, some crying, and pulled them in for a hug. Like a leader, he stayed composed. Oxsen had another quality game to add to his record-breaking career, but those were simply numbers. His jersey bore the brunt of his night on the field. The five on his helmet was partially chipped away and the five on his jersey was stained with paint from the field. His left shoulder pad showed through three small tears.
As he and the other captains stepped up to accept the finalist's trophy Oxsen didn't look at the cameras or Tewksbury: he looked up at the big screen and into the sky. He didn't want it to end.
As the captains stepped off the podium one by one Oxsen was the last to leave and paused on the edge. He didn't want it to end.
Then he jumped. It was over.