CHELMSFORD, Mass. – It was the “James Sullivan Show” in Chelmsford on Friday night as the senior running back did it all for Tewksbury, rushing for 90 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception, and a big sack, as the Redmen defeated the host Lions, 27-6, in a Merrimack Valley Conference crossover game.
Chelmsford (0-1) would strike first early in the game as quarterback Jack Campsmith would lead the Lions down the field and find Nick Philippon on a screen pass for a 26-yard opening touchdown. A penalty on the ensuing point after try would lead to a blocked second try, giving the Lions a 6-0 lead with 5:26 remaining in the opening quarter.
Tewksbury (1-0) would answer back as Sullivan would cap off seven-play, 74-yard drive by taking it in from six yards out for the first of his two rushing touchdowns on the night. The conversion kick was muffed to knot the score at 6-6 with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter.
Tewksbury would add another score before the end of the first half as Sullivan would score his second on a 10-yard scamper to give the Redmen a 12-6 lead at the break.
Tewksbury would score first in the second half on Sullivan’s second touchdown of the game from three yards out and never look back as they controlled the line of scrimmage, dominated the early down plays and used a combination of speed and aggressiveness to seal the win.
“I think the defense was the story tonight with the running game,” Tewksbury head coach Brian Aylward said after the game.
When asked about his team’s success on early downs Aylward stressed the importance of owning the first downs.
“I think that is huge,” Aylward said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Bruce) Rich and certainly since I have been coaching against him I have learned as much about coaching as any of the coaches I have coached against. If you give them those short second-and-five downs, they will own you.”
Sullivan also stressed the importance of team defense in controlling the tempo of the game.
“Our defense was real young last year and we learned a lot over the course of the season,” Sullivan said. “We are a lot more mature and experienced this year and everyone really just executed their assignments, made the plays and we did it together.”
Balance and Toughness: Tewksbury controlled the time of possession behind the running attack of Sullivan, Eddie Matovu (81 yards) and Tom Casey as they ran between the tackles to keep the chains moving and each other fresh all night.
“If we are going to be good we are going to have to get it from all of them,” Aylward said of his stable of backs. “The teams we play are too good and the coaching staffs that we play against are too good to be beaten by a one trick pony.”
Sullivan did the bulk of the work early in the game, followed by Matovu for the majority of the middle quarters, with Casey closing it out on the ground at the end.
“We wanted to pound the C-gap and we just felt it out as they shifted all over throughout the game,” Sullivan said. “We have pretty good weapons everywhere so we feel that we have confidence to use everyone.”
The Tewksbury line, led by two-way lineman Ethan Eloi also stood out on the evening.
Big Conversions: Johnny Aylward’s stats may not tell the entire story but the senior signal caller came up with two of the biggest plays of the game as he used his legs and elusiveness to scramble outside of the pocket and complete two drive-saving passes.
The first came on a fourth-and-eight play early in the second quarter with the game tied at 6-6. Aylward rolled right and found Kevin Dick on a 9-yard sideline-route, toe dragger, for a first down that eventually led to 10-yard Matovu touchdown run.
Aylward would do it again early in the third quarter as Tewksbury led 12-6 with a third-and-long backed up in their own territory. Aylward took the snap, rolled across his body left and found a streaking John Saunders for a 15-yard gain for a critical first down.
Not Enough D’Auria: All-MVC D1 running back Jeff D’Auria of Chelmsford saw limited touches on the evening, despite gaining 61 yards on limited carries. Chelmsford had a difficult time getting into rhythm offensively and thus D’Auria’s touches suffered.
“Some of it was situational,” Rich explained. “I think we also came out right away and threw the ball well and probably loosened up a little too much out there.”
Expect to see a steady dose of D’Auria and the Chelmsford run game when Chelmsford hosts Westford Academy and Billerica the next two Fridays.
“Our M.O. is to run the football and to play action pass off of that,” Rich added. “I do not think we were able to execute the play action as we did not run the ball often enough. We have to get better everywhere and we will.”
Lekan Banged Up: Chelmsford played for most of the night without the services of senior Co-Captain Devin Lekan. The 6-foot-2, 220 pound defensive end/ tight end is one of the top returning two-way players in the MVC and left big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball in his absence.
“He has been banged up for a couple of weeks now,” Rich said. “He did it in an early scrimmage and he has just not been right. He is a great football player and we really need him to be healthy and that certainly hurt us as well.”