TEWKSBURY, Mass. – When Mike Decaro broke up the middle for a 91-yard Gloucester kickoff return in the third quarter, all Tewksbury (9-0) coach Brian Aylward could do was shake his head and stare from the sideline.
The return gave the Fishermen a 17-14 lead, but Aylward was confident, as he has been all season long, that his team’s hard work in the offseason wouldn’t soon go to waste. The result: a 28-25 victory for the Redmen in one of the most thrilling games of the MIAA football tournament.
“Vince Lombardi always said ‘the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.’ You’ve got to dig deep into the 95 degrees in July and August when you’re making all kinds of sacrifices to be down here lifting weights and running,” Aylward said. “You’re gonna need it at some point in November, and we talked about that through the summer.”
“We dug in deep when we needed to. I’m proud of the kids, we’ve got good leadership. The whole boatload of them did so much work that they were ready to keep fighting.”
The Redmen (9-0) were anchored on the ground by James Sullivan, who turned in a tremendous performance, rushing for 103 yards and all four of Tewksbury’s touchdowns. Shortly after Decaro’s kickoff return energized the Gloucester (6-3) sideline, Sullivan caught a 21 yard catch from quarterback Johnny Aylward to give the Redmen the lead for good.
“They paid a lot of attention to a couple of different sets that we have that confused me a little bit. It wouldn’t be the ones I would have picked if I played against me and our team,” Aylward said. "We settled into a couple things that we thought would work —- get upfield and inside. We usually go inside-outside and do some throws, but they pressed pretty good on the outside -- we were able to get one on the outside to Sully.”
Gloucester held a 10-7 lead going into halftime, thanks to a 26-yard field goal by Eli Horne and some big runs from bruising fullback Jon Good (15 carries, 100 yards).
The Fishermen had the ball to start the second half, but were forced to punt following a three and out. The snap was far over Jordan Pallazola’s head, with a fumble as the result. Following the turnover on downs, Tewksbury found themselves with the ball on the Gloucester six yardline. Sullivan took care of the rest on the next play, running in the six yard score.
“They’re a tough team, they’ve always been known to fight -- they’re all tough. We just had to keep grinding it out, we had some things go wrong but it’s the playoffs; it’s all about adversity and fighting through it,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan added one more score after his TD catch and Decaro’s kick return, but Gloucester put one last drive together to makes things interesting at the end of the game. The Fishermen went to John Curcuru for his first carry of the game, bringing in a 46-yard touchdown and converting a two point conversion. Ultimately though, their final effort came up just short.
Tewksbury will move on to play Marblehead next week, but don’t expect Aylward to alter the gameplan much. With several athletic weapons on the ground, the Redmen will bring a fast-moving attack in hopes of advancing further.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that put in the work and have been blessed with some ability. We can kind of play to whoever the hot hand is...We’ve been trying to play it that way,” Aylward said. “They were tough up front, they did some things that kind of threw us out of sync with what we normally do.”