BYFIELD, Mass. -- It is hard to predict when Governor's Academy's winning streak will come to an end. But by all accounts, following their 20-0 dismantling of Lawrence Academy in Saturday's ISL season-opener, the belief is it won't be anytime soon.
The Governors, winners of 19 straight games, flexed their muscle on both sides of the ball, keeping the Spartans at bay throughout to start off the year at 1-0. GA pressured LA quarterback Kyle Howes all afternoon and, for the most part, held the Spartan rushing attack in check. LA finished with 157 yards, just 53 coming in the first half.
"That team has some great weapons and their wide receiver (Chris) Garrison is a Division 1 talent so we had to know where he was on the field at all times," third-year Governors head coach Jim O'Leary said. "We're not there yet and didn't play our best game but we're going to get better. Hats off to our defense today. I'm an offensive guy but our defense really kept us in this game. The way these kids play football, they play so hard all the time."
Garrison finished with seven receptions for 48 yards but was shadowed constantly. LA quarterback Kyle Howes seemed to be under pressure each time the ball was snapped into his hands as he was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket. The senior threw for 88 yards on 13 of 25 completions. When the Spartans attempted to run the ball, GA's defensive line was just as stingy. They continuously pushed the Spartans front wall backwards and, in the process, took down the running backs several times for negative yardage.
Despite the offensive inadequacies, the Spartans did reach the Governor's red zone three times -- once making it to the one yard line. But all three times the Governors defense held their ground by keeping LA out of the end zone.
While GA's offense sputtered in the opening quarter, it began to find its rhythm late in the frame. A 59 yard pitch and catch from senior quarterback Thomas Vailas to Edward Bettencourt helped set up a Vailas 25-yard scoring pass to tight end Dan Healey to put GA ahead 7-0 with 11:21 remaining before the half.
The Governors saw a golden opportunity to add to their total moments later wasted. Facing a fourth-and-8 on the LA 28, O'Leary, instead of attempting a field goal, decided to keep his offensive unit on the field. The decision backfired after Vailas was picked off by Howes.
"I'm still a gambler," admitted O'Leary. "I took a chance early and it almost killed me but thankfully my defense bailed me out."
The Spartans were unable to convert the turnover into points, and with time ticking down in the half, GA got the ball back and didn't disappoint this time. Standing on the LA 46, Vailas rolled to his right and somehow managed to thread a pass in-between defensive backs Howes and Jake Cassidy and into the hands of receiver Larsen Bidstrup for a touchdown putting the Governors up by two scores heading into the break.
The Spartans (0-1) began the second half with a solid drive which was snuffed out on the GA 16. The Governors, finishing with 312 yards, took the ensuing possession and marched 82 yards capped off by Vailas' 4 yard keeper over the goal line with 15 seconds to go in the third quarter.
"We work hard every day in practice with our base offense and we believe it is going to work," said Vailas (4-of-9, 138 yards). "Our offensive line and our backs are tough. We're just going to continue to pound. Our defense came up huge today. Defense wins championships and I feel we have the toughest kids in the state."
Despite LA's poor showing offensively, head coach Paul Zukauskas can come away knowing he saw a silver lining in the form of running back AJ Dillon. The freshman, taking the brunt of the carries, gained 88 yards on 22 carries and should be a fixture in this program over the next four years.
"A.J. is only a freshman but he's going to be a very good player for us," said Zukauskas, in his third season at the helm. "He's a real-tough kid. Give Governors the credit. They have a true football program going on right now. They have a great coaching staff and you can see it in the way their kids play.
"We had some chances early but just couldn't pop it in. Their running game kept pounding us and we eventually got tired. But we're fine. This is just the first game so we feel as though we have a lot we can improve on. But our best players need to play better."