By Joyce Erekson
No one wants to hear the words “wait until next year” after being eliminated from the playoffs, but the English High football team has plenty of reason to believe this year’s run at a Super Bowl berth is the start of something good.
The Bulldogs, playing on their home turf, took a 9-0 record into Saturday’s Division 3 North Final against Tewksbury and although they lost, 22-18, they served notice that English football is back.
“This 2017 team is the one that put English football back on the map,” coach Chris Carroll said.
As tough as the loss was (English had actually rallied to take an 18-15 lead with 3:30 left in the game), Carroll couldn’t have been happier with his team’s performance this year.
“I’m proud of all the kids,” English coach Chris Carroll said. “I’m proud of how far we came as a program. The kids played their hearts out.”
Conversions, or a lack thereof, proved to be the Bulldogs’ undoing. Tewksbury took an 8-0 lead on a James Connolly 16-yard pass to Shane Darrigo (the rush was good) with 42 seconds left in the first half, but English’s Ski Gaston (4 rushes, 86 yards) got it back spectacular fashion with a 75-yard run up the middle in the third quarter. English had to settle for the six points when Ishmile Bangura was stopped on the conversion.
Tewksbury went up 15-6 on Brandon Winn’s 18-yard pass to Braden Hiltz (Tyler Keogh’s kick was good) late in the quarter, but once again, the Bulldogs battled back. This time it was freshman Mathies Fowler working some magic. Fowler, who is usually on the receiving end of quarterback Matt Severance’s throws, hit Juan Avelino with a picture-perfect 47-yard touchdown pass, but once again, the conversion failed.
The Bulldogs (9-1) took their only lead of the game late in the fourth quarter on a drive that started on the English 28. Severance (7-for-15 for 84 yards) moved things along with a 53-yard pass to a Tyshawn Anderson (4 receptions, 67 yards), followed by a 14-yard keeper. The junior quarterback ran it in from the three for and 18-15 lead, but the Redmen blocked the kick. Tewksbury (9-1) got the ball back with 3:30 left in the game, and that proved to be more than enough time to end the Bulldogs’ Super Bowl dreams.
The Redmen started their drive on their own 42 and immediately put themselves on the English doorstep with a 29-yard pass by Connolly to Darrigo. Six plays later, workhorse Winn, who had the bulk of the carries for Tewksbury, jumped the pile from the one and landed in the end zone to put the Redmen up 21-18. Keough kicked the extra point and the Bulldogs found themselves down by four with 1:42 left in the game. Unfortunately for English, the rally well had run dry.
“Conversions played a huge part in the game,” Carroll said. “We lost to a team that made a few more plays than we did. We had the lead, but we couldn’t hold on to it. As a program, we’ll learn from it.”
The Bulldogs were without one of their most potent offensive weapons, Prince Brown. Brown, who is one of the leading receivers in Division 3 with nine of his 11 touchdowns coming on receptions, fractured his hand in the win over Billerica the previous week. Although he played, he was only the target of one pass by Severance and it was intercepted.
“Prince Brown is the best receiver in Division 3, at least in the North and he’s one of the best in the state,” Carroll said. “We didn’t lose him altogether, but we lost some of the plays we like to throw to him. Did it hurt our offense? Certainly. When you lose a player of that magnitude it hurts. He was out there battling. He’s a tremendous kid. He’ll be back.”
With a trip to the Super Bowloff the table, the Bulldogs will now gear up for Thanksgiving and a showdown with Classical. The Rams also had a great season and will bring an 8-2 record to the party.
“It was a bitter end to our playoff run, but we have our second season, Thanksgiving, to get ready for,” Carroll said, adding that he won’t get over this game any time soon.