The year of the payback continued for the Tewksbury High football team as the Redmen ran all over three-time defending Merrimack Valley Conference champion Dracut High on their way to a 33-15 Homecoming Day victory Saturday afternoon.
Tewksbury's ball control offense scored four rushing touchdowns and piled up 233 yards on the ground under wet and windy conditions while the Redmen played nearly error-free football as Doucette Field ate up its third straight MVC giant.
Senior running back Dan Altavesta made many of the big plays carrying seven times for a team-high 82 yards and a touchdown, while the team's leading rusher, Chris Bettano, carried 22 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Kevin Saunders gained 33 yards on the ground and scored on a quarterback sneak, and freshman fullback James Sullivan added 41 yards on four carries as Tewksbury controlled the clock and kept the Dracut offense on the sidelines for most of the game.
It was Tewksbury's third straight win at home, after uspetting both Andover and Central Catholic earlier this season.
"I knew we could do it," Saunders said afterward. "It got wet out here so we went with what we do the best, the ground and pound, and it worked out well for us."
Even more important was the fact that Redmen did not turn the ball over, even once, for the first time this season. Tewksbury ran 48 rushing plays and only six passing plays, executing well and keeping mistakes to a minimum.
"That was really important," said TMHS coach Brian Aylward. "I don't think there's a coach on this planet that doesn't talk about it. We've been talking a lot about penalties and turnovers and how our margin of error is very small against every team we play."
On Saturday, however, it was Dracut that made the costly mistakes, as two first half turnovers led to a 14-7 Tewksbury lead at the break.
Dracut struck first when junior running back Bryant Tuff scored on an 18-yard run with five minutes to play in the first quarter. But Tewksbury responded with an 11-play, 67-yard drive that Bettano capped off with a four-yard touchdown run to pull Tewksbury to within one at 7-6.
Four plays later, senior defensive back Frankie McLaughlin intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards to the Dracut 20-yard line, setting up Bettano's second touchdown run, this one from seven yards out.
Dracut looked ready to draw even late in the second quarter, but senior linebacker Derek Tarpey ended a long Middie drive by recovering a fumble on the Tewksbury 24-yard line to preserve TMHS's 14-7 halftime lead.
The third quarter was all Tewksbury, as the Redmen took the opening kick-off 67 yards on five plays, with Saunders hitting McLaughlin with a 13-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 21-7.
On Dracut's next possession, a fumbled punt snap gave Tewksbury the ball on the Middie 18, and six plays later Saunders pushed the ball over from a yard out on a quarterbvack sneak to give Tewksbury a 27-7 at the end of three quarters.
The Redmen extended their lead to 33-7 when Altavesta scored on a 16-yard reverse with seven minutes to play. And even though Dracut rallied for a quick touchdown just 1:30 later, the TMHS defense slammed the door over the final five minutes and secured the win.
Dracut's junior quarterback, Jimmy Ryan, showed flashes of brilliance completing 12-of-20 passes for 142 yards, but big defensive plays from the likes of Tarpey, Altavesta, Saunders and linebackers Nick Winn and Chris London held the Middies to 94 yards rushing on 24 carries.
The victory improves Tewksbury's record to 3-3 overall, and 3-2 in the MVC. It was the first win over Dracut since 2007, and gave the Redmen two important points in their quest to take the MVC Division 2 championship this fall.
With Lawrence having lost to Billerica, 21-18, Friday night and the Middies now sitting at 2-4 on the season, Tewksbury now sits alone atop the MVC Division 2 standings with four points.
And while neither Saunders nor Aylward was ready to proclaim Tewksbury as the team to beat in Division 2, an air of excitement lingered around Doucette Field long after the game.
"Winning the division would be a dream come true," Saunders said. "But I think we're pretty level headed right now. We know we have some great teams left to play so we just have to stay focused in practice and try to work hard."
"We got off to a rough start this year but we've got a bunch of kids who want to play football and they've come in and worked hard all year," Aylward said. "I'm happy for them. They deserve this win. They've got to keep working hard and I know we're banged up, but I'm proud of these kids. They played good."