Redmen Are Champions After All

Dracut's win over Lawrence on Friday night clinched the MVC Division 2 Championship for Tewksbury High, in spite of the loss to Haverhill.

Hold on a minute, folks.

Stop the presses.

Don't jump off the bandwagon just yet, because as it turns out, your 2011 are the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 champions after all.

When Dracut High beat Lawrence High, 6-2 (yes, this is football, not hockey) Friday night, the MVC Division 2 standings shook, rattled and rolled for a while. When the dust had settled, just two teams -- Dracut and Haverhill -- still had a chance to match Tewksbury's seven points in the MVC standings, and Tewksbury owns the tiebreaker advantage over both of them.

If Tewksbury and Dracut tie for first, Tewksbury would go to the playoffs based on having beaten Dracut, head-to-head. And if Haverhill and Tewksbury tie for first, it doesn't matter, because Haverhill is not eligible for the playoffs this year because of a scheduling decision made by the Hillies in the off-season.

Haverhill, which had gone more than three seasons without winning a regular season MVC game prior to this year, petitioned the league for some relief from the rigors of being a small school among MVC giants like Lowell, Chelmsford and Central Catholic. The league granted the Hillies that relief this fall, taking Central and Chelmsford off their schedule. But in return, Haverhill had to surrender its eligibility for the MVC Division 2 title and the MIAA playoff berth that goes with it.

So on the silent bus ride home from Haverhill Friday night, once TMHS head coach Brian Aylward learned that Dracut had beaten Lawrence, it only took a little math to figure out that his team had backed its way into its first ever MVC Division 2 championship, and its first post-season appearance since 1996,

"The bus was pretty quiet after the way the game went," Aylward said. "So we didn't say much then. But when we got home we talked to them about how this is the late stages of a season that's seen a lot of ups and downs, but because of what we've done during the season, we've earned the right to represent the league in at least one extra game after Thanksgiving."

As it turns out, the monumental wins over Andover, Central, Dracut and Lowell, along with the overtime win over Methuen, were enough to clinch the MVC Div. 2 championship and a trip to an MIAA playoff game.

That game will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 29th, most likely against Reading High of the Middlesex League, at an undetermined location. If the Redmen win that game, they will play in a Division 2 Super Bowl on Saturday Dec. 3.

But between now and then, Tewksbury has two more regular season games left to worry about. The Redmen face Chelmsford on Friday night, so Aylward and his coaching staff skipped the Division 2 championship victory celebration and wasted no time getting prepared for the MVC's top team as they attended the Chelmsford/Lowell game on Saturday night.

"Right now, we're just trying to focus on (Chelmsford) and try to remind our guys of what they can do when they put it all together," Aylward said as he sat in the stands at the Chelmsford/Lowell game. "We can talk about (winning the Div. 2 title) after the season. Right now, the goods and the bads, either way, aren't going to help us. It's about what we do this week to get prepared for Chelmsford."

Aylward's biggest task this week looks to be finding a replacement for senior quarterback Kevin Saunders, who is also one of the team's top defensive players. Saunders sufffered a possible concussion in the Haverhill game, and may not be healthy enough to play on Friday night at Chelmsford.

Sophomore quarterback Johnny Aylward took most of the snaps after Saunders left the game Friday night, with junior QB Zak Dirocco hopping in for a few plays.

"Both of them (Aylward and DiRocco) will get a lot of reps in practice this week," Aylward said. "We'll evaluate them as the week goes on."

One thing Aylward knows he can count on is the production he gets from senior running back Chris Bettano, who carried the ball 37 times for a career-high 251 yards and three touchdowns Friday night. Bettano has rushed for 1229 yards and 13 touchdowns so far this season.

"We gave him a bigger job than we usually do (Friday night), and he did his job," Aylward said of Bettano. "He spills his guts in every game. We know we're going to get a touchdown type effort out of him every time he touches the ball."

Friday's game is at 7:00 p.m. under the lights at Chelmsford.




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