WILMINGTON – In some ways Brian Aylward looks a lot like Bill Belichick. At press conferences, Belichick doesn’t want to be asked about all Super Bowl wins, Tom Brady, and whether he coached this guy or that guy.
Aylward has nothing to do with the gruff guy Belichick can be, but the Redmen coach says when your career is over it’s time to marvel at the wins and those special memories. He thinks the same on the pitch as a coach: forget about that last game, instead focus on what awaits you now.
Ten straight wins against Wilmington are a thing of the past. What’s in front of the Redmen is a final game of a very successful season. It’s a game that matters too much to Aylward, to the program, to players past and present and to the football community. It all comes down to beating Wilmington at Thanksgiving – and while some of the clashes in the past have been easier than others, on paper this one has the potential to be one of the best in over 20 years. .
The 7-3 Redmen will make the trip next door to take on the 6-4 Wildcats on Thursday morning with kick-off at 10:00 am. Wilmington, still healing his wounds after his playoff loss to Foxboro last week, has every intention of licking his chops to dethrone Tewksbury’s decade of dominance.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game. I’m certainly glad it’s back. It’s good to have both teams from the same division and both made the playoffs, ”said Aylward. “(Wilmington) came further (than us) into the playoffs and they were right with this team (Foxboro) from the start. If a few games had taken a different direction I think it would have felt completely different and even the weather, I think, was a factor. We have our work cut out for us and we know it, but we know it every week. The way we approach (play) with our kids is the same as we do every week of the season, but also every Thanksgiving year. “
As in every season, Tewksbury adopted a macabre program. The Redmen went 2-3 against five teams that made it to the playoffs, beating Division 2 finalist Billerica, 12-10, in an exciting way, as well as Chelmsford, 21-6. All three losses came to Danvers in Game 1 and then to Andover and Bedford in consecutive weeks despite several injured starters. The exhausted roster came back stronger than ever last week, beating a truly solid Wayland side, 35-30, in a formidable back-and-forth battle.
Wilmington has also been tested in combat. The ‘Cats – as usual – are undersized, but hooked but were defeated against Woburn, Billerica and Foxboro, fought mightily against Stoneham, as they beat Middleboro and earlier in the season Melrose.
Tewksbury has had some misfiring offensively this season at times, but for the most part he’s been quite effective with senior Danny Fleming taking over as QB two years later as one of the running backs of the l ‘team. He was not with the team during the fall-2 season as he went to Bishop Guertin for a year and then returned. If you ask anyone from the Wilmington Squad, this is the biggest fish to whip.
“Obviously Fleming is really good, but I don’t think it necessarily ends with him. (Michael) Sullivan is fantastic, and so is (Alex) Arbogast,” said WHS head coach Craig Turner. . “Sullivan is also very good in defense. Every week it seems like he’s playing a big game in defense. Obviously their (offensive) line is really good with (Davenche) Sydney and (Cole) Kimtis, they’re really tough. He’s a typical Tewksbury team, very tough physically and well trained. “
Fleming enters this hot game. He ran for 254 yards in the win over Wayland and has just 38 yards left to reach 1,000 this season. He scored 16 touchdowns and threw eight more, giving him 24 combined scores in ten games, which is really absurd.
The loss of full-back Sean Hirtle was big, but Justin Darrigo still seems to be making a big game out of nowhere and Hunter Johnson can be crafty in an open space. Space is what Alex Arbogast needs. He hasn’t had much success running indoors, but outside no one can catch him. He has 658 rushing yards and seven scores this season. He could certainly be a big wildcard in this contest – especially on screen, he largely faints.
Sullivan is the team’s best receiver. He has 22 catches for 330 yards and six scores. TD’s other assists went to Johnson and Darrigo, while Sully returned one of his to Fleming.
There is definitely more than one Big Dog in this fight. Tewksbury has a lot of weapons to choose from, but Fleming can do so much with the ball, with his legs, after first contact so it’s hard to prepare for this game.
“The only thing unique about Tewksbury this year is that they usually have three or four really good (runners) backs and you have to know where they are and it’s a little different this year because you are really trying. to find Fleming and where he is and he’s in the same place every time, “Turner said.” It’s a little different because we don’t spend all week finding out where Shane Aylward is every time he is there. So in our defense it’s just a matter of making them look different and hopefully containing Fleming. (As a quarterback) he’s as good a runner with the ball as I’ve seen him in a while. He’s very tough and he’s deceptively fast too. He arrives at the seam and he goes. He’s another kid where I was watching the 2019 game and he was over there playing us when he was just a second as a running back.
“It’s the same Tewksbury (typical team) – doing a ton of different stuff (offensively) and it’s been a long week for (Wilmington defensive coordinator) Sean (Turner). every year, but there are also a lot of things that they do differently every year. “
Up front, Tewksbury’s offensive line has been damn good all season with tackles like Nick Wilson and a very talented sophomore named Luke Shaw, guards Aaron Connelly and Cole Kimtis, Sydney center, then Blake Ryder. and Isaias Pena at the tight end. Senior Brent Graham and junior James Carroll will also be in play in some packages.
“If we can handle them up front, or just be competitive up front, I think it’s the most balanced game we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Turner.
Defensively, Tewksbury allowed 174 points, or 17.4 points per game. Surprisingly, they allow just 100 rushing yards per game and 3.8 per carry, and 134 passing yards per game. The part that’s been overlooked this season is that the Redmen’s defense caused 22 turnovers in ten games – a whopping 14 interceptions, led by Sullivan – who has half of those picks – and eight fumble recoveries.
Sydney, Wilson, Pena, Connelly and Ryder have been the mainstays of the defensive line, while Kimtis has been formidable as a linebacker. Jack Donovan became the second linebacker after Hirtle fell. The secondary, which has occasionally folded, is led by Fleming, Sullivan, Darrigo and Logan Auth.
This group will also have their hands full with Wilmington’s offensive attack led by QB Pedro Germano, who appeared to become a star overnight, as well as the very dangerous Gavin Erickson, who put in three consecutive dynamic performances. Marcello Misuraca, Michael Lawler, John Germano and Tommy Mallinson certainly all have the ability to make big plays.
Tewksbury, like Wilmington, will certainly have their hands full. There will be plenty of talented athletes on the pitch on Thursday and as always, the result of this rivalry usually comes down to execution in all three phases of the game – attack, defense and special teams – and mastery of emotions, because an extremely large crowd is expected for this one. This crowd will want to see if the Redmen can get 11 straight wins, or if Wilmington can finally get one.
“This is the last chance for these senior guys to go out and represent their city, their families and their school,” said Aylward. “They’ll want to play the best game they’ve ever played. They’ll have lifelong memories of it, so you want them to be good and as long as your efforts are there all the time and you spill your guts and give your all. have, in the end, these will be strong memories.
“The great thing for all kids every year is that you don’t want to be a guy who could have, should have, should have had. You need good focus and effort all the time and they will need it all. the morning .”