|Shrewsbury's Michael Okayka makes a difficult catch despite being sandwiched by a pair of Milford defenders. (Mark C. Ide/For the Globe)|
SHREWSBURY - A perfect season, galvanized by a tight-knit class of 21 Shrewsbury seniors, rested on the shoulders, and powerful right arm, of Jawad Yatim.
After Alex Alvarez, the Colonials' top rushing and outside threat, left the game with 2:41 left in the first quarter with a slight concussion, Yatim stood tall in the pocket and carried Shrewsbury to its 11th straight victory.
The sturdy 6-foot, 198-pound Yatim plunged in from the 1 on a keeper in the first quarter. He marched the Colonials 60 yards for the go-ahead field goal in the third quarter. Then he capped his magnificent performance with a 31-yard scoring toss on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Shrewsbury a hard-earned 15-7 victory over Milford in the teams' 32d Thanksgiving meeting.
Shrewsbury (11-0), the lone unbeaten team in Central Massachusetts, will play a Division 1A playoff game Tuesday against Fitchburg at Oakmont (4 p.m.).
"Once Alex went down, I knew that they had to count on me a lot more than before," said Yatim, who finished 14 of 20 for 195 yards, with one interception. "I told the line, 'Give me time.' Our receivers were amazing today and the line blocked very well."
Without 1,000-yard rusher Alvarez (11 touchdowns), the Colonials struggled to establish the run against a fierce Milford defense, anchored by senior linebacker Nick DiAntonio.
So Yatim went to the air - primarily to senior wideout Michael Okayka (6 catches, 93 yards).
On the first scoring drive, Yatim connected with a leaping Okayka over the middle for 21 yards on third and 14. Later, on fourth and 9, Yatim lofted a perfect spiral down the middle to Okayka for a 37-yard gain to the 1. Yatim plowed in for the score, but the Colonials failed to convert the point-after after a bad snap.
The Scarlet Hawks (4-7), the defending Division 1A champions and winners of the last three Thanksgiving matchups vs. Shrewsbury, then capitalized on Yatim's lone mistake, an interception. Junior defensive back Alex Avery came down with Yatim's throw, and junior quarterback Brendon Casey (8 of 18, 108 yards, one interception) took Milford 70 yards on 10 plays, finishing the drive with a 2-yard counter.
Casey's extra point gave the visitors a 7-6 lead with 3:14 left in the half.
On Shrewsbury's second series of the third quarter, Yatim found Paul Tizzano down the right sideline for a 45-yard gain to the 10, setting up Paul LeMay's 23-yard field goal for a 9-7 lead.
"We had been running hitches," said Yatim. "In the second half, we said, 'We can run a hitch-and-go,' and [Tizzano] just ran right by."
Shrewsbury coach Terry Walles said the Colonials had to change their approach after Alvarez left.
"We just talked [at halftime] about guys stepping up," said Walles. "I put it on the offensive line."
On the first play of the fourth quarter, a fourth-and-6 call from the Milford 31, Yatim spotted his cousin, Mohamed Yatim, open in the middle. The senior receiver snared the ball at the 13 and darted untouched into the end zone for a 15-7 lead.
After back-to-back seasons in which the Colonials went 1-10 and 3-8, Walles called the 11-0 turnaround "unbelievable."
"I am just so happy for the seniors, they hung in there, had two tough years," said Walles. "They came back with a vengeance and worked real hard."