Andover scripts a happy ending
ANDOVER — The eye black caking Andrew Coke’s face was running down his cheeks as he took the Andover helmet off his head. Under normal circumstances, it would mask his true emotions. But not on this day.
“This feels great,’’ said Coke, smiling ear to ear. “Playing on Thanksgiving, getting a win, and finishing off a league title — I couldn’t be happier today.’’
Coke ran for 105 yards — 67 on the game-icing touchdown drive — as Andover defeated Central Catholic, 19-7, yesterday to clinch the Merrimack Valley Conference Large championship.
The Golden Warriors won their first league title in 35 years and will face No. 1 Everett in the Division 1 playoffs Tuesday.
“Five weeks ago, they counted us as dead,’’ said coach E.J. Perry. “We lost to Chelmsford, 35-7.
“I asked [the players] to look within themselves. They knew we had a shot. Today we are the Merrimack Valley champs for the first time in 35 years. We’re going to the playoffs. It can’t get any better than this.’’
The Raiders had bottled up Coke for 3 1/2 quarters, limiting him to 38 yards on 12 carries. But once Perry shifted Coke to tailback, the running lanes opened up. Coke gashed Central Catholic on runs of 36 and 15 yards before capping that last drive with a 6-yard touchdown.
“In the past games, when they’ve been looking at footage, I’ve been playing quarterback,’’ Coke said. “They were used to that. We came back with me at running back, exactly like earlier in the season. We pounded the ball. That’s what we’ve done best all season.’’
The Andover offense was limited without tight end Brian Miller, who injured his knee in the team’s 88-82 eight-overtime victory two weeks ago. He had surgery Wednesday.
“Brian Miller was the missing ingredient on offense,’’ Perry said. “It really hurt us not to have him.’’
Without Miller, the Golden Warriors struggled when they got deep in Raiders territory in the first half. They scored one touchdown — a 2-yard run by Michael McGovern — but otherwise had to settle for a pair of field goals (37 and 42 yards) by Mark Zavrl.
Central Catholic, which was averaging 25.6 points per game, scored its lone touchdown at the end of a bizarre 12-play, 27-yard drive that included a snap that went over the quarterback’s head for a 28-yard loss and 44 yards worth of penalties on the defense. Trae Musumarra punched the ball in from a yard out on fourth and goal.
The Raiders had a chance to take the lead with 5:16 left when they took over at their own 48 following a punt. But Freddie Scribner deflected a pass and Matt Crush sacked quarterback Ben Onett to force a punt. Coke scored on the ensuing drive.
“The defense was unbelievable,’’ Perry said. “They carried us all day, especially in the second half.’’