The Turnaround, The “Drive,” The Championship

Andover Football completed a stunning turnaround this year, going from a 2-7 record to a New England Championship-winning team. The team finished this season with an undefeated 9-0 record.

Led by an experienced group of 20 Seniors, Andover averaged 33 points per game. A stifling Andover defense held all but one of its opponents to two or fewer touchdowns.

Andover won several of its games in blowout fashion, including four victories by more than 30 points.

Andover faced its first tough test of the season in its second game against Kent. With the score 13-13, Ian Maag ’14 lobbed a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to seal a 20-13 Andover victory.

Two weeks later against Cushing Academy, the Andover offense struggled for most of the game, only managing to muster up seven points. The defense, however, turned in a shutout performance by stonewalling Cushing’s offense from the one-yard line with one minute left in the game.

“I think [the wins against Kent and Cushing] were the reasons why we won close games down the stretch. It showed that we weren’t an unstoppable force. We found out that we couldn’t score at will. It taught us humility,¨ said Co-Captain Tyler Marshall ‘14.

Andover’s highlight of the season came in what Head Coach and _The Phillipian_ Coach of the Fall Leon Modeste refers to as “The Drive.” With Andover down 12-6 against rival Exeter, Andover’s offense pounded out a nine-minute, 89-yard touchdown drive. Running back Ryder Stone ’14 busted into the end zone with about 30 seconds left in the game, giving Andover a 13-12 victory over Exeter.

Hundreds of Andover fans stormed the field after Andover’s first win against Exeter since 2007.

The win propelled Andover to the NESPAC League title, and with an 8-0 regular season record, Andover qualified for the Jack Etter Bowl against Brunswick.

“I think about that day a lot. I felt relief. We had finally conquered that mountain of beating Exeter. We had been grinding for so long on this uphill battle and we kept hitting a rock and slipping back down. To find that willpower to climb up and hit that peak means a lot. It felt like that win was a long time coming,” said Rob Rush ’14.

Rush continued, “We didn’t just win for us. We won for the Class of ’12, who went 0-8, the Class of ’13, who went 2-5, and all of the classes back until ’09 who hadn’t experienced a win over Exeter.”

One week after “The Drive,” Andover was once again in need of some fourth quarter magic. Down 22 points, Brunswick looked to be cruising to victory.

But in a dominant 10-minute span, Andover, led by Stone, scored 22 unanswered points. Stone finished with 229 yards on 27 carries.

With two minutes and 45 seconds left in the game, Ian Maag ’14 pump faked to Ilalio in the flat before hitting a wide open Matthew Rusk-Kosa ’14 on a 66-yard bomb that gave Andover its first lead of the game 35-28.

The drama did not end there.

Brunswick drove down the field to Andover’s 34 yard line. After providing the heroics against Exeter with a crucial 4th-down conversion, Brandon Michel ’14 once again played the role of hero, tipping away consecutive shots to the end zone in single coverage against Brunswick’s number one receiver.

Andover held on to take the Jack Etter Bowl 35-28.

The players credited their success to a balance of chemistry and talent on the team.

Post-Graduates Ian Maag ’14, Stone, Michel, Matt Rusk-Kosa, Sam MacMillan, Matt Ilalio, Dan McGurl and Michael Moore brought tremendous talent to the team. The other Seniors, talented in their own right, brought valuable experience to the team. Four-year Senior Alec Tolentino ’14 had a key interception against Exeter and four-year Senior Jake Howell ’14 had a 76-yard touchdown against Loomis.

“Right from Henry [DeRuff] ’14 and Josiah [Legaspi] ’14 manning the scout team to me and John Cifrino ’14, the captains, and all the freshmen, lowers, uppers and seniors, we all came together. In the Brunswick game, when we were down, Matt [Rusk-Kosa] was saying, ‘We’re just making it interesting. We’re making it interesting.’ This team made the season feel more like fun and less like a job,¨ said Marshall.

“Other teams in the past have been more talented than we were this year, but we really played as a team. That’s why we played so well. We were a team,¨ said Rob Needham ’15, who will serve as the 2014 Football Captain.

Other Seniors on the team included Thomas Mullen ‘14, the team’s kicker and punter, Michael DeLaus ‘14, Will Young ‘14, Greg Hosono ‘14 and Zen Wolfson ‘14.

Coach Leon Modeste had kind words for the seniors on the team.

“Those four-year guys like Alec [Tolentino] and Jake [Howell] are all capable of playing college ball. The main thing is how they stuck with it. Remember that two years ago, those seniors were 0-8. And now they’re 9-0. That’s worst to first. My hat’s off to them. They took us on an amazing journey,” said Modeste.