By Dan Guttenplan
---- — LOWELL — With time, the Amesbury football team will flush out the memories of last night’s season-ending loss to Lynnfield and focus on the abundance of positive things that happened this season.
Unfortunately for the Indians, there are very few positives to take from last night’s 35-14 loss to Lynnfield in the Eastern Mass. Division 3A playoffs at Cawley Stadium. The Pioneers (9-2) will advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1986. On the other hand, Amesbury (9-3) fell one game shy of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since its state-championship season in 2008.
Amesbury struggled on both sides of the ball. Lynnfield gashed the Indians’ defense for 308 rushing yards, and Amesbury’s offense committed four turnovers.
“You come into these games hoping to play your best game,” Amesbury coach Thom Connors said. “Tonight, we didn’t. That happens sometimes. We played two huge games in a row, with a very emotional win against Pentucket, and a huge emotional win over Newburyport. You have to play four or five days later, and do it all over again. For whatever reason, we didn’t do it.”
The loss marks the end of an otherwise successful Amesbury season that saw the squad win its first Cape Ann League title since 2008. The Indians closed out the regular season with eight consecutive victories and a perfect 5-0 mark against CAL Division 3 foes.
The senior-laden squad posted five more wins than last year’s Amesbury team, marking the biggest improvement for any team representing the CAL in the postseason. However, Lynnfield has had Amesbury’s number as of late.
Last night’s victory marked Lynnfield’s fifth consecutive win over Amesbury, a streak dating back to 2009. The Pioneers also posted a 31-27 victory over Amesbury in the second week of this season after trailing 27-12 late in the third quarter.
Lynnfield closed its regular season with seven consecutive victories, meaning neither Amesbury or Lynnfield had lost since Sept. 21 entering last night’s game.
The Pioneers spared their fans a dramatic comeback against Amesbury in the second meeting of the season. They jumped to a 14-0 lead, thanks largely to the running of junior tailback Kyle McGah and senior quarterback Michael Karavetsos, who combined to rush for 276 yards and five touchdowns on the night. McGah tallied four touchdowns himself for the second time against Amesbury this season.
Amesbury appeared primed to make it a game in the second quarter when it sustained a drive for the first time on offense. However, Lynnfield made the Indians work for every yard in a 16-play, 51-yard touchdown drive. The Indians converted two fourth-down attempts, including a fourth-and-goal situation from the 2 in which Ben Cullen rushed in for the score.
The cut Lynnfield’s lead to 14-7 going into halftime.
“We stayed even-keel for the most part,” Connors said. “We weren’t overly excited. Even at halftime, we were down 7, and our expectation was we’d play better in the second half. We just didn’t. Sometimes in these situations, kids get stressed. We had three very stressful weeks in a row. We just didn’t respond as well in this one.”
Amesbury’s struggles continued in the second half. Lynnfield opened the third quarter with an 8-play, 67-yard drive capped by a McGah 3-yard touchdown run. Amesbury’s first three offensive possessions of the second half ended in a lost fumble, an interception, and an interception.
By the time Amesbury picked up its initial first down of the second half, the score was 28-7 in Lynnfield’s favor. By the time the Indians picked up their second first down of the half, it was 35-7.
The season did end on a positive note for the Indians as they went in for a touchdown on their final offensive possession. Quarterback Matt Talbot, who accounted for 26 touchdowns on the season but had a rough evening last night, connected with Tommy Connors on a 3-yard swing pass to make the final score 35-14.
“That’s the best I’ve seen Lynnfield play all season,” said Coach Connors. “Give credit to Neil Weidman and their coaching staff. They played terrific.”
Amesbury made only its third appearance in the postseason in school history. The Indians won a state championship in 1970 before the inception of the playoff system. They didn’t make their postseason debut until 2007, when they lost one game shy of the Super Bowl. They returned to the postseason in 2008 and won the Super Bowl with a senior-laden team.
“This is only the third time we’ve been to the playoffs in Amesbury history,” said Coach Connors. “These seniors were terrific. They’re CAL champs forever. They can say they won the Thankgiving game forever. They’ve gone to the playoffs forever. It’s too bad they came up short, because they did all of those other things. It’s one of the best teams I’ve coached.”
Connors was particularly close to this year’s senior class, as it included his son, Tommy Jr. Prior to the Thanksgiving matchup against Newburyport, the coach said he’d always planned to retire from coaching after his son passed through high school.
Last night, the coach said he’d deliberate further on that decision. Connors has a career record of 58-64 in 11 seasons at Amesbury with three CAL titles and one state championship.
“I’m going to wait and see, and make a decision over the winter,” Connors said. “My inclination is I’ll be back. It depends on my son. If he goes off and plays college football, I’d like to see that.”
Eastern Mass. Division 3A playoffs
Lynnfield 35, Amesbury 14
Cawley Stadium, Lowell
A — 0 7 0 7 — 14
L — 14 0 7 14 — 35
L — Kyle McGah 5 run (Alex Roper kick), 3:50
L — McGah 17 run (Roper kick), 1:19
A — Ben Cullen 2 run (Mac Short kick), 5:00
L — McGah 3 run (Roper kick), 7:08
L — Michael Karavetsos 5 run (Roper kick), 9:23
L — McGah 1 run (Roper kick), 3:39
A — Tommy Connors 2 reception from Matt Talbot (Short kick), 1:10
Rushing: A — Perry Mroz 9-44, Talbot 8-28, Cullen 6-22-1, Connors 2-(-1); L — McGah 21-161-4, Karavetsos 17-115-1, Alex Pascucci 2-23, Tyler Palumbo 1-5, Matthew Kramich 1-4.
Passing: A — Talbot 9-20-93-1-3; L — Karavetsos 2-10-18, Roper 1-1-40-0-0.
Receiving: A — Gobeil 4-61, Connors 3-11-1, Pat Scanlon 1-17, Cullen 1-4.