LYNNFIELD — Amesbury just needed one more yard.
Having just stopped the ultra-dangerous Lynnfield offense and leading 30-23, Kyle Donovan’s big 9-yard run set up a 3rd and 1 with just under two minutes to play. Pick up the first, and the game was over. Get stopped? Who knows.
The Indians packed in close, Troy Hamel took the snap and everyone surged forward. Two-yard gain. First down. Ballgame.
For the second straight weekend, the No. 7 seeded Amesbury football pulled off an upset for the ages, avenging their earlier loss to Cape Ann League rival Lynnfield to win 30-23 and advance back to the Division 5 North finals for the second year in a row.
Last year the Indians were a wagon, rolling through the regular season as a one-loss team. This time? Amesbury had a much tougher road, limping into the playoffs at 2-5.
But Amesbury always believed.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Amesbury coach Colin McQueen. “I just told those Lynnfield guys, they have a whole lot to be proud of. [David Capachietti] is the best linebacker we’ve faced and he’s a heck of a running back too, and [Clayton Marengi] is the best quarterback we’ve ever had to defend, those guys are awesome, they’re well coached, great guys, we respect them a whole heck of a lot.
“But man, our guys, we’ve had some tough bounces throughout the year, it gave us an opportunity to self assess and figure out what we needed to fix,” McQueen continued. “We were always honest with ourselves about that stuff and these guys have been coachable. They respond, they battle, and they love the game, we love coaching them, and when you get that constant effort when it’s good and bad, you get better, and we’re looking at a pretty good group of players.”
Amesbury received the opening kickoff and immediately marched 68 yards down the field on a 14-play scoring drive. The Indians went 4 for 4 on third-down conversions during the drive, including an 8-yard touchdown run by quarterback Troy Hamel on 3rd and goal. Kyle Donovan added a two-point conversion run to make it 8-0 early.
Lynnfield, which boasts one of the most formidable passing offenses in the state, answered almost immediately. Quarterback Clayton Marengi hit receiver Jack Ford for a 43-yard touchdown pass, his 23rd of the season, and then hit Bakari Mitchell on a conversion to tie it back up at 8-8.
Not to be outdone, Amesbury needed just two plays to retake the lead, scoring on a 53-yard touchdown by Brady Dore and a conversion reception by Hayden Ayotte to make it 16-8. The Indians then forced a three and out and nearly took a decisive lead, but after driving down to the Lynnfield 13 the offense stalled and turned it over on downs.
Initially the defense held up, forcing another Lynnfield punt, but Amesbury was pinned at the 1-yard-line and fumbled a handoff for a safety. The Pioneers then took over in Amesbury territory and scored two plays later on a 40-yard Marengi touchdown pass to Ford to take a 17-16 lead.
Taking over with 4:39 left in the half, Amesbury went on another long scoring drive to kill most of the remaining first-half clock. Kyle Donovan capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown catch from Hamel to make it 22-17 at halftime.
The defenses battled it out in the third, with Amesbury’s pass rush disrupting Marengi and keeping Lynnfield from picking up any gamebreaking plays. Finally in the fourth, the Indians took advantage of good field position and took a two-score lead on a 3-yard Dore touchdown. Hamel added a two-point run and all of a sudden the Indians led 20-17 with 11:14 to play.
Amesbury didn’t exactly put Lynnfield away. After forcing another turnover on downs, Amesbury couldn’t sustain a drive and wound up failing to get a punt off on fourth down, giving Lynnfield great field position and six minutes of clock. Marengi hit John Ford for a quick 17-yard touchdown, making it just a 30-23 game with 5:42 to play.
Amesbury punted again on its next drive, giving Lynnfield a chance to tie it up. But this time the defense held, with the Indians forcing four straight incompletions and nearly getting a game-sealing interception from Jeremy Lopez.
It was still enough, and when Amesbury got the ball back one last time, the offense was able to get the last first down it needed to clinch the improbable win.
Amesbury (4-5) will now face the winner of Saturday’s other Division 5 North semifinal between Pentucket and Swampscott next weekend.