(VIDEO) Whitehouse Helps Lead Tewksbury to League Title
by Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
TEWKSBURY, Mass. – Much like the rest of his team, Aaron Whitehouse did not get a lot of attention heading into this season.
The 5-foot-7, 140-pound wide receiver and free safety was not at the top of many prospect lists, or on any all-state teams, but on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Tewksbury’s John F. Ryan Elementary school, he made the biggest plays in a gigantic 20-7 win over rival Billerica for the Merrimack Valley Conference Small title.
Despite the program’s history of success, Tewksbury (7-0) was partially overlooked at the beginning of the 2016 season because of all the important players the Redmen graduated.
Ye this group showed few weaknesses while winning their first six games of the season and found a way to hand a previously undefeated Billerica (6-1) squad its first loss of the year on the strength of some key special teams plays and a sound defensive strategy.
Both teams struggled to produce anything offensively throughout the first half on a muddy field, but Indians quarterback Zach Burns hooked up with his favorite target Dean Brooks for a 47-yard touchdown to open the scoring right before the break.
It didn’t take long for the hosts to respond, as Tewksbury quarterback Jay Connolly found Whitehouse (3 receptions, 68 yards, 2 Total TDs) wide open for a 48-yard score to keep this conference tilt knotted at 7.
“A kid [Whitehouse] that big doesn’t get a shot in a lot of places,” began Tewksbury head coach Brian Aylward. “But we’ve always had little guys like that and asked them to do big things. He works so hard for us and he gets every bit of what God gave him out of himself.”
The Redmen opened the second half with an impressive eight-minute drive that stalled deep in Indians territory, but when their defense forced a punt, Whitehouse made a game-changing play.
Catching the ball was a tenuous excursion given the footing on the grass field, but once Whitehouse had the ball in his hands, he turned into a determined playmaker and he quickly compensated for the Redmen’s inability to score on the last drive by returning the kick for a 60-yard score.
“Returning a punt is one of the scariest things you can do on the football field and I was just praying that I wasn’t going to get drilled right after I caught it,” Whitehouse explained. “It was a high punt and I had plenty of time to think about it, but once I got it my blockers did a great job opening a big hole and I give them all the credit for making it happen.”
Ahead by a touchdown but clearly not out of the woods yet, the Redmen produced a couple of huge defensive stops in the fourth quarter to set their offense up with a short field.
Workhorse running back Brandon Winn (28 carries, 107 yards) broke a 40-yard run on a well-designed counter sweep and Connolly finished the drive with a sneak from the one-yard line to make it 20-7 and seal not only a conference championship, but likely secure the No. 1 seed for Tewksbury in the North bracket of the upcoming Division 2 MIAA State Tournament.
Stars Who Shined
Aaron Whitehouse ‘17 WR/FS – Whitehouse came up with the two biggest scoring plays of the afternoon and shined brightly as a senior on homecoming day. He also coordinated coverage at the back end for the Redmen, as they were able to hold Billerica’s excellent passing attack without a completion in the second half.
“Standing on this field as the [Merrimack Valley] Conference champs means a lot. I’ve been thinking about this moment since I was shorter than I am now,” Whitehouse joked after the game. “It’s a dream come true.”
Aaron Whitehouse left all alone for a 48-yard TD. XP is good and Tewksbury has tied Billerica 7-7 w/ :41 left in Q2 pic.twitter.com/P010YTN5Nk— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 22, 2016
Blake Hiltz‘18 RB/LB – The speed of Tewskbury’s defense was on full display despite the rough footing in this contest and Hiltz led that charge with two sacks and a tackle for loss on the afternoon.
He also came up with one of the biggest special teams plays on the day by stripping Billerica return man Gus Gobiel and recovering the fumble to give Tewksbury another possession after the Redmen scored to make it 20-7. That tremendous play torpedoed any hopes of a come back for the Indians.
Jay Connolly‘19 QB – Aylward showed a lot of faith in his sophomore signal caller by allowing Connolly (7-of-17, 115 yards, TD, INT) to air it out despite the wet conditions this Saturday.
Connolly rarely disappointed and he demonstrated great touch on a couple of throws, including the 48-yard scoring strike to Whitehouse that served as a response to Billerica’s first big play of the afternoon.
Brandon Winn ‘18 RB/DB – He was denied the end zone in this contest, but Winn deserves as much credit as anyone in a Tewksbury uniform for the victory. His ability to gain positive yards and take the requisite punishment while carrying the ball nearly 30 times was crucial in the execution of Aylward’s game plan.
“When you play top-notch teams like Billerica, a successful offensive drive doesn’t necessarily have to lead to points,” Aylward asserted. “I told the kids before the game that if we’re able to gain some momentum and control field position will be in a good position.”
After a 40-yard run from Brandon Winn, Connolly sneaks it in to put Tewksbury up 20-7. 6:41 remaining pic.twitter.com/UwLB63xjPA— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 22, 2016
Will Matovu ‘18 RB/CB – The two-way star served as a change-of-pace runner alongside Winn and made an incredible reception during Tewksbury’s first drive of the day, but his greatest contributions might have come on the defensive side of the ball.
Matovu shadowed Billerica’s star wide receiver Dean Brooks throughout the game and jumped a route for an interception that set up Connolly’s touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Big time catch by Will Matovu on 3rd down to keep Tewksbury offense marching pic.twitter.com/F6ADxPorfq— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 22, 2016
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