By Cary Shuman
The Everett High School football team staved off a fourth-quarter comeback by Central Catholic to earn a 37-29 victory in the Division 1 North final Saturday at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The win locked up a Division 1 Super Bowl bid for the Crimson Tide, who will play Xaverian Brothers High School for the state championship on Saturday, Dec. 2, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
Everett and its potent offense, led by quarterback Jake Willcox, looked simply awesome in the first half, opening up a 34-6 lead that it extended to 37-6 on a Ciao Costa field goal early in the third quarter.
But Central, the undefeated champion of the tough Merrimack Valley Conference and the No. 1 seed in the bracket, refused to go quietly and scored 23 unanswered points, closing the once-imposing gap to 37-29 with just under a minute to play.
Needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to force overtime, the Red Raiders attempted an onside kick, but the football bounced out of bounds and the Tide went in to its victory formation to run the final seconds off the clock.
For the first half, Everett was the offensive juggernaut it had been in the regular season and in its playoff wins over St. John’s Prep and Lexington. The playcalling was again superb and Willcox was on the mark from the opening possession.
“The 6-foot-1-inch junior, who was 18-for-28 for 309 yards and four touchdowns, teamed with up with 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound junior tight end Jalen Smith for a 57-yard pass play. Isaiah Likley, a 6-foot-5-inch wide, caught a two-yard touchdown pass and Ciao Costa booted the PAT for a quick 7-0 lead.
Willcox followed with a strike to an uncovered Mike Sainristil, who turned it in to a 65-yard touchdown. Sainristil intercepted a pass on the Raiders’ ensuing possession. Everett made it a 21-point first quarter when Willcox connected with Anthony Norcia for a 22-yard touchdown.
Central scored its only touchdown of the first half but Likely responded with an 11-yard TD reception. Kevin Brown finished off the 34-point explosion with a six-yard run to give Everett a seemingly comfortable 28-point lead.
“I thought we played great in the first half,” said Everett coach John DiBiaso. “Jake had a big night. Isaiah had a big night. Anthony had played great.
But while the Tide had held firm with their substantial first-half margins in their eight previous wins, Central Catholic staged a ferocious comeback in the fourth quarter with three consecutive touchdowns, making it a one-score (and one two-point conversion) game.
But Everett survived a possible overtime scenario when Central’s onside kick bounced out of bounds, giving Everett possession of the football and the victory.
MIAA officials presented the North championship trophy to Everett Crimson Tide captains Duane Binns, Jason Maitre, Helber Fagundes, Anthony Norcia, and Jacob Miller in a midfield ceremony immediately following the game.
While Everett secured its 17th Super Bowl appearance during the John DiBiaso Era, the head coach was not pleased by his team’s overall performance in the second half.
“That’s not Everett football – we made mistakes and we were undisciplined,” said DiBiaso. “We acted like the game was over. It’s just not the way that this program has played over the last 25 years. There’s no excuse for that. I apologize for that performance in the second half. Give them [Central Catholic] all the respect in the world for hanging in and playing hard.”
DiBiaso is preparing his team for a Thanksgiving eve game against Masconomet Regional on Weds., Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. at Fenway Park. Masconomet is a large regional school that has a 7-3 record and is coming off a 26-0 win over Newton South.
“We’re going to heal up and get ready for Masco,” said DiBiaso.