North Andover edges King Philip for Div. 2 title

FOXBORO — The game script went exactly how King Philip would have wanted in Friday night's Division 2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.

Facing an explosive North Andover team, it was a low-scoring, defensive slugfest. That's King Philip's wheelhouse, and how the Warriors have won back-to-back state titles.

Yet, for a team best known for its offense, North Andover proved it could play a little defense, too, in a 6-0 victory to complete a 12-0 season.

"I'm proud that we could win a slugfest like that," North Andover coach John Dubzinski said, "because a lot of people said that we couldn't."

The only scoring came, fittingly, after a flurry of big defensive plays in the second quarter. With North Andover driving in King Philip (9-3) territory, Warriors defensive back Tim Nault picked off a Jake McElroy pass in the end zone.

But two plays later, North Andover's Darren Watson recovered a fumble at the King Philip 7-yard line.

"My guy Mark Federico, shout out Mark, hit the man, ball came out," Watson said. "I was there. Just grabbed it. Should have scored, though."

He did not, but McElroy did on a 1-yard sneak on fourth and goal. Gabe DeSouza's extra point was blocked, and North Andover held a 6-0 lead with 2:25 to play in the half.

"This game meant so much to him," Dubzinski said of Watson. "He was so focused all week. He's had a great career at North Andover High School. For him to make the play down there, causing the fumble, and us scoring on that, was huge. We weren't really doing much on offense, and having the ball inside the 10 really helped us out, and the defense just stepped up after that."

And King Philip's defense stepped up in a way that most teams would not be able to pull off against a team with weapons on the outside like Watson and DeSouza, who combined for six receptions for 93 yards. For most of the game, King Philip played without a deep safety, jamming receivers at the line, mixing man and zone in the secondary, and cooking up creative blitz packages.

"My defensive coordinator, Matt Wassel, he does all our D's right there. I think you can't just sit in regular defenses against a team like that," King Philip coach Brian Lee said. "You have to be creative and try to make things happen and get them uncomfortable. We were able to do that most of the night, all night really."

Asked if North Andover had faced a defense that stout all season, Dubzinski did not hesitate.

"No. Absolutely not," he said. "They were so good up front. They were good on the perimeter. They were good inside.They covered our receivers very, very well. They're a very, very good team. . . . Most of the year, Gabe would have a safety over the top or an outside linebacker over the top, and Darren same thing. Not only were (the Warriors) physical up front, they were physical on the perimeter, too."

King Philip's strategy on offense was to ride junior running back Ryan Halliday, who rushed for 106 yards on 30 carries. He toted the rock 11 times for 45 yards on the Warriors' opening drive, but a fake field goal pass from the North Andover 25 did not connect.

"We were just a little short on a couple things tonight," Lee said. "Just a little, not our best game. . . . Just a lot of little miscues on offense prevented us from stealing this one."

After forcing a North Andover three and out to start the second half, King Philip took over at its own 6 with 8:04 left in the third quarter. The Warriors then went on a 15-play drive that ended in a turnover on downs at the North Andover 23 with 9:03 left to play.

Again, King Philip's defense rose to the occasion and forced a punt, and the Warriors took over at their own 43 with 7:57 to play. But they could only manage one first down before punting it back to North Andover, which had to start from its 1.

"It was a battle, and it was there to be . . . and just couldn't make enough plays," Lee said. "I knew that last drive was the drive, and it didn't work out."

Watson then made the biggest offensive play of the night for his team, slipping free on a reception for a 29-yard gain. McElroy completed four passes on a drive that pushed the ball just over midfield.

"It was tough sledding inside," Dubzinski said. "They did a great job against our run game. So we just said in the second half, 'Hey, let's try to spread them out. Let's try the short game, slants, seams, jets to Darren.' "

King Philip finally took over at its own 26 with 26 seconds left to play, and North Andover's Michael Roche clinched it with a sack as time ran out.

"We saw them as freshmen, we knew we had a special group," Dubzinski said of his seniors. "They made a commitment. They're very goal-driven. This was our final team goal of winning the Super Bowl. A lot of people thought we were crazy, but the kids did the work. It's fitting to see. It's a great thing to see all the hard work pays off."

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