FOXBORO — For years, Springfield Central hit a lot of glass ceilings.
First, the Golden Eagles had to get past Longmeadow as the top program in Western Massachusetts. Then came the issue of advancing past the Central Mass. champ in the state semifinals, which they did not accomplish until just a couple of weeks ago.
Finally, all that stood between Central and the ultimate respect it desired was Tewksbury Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
The Golden Eagles did not miss their chance to break through whatever held them back in the past.
Despite a spirited rally from Tewksbury in the second half, Central emerged with the 20-7 win, capping off an 11-1 season and a Division 3 state title, the program's first since the new playoff format was introduced in 2013.
"It feels great, definitely, from our coaching staff to administration to these kids," Central coach Valdamar Brower said. "This group of kids was unbelievable. We had a rough season last season the way it ended. We had some fun together, but we didn't end the season where we wanted. But these kids did a great job."
Maybe senior cornerback Keshaun Dancy put it best when asked to put the win in perspective for Central.
"We made history," Dancy said. "We're the best ever. That's all I can say."
Even though Central dominated much of the game statistically, Tewksbury found itself in range in the second half after being shut out in the first with just 9 total yards.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Tewksbury's Kyle Zervas scooted 66 yards for a touchdown to cut the Golden Eagles' lead to 13-7.
It stayed that way until late in the fourth quarter, when Central punted it away to try and pin Tewksbury deep in its own end with less than a minute to play.
But Central had an even better result, as Elijah Ayers forced a fumble, and junior quarterback and long snapper Isaac Boston recovered it, and raced in from 7 yards out for the clinching score with 51 seconds to play
"That was awesome," Brower said of Boston. "That was amazing. He's an amazing athlete, man. He's a big-time baseball player, quarterback, (defensive back), wide receiver. He can play it all. Long snapper, short snapper. He's a really good athlete."
Taking the majority of the snaps in Central's two-quarterback system that also includes junior Mahari Miller, Boston completed 12-of-19 passes for 169 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries, eluding pressure all night and creating positive plays.
Still, his second interception, this time into the hands of Jack Kelly, gave Tewksbury life, down 13-7 at the Central 42-yard line with 2:57 to play.
However, the Tewksbury offense didn't go anywhere but backwards from there. Zervas was dropped for a 2-yard loss, then Andrew Carroll slammed Shane Aylward for a loss of 7. Sophomore defensive end Tyson Thornton nearly forced a strip-sack, but Tewksbury quarterback Jay Connolly's pass was ruled an incompletion. After another incompletion, Central took over at the Tewksbury 49 and went three and out, but Boston's scoop and score moments later sealed it.
On a defense with playmakers at every position group, it was Thornton who stood out the most. He was in the backfield all night, creating pressure, bringing down Connolly for sacks, and generally wreaking havoc in a major way.
"That is typical," Boston said of Thornton. "That's been Tyson since he came in. I played with him in youth. I think it just shows he's only going to get better from here."
Or, as Dancy said, "He's an animal."
It looked early on as if Central would run away with it. The Golden Eagles took the opening kick and traveled 74 yards on nine plays to take a 7-0 lead.
The first big play of the drive came when Boston found Tyvarius Daniels for 36 yards along the right sideline. Then, on third and 14 from the Tewksbury 24, Colgate verbal commit Myles Bradley made a terrific, contested 21-yard catch on a pass from Boston. Junior Kwame Kyles rushed it in from there, and Andrew Carroll's extra point made it 7-0 with 5:48 to go in the first quarter.
Aided by a successful fake punt with a 12-yard run by Kelly, Tewksbury (11-2) drove to the Central 27, but a 21-yard sack by Thornton helped wipe out that momentum.
The Golden Eagles increased their lead to 13-0 with 2:19 to play in the half when Boston led an eight-play, 91-yard drive that he spearheaded with his feet and finished with his arm. Facing a third and 5 from the Central 27, Boston scrambled, found room along the Golden Eagles sideline, and ran it 43 yards to the Tewksbury 30.
Boston then hit junior Andre Ellison with an 8-yard pass, and followed with a perfect, 22-yard toss into the hands of Cqari Bacote in the back right corner of the end zone.
Tewksbury battled admirably to push Central from there, but the Golden Eagles would not be denied. As the clock ticked down on Central's win, Brower received a well-deserved Gatorade bath.
"It was amazing," Dancy said. "I've never felt anything like this in my whole life. It has to be the greatest feeling I've ever felt. Four years of hard work, commitment paid off."
In the process, the Golden Eagles claimed this one for Western Mass. as a whole, as well.
"I feel like this puts everyone on notice, that Western Mass. has the talent that we always talked about," Boston said. "Coach always says, 'Don't talk about it. Be about it.' I think today we showed that we're about it. It's going to lead Western Mass. into a great step . . . forever."