NORTH ANDOVER — It’s been seven years since the Scarlet Knights opened a season with three losses. But not only does coach John Rafferty remain upbeat, he hopes his squad rebounds like it did in 2006, finishing the season by winning seven of its final eight games.
“There’s a lot to be optimistic about,” Rafferty said after North Andover dropped a 34-13 decision to Tewksbury in the Merrimack Valley Division 2 opener for both schools. “I saw a lot of these guys tonight. Things were tough and not obviously going our way. We got the short end of the stick early on ... playing a very, very good football team.
“But you know what, halftime came and halftime went. We went back on that field and battled. I’m very, very proud of them.”
For the second straight week, North Andover looked sluggish in the opening half. In those two outings, the Knights have trailed at halftime by a combined 62-0. Without leading rusher Tom Stabile, who has a muscle strain in his leg, North Andover struggled on the ground, gaining only 11 yards on 11 first-half carries and finished with 12 yards on 17 attempts.
“We’re playing a lot of young guys and have had an unbelievable amount of injuries,” said Rafferty, who watched his team accumulate two first-half first downs. “As a result we’re still learning ... We’re working hard and we’re going to be OK.”
On the positive side, one week after allowing a whopping 602 rushing yards while allowing 48 points to Beverly, the Knights limited a strong Tewksbury rushing attack to 214 yards on 38 attempts.
“That’s one week’s worth of work there,” Rafferty said. “We have some capability, but we have to do the right thing and can’t make mistakes.”
North Andover scored twice in the third period on a pair of Casey Walsh touchdown passes of 41 yards to Matt Iannone and 9 yards to Bubba Shkliew.