ANDOVER — Linebacker Adam Ladd heard all of the talk.
“All the critics out there were saying our defense couldn’t hold up against a tough offense and that all our team had was an offense,” said the senior. “Well, we played our butts off on Thanksgiving and I feel like that will roll right over into the playoffs.”
Five days after their winner-take-all Thanksgiving Day victory over archrival Central Catholic, the Golden Warriors will look to prove a whole knew group of doubters wrong, with history on the line.
Tonight, the MVC Division 1 champion Golden Warriors travel down 495 to take on Catholic Conference champ St. John’s Prep in the Eastern Mass. Division 1 semifinals at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium, with the winner earning a berth in the Division 1 Super Bowl on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
“We know that we are the underdogs,” said receiver Cam Farnham. “But we’re fine with that. We like being the underdogs. We know we face a tough task against a very good team in the Prep. But we feel like we can play with any team in the state.”
Andover enters its second playoff appearance in three years — falling to Everett in 2010 — after not advance to the postseason since 1975, the last of three straight Super Bowl seasons.
St. John’s Prep enters the contest at 9-1 and ranked No. 4 in Eastern Mass., while the Golden Warriors stand at 10-1 and No. 10 in Eastern Mass.
“We have worked so hard to get to this point,” said linebacker Jake Flaherty. “To finally be here, in the playoffs, with a chance to go to the Super Bowl is amazing. We have to show them how tough we are, and how great a team we really are.”
While the teams have not faced one another, they are not totally foreign. Both earned victories over Central Catholic and Xaverian during the regular season, with each beating their league foe on Thanksgiving with the title on the line.
“After playing Xaverian (15-13 win) we feel like we have a pretty good mental picture for what the Catholic Conference is like,” said Farnham. “And St. John’s Prep runs a very similar offense to Central Catholic, and we were able to beat that on Thanksgiving.”
The matchups pit two teams of very different philosophies.
The Golden Warriors, of course, rely heavily on their dynamic passing game, led by record-setting quarterback C.J. Scarpa (32 touchdown passes) and his trio of star receivers in Will Heikkinen (988 yards, 9 TDs), Andrew Deloury (639 yards, 8 TDs) and Farnham (544 yards, 13 TDs).
The Prep, meanwhile, relies heavily on the running game paced by Jon Thomas (1,536 yards, 12 TDs) and Alex Moore (784 yards, 13 TDs).
“They are going to run it at us,” said Flaherty. “They have two outstanding halfbacks that will be tough to stop. Our front seven is going to need to have a really big day.”
The Golden Warrior defense is paced by top tacklers Flaherty (97 tackles) and Ladd (49 tackles) at linebacker along with defensive backs Chas Heseltine (74 tackles) and Deloury (48 tackles) who are both aggressive at the line of scrimmage.
Bringing the size up front will be 290-pound sophomore Ommel Bonilla (46 tackles) and 268-pound senior Nathaniel Altman (40 tackles).
“It’s a challenge, no question,” said Ladd. “But we were able to step up on Thanksgiving, and we feel like we can do it again.”
The Golden Warrior offense, meanwhile, will have to contend with star Lucas Bavaro, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Mark Bavaro, and Haverhill defensive lineman Corey Jean-Jacques.
“We know we have to watch out for Bavaro,” said Farnham. “We also know that Moore and (Gerald) Kahari are very athletic and their line is huge. It’s going to be tough, but we feel like we can get it done. We are very confident.”
Andover now hopes to extend its season by four days, and make a little history along the way.
“This is the most exciting day ever,” said Ladd. “We have the chance to do something that has not been done in decades in Andover. We can’t let this opportunity get past us.”