HAVERHILL — Early in the third quarter, Haverhill senior Tom Maguire took things into his own hands.
With the Hillies clinging to a 7-6 lead, North Andover had some momentum and the ball — following a rare Maguire fumble — on Haverhill’s 27 with a fourth-and-3.
But Maguire charged into the Knights’ backfield on a stunning blitz, sacked quarterback Casey Walsh and stripped the ball, giving Haverhill the ball on its own 42.
North Andover never recovered, accounting for just two yards of offense the rest of the game as the Hillies prevailed, 21-6, to improve to 5-2 and retain a top seed for the Division 2 playoffs.
“There was a mixup on the fumble, but I was on a mission after that,” said Maguire.”I didn’t want the game on my back.
“This is about the greatest feeling I’ve had, to win on homecoming, to make the playoffs like this ... it doesn’t get any better.”
While unveiling new spiffy black uniforms, Haverhill put it all together at the right time according to coach Tim O’Connor.
“This was a complete team win and I’m really proud of the way we played,” said O’Connor. “We had a good week of practice and to win like this on our first home Friday night game on homecoming is a great thing.”
Great as it was, it didn’t start well for the Hillies.
After North Andover stopped an opening Haverhill drive, it took over on its own 10-yard-line. After two first downs, Tom Stabile went through the line on a draw play and continued 69 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
After that, the Haverhill defense ruled.
Maguire got the Hillies the lead in the second quarter on a one-yard rush, followed by the first of three PATs by Patrick Yale, that completed a 56-yard drive.
The Hillies didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, when John Ramsell caught a six-yard pass from Shane Finn that was set up by a fumbled punt. A nifty 31-yard scoring run by Ian Kessel (20 carries, 109 yards) added some extra insurance.
Meanwhile, Haverhill’s defense was immense, particularly in the second half when it allowed just two yards of total offense and had a number of big plays in addition to Maguire’s sack. They included:
— a huge 10-yard quarterback sack by Sammy Al-Ziab.
— a terrific pass breakup by Chiedozie Onwuka.
— a stifling tackle by Stephan Bristol that helped complete a 21-yard loss on an ill-fated end-around.
Also, the entire front line helped pressure North Andover quarterback Casey Walsh to an uncharacteristic 6 of 19 performance. In the second half, he was just 3 of 14 for 21 yards and was sacked twice.
On a positive note for North Andover (3-4), which should still be playoff-bound, Jose Baez had a big sack in the first half and Matt Iannone had three catches for 51 and shrugged off a ferocious stick by Maguire that kept him on the ground for several moments.