HAVERHILL — Its Turkey Day clash with Lowell in serious jeopardy, the Haverhill High football team closed 2013 with its best half ever.
Even up 21-7, Lowell High never stood a chance and fell to the Hillies, 28-21, before about 500 fans here at Trinity Stadium.
Both teams finished the year at 7-4.
“I think coach (Tim O’Connor) challenged us as a team to step it up. I mean one of their TDs came on a fake punt and another came off of a blocked punt,” said Hillie senior defensive end Matt Burns, who ended his career in style with a pair of big sacks and a forced fumble.
“We needed to do it, and we needed to do it as a team.”
The Hillies simply slammed the door shut on defense.
Burns, Taylor Gonzalez, Phil Panici and Mike Attah all played stout up front. And when the Raiders took to the air, Haverhill’s secondary more than lived up to its billing.
Lowell managed just 53 yards after the break, and the Hillies forced three turnovers, pouncing on the opportunities to get back into the contest.
Battered and clearly playing in pain, Johnny Ramsdell helped turn the tide with Haverhill facing a 4th-and-goal from the Lowell 7.
The diminutive receiver worked open into the flat at the 3 and pulled in a Shane Finn fastball. He spun, made one Raider miss and then plowed through another to bounce into the end zone for the score.
A wind-aided Pat Yale pitching wedge lofted up, clanged off the crossbar and vaulted through for the PAT and a 21-14 game.
Minutes later, a lethal Josh Dion hit forced a Lowell fumble. And this time, it was Stephane Bristol who made the visitors pay, sweeping left on an 18-yard TD run to knot it at 21-21 headed to the fourth.
O’Connor promised some tricks. One came in the move of Samie Al-Ziab into the backfield as a second runner.
Al-Ziab opened the next possession with a 46-yard run, helping set up the game-winner.
Finn made Lowell jump with a hard count and then heaved it up into a stiff wind with nothing to lose.
Receiver Piero Garcia located and hauled in the prayer, scooting into the end one with over nine minutes left.
Leading for the first time, 28-21, the Hillie defense finished in style.
Burns’ strip-sack ended one possession and Tommy Maguire fittingly closed out the effort with an interception at 1:58 to play.
“To end my career and our season like that, all I can really do is smile,” said Maguire, who has shown so much grit through an injury-marred season. “You really have to love football to go out there and play on a day like today. Thanksgiving football is the greatest tradition in the world. And this is just the greatest day of my life. I’ll never forget it.”
Haverhill 28, Lowell 21
Lowell (7-4): 7 14 0 0 — 21
Haverhill (7-4): 0 7 14 7 — 28
L — Ngaiva Mason 9 run (kick good), 9:35
H — Patrick Yale 18 interception return (Yale kick), 7:36
L — Ndeiva Mason 55 run (kick good), 5:03
L — Keegan Latta 28 pass from Brian Dolan (kick good), :04.5
H — John Ramsdell 7 pass from Shane Finn (Yale kick), 3:40
H — Stephane Bristol 18 run (Yale kick), :37.3
H — Piero Garcia 25 pass from Finn (Yale kick), 9:02
RUSHING: L (32-162) — Ng. Mason 22-61, Nd. Mason 2-61, Brian Dolan 8-40; H (42-193) — Tommy Maguire 3-0, John Ramsdell 2-8, Samie Al-Ziab 12-117, Stephane Bristol 24-73, Shane Finn 1-(-5)
PASSING: L — Dolan 8-17-2, 126; H — Ramsdell 0-1-0, 0; Finn 6-13-0, 46
RECEIVING: L — Jack Galvin 3-64, Latta 2-33; H — Ian Kessel 1-(-1); Maguire 2-3, Ramsdell 1-7, Bristol 1-12, Garcia 1-25