LAWRENCE — Chuck Adamopoulos was out of his comfort zone for 21/2 hours yesterday at Lawrence’s Veteran Memorial Stadium.
Too many long kickoff returns. Too many passes. Too many penalties. Too many long plays. And, really, too many points.
“That’s not my kind of game,” said the Central Catholic coach after his team’s 39-37 overtime thriller over its official new rival, Everett High, in the Division 1 North semifinals. Central beat the Crimson Tide 23-20 a year ago in the same semifinal.
“I’ve always been a defensive guy,” he said. “I was hoping this wouldn’t turn into that Springfield Catholic game (Central won 52-42 in its season opener). These kinds of games are not good for my health. But we won. So you bet I’ll take it.”
No. 1 Central meets another rival, No. 2 St. John’s Prep, in the Division 1 North title game next Saturday at noon at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The only thing crazier than Saturday’s ending in overtime, with interference calls against both defenses and very close plays on the conversion rushes — Central’s Mark Kassis barely getting over the white line and Everett coming up inches short to attempt to tie the game — was the start of the game.
Everett returned the opening kick 89 yards to the Central 1-yard line, leading to an easy score. Central senior Nick Donatio answering right back with a 75-yard touchdown return of his own.
“They had that penalty (on the conversion kick) that moved the kick back 15 yards,” said Donatio. “They usually don’t kick it long (on kickoffs). They usually popping ball short. But they kicked it deep.
“I looked up and saw all of our front guys on a man and I saw this huge, gigantic hole in the middle. I just broke through and went left to the daylight. It was a pretty big play. Their crowd was going so crazy. That quieted them down very quickly.”
What made this game extra special was that both teams have superior kicking games. Extra points were not only a formality, a rare occurrence in high school, but each team boomed field goals.
Everett’s Abraham Betancourt gave his team a 10-7 lead with a 27-yarder in the first quarter, only to be outdone by Central senior Nick Mazzie’s 42-yarder at the end of the half.
In between those field goals was probably the play of the game.
Central’s sophomore quarterback, Ayden Pereira, who at 15 has the poise of players two and three years older, saw a snap over his head.
Rather than jump on the bouncing ball, Pereira scooped it, going to the left side and then rolling out to his right. He then chucked the ball 25 yards in the air to a wide open Mark Cicciarelli, who sprinted about 30 more yards for a 55-yard touchdown connection.
Why didn’t Pereira jump on the first down loose ball and take the loss?
“First of all, it was high but I should’ve caught the ball,” said Pereira. “If I dive on it we lose 15 yards and it probably ruins the drive. Luckily, the (receivers) kept playing and they were open.”
Central opened up a two-touchdown lead on another play-of-the-game nominee.
But Everett isn’t “Everett” for a reason. And down 24-10, they clawed their way back.
The Crimson Tide answered with two touchdowns before the third quarter ended, the first on a 13-play, 68-yard drive (5-yard pass by Duke Doherty to Eli Auguste) and another following a Central fumble when, two plays later, Clarence Jules zigzagged into to the end zone from 26 yards out.
Now it was Nate Hebert’s turn to make the highlight reel.
From the Everett 37, Adamopoulos called the fake punt on 4th-and-10. Michael Finneran hit junior Dominic Tritto, who was closely covered, and Tritto dragged the defender just over the first down marker.
On the next play, Pereria, under pressure, threw a deep ball to the corner of the end zone, appearing to be past Nate Hebert’s reach. But Hebert dove and caught it.
Of course, the 31-24 lead was not safe.
This time Everett went 15 plays covering 75 yards, which included a fourth-and-5 conversion, with Jayden Clerveaux finding the end zone from 20 yards out and the extra point tying it at 31-31 with 2:57 remaining.
Central had a quick 3-and-out and Everett was able to get to the Central 27 yard line, near field goal position, with under a minute remaining on a 17-yard run and 18-yard pass.
Enter Central’s Kassis.
He picked off a pass while the Everett quarterback was avoiding a rush and appeared to have daylight for a possible score. He was pushed out of bounds at the Everett 36 yard line.
But a sack, two incompletions and two last ditch plays from Everett went for naught, sending the game to overtime with each team getting the ball on the 10-yard line.
A pass interference on Everett gave Central the ball on the 5-yard line and Pereria faked a handoff and scored standing up.
On the conversion, Kassis was at quarterback. He faked a handoff to Pereira and dragged a defender to the goal line and scored.
“We did that to change it up a bit,” said Adamopoulos. “Our offensive coordinator, John Sexton, did it earlier in the game, too.”
Everett’s opportunity looked similar to Central’s, with a third down pass interference penalty. Tyrese Baptiste scored on a 3-yard run.
What turned out to be the play of the game, Clerveaux took the ball and bulldozed near the goal line.
The referees didn’t make the call right away, conversing for about 20 seconds before the lead official making the “no good” sign with his arms.
“It was the craziest game I’ve ever been involved with,” said Donatio. “We always believed. That’s our attitude. But this was crazy. It’s a game we’ll never forget.”
Central-Prep finale next Saturday
Next up for Central Catholic is the Division 1 North final against St. John’s Prep at Veterans Memorial Stadium at noon.
The Prep beat Central, 28-14, back in September.
“We were originally hoping for that No. 1 seed because we figured we wouldn’t have to play Everett and St. John’s Prep,” said coach Chuck Adampoulos.
“We were wrong,” he said. “Honestly, we will enjoy this one for a few hours before we worry about next Saturday. They are very good, as usual. They’re especially tough on defense. But this was an awesome day.”
Central Catholic 39, Everett 37 (OT)
Everett (7-2): 10 0 14 7 6 — 37
Central Catholic (8-1): 14 3 7 7 8 — 39
Division 1 North Semifinals
E – Deshawn Weston 1 run (Abraham Betancourt kick), 0:18
CC – Nick Donatio 75 kickoff return (Nick Mazzie kick), 0:26
E – Bettencourt 27 field goal, 6:22
CC – Mark Ciccarelli 55 pass from Ayden Pereira (Mazzie kick), 2:53
CC – Mazzie 42 field goal, 0:27
CC – Nate Hebert 26 pass from Pereira (Mazzie kick), 10:26
E – Eli Auguste 5 pass from Duke Doherty (Betancourt kick), 4:45
E – Clarence Jules 26 run (Betancourt kick), 2:11
CC – Donatio 26 pass from Pereira (Mazzie kick), 11:18
E – Jayden Clerveaux 10 run (Betancourt kick), 2:57
CC – Pereira 5 run (Mark Kassis rush)
E – Tyrese Baptiste 3 run (Rush failed)
RUSHING: Everett (42-249): Jules 9-59, Weston 1-1, Clerveaux 16-56, Doherty 13-66, Baptiste 3-64, Ismael Zamor 1-3; Central (21-72): Pereira 9-30, Donatio 2-3, Kassis 5-20, Michael Brown 2-8, Hebert 1-3
PASSING: E — Doherty 13-for-21, 123 yards, 1 TD, 1 int.; CC — Pereira 14-for-23, 234 yards, 3 TD, 1 int., Michael Finneran 1-for-1, 10 yard
RECEIVING: E — Phillippe 1-8, Zamor 3-38, Neives 1-5, Jules 1-3, Auguste 5-50, Baptiste 2-21; CC — Jermaine Wiggins 3-44, Donatio 4-37, Mark Cicciarelli 3-69, Hebert 1-26, Dominic Tritto 1-11