WALTHAM — The opportunity to just be on the football field together, one last time, is something Gabe DeSouza, Darren Watson and Jake McElroy will never forget.
It didn’t matter that it happened to come in a 21-8 loss in the 41st annual Aleppo Shriners All-Star Game.
The North Andover trio accomplished everything a high school football team could want when they won the Division 2 state championship in the fall. Friday night on the campus of Bentley University was just a final chance to relive those memories, while creating a few more before they move their separate ways.
“I was playing with my two best friends out there,” said Watson. “For a last ride, nothing can beat that. I mean, even though we lost, the brotherhood I got with some people here who I never even met before was just great.”
For his final high school act, McElroy (8 for 13, 156 yards, TD) earned his team’s offensive MVP.
The quarterback led the North team to its only touchdown drive. After the South scored and converted a two-point conversion to make it an 8-0 game midway through the third quarter, McElroy took the North right down the field on the ensuing possession and tied the game. He hit Reading’s Patrick Conroy on an 18-yard strike, and then Acton-Boxboro’s Victor Otero on the conversion.
Trailing 14-8 late in the fourth, McElroy drove the North down to the South 7-yard-line before a blindside sack derailed the drive. The North got the ball back with 1:47 left after a defensive stop, and Acton-Boxboro QB Finn Murray drove the team into South territory. But after a reception, Canton’s Brendan Albert ripped the ball away from the receiver and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown with :24 seconds left.
A devastating way to end your high school football career, but that didn’t matter too much after the game.
Just being out there was a treat.
“It’s the bond that we’ve built since the first day I’ve been here,” said DeSouza, who’s career was nearly ended by a heart scare he suffered during the North finals two years ago. “They brought me in and treated me like one of their own. When everything went down for me, when everything went south, they were there supporting me for the whole ride.
“Being on the field with them, it’s like I’m playing a backyard game. It’s just a blast.”
DeSouza might have been the star of the game. The Curry-commit hauled in a game-high six passes for 102 yards, the first of which was an acrobatic grab where he out-jumped two defenders, tipped an underthrown ball backwards and caught it one-handed.
Watson also flashed his athleticism, rushing for 36 yards on just three carries while hauling in five receptions for 58 more yards.
When asked what they’ve learned from each other on the football field, their answers were befitting of brothers.
“I want to take (DeSouza’s) brain and put it in my head, man,” said Watson. “He’s the smartest football player I know, hands down.”
Said DeSouza: “I want to take his dog-ness! He’s the most athletic player I’ve ever played with.”
While Friday night was bittersweet for the trio, it’s not quite the end of the road.
McElroy and Watson are both heading off for a prep year at Proctor Academy, where they’ll undoubtedly be torching defenders on the gridiron like they have the past three years.
“That’s just what we do,” said Watson. “We make plays.”
South All Stars 21, North All Stars 8
North: 0 0 8 0 — 8
South: 0 0 8 13 — 21
S — Devaun Ford 36 pass from Nicholas Gordon (Ford from Gordon), 5:41
N — Patrick Conroy 18 pass from Jake McElroy (Victor Otero from McElroy), 1:18
S — Ryan Driscoll 27 pass from Luke McMenamin (pass failed), 5:18
S — Brendan Albert 83 fumble return (Mike Masse kick), :23
RUSHING: South (30-99): Robert Gomes 12-62, Christian Keeling 5-14, Dan May 3-14, Ismael Presume 3-4, Nicholas Gordon 1-3, Luke McMenamin 5-2, Chris Costa 1-0; North (22-68): Finn Murray 6-60, Darren Watson 3-36, Darius McNeil 4-9, Wes Correa 1-7, Gabe DeSouza 1-5, Zach Sanderson 2-(-6), Jake McElroy 5-(-43)
PASSING: S — Gordon 6-11-1, 91, McMenamin 3-7-0, 62; N — McElroy 8-13-1, 156, Murray 9-18-0, 117
RECEIVING: S — Devaun Ford 4-79, Ryan Driscoll 2-63, Costa 2-12, May 1-2; N — DeSouza 6-102, Watson 5-58, Patrick Conroy 4-71, Wes Rockett 1-32, Hunter Lane 1-10