METHUEN – Seemingly every game is a statement game when the season is shortned.
On Friday night when No. 3 Central Catholic visited No. 23 Methuen in the New England Football Journal Showcase of the Week, the Raiders knew they could make a very loud statement against their rivals who had started the year with the same 2-0 record and turned some heads early in this Fall II campaign.
Central Catholic made sure it was loud and clear, taking a 21-point lead at halftime while the defense came out and scored 14 points in the third quarter to run away with a dominant 35-7 victory over the Rangers.
The Raiders (3-0) are now hoping they get to go and see how they measure up against BC High next weekend, but that game is still a bit up in the air after the Eagles were forced to cancel their game this weekend with St. John’s Shrewsbury. The Rangers (2-1) will visit Haverhill next Friday.
“Nothing feels normal,” said CC head coach Chuck Adamopolous when asked if it still felt like a rivalry game despite the fact it was 65 degrees and the calendar says March. “It is, the kids all know each other and it’s a good rivalry. Both teams played hard out here so from that point of view it was (the same), but nothing feels normal this year.”
After receiving the opening kick off, quarterback Ayden Pereira led an 11-play drive that took nearly half the first quarter, spanned 61-yards and ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from Matthias Latham on 4th-and-goal. Nicholas Mazzie kicked the first of his five extra points on the night for the 7-0 lead.
Methuen ran just three offensive plays in the first quarter and those plays were a three-and-out on the ensuing drive. The Raiders took over at the Rangers’ 33 after a short punt and needed nine plays – including a 4th-and-9 catch by Preston Zinter – before Pereira punched in a 1-yard TD run with 10:41 left in the half to go up 14-0.
Following five plays and a punt from the Rangers, the CC offense was back out at midfield. Just under six minutes later Nathel Achuo Jr. caught a swing pass in front of his sideline with no one within 20-yards of him and he easily ran it in from 15-yards out for the 21-0 lead. Methuen quarterback Joe Gangi led a late drive that reached the Central 26 in the final seconds of the half but the Rangers couldn’t find the end zone.
It was a pretty staggering display of ball control for the opening 24 minutes, as the Raiders ran 32 offensive plays to the Rangers’ 15.
“They played pretty far back, they didn’t want to get beat which is something we do pretty well,” said Pereira. “We just kind of took what they gave us, methodically moved it down the field and we had a couple big fourth down and third down conversions that were key.”
It appeared as if Methuen was forced into another three-and-out deep in their own territory to open the third quarter, but a late hit extended the drive. Five plays later, Zinter came up with a strip sack and Tommy Casey came up with a scoop and score for the 28-0 lead. Just three plays after that, Nick Palmer picked off a screen pass and returned it for a pick-six to put the game out of reach at 35-0.
With running time implemented, the Rangers avoided the shut out when Anthony Romano punched in a 1-yard touchdown run with 7:41 remaining.
These are not normal times and probably won’t be for a while still, but on Friday night all was right with the world for the Central Catholic Raiders as the busses rolled away from enemy territory with the sounds of shouting, singing and laughter that could only mean one thing…victory.
“I think this was a statement game,” added Pereira. “Obviously Methuen’s a big rival every year and they’re good every year. Like coach A said, obviously nothing is normal, but in terms of the intensity of it, just the feeling of being back out in a rivalry game, it was the same as usual.”