BURLINGTON — Friday November 18th, 2022, at appoximately 7 p.m., that’s when this year’s journey all started for the Amesbury football team.
Exactly 364 days before punching its ticket to a Super Bowl.
On that freezing cold night at Lowell’s Cawley Stadium last year, Amesbury couldn’t get the job done against top-seeded West Boylston in the Division 7 Semifinals, falling 33-20. That group wanted desperately to punch their ticket to Gillette Stadium, especially for the seniors on the roster, but as soon as that dream died, the athletes coming back knew this year could be just as special, if not more.
The talent, the hunger, to make it that one step further was there.
“I knew it last year after West Boylston,” said senior lineman Aiden Donovan. “That feeling stuck with us.”
They were right.
On Friday night, Amesbury booked its trip to play at the home of the New England Patriots in a couple of weeks. The No. 7 Redhawks imposed their will offensively over No. 2 Cohasset to avenge their defeat in the Division 7 Semifinals a year ago, rolling to a 48-28 victory at Burlington H.S. to earn a trip to a state championship game. Time and dates have not yet been announced, but Amesbury will play either No. 1 Uxbridge or No. 5 Clinton in the Div. 7 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
“It means a lot,” said senior defensive lineman Christian McGarry. “Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is last year and the seniors on that roster. We wanted to get it for them last year, but I mean this year, I think that we can do it. We’ve always had our sights set on this since the beginning of the year.”
All season long, this has been the goal.
Amesbury (9-1) has had a hive mind focused on making a Super Bowl since the end of last year, and that desire only grew during preseason practices and weight training sessions. Much like how the team whose field the Redhawks will be borrowing in a couple weeks used to opperate for over two decades, it’s been a business-like, Patriots-esque approach to the season.
Case and point being the talk after Friday’s win.
“The job’s not done,” said Amesbury coach Colin McQueen. “That’s been the message, and they’ve been very business-like in their approach throughout the year. They’re going to take it one game at a time again. They’re going to look at Thanksgiving first, and then obviously whoever we see down at Gillette, we’ll go through the same game plan and prep like we always do.”
Even from the players, too.
Besides playing solid defense at linebacker, Donovan also helped to anchor an offensive line that fueled Amesbury to 417 rushing yards on 40 carries. Along with Will Arsenault, Kyle Palen, Danny Hutchings and Nolan Vient — as well as tight ends Robbie Dalton and Ethan Kirby — that unit dominated the trenches all night. The Sanchez twins were once again sensational, with Max rushing for 222 yards on 12 carries with three TDs, and Michael going for 108 yards on 11 totes with two scores and three conversions.
But even still, the “celebration talk” was subdued.
“We’re feeling good,” said Donovan. “There’s still stuff to clean up, though. I mean, like, just the small windows that we could be in to block them out. We had a lof of great plays and (Cohasset) had a lot of great plays, and that’s what happens at this point in the season. But you just need to be the best that you can be for the next couple of weeks.”
And it was right from the first play, too.
Amesbury received the opening kickoff, and sophomore QB Justin Dube took the first snap, and gave it to Michael Sanchez who burst through the middle for a 67-yard touchdown. Cohasset (6-4) was putting together a nice opening drive of its own, but a first-down pass from the plus-31 was tipped at the line, and intercepted by Michael Sanchez. One long drive later, and the Redhawks opened up a 16-0 lead after McGarry carried three defenders in with him for an 11-yard TD near the end of the first quarter.
“It’s fun, I love it,” said McGarry, who switched from tight end to running back near the end of the regular season. “Just putting my head down and running through guys, I love it. I’m just the power guy. When they score those long-distance runs, I’m always like ‘thank you, give us a break!’
Cohasset, however, wasn’t going down without swinging.
In particular, sophomore QB Mike Wildfire was impressive, completing 18-of-29 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. The Skippers got on the board early in the second on a Liam Appleton 7-yard run, then after forcing their only stop on defense all night, made it a 16-13 game after Max Monahan ran in a 9-yard TD. But the Skippers did suffer a huge blow on that second scoring drive when Appleton, a senior captain and star player on both sides of the ball, went down with an apparent ankle injury and didn’t return to the game.
Faced with its lone adversity of the night, though, Amesbury responded, too.
The Redhawks leaned on the run game, throwing just one pass all night, and scored to make it 24-13 at halftime on Michael Sanchez’s second TD run — this one a 2-yarder with 1:24 left.
Then in the second half, it was all Max Sanchez.
Amesbury got a stop on defense to open the third quarter, but got pinned at the 1-yard-line after a fantastic punt. It was no problem, however, as a McGarry 12-yard run sparked the drive, and minutes later Max broke away for a 59-yard run. Cohasset would score of the first play of the fourth quarter on a 20-yard TD pass from Wildfire to Shane Mulcahy to make it 32-21, but the Skippers just couldn’t get a stop.
The Amesbury O-Line was just too good.
“They’ve been great all season, but tonight I think they had an extra gear,” said McQueen. “The get-off, the pad-level was incredible. And it was guys like Willy and Aiden, Hutch who was great at the half talking to us about alignments. There was just a belief there, and an idea like, ‘Hey, get behind us. We’re gonna do this.’ It didn’t matter what front (Cohasset) threw at us, those guys felt like they could get bodies on bodies and move them.”
Max Sanchez immediately responded with a 40-yard touchdown run, then after a turnover-on-downs, the senior broke a tackle and cruised up the middle for a 65-yard score to make it 48-21. The party was already on in the Amesbury student section, but Cohasset would add a late touchdown in the final minute on a Wildfire 7-yard pass to Will McLoughlin to make the final spread a little bit closer.
Asked after the game, McQueen says he 100% plans to play his starters for the team’s 100th annual meeting against Newburyport on Thanksgiving Day.
Then, it’ll be on to the Division 7 Super Bowl.
Amesbury 48, Cohasset 28
Amesbury (9-1): 16 8 8 16 — 48
Cohasset (6-4): 0 13 0 15 — 28
A — Michael Sanchez 67 run (Max Sanchez run), 11:49
A — Christian McGarry 11 run (Michael Sanchez run), 1:57
C — Liam Appleton 7 run (Jake Dolan kick), 10:56
C — Max Monahan 9 run (Dolan kick), 3:36
A — Michael Sanchez 2 run (Michael Sanchez run), 1:24
A — Max Sanchez 59 run (Michael Sanchez run), 3:25
C — Shane Mulcahy 20 pass from Mike Wildfire (Will Norgeot pass from Wildfire)
A — Max Sanchez 40 run (Max Sanchez run), 9:29
A — Max Sanchez 65 run (DJ DiCarlo run), 5:04
C — Will McLoughlin 7 pass from Wildfire (Dolan kick)
RUSHING: AMESBURY (40-417): Max Sanchez 12-222, Michael Sanchez 11-108, Christian McGarry 12-66, DJ DiCarlo 2-14, Justin Dube 3-7; COHASSET (32-125): Max Monahan 17-62, Mike Wildfire 7-33, Liam Appleton 4-18, Gus Greene 4-12
PASSING: A — J. Dube 1-1-0, 34; C — M. Wildfire 18-29-2, 199
RECEIVING: A — Robbie Dalton 1-34; C — Will McLaughlin 5-78, Monahan 4-41, Will Norgeot 5-38, Shane Mulcahy 1-20, Greene 1-12 Appleton 1-6, Jack Cullinan 1-4