TEWKSBURY — It took just four plays for the first crushing hit.
Tewksbury quarterback Johnny Aylward found room along the Wilmington sideline near his opponent’s 40-yard line before being hit as he went out of bounds.
It was one of many plays that has raised the question of what Super Bowl-bound coaches should do with their starters on Thanksgiving.
For Johnny Aylward and coach Brian Aylward, whose team emerged with a 21-7 victory in the longstanding rivalry Thursday at Doucette Stadium, the question was immediately answered.
“You expect to get hit,” the quarterback said. “I feel fine, it’s a football game. If you don’t want to get hit, you shouldn’t play.”
Fourth-ranked Tewksbury (12-0) will cap off its season Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium against Plymouth South for the Division 3 Super Bowl title.
“I think it’s better this year than in any other years when it was just Thursday to Tuesday [before you played again],” Johnny said. “So we have nine days to prepare.”
For the coach, the decision to play his starters was validated by the final score. Tewksbury needed the tune-up, and Wilmington (3-8) didn’t allow it to be a simple victory.
“We’ll see on Dec. 7 how it works out for everybody on the decisions that they made. It’s as simple as that,” Brian Aylward said.
“I don’t know about other team’s kids, but I know [mine] need to keep playing. They love to play. They wouldn’t want to put younger kids in a position to play before they’re ready in front of that many people.”
After the hit, Johnny Aylward got his offense ready. On second down, junior running back James Sullivan rushed for 4 yards to the Wilmington 34.
An ineligible receiver set up a fourth down, and Aylward found Kevin Dick for a 34-yard TD. Mitchell Miskell’s kick gave Tewksbury a 7-0 lead it did not relinquish.
Wilmington fought back, but a bad snap from the 7 prevented Wilmington from securing 3 points.
“We were back to playing against tight ends, and we hadn’t in a couple of weeks,” Brian Aylward said of his team’s defensive struggles. “That’s a major difference for our defensive ends. I think our team out-thought themselves, and Wilmington made a couple big plays when they needed to.”
Tewksbury manufactured a drive that lasted deep into the second quarter. Aylward provided the biggest boost when he gained 18 yards down the sideline to the Wilmington 29. On first and goal from the 1, Eddie Matovu ran in for the score and a 14-0 lead.
With 6:31 left in the contest, Sullivan air-lifted his way into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown.
Wilmington junior quarterback James O’Regan prevented a shutout with less than two minutes remaining when he turned a keeper into a 24-yard score.