ANDOVER — Before the 40th annual Turkey Bowl against Central Catholic, Andover coach E.J. Perry received a special message.
Penn State coach and Andover native Bill O’Brien texted Perry to say, “Good luck coach, beat Central.”
And the Warriors did just that, as they beat the Central Catholic Raiders, 22-19, Thursday at Lovely Stadium to clinch the Merrimack Valley (Large) title.
Andover quarterback C.J. Scarpa led a 15-play, 80-yard drive late in the third quarter, finishing it with a 9-yard touchdown run, then completing a 2-point conversion pass to Jake Flaherty to give Andover a 22-13 lead.
Scarpa (15 of 30, 235 yards passing) operated with surgical precision on the drive, completing 7 of 12 passes for 65 yards.
“I was just trying to get the plays quick and run them as fast as I can,” said Scarpa. “They don’t have to be perfect every time, they just have to get the defense tired.”
On Central Catholic’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Andover’s Will Heikkinen intercepted quarterback Mike Milano’s pass at the Andover 25-yard line, killing a Raiders drive that started from their 18.
Scarpa hit Andrew Deloury (6 catches, 65 yards) with a 27-yard pass on third and 10, then hit Cam Farnham with a 12-yard pass on third and 12 to extend Andover’s drive.
On fourth and 1 from Central’s 31, Scarpa’s pass fell incomplete and Central Catholic took over on downs. Nonetheless, the drive ticked 3:40 off the clock.
“C.J. is just unbelievable when he has the ball in his hands,” Perry said. “Every drive was great. The kid has heart and he has integrity.”
On Central Catholic’s final drive, Milano hit Mike Barry with a 25-yard touchdown to make it 22-19, but Thomas Jenoski’s PAT sailed left.
With a minute to play, Heikkinen recovered Jenoski’s onside kick, and Andover needed just one kneel-down to seal the victory.
“I thought we played good defensively,” said Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos. “We needed to do more on offense today. That was frustrating.”
Central Catholic (9-2, 3-1) got on the board first with a 39-yard field goal from Jenoski, but Andover (10-1, 3-1) answered on the next possession when Scarpa hit Cole Organisciak for a 9-yard score.
On the next drive, Milano hit Ryan Doherty for a 14-yard score, and the Raiders took a 10-7 lead.
But Andover wouldn’t rest, as Scarpa hit Farnham on a 77-yard streak to give the Warriors a 14-10 lead.
On the opening possession of the second half, Jenoski connected for a 30-yard field goal to cut Andover’s lead to 14-13.
Central Catholic entered the game with the better defense, but Andover made the big stops. In the first quarter, Central Catholic blocked a punt and took over on the Warriors’ 12. But Andover held the Raiders to a field goal. To open the second half, Jenoski returned the kickoff to the Andover 26, but Andover held the Raiders to a field goal.
“The defense won us the game today,” Perry said.
Andover will play St. John’s Prep (9-1) Tuesday in the playoffs.