Ashland’s Football Season: A ‘Super’ Time For Senior Leadership

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
January, 2020
Article Body: 

Super Bowl championship teams often have a distinguishing characteristic. Some times it’s speed or skills and on other occasions it’s athleticism or technique.
For coach Andrew MacKay and his Ashland football team, senior leadership played a major role when the Clockers battled Bishop Fenwick in the Division 6 Super Bowl. The Clockers posted a 28-22 victory and claimed their first Bowl title in 24 years.
The Clockers, who’ve now qualified for the playoffs five times in the last six years, had seven senior starters back on offense and seven on defense. As juniors, they not only sparked Ashland to an 8-3 record, but they also advanced to the Division 5 South semifinals where they bowed to Old Rochester, falling one game shy of a Super Bowl berth in 2018.
“Our seniors gained experienced in games that were close wins and close losses when they were juniors,’’ MacKay said. “Their leadership was a key this season. They displayed great character, on and off the field; they were close-knit; selfless; and they promoted team chemistry and a family atmosphere.’’
MacKay has coached the Clockers for nine seasons and when he’s compiling a roster, it’s no secret what attributes he prefers. “I want players who are coachable and accountable,’’ he said. “I also want high character guys who are resilient and mentally tough.’’
When seniors have those traits, it’s a recipe for success because the players, more often than not, become quality leaders.
The Clockers put an exclamation point on senior leadership in the first half when senior receiver Brian Gazard caught two touchdown passes from senior quarterback Dom Cavanagh, keeping the Clockers within reach at halftime, trailing, 14-13.
In the final stanza, that leadership component was front and center and it was dramatic.
On a second-and-10 from his own 26, Cavanagh connected with senior Jake Latessa on a crossing route. The Ashland wideout caught the ball at the Clockers’ 40-yard line before making what was the key play of the game. Latessa eluded a defender with a stiff-arm at midfield and shed two potential tacklers at the Crusaders’ 20-yard line. He was finally tackled a yard shy of the goal line — a play that covered 73 yards.
Cavanagh snuck into the end zone for the TD and Andrew Agostinelli added the extra point for a 20-14 lead with 7:08 left in the contest.
Less than two minutes later, the Clockers added another TD, giving their fans little doubt about the outcome. Two first downs put the Clockers inside Fenwick’s 20. With the ball on the five-yard line and the Clockers facing a third-and-four, Cavanagh threw to his left and another senior, Kevin Russell, grabbed the ball for a five-yard TD. A pass for the two-point conversion (Cavanagh to Gazard) made it 28-14 with 2:53 left in regulation.
For all intents and purposes, it was game over and MacKay was quick to praise the four seniors who contributed in stylish fashion on offense.
“Cavanagh is the best player in Ashland’s history,’’ he emphasized. “He’s 10 times the person than he is as a player. A great leader, he had a record 32 TD passes this year and he ran for 10 more. Latessa set the school record for yards receiving (1,064). He’s a big time player who’s not afraid of the big moment. Gazard is the ultimate competitor. He’s the glue, whether it’s blocking or catching. And, Russell is one of the best receivers in the state. He was our most consistent receiver, catching 13 TD passes for a school record.’’
Citing his team’s close-knit nature and how it bonded while it compiled the best record in school history (12-1), MacKay also lauded his defensive corps. “Everyone talked about Fenwick’s defense but we take pride in our ability to defend,’’ he said. “Our defense put us in position to win the Super Bowl. A few years ago, we had the defensive player of the year in the Tri Valley League for three straight years.’’
MacKay’s competitive philosophy was the elixir that the seniors and the underclassmen counted on to get the results they wanted. At the start of the season, he stressed the prime elements that lead to success. “My athletic philosophy focuses on making sure our kids reach their potential and enjoy their athletic experience,’’ he noted. “Building relationships and a family culture are also very important. And, if we reach those goals, then winning will follow.’’
Did it ever!
Ashland’s last bowl triumph was in 1995 when it downed Trinity Catholic ... Cavanagh finished the season as the TVL’s Large Division MVP. He was 13-for-21, for 270 yards passing and 3 TDs in the Bowl … Other key Bowl statistics — Latessa (5 catches, 117 receiving yards); Gazard (4 catches, 61 yards, 2 TDs); and Russell (34 receiving yards and a touchdown) ... Nine seniors were captains (Cavanagh, Ryan Dwinells, Russell, O.B. Brown, Brandon Grover, Dominic Massauro, James Merloni, Latessa and Colin Dagg … Ashland’s playoff journey included wins over East Bridgewater, Rockland, Old Rochester, Millbury and Bishop Fenwick … The Clockers’ roster listed 62 players and 24 were seniors … MacKay said the bowl triumph was thrilling not only for the players, but also for his assistant coaches and the community. “We were blessed the way the town rallied for us,’’ he noted. “It’s a perfect community.’’