Phillips Academy’s Mike DeLaus has experienced more than his share of heartbreak on the football field.
He battled through Andover’s winless 0-7 campaign as a sophomore two years ago, followed by last year’s 2-5 disappointment.
So — after dealing with the agony of defeat — the thrill of victory last Saturday was that much sweeter.
DeLaus, a senior linebacker, was one of five Andover residents who helped lead Phillips Academy to the Jack Etter Bowl title with a 35-28 victory over Brunswick School in Connecticut, capping off a perfect 9-0 season for the Big Blue.
“Like every season, we had to wait to see who was coming in for postgrads and new guys this season,” DeLaus said. “Once we started practicing and saw the group that we had, we started to think, ‘This could be a really good season.’
“Then we scrimmaged BB&N (Buckingham, Browne & Nichols in Cambridge), a team we usually have a really tough time with, and we just ran over them.”
It took some drama for Phillips to lock down the title on Saturday.
Brunswick led 28-6 late in the third, and seemed to be in control.
But Ryder Stone, a postgrad running back, simply took the game over. He scored a 28-yard touchdown late in the third, then added fourth-quarter TDs of 3 yards and 37 yards to tie the score 28-28 late in the fourth.
Then, after a key defensive stop, Ian Maag and Matt Rusk-Kosa connected for the game-winning touchdown pass with 1:35 left.
The win marked the Big Blue’s first postseason win since 1999, and emphatically closed out a perfect 9-0 season, its first unbeaten campaign since 1995.
And coach Leon Modeste said no one epitomized the turnaround more than DeLaus, the backbone of the team’s defense.
“He really typifies our turnaround and school motto of ‘Not for self,’” Modeste said. “A lot of our success this year is because of Mike and guys like Mike who have sacrificed for the better of the team. He is very smart and very talented and he loves to go after the quarterback.”
DeLaus, who attended the Pike School in Andover before heading to Phillips, was a key member of the defense at linebacker while also playing running back.
Other Andover residents on the team included offensive lineman/linebacker Tyler Marshall, receiver/defensive back John Belluche, lineman Josiah Legaspi and tight end Dylan Norris.
“This has just been a storybook season,” Modeste said. “Two years ago, we were 0-8 and now we are 9-0 and have won a title. We really went from worst to first.”