EVERETT — Two weeks into the 2016 season, no one could have predicted Andover would be bound for the North final.
The Golden Warriors, after all, had dropped those first two straight by a combined 105-74 score in losses to Boston College High School and Billerica.
When Andover ended the regular season with two straight losses — to Haverhill and Central Catholic — to head into the postseason at just 3-4, many assumed it would be a short playoff run for the D1 North’s No. 7 seed.
But the 2016 Golden Warriors found their best football when everyone doubted them.
The Warriors stunned the Massachusetts football scene with playoff an upset of previously-unbeaten Lexington in the Division 1 North quarterfinals in overtime, then rallied to shock Super Bowl preseason favorite St. John’s Prep in the North semifinals to advance to the Division 1 North title game.
They may have fallen to legendary powerhouse Everett on Saturday, but the Golden Warriors proved doubters wrong week after week to advance to within a game of what would have been their first state title game appearance since 1975.
“I knew this team was going to do something special,” said Warriors head coach E.J. Perry III. “This is a very special group. We may not have started how we wanted, but the resilience of this team is just unbelievable.”
There is plenty of proof of Perry’s statement.
Many wondered what Andover would do after it lost Brown University recruit Dan Gemmell — the player many consider the top wide receiver in the state — to injury. Could QB E.J. Perry IV really have the same success without Gemmell?
Up stepped Cedric Gillette, who on Saturday went over 1,000 receiving yards (1,105), and Joe Rockwell (872 receiving yards) to emerge as the state’s most prolific receiving duo.
“I am always going to love this team and not just my son is one it,” said Perry III. “I have known a lot of these kids since they were in kindergarten. Guys like Rockwell and Gillette who have been friends with E.J. since they were little. It has been a privilege and an honor to coach them.”
Andover headed into the season without a running back, following the graduation of 2015 starter Anthony Christopher. And the Warriors would have to find the replacement from a group without varsity experience.
Out of nowhere stepped Jeremy Travaglini, a senior who didn’t play football at all as a junior.
“Jeremy really stepped up and has been awesome for us,” said Perry IV. “We missed him last year, but we were thrilled he came back and he has been the complete team player. He’s out there and does whatever is asked of him, whether it’s rushing 20 times in a game, catching passes or even blocking linebackers. He’s been a big part of our success.”
In his first and only varsity season, track star Travaglini rushed for 521 yards and two touchdowns in Andover’s wide-open passing attack, recorded 390 yards as the team’s kick returner and in the upset of St. John’s Prep caught seven passes for 56 yards.
“He really brings a lot of speed and can take it to that second gear,” said coach Perry. “And as the year has gone on he has started hitting holes hard and that has make a big difference. He and E.J. (IV) make a great pair in the backfield. And we were worried about our pass protection, but despite his size he is very tough and will stand in there against 220-pound linebackers.”
Those are just a few examples of players that stepped into key roles to turn a season that once looked lost into the Warriors’ deepest playoff run since the new postseason format was instituted.
From Mikey Comeau as the defensive leader — who played in the North final after leaving the hospital just hours before — to Jack Boese and Malique Mejia to John Marotta, Andover had many that were hungry for a tournament run.
On Saturday in Everett, the Golden Warriors were made well aware of the program they were facing.
Outside of Everett’s stadium stands a billboard listing all 10 of the Crimson Tide’s Super Bowl championships.
Inside the stadium there were picture posters of each of the 10 state championship rings that the Tide have taken home.
Without saying a word, Everett bombarded the opponents with psychological warfare.
But while Andover fell short of a title berth this fall, Perry III feels the year was another major step in the right direction.
“The seniors were determined to get here,” said the coach. “Last year we went to the North semifinals and battled Central Catholic. This year we made the North finals.
“We have to look at this is a learning experience. The sophomores, juniors and freshman have to take this pain and carry it into next year. We have done some, but we haven’t reached out main goal yet. Our goal is to make the Super Bowl.”
Reach sportswriter/videographer David Willis on Twitter at @DWillisET