DANVERS — It was a perfect day for football. And a great day to be a Warriors fan.
Hundreds of people made the drive from Andover to Danvers for the Saturday afternoon match-up last weekend between two regional football powerhouses: The Warriors of Andover and the Eagles of St. John’s Prep.
The parents, friends, colleagues and fellow students crowding the visitors’ stands would not be disappointed.
The first half was a roller coaster ride, as it included an Andover touchdown being called back after an Andover coach was called for standing too far in the field where he supposedly got hit by a ref running by. The score was 21-7, Eagles.
But the second half would be nearly all Warriors, as they dominated and roared back for a 35-28 win.
Fans were hoarse by the end of the game as students flooded the field, gathering around the team, chanting, dancing, hooting and hollering.
After shaking hands with their opponents, the team made its way over to the bleachers stuck in the corner at the temporary St. John’s Prep field (a new field is under construction) holding their helmets aloft in a salute to their fans -- but mostly to their parents.
Dozens of people were dressed in bright, yellow sweatshirts, only recently made and sold - at cost - by Peter Comeau of Optimum Sports.
One family -- among many -- proudly wearing their jerseys for the game were the parents and sister of senior defender Nate Wiley. Mom Karen, husband Brian and sister Addie sat in the front row of the bleachers for the first half, enjoying the game as best as they could, despite the seemingly gloomy score.
“The team has been doing great,” said an optimistic Karen Wiley. “They’ve been playing together a long time -- since the AJFL (Andover Junior Football League).”
E.J. Perry and Joe Rockwell, two of the stars of the game, had played in the AJFL, noted a number of parents, as had others on the field that day -- including some on the St. John’s Prep team.
In fact, noted a few fans, there were some people in the stands who weren’t quite sure who to root for. One Andover eighth-grader standing near the field had a brother on the St. John’s Prep team. He was planning on attending the Prep next year himself. When asked who he was rooting for, he kind of shrugged and pointed to his Andover Warriors T-shirt.
Wiley said the school spirit had been amazing, even trickling down to the elementary school level, where an email went out Friday encouraging folks to go to the game wearing yellow.
“This has been a big thrill for everyone in the community,” she said. “There have been lots of long practices and pasta dinners.”
Sitting nearby, Ulissa Deleon and her family watched as son Malique Megia, aka The Powerhouse, also playing defense, made a number of big plays to keep St. John’s Prep from scoring in the second half.
“They’ve been playing hard,” Deleon said. “We’re very proud of them.”
She said the team has bounced back from adversity after losing one of its stars, Dan Gemmell, to a knee injury earlier in the season. The fans, however, have remained steadfast throughout, despite the fact that many of the games had been played in cold, rainy or drizzly weather. Not so Saturday’s game, where the sun beamed down on the field, keeping most people warm despite the brisk, fall air.
“Our town is extremely supportive, through rain, snow, or cold,” Deleon said, as she watched the game with husband Jeremiah and daughters Alyssa and Jaylin.
Brian and Mary Ellen Logee, whose son Peter is a junior on the team, said the crowd all season long had been amazing.
“They are outstanding, enthusiastic and supportive,” said Brian Logee. “It’s been a good season. Everybody’s worked hard. It’s a really big commitment.”
Jay Healey, whose daughter Caroline is a senior cheerleader and whose son Sean is a freshman at AHS, said he was proud of the team and the way it has worked hard.
“The defense struggled early in the season but really came on strong at the end,” he said, noting that they made “three huge stops” in the second half to hold back the Prep’s powerful offense.
As the clock ticked down, stopping on 20 seconds, one mother stood among the hundreds of standing fans, her hands clasped together as if in prayer.
“This is the longest 20 seconds,” she whispered.
Another woman turned away, saying, “I can’t watch.”
St. John’s Prep was down to its last play.
As the ball fluttered through the air and landed without being caught, fans scanned the field to make sure there were no flags on the ground.
And then the celebration commenced.