Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lawrence Academy Captures Kevin Fleming Bowl, Blows Out Phillips Andover

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

Groton, Mass. - Anthony Muse was at a loss for words. Only a handful of moments after putting up a highlight reel afternoon, the Lawrence Academy freshman running back had trouble deciphering what he had accomplished on a overcast, cold afternoon.

The West Haven, CT product had a game for the ages, rushing for 373 yards and six touchdowns on 18 carries to lead the Spartans to a dominating 56-7 triumph over Phillips Academy-Andover in the NEPSAC Kevin Flemming Bowl on Saturday.

"We just came out on fire today and we all wanted this badly," said the soft-spoken Muse. "It's heartwarming. Being a freshman, and to play in a big game like this and score six times, it's a lot to process right now."

No matter what the Big Blue tried to do defensively, they always seemed to be a step or two behind the fleet-footed Muse.

With the victory, LA finishes the season at a perfect 9-0.

This win also marks the Spartans third bowl celebration in the last four years under seven-year head coach Paul Zukauskas. In 2015, they defeated Suffield Academy in the Wayne Sanborn Bowl. The year prior, they edged Williston-Northampton School in the Hugh Caldera Bowl.

Scoring on its first six possessions, sandwiched around an interception return for a score, LA held a commanding 49-0 lead at the half.

Muse opened this tilt scoring on runs of 18, 17 and 35 yards, respectively, to give the Spartans a 21-0 advantage with just over three minutes still remaining in the first quarter.

"The way (Anthony) plays football, he is way beyond his years," Zukauskas said. "The thing about him is that he is a really tough football player. He has a bright future in football because he plays the game the right way. He's just a talented player."

A Joey Luchetti 13-yard pick six, off of starting quarterback Zach Geddes, made it a 28 point deficit before the quarter came to a close.

While PA's offense continued to struggle versus an overpowering LA defense, led by linemen Finn Dirstine and Ryan Betro, the Spartans offensive unit was able to make things look easy.

Following a Big Blue punt early in the second quarter, LA was back on the march again. A 45 yard pass completion from sophomore quarterback Brady Martin (6 of 8 for 110 yards) to Justin Barron was soon proceeded by a Muse 25 yard jaunt which took the Spartans to the PA 10 yard line. This time, LA turned to its other back Josh Arruda, who sprinted around the left end into the end zone to make it 35-0 with 10:53 showing before the half.

At the end of the day, the Spartans blistering offense finished with a mesmerizing 611 yards, including 478 in the first half. PA, which last won a bowl contest in 2013 against Brunswick School, could only muster 169 total as it was led by Westwood native Andrew Antonucci, who gained 57 yards on the ground.

Two minutes later, after another Big Blue punt (8 total), the Spartans regained possession on their own 36. A 49 yard end run by Luchetti set the stage for a Muse 7 yard jaunt into the end zone, increasing the lead to 42-0. With just under seven minutes remaining before the break, LA once again forced PA into a punting situation. On the ensuing transfer, the Spartans needed just one play as Muse bolted 84 yards to paydirt, upping the advantage to 49 points.

"You could tell at the beginning of the year that this was a special group," said Zukauskas. "These kids practiced and prepared really hard all season. This group came together at the beginning of the year and brought everyone in which is really special. It's all about having good players here so I've been lucky. Today we had pretty good feel as to what Phillips would do so we added a few wrinkles to our run game. We threw in some different formations today and I thought the kids really executed. On defense, we continued to get better all season. Our defense is very good and I don't know if I have seen a better defensive line than ours in high school."

The Big Blue (6-3) got here having won their final two regular season contests against Worcester Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy. But it is probably safe to say that they had not faced a team the caliber of LA this season, including Choate Rosemary Hall School who blanked them 40-0 in early October. PA's other loss, prior to this one, came against Deerfield Academy three weeks ago.

An agreement was made by both clubs to play the final half with running time. However, that did little to slow down the Spartans. With PA kicking off to begin the second half, any defensive adjustments made at the break by the Big Blue defense were nowhere to be found. Muse began LA's initial drive of the half with a 20 yard run. On the next play, he broke loose for 50 yards untouched to extend the lead to 56-0.

"My offensive line was amazing today," Muse said. "It is the best line I have ever played with. They open up big holes. They give you like three holes I can run through so I just need to pick which one and I look at their linebackers to see where I can go. I just try to run the ball and do my job. When I first came here I wasn't even sure if I was going to start because of the talent we had. I didn't know if I was even good enough. But through the development I found out that it is like one big family here. Everybody loves each other here. They kept telling me I would be the next one."

With just over seven minutes left to be played, PA was finally able to engineer a substantial drive, marching 98 yards before Antonucci crossed the goal line from 8 yards out to offer a bit of solace on an otherwise dreadful afternoon.

"I am very proud of my kids," said Big Blue head coach Leon Modeste, wrapping up his 31st year here. "I feel both Choate and Lawrence are excellent programs and I tip my hat to both of them. As far as Muse is concerned, I shook his hand after the game and I should have asked him for his autograph."

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