Sweet 16: Lowell gets it done the hard way

Kids are well known for being brutally honest.

Noah Florence is no different.

Last Saturday morning, the 9-year-old greeted his father John with the following message: “Dad, why do you have black circles under your eyes?”

Well, for one thing, the coach of the Lowell High football team has had one wild, roller coaster ride. The latest drama occurred Friday night when the Red Raiders squandered a 25-point lead in the second half before rallying to win, 51-48, on Justin Villanueva’s 1-yard touchdown run on the final play of the game.

“As a coach on the sideline, it was a relief when it was finally over,” said Florence, whose team improved to 4-0. “I’m still not sure if I was happier that we won or didn’t lose.”

Lowell appeared to have the game well in control. The Red Raiders were able to do what they wanted on offense as running back Anthony Doung (17 carries, 192 yards, three touchdowns) and quarterback Curtis Gentles (three touchdown passes) played a major role in building a 45-20 lead late in the third quarter.

That margin was gone in less than 12 minutes as the Golden Warriors staged a dramatic comeback, scoring 28 straight points, capped off by a 23-yard TD pass from Nick Dellatto to wide receiver Cedric Gillette (14 catches, 247 yards) to give them a 48-45 lead with 1:16 left.

To make matters worse, Lowell misplayed the ensuing squib kick and was forced to start the drive from its own 1-yard line. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but this is a team accustomed to producing down the stretch, having beaten Cambridge, 62-61, on a last-second field goal by Mike Menezes.

“There was definitely no panic on the sideline or in the huddle,” Florence said. “Everyone was positive, and I think the Cambridge game helped us.”

The Red Raiders marched down the field once again, moving 98 yards to the Golden Warriors 1 with time for one more play. Having missed four extra points in the game, Florence eschewed a potential game-tying field goal and went for it all.

Villanueva got the call and he delivered the goods. As thrilling as the win was, Florence was struck by something he noticed in the film later.

“Our track coach, Scott Ouellet, videoed the final sequence and you could see (wide receiver) A.J. Byard off to the side,” Florence said. “He went over to the Andover defensive player, talked to him, and they shook hands before he went to celebrate with his teammates.

“My son noticed it as well, and we both thought it was a nice…

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