Down by three points and with less than 90 seconds remaining on the road, Goddard quarterback Blake Sullivan wasn’t nervous — he was angry.
He was angry at how the mistakes had piled up on Thursday night and put the No. 2-ranked Lions in this situation against Andover. He was also angry that he had fumbled twice close to the goal line, stopping potential go-ahead scores.
This was Sullivan’s final chance at redemption and he didn’t need long. In fact, two plays — a 44-yard strike down the right sideline to Zack True, then a 2-yard touchdown plunge by himself — and 20 seconds was all Sullivan needed to rally Goddard for a 21-17 victory over Andover to move to 3-0 on the season.
“Personally, I just really wanted that win,” Sullivan said. “It was frustrating, but that’s football. You’ve got to fight back and face adversity and make plays. That’s what we did there down the stretch.”
Sullivan’s heroics spoiled what would have been a monumental upset by Andover, which had a superb defensive performance and just enough punch by freshman quarterback Eli Fahnestock to make Goddard play from a deficit for the majority of the game.
Less than a week after Sullivan and Goddard diced up the two-time defending champions from Derby primarily with the read-option, Andover’s defensive scheme by coordinator Dustin Murray proved up for the challenge of the quarterback’s dual-threat ability. Andover’s linebackers Casey Mayes, Grant Staehr, and Slade Swan swarmed Goddard in the backfield and limited the Lions to 118 rushing yards on 33 attempts (3.6-yard average).
“I’ll put my defense up against anybody else in the state,” Andover coach Cade Armstrong said. “They fly around out there and they play hard.”
Andover’s upset bid gained momentum on the opening drive when the Trojans marched 99 yards on Goddard’s defense and scored a touchdown on a 23-yard pass from Fahnestock to Luke Windish, chewing up eight minutes of the clock. Armstrong had Fahnestock build confidence with quick throws, while Goddard’s defense also helped out by extending the drive twice with personal foul penalties on failed third downs by Andover.
It was an agonizing opening drive for Goddard, which Sullivan said after the game set the tone for the night of miscues.
“The game was going so slow,” Sullivan said. “We like the game to go fast, so we can build momentum.”
Meanwhile, Andover built a 10-0 lead in the second quarter as it took Goddard’s offense 17 minutes to register a first down. Sullivan scored a 14-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 10-7 at halftime, but the first half was an array of sluggish play by Goddard.
“We had drops, we had missed drops, we had broken coverage... a lot of fixable stuff,” Goddard coach Scott Vang said. “Give Andover a lot of credit though. They played lights out.”
Goddard’s offense never hit its full stride, but Owen Beason seemingly gave the Lions the spark they were looking for when he jumped a slant pattern on a fourth-down throw and returned his interception 64 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead near the end of the third quarter.
But Andover proved resilient.
For a freshman in his third start playing against one of the most imposing defenses in Class 5A, Fahnestock flashed his vast potential as a passer. His most impressive play of the night came on a third down in the fourth quarter where he was almost dragged down for a sack, but stayed on his feet as he rolled to his right and launched a 50-yard completion to Peyton Henry down the sideline while falling out of bounds.
Two plays later, receiver Aidan Hartman executed a stop-and-go route and Fahnestock perfectly floated the ball to allow Hartman to run under it in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to put Andover back in front of Goddard 17-14 with 10:06 remaining in the game. Fahnestock finished the game having completed 21 of 39 passes for 278 yards with 54 of Andover’s 68 plays resulting in a run or a pass from him.
“His poise is something else for as young as he is,” Armstrong said. “Just the amount of plays and information we give him at practice and the way he can decipher it and run it during a game on the field is something else. I’ve never seen a freshman like him.”
With less than three minutes, Sullivan jolted Goddard alive with a 42-yard completion to Beason to the Andover 16-yard line. But on the next play, Staehr ripped the ball loose from Sullivan’s grip on a keeper and Andover recovered with 2:22 remaining.
Andover took no chances and plowed ahead three straight times, forcing Goddard to burn the rest of its timeouts. But the Lions produced the stop and gave Sullivan and the offense the ball back 46 yards away from the end zone and 83 seconds to work with.
Sullivan, who threw for 191 yards and rushed for 97 yards, only needed 20 of them.
“We have a lot of confidence in all of those guys out there,” Vang said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of seniors out there and it’s comforting to know we have them on the field for us.”
Fahnestock mounted a final drive of his own, reaching Goddard’s 16-yard line with 21 seconds left. But his fourth-down throw missed its mark and Goddard safety Ian McSwain intercepted the pass to seal the thrilling victory for Goddard.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking out there, but that last play felt amazing,” McSwain said. “Knowing we’re going to win the game, that’s a big sigh of relief.”
For Andover, 1-2, it was a “gut punch” according to Armstrong.
“But we’ve got to take the positives from this,” Armstrong said. “Our kids played their guts out and I couldn’t be more proud of them tonight.”
A—Windish 23 pass from Fahnestock (Kemp kick)
A—Kemp 37 field goal
G—Sullivan 14 run (Cole kick)
G—Beason 64 interception return (Cole kick)
A—Hartman 19 pass from Fahnestock (Kemp kick)
G—Sullivan 2 run (Cole kick)
Rushing—Goddard, Sullivan 24-97, Russell 8-20, Bannister 1-1; Andover, Fahnestock 15-25, Gumeringer 8-10, Henry 6-3.
Passing—Goddard, Sullivan 8-20-191-0; Andover, Fahnestock 21-39-278-2.
Receiving—Goddard, Beason 5-118, True 2-65, Russell 1-8; Andover, Smith 6-75, Turner 6-57, Hartman 3-27, Windish 2-56, Henry 2-47, Gumeringer 2-16.