ANDOVER — It was midway through the third quarter and the feeling that was resonating through the Phillips Academy-Andover sideline was one of pure belief after Big Blue place kicker Thomas Mullen booted a 35-yard field goal to put his team ahead by 2 against arch-rival and unbeaten Phillips Exeter.
The sentiment among the Big Blue was quite simple. If the defense could contain the Big Red for another 18 minutes then a season of disappointment would transform into one of sheer jubilation.
But such hopes were dashed. Phillips Exeter scored a pair of touchdowns within a minute soon after Mullen’s field goal and went on to claim a 35-9 victory in the 132d edition of this long-standing, historic battle played at Phelps Stadium.
With the victory, the Big Red finish the regular season 8-0 and qualify for a NEPSAC Division A bowl berth next Saturday for the first time since 2009. Their opponent and game site will be determined. Phillips Exeter has dominated this series of late, winning five straight and seven of the last 10 meetings. The Big Blue own a 68-54-10 advantage in the all-time series that started in 1878.
Mullen’s kick gave Phillips Andover its only lead of the afternoon at 9-7 with 6:16 remaining in the third. But the Big Red displayed no signs of panic. On Phillips Exeter’s third play following the field goal, senior running back Andreas Robinson bolted through traffic 48 yards for a score to give the Big Red a 14-9 advantage with 4:55 to go in the third.
On the ensuing possession, Phillips Andover quarterback Johannes Verhaegh (14 of 28 for 159 yards, 1 TD) found Alex Kramer on a 10-yard out pattern. But Kramer was hit hard by the Phillips Exeter defense and lost control of the ball. Defensive back Matt Greaves alertly scooped up the ball and returned it 32 yards untouched into the end zone, extending the Big Red’s advantage to 21-9.
“The turnover was the big one for us,” said Phillips Exeter coach Bill Glennon. “It seemed to change everything.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Phillips Exeter’s offense found gaps in the Big Blue’s defensive front. A 32-yard carry by Robinson (189 yards, 14 carries) set up his own 25-yard scoring jaunt to make it 28-9 and close the door on any upset hopes by Phillips Academy.
“You can only ask the kids to do so much and they gave us everything they had today,” said Phillips Academy coach Leon Modeste, his team finishing the season at 2-5.
With three minutes remaining, former Everett High standout quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso scored on a 1 yard dive play for the Big Red’s final scores.