NEWBURYPORT - You wouldn't have counted on Amesbury making a playoff appearance.
Not two months ago, after the Indians stumbled to an 0-3 start in nonleague encounters.
And not before yesterday, as they prepared for their annual Thanksgiving clash with Cape Ann League foe Newburyport, a team they had to beat, on the road no less, to slip into the postseason.
Now you can count on this. Amesbury (5-5) is indeed playoff-bound after a rousing 17-12 triumph over the Clippers before an estimated 3,000 at World War Memorial Stadium.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Amesbury's Stephen Serwon. "We worked so hard. We just wanted to prove everybody wrong. And we did it."
Indeed they did, behind a stern defensive effort that forced five turnovers, including a pair of critical interceptions by Jared Flannigan.
The first of those led to a Jameson Wheeler field goal. The other, which came with 39 seconds remaining, cemented the upset.
"We weren't losing that game," said Flannigan. "We came too far. Practiced too hard. We were not losing that game."
Amesbury started ball-hawking early, using Serwon's 61-yard runback of an Ashlyn Calcagni fumble to take a 7-0 lead just 3:26 into the contest.
Calcagni lost his grip on the slippery football, and Serwon picked it up on one hop and outran the Clippers to the end zone.
Serwon gave the Indians a jolt of electricity and a lead they never relinquished.
Newburyport answered on its next possession, a 12-play, 46-yard march that culminated with a 5-yard scoring toss from Calcagni to Derek Freeman.
The Indians promptly responded. On the first play of the second quarter, Flannigan found wideout Jesse Burrell with a 22-yard scoring strike, making it 14-6.
"[Flannigan] is a big-game kid," said Amesbury coach Thom Connors. "You can look at any sport he plays. He's just a great athlete. He had a great game for us, on both sides of the ball."
Flannigan, playing safety, picked off Calcagni at the Newburyport 24 to set up a 22-yard field goal by Wheeler, stretching the lead to 17-6 with 1:03 left in the half.
"It was all the pressure," said Flannigan. "Everybody coming at them on every play. They couldn't handle it. We didn't have much to lose. We had everything to win."
Hoping to spark his offense, Clippers coach Ed Guadiano replaced Calcagni with Kyle LeBlanc. The move paid off when LeBlanc directed a 72-yard scoring drive, fueled by a 59-yard pass to Justin Burl that put the ball on the 5.
Two plays later, LeBlanc scored from the 1 to cut the margin to 5. But the Clippers wouldn't get any closer, stopped three times inside the 30.
"We kind of dug ourselves a hole in the first half because of turnovers," said Guadiano. "We had chances in the second half, but then turnovers happened."
Newburyport's hopes died in the final moments with Flannigan's interception in the end zone.
"You just go out there and you sacrifice your body," said Amesbury tackle Nick Eaton. "You play as hard as you can. We did that today, and we came out on top."