Unrivaled pride

The story of how Exeter pulled off an epic football comeback against Andover.

Mike Lynch '72
February 8, 2022

In one of the greatest upset victories in the long-running Exeter-Andover sporting rivalry, Big Red rallied from a 17-point, second-period deficit to triumph over Andover and earn the football team its first New England title in 15 years. This is the story of that wild 1971 game as told by Exeter quarterback and legendary Boston sportscaster Mike Lynch ’72 on the 50th anniversary of that memorable meeting at Phelps Stadium.

The record shows that the 90th edition of this rivalry was won by Exeter 30-20 on Saturday, November 13, 1971. I’m here to inform you that this game was unofficially won by Exeter on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, November 9, 10 and 11. I was the quarterback and placekicker on that 1971 New England Prep School championship team. I’ve been asked to pen my recollection of how it happened 50 years ago to the very day.

Sleep was an elusive companion the night before the Andover game. We had just completed a productive week of practice. For three days, coach Alan Estey and his staff walked us through what Andover would do on offense and defense. They were 100% correct. With their preparation and leadership, we felt extremely confident as we wrapped up Friday’s walk-through.

There was a buzz around the Phillips Exeter campus all week, and by Friday night it was palpable. There was a bonfire, a pep rally, and speeches from Coach Estey and our two outstanding captains and leaders, Dave Fullerton ’72 and Drew Mellen ’72. After the bonfire I went in search of a store that sold long underwear. I knew it would be cold during the game and wanted to keep my chest and shoulders warm, especially as the day wore on. I found one up on Portsmouth Avenue. I borrowed Mrs. Estey’s scissors to cut off the sleeves. Check-in was complete at Peabody Hall room 9. My roommate Ernie Pisanelli ’72 (offensive and defensive tackle) and I shut out the lights. The proverbial hay was in the barn.

I can’t recall if we had classes that morning. If we did, our heads were elsewhere. School spirit was at an all-time high as we strolled through campus on the way to get dressed in the locker room in the bowels of the athletic complex. The walk to the stadium across the bridge was brisk. Alums, family, friends and students all wished us well and we proceeded into the stadium for the 1:45 p.m. kickoff.

Rumor had it that the night before the game a few Andover students were stopped at the bridge with four buckets of blue paint hoping to douse the stadium with their school color. But it would not matter. After warm-ups I looked Coach Estey in the eye and he told me to do exactly as we practiced and we would end a two-year drought against Andover.

The opening kickoff was disastrous. The field was glazed with frost, causing our return man, Roy Ball ’72, to slip and fall and dislocate his elbow. Poor Roy was in agony as we huddled up just a few feet away from him. An ambulance drove onto the field and Roy was taken to Exeter Hospital.

Away we went on offense. We managed to get deep into Andover territory before settling for a 31-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

And then a blue tidal wave hit us.

Andover scored 20 straight points and led 20-3. I would throw a horrific pass behind Jim Curry ’73 that was picked off by Andover’s Barry Cronin (my eventual college roommate), who took it 85 yards for a score. That pick would have put us in a 28-3 bind save for a clipping call, and thankfully the score was nullified. Still, 20-3 was a tough road to travel … except for this team. Each time I stepped into the huddle, 10 pair of eyes were looking directly at me as I prepared to call each play. Not once did I see or sense panic or despair. I only saw confidence and grit. We were good, really good. Think about our defense. Andover scored its 20th point just two minutes into the second quarter. For the remainder of the game our “D” shut out a very potent Andover “O.” We drove before the half and scored to make it 20-10 at the break.

I’ve always believed a team that scores just before the half has the edge coming out of the locker room, and that would be us. Inside our locker room there was confidence. Coach Estey told me we weren’t changing anything and that the work from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday would pay off. I never doubted him and he was correct.

We marched down the field running the ball. Randy Lombardo ’73 and Pete Foote ’72 scooted through chasms opened by Pisanelli, Kirby, Mellen, Gleason and Shea. We scored on a quarterback sneak. Andover 20, Exeter 16. By now the soccer, field hockey and cross-country crowds were all in the stadium. To us it looked like 100,000 people. It was a wonderful feeling. Faculty, alumni, students, family and friends all gave off energy that fueled us, and we weren’t about to disappoint them. As the shadows grew longer the defense of Pisanelli, Bossy, Newman, Moutevelis, Fullerton, Mellen, Burns, Trowbridge, Curry, Trivett and Wong stood taller than the mighty pines that framed our stadium. Into the fourth quarter we forged, and a touchdown pass to Dan Fournier ’73 gave us back the lead at 23-20.

By now the field was in complete shade, bordering on darkness. We knew we needed another score, and an interception by “Famous Jamous” Jim Curry set it up at our 10-yard line. Curry and Fournier were as good as it gets for receivers. They certainly bailed this QB out of many a jam. A 90-yard drive mixed with runs, a catch-and-run by Curry and a 49-yard completion to Fournier, who lugged it to the Andover 1-yard line, set up Pete Foote’s touchdown run and we had a 30-20 lead. Twenty-seven unanswered points, a shutout by our defense when it counted the most. Coach Estey and his staff won this game. Their preparation made it impossible to fail.

The scene on the field was chaotic. Everyone wanted to participate in the celebration. Our win made headlines in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. Winter wasn’t far off and classes would resume on Monday, but for a few hours on a chilly Saturday November afternoon we rode a wave of joy, happiness and UNRIVALED Exeter pride!  

Editor's note: Class of 1972 President Frank McPhillips first shared Mike Lynch's story as part of a monthly series of communications to his classmates in the year preceding their 50th reunion. The oral and written histories submitted by various members of the class of 1972, including this one, have been collected in the book, The Ways We Were: Exeter Remembered 1968-1972: Essays by the Exeter Class of 1972

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