Former Commonwealth Athletic Conference rivals, the Manchester Essex and Northeast football teams are plenty familiar with one another.
They’ve even kept their series alive since the Hornets’ departure for the Cape Ann League before last season.
Only in this case, it seems, familiarity has bred contempt.
The last time the two teams met — a lopsided win for the Golden Knights last October — the game disintegrated as it approached the final buzzer, as common trash talk quickly intensified.
Northeast racked up seven personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the game, prompting tempers to flare on both the field and the sidelines.
Hornets coach Mike Athanas opted to have his team skip the post-game handshake. As the Hornets walked off the field, they were met with jeers from the Northeast players.
In short, things got ugly.
“I didn’t think anything good would have come out of it at the end,” Athanas said of the skipped handshake. “(Northeast) was really doing alot of talking and they had a lot of 15 yard penalties. I didn’t want anything to escalate in the handshake line where we would lose one of our players for something foolish. I checked with the official on our sideline to see if it was a violation. He told me it wasn’t and he agreed with our decision.”
“I have a lot of respect for that program but I don’t understand why
they are mad today,” Northeast coach Don Heres said after that game. “Everything we were doing they were
doing too. We play tough and physical football and if they can’t handle
it they shouldn’t play us anymore.”
When the two teams meet again at Hyland Field tomorrow (2:00), Athanas is hoping to put last year’s extracurricular mess behind him. His respect for Heres and the Northeast program hasn’t waned, and Sunday’s matinee, he hopes, will allow the two squads to move on from last year’s debacle.
“It was just a bad day,” Athanas said of last year’s game. “Just a lot of after-the-whistle stuff. They had a bunch of personal fouls, and it just got real chippy. I’ve coached against Donny for a long time, though, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Which leaves us with the game itself. And with the Hornets sitting at 1-4 after a 32-19 loss to Austin Prep last week, they’re in desperate need of a non-league win to right the ship heading into conference play.
Against the Golden Knights, that’s no easy task. Northeast tends to be big and physical -- as it proved last year -- and generally has a considerable numbers advantage over the Hornets.
Behind running backs Kenny Bartolo and Christian Perez, the Golden Knights operate an efficient, run-heavy wing-T offensive attack that’s averaging 27 points-per-game.
The Hornets have struggled against the wing-T this season -- in losses to Amesbury, Saugus and Austin Prep -- and have surrendered an average of 30 points against those attacks.
Not the best news for a team that needs a win.
“They’re good in all facets,” Athanas said. “They’ve done very well the past few years. Physical team, good amount of players, big school. They’ve always given us a tough game.”