As his Manchester Essex teammates strutted off the field after the Hornets’ lone win this season -- a dramatic, last-minute victory over Pope John in September -- Manchester Essex quarterback Cory Burnham kept the win in perspective.
While it was nice for the Hornets to finally see their names in the win column, Burnham said, the most important part of the schedule was still ahead of them.
“What really matters is conference play,” Burnham said, “so hopefully we can get some momentum going.”
So while the Hornets enter tomorrow’s NEC/CAL Tier 4 opener at Hamilton-Wenham (2:00) sitting at a disappointing 1-5, the slate has been wiped clean.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? Things may only get tougher for the Hornets now that they’ve entered their five-game conference slate. Faced with the likes of Hamilton-Wenham, North Reading, Lynnfield, Ipswich and Georgetown, the Hornets have an uphill battle laid out in front of them.
To make matters worse, they open up with consecutive road games against likely the two strongest teams in Tier 4: Hamilton-Wenham tomorrow and North Reading next weekend.
The Generals (3-2), last season’s conference champions, are fresh off a trip to the Division 3A Super Bowl, and while some of that momentum may have waned with early season losses to Pentucket and Amesbury, they’re again riding high after an impressive overtime win over Bishop Fenwick last weekend.
And with the reigning Division 3A player of the year, quarterback Trevor Lyons, still under center for the Generals, they again appear to be the class of the conference.
Nipping at Hamilton-Wenham’s heels are North Reading and Lynnfield.
North Reading sits at 4-1 entering tomorrow’s game against Georgetown, and with solid non-conference wins over Tier 3 opponents Saugus, Amesbury and Pentucket, they’ve clearly already learned how to win.
The North Reading Hornets’ defense is yielding just 10 points-per-game, and if that defensive dominance can continue, look for them to make a run at Hamilton-Wenham’s throne.
Meanwhile, Lynnfield sits at 3-2 after an up-and-down start to their year. Their two losses have come by a combined 10 points, though, and with consecutive wins over Danvers (21-0) and Pentucket (14-6) in the past two weeks, the Pioneers are riding a wave of momentum into conference play.
Sporting a similarly-stout defense to North Reading’s -- the Pioneers have held three opponents to seven or fewer points -- Lynnfield will be another tough out for Tier 4 teams with their sights on the postseason.
“When you look at the division, you’ve got Hamilton-Wenham, Lynnfield and North Reading, and all of those teams have done very well this year,” Hornets coach Mike Athanas said.
There’s a clear separation between the top and bottom of the division. The remaining three teams -- Manchester Essex, Ipswich and Georgetown -- all enter conference play with just one win under their respective belts.
But while it certainly seems to be a three-team race for the NEC/CAL Tier 4 crown, the past six weeks are now rendered irrelevant. At least for today, all six teams share the same 0-0 record.
“These last five or six games have been like a tune up,” Athanas said. “You’re trying to figure out what you can and can’t do and it’s a clean slate now. You start at 0-0 this weekend, and if you do well, you’re in a good spot.”
It’ll be no bargain for the Hornets, especially considering the fact they’ll play all three of the division’s conference favorites over the next four weeks.
It is, however, a fresh start. And don’t be surprised if you see some surprises.
Manchester Essex 2012 Football Statistics Rushing Player Rush Yds. TD Cory Burnham 74 330 5 Chris Dumont 62 284 2 Sean Desmond 12 57 0 Zach Fleming 10 33 0 Jake Fitzgerald 8 29 0 Nate Riehl 4 16 0 Brian Gibson 1 7 0 Passing Player PC PA Yds. TD Int. Cory Burnham 45 111 643 5 2 Receiving Player Rec. Yds. TD John Beardsley 15 236 2 Brian McAuliffe 6 151 0 Henry Gedney 9 118 2 Chris Dumont 8 54 1 Liam Logue 2 25 0 Nate Riehl 1 22 0 Zach Fleming 2 15 0