Everything the Gloucester football team has done in the first half of the season has been in preparation for this point in the year.
The long days of double sessions in late summer, fighting through the toughest schedule of all 24 teams in all four tiers of the Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League “super conference,” the grueling weeks of practice and the extra time in the film room have all been in preparation for the final five games of the season.
Those final five games aren’t just any five games, Gloucester will be running the gauntlet that is the NEC/CAL Division 2 for the remainder of the season.
The Fishermen may enter conference play with a 1-5 record, but at this point in the year Gloucester, Beverly, Danvers, Salem, Marblehead and Swampscott are all on an even playing field. Every team is sporting a 0-0 record when it comes to conference play and a playoff spot.
By Thanksgiving the second tier of the NEC/CAL will have a champion, but right now it’s anybodies game. Here’s a look at what to expect over the next five weeks of conference play.
Although all six teams are sporting matching 0-0 conference records heading into the weekend’s slate of games, a favorite in the league has emerged over the season’s first six weeks, that favorite being Beverly.
The Panthers have racked up a 6-0 record against tough competition including Concord-Carlisle, Masconomet and Lynn Classical and they have put up that unbeaten record in impressive fashion outscoring opponents by a score 236-42. Beverly sports a relentless rushing attack led by Brendan Flaherty, the most dynamic player in the league, Kenny Pierce and Isiah White.
Beverly not only looks like the best team in Division 2 of the NEC/CAL, it looks to be the top team in all four tiers of the 24 team conference, and it looks to be the top team by a long shot.
While it’s clear that Beverly is the favorite entering conference play, the rest of the league gets a bit cloudy, and that’s certainly not a bad thing given that parity in the league should make for several outstanding matchups as the season wears on.
Marblehead, Gloucester’s opponent tonight (7:00 p.m. Piper Field, Marblehead), enters league play with a 6-0 record and has proven that it can close out games picking up close wins over Newburyport (23-20 in OT) and St. Mary’s (21-20). The defending NEC/CAL Division 2 champs have embraced the underdog role over the past five years, which has led to a pair of playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth in 2009, but it doesn’t seem like the Magicians will be able to sneak up on anybody in 2012, as their skill on the football field and ability to close out games is well known.
After the Magicians; Danvers, Salem and Swampscott all sport identical 3-3 records. Salem will travel to Swamspcott tomorrow (1:00 p.m.) while Danvers will travel to Beverly (Saturday, 2:00 p.m., Hurd Stadium).
Swampscott entered the season without a single returning starter from the 2011 season and stumbled out of the gates.
Quarterback Chris Santry and company, however, have heated up over the last three weeks and, as is typical in Swampscott teams, seem to be getting better as the season wears on.
Salem features one of the more dynamic players in the conference in quarterback Christian Dunston. The Witches hold impressive wins over Revere and Peabody while dropping close games to the class of the NEC/CAL Division 1, Masco, Lynn Classical and Lynn English.
The Witches have played the latter three Tier 1 teams as tough as Gloucester has played them, and like the Fishermen they are a much improved team in 2012.
Danvers, Gloucester’s Thanksgiving opponent, also has a 3-3 record with wins over Triton, Peabody and Winthrop. Off all six teams in the league Danvers has probably played the softest out of conference schedule.
That leaves us with Gloucester, who enters conference play at 1-5, but could easily have three wins on their record. Over the last two weeks Gloucester has been on the wrong end of close games to Masco (21-19) and Lynn Classical (22-20 in OT) but has proven that it can hang with just about anybody the league has to offer.
While the league appears to be tight, we will learn a lot about Gloucester’s standing in the conference tonight at Marblehead. The Fishermen are jumping right into the fire in the NEC/CAL Division 2 playing what could possibly be their two toughest opponents in conference play right off the bat in the Magicians tonight and Beverly next Saturday night.
There may be a large disparity in record, Gloucester being 1-5 and Marblehead being 6-0, but there isn’t much different in talent. If Gloucester can pull off a tough win on the road against the defending conference champs, it has a chance at being a top two team in the league.
While every teams’ standing in the league is uncertain at this point, one thing appears to be certain, the next five weeks will surely bring plenty of tight and exciting football games to the area.
Rushing Player Rush Yds. TD Zach Smith 71 497 4 Jon Good 44 221 2 Mark Horgan 38 182 1 Jordan Pallazola 37 151 1 Santo Parisi 23 85 2 John Curcuru 12 51 0 Mike Decaro 1 4 0 Anthony Palazzola 1 2 0 Passing Player PC PA Yds. TD Int. Santo Parisi 27 52 262 4 3 Receiving Player Rec. Yds. TD Devin Hemeon 12 168 3 Mark Horgan 8 130 1 Jon Good 5 41 0 Carlo Cracchiolo 1 23 0 Jordan Pallazola 1 3 0