By Conor Walsh Correspondent
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — The Manchester Essex football team was on the skids when it took the Ipswich High School field last Friday.
Having lost four straight games and opening up NEC/CAL Tier 4 play with consecutive blowout losses, the Hornets weren’t just looking for a win last weekend. They needed one.
And after a back-and-forth game, the Hornets got that win with a last-minute field goal, topping the Tigers, 17-14.
Now that the ship has been righted, though, the Hornets face a fairly unfamiliar task as they look to build off that win.
“It was a big win,” Hornets coach Mike Athanas said. “Good game. The kids played really well and we were lucky enough to hit a field goal with a minute and a half left.
“A win’s always great for the boys. They get a little confidence going, and you’ve just got to go back to work and get ready for Lynnfield.”
With Lynnfield, 6-2 overall and 3-0 in Tier 4 play, coming to Hyland Field tonight (7:00), that’ll be no bargain.
The Pioneers have surrendered just 74 points all season, an average of nine-a-week, and have won their three conference games by an average of more than 25 points.
They’ll look to control the line of scrimmage against the Hornets (2-7, 1-2 NEC/CAL Tier 4), as Lynnfield’s bruising offensive line will overshadow the Hornets’ defenders, and will attack both on the ground and through the air.
For reference, the Pioneers beat Hamilton-Wenham, 24-14, two weeks ago. Three weeks ago, the Hornets fell to the Generals, 43-13.
At this point, it appears that the Thanksgiving game between Lynnfield and North Reading will be the unofficial conference championship.
A long shot for the conference title, though, the Hornets have a chance to play spoiler tonight. But while Lynnfield, on paper, appears the clear favorite, the Hornets may be able to bypass the Pioneers’ dominant front-7 with a passing attack that has improved on a weekly basis this season.
Behind the play of quarterback Cory Burnham and wide receivers John Beardsley, Henry Gedney and Brian McAuliff (among others), Manchester Essex may be able to air it out and leave the game in the hands of the Pioneers’ secondary.
“They really are anchored on the front line,” Athanas said. “They’ve got three big kids on the defensive line that control the line of scrimmage, so it’s tough to run the ball and the linebackers are very good. They’re sound defensively on all three levels.
“You’ve just got to try to find something you can do well and stick to it.”
It’ll be an uphill climb for the Hornets tonight. But they’ve had their backs against the wall before, and with the momentum from last weekend’s win still floating through their locker room, Manchester Essex has an upset on its mind.