By Nick Curcuru
---- — ANDOVER-- The Greater Lawrence football team switched its offensive scheme from a run-heavy attack to the spread offense this season.
The new offensive system, however, played right into the hands of Manchester Essex as Mike Athanas’ squad also runs the spread offense and it knows the system inside and out.
On Saturday at the Louis E. Gleason Coluseum, the Hornets defense knew exactly how to attack the spread turning in a dominant performance en route to a 22-12 win, their first win of the season.
“We played great defense,” Athanas said. “They’re a spread team and we really know the spread and really worked hard against it this week in practice. I was nervous of their athletes in space but we played man-to-man, got good pressure on the quarterback and did a great job. It was a dominant day by the defense.”
Dominant is the perfect word to describe Manchester Essex’s performance on the defensive side of the ball Saturday. While the offense left a few plays on the field and kept the Reggies in the contest, the defense made sure they would not get anything going on offense allowing just 70 yards on the day.
Middle linebacker Doug Rodier led the way making tackles all over the field, but he was not alone. Nate Riehl had a big interception thwarting a Greater Lawrence drive while Leo Gallo, Ted Economo and Will Davis all had quarterback sacks in the win.
“Dougie is a force in the middle, if he doesn’t get blocked he will make the play every time and he made a lot of tackles for losses today,” Athanas said. “The line and the secondary also came up big.”
The Hornets (1-1) got things going right away mounting an impressive opening drive going 75 yards in seven plays, culminating with a Riehl five yard touchdown run to make it 6-0.
Manchester Essex smothered the Reggies offense for the remainder of the half holding them to just 13 yards over the first 20 minutes of play. But the offense couldn’t add to the lead despite the fact that it started the next four drives in Greater Lawrence territory.
Untimely penalties, a fumble and a turnover on downs kept the score at 6-0 at the half with Manchester Essex holding a 173-13 lead in total offense.
The lack of offensive execution came back to haunt the Hornets as Isaiah Roman took the second half kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown and all of a sudden the score was tied at 6-6, rendering the Hornets dominant first half defensive performance moot.
“Offensively we got the ball on their side of the field a lot and after that first drive we kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” Athanas said. “If we don’t hurt ourselves in those drives, we score.”
The Manchester Essex offense, however, stepped up its game in the second half behind a solid running game from Chris Dumont (game high 70 yards rushing), Riehl, Chris Carr and quarterback Craig Carter.
After the Reggies tied the score, the Hornets answered right back with a 10 play, 57 yard drive ending with a Carter one yard quarterback sneak. Carter would hit Dumont for the conversion to make it 14-6 Manchester Essex.
But Greater Lawrence would not go away mounting its only successful offensive drive on its next possession culminating with quarterback Ellicen Pena hooking up with Jeremy Torres for a 19 yard touchdown on fourth and 14. The Hornets defense would once again come up big on the conversion, stopping a pass attempt and holding on to a 14-12 lead.
Carter and the offense went right back to work on the next drive as the offensive line began to wear down the Reggies. Carter picked up his second one yard sneak in as many drives with 3:45 to play, a Dumont conversion made it 22-12, a lead that the Hornets would not relinquish.
“In the first half we made a couple mistakes on offense but in the second half we made some big plays when we needed them,” Dumont said. “Our offensive line may not be the biggest but they’re all really tough guys and they’re all in great shape. We just fed off of the momentum the defense gave us.”
The Hornets defense had one more stop left in them, turning the ball over on downs in just four plays and the offense, led by the running of Dumont, ran the clock out for the win.
The win was key for Manchester Essex as it picks up a win in the division and earned 10 points towards the Division 5 North playoffs. The Hornets now turn their attention to rival Georgetown, who visits Hyland Field on Friday (7:00 p.m.) in the Cape Ann League Small opener for both teams.
“That was a huge win in the division,” Athanas said. “It’s not like in years past where the non-league games don’t mean too much, they’re all big games now. I really liked how the offense responded in the second half. We picked up the blitz better and Dumont started running with authority, running kids over. The CAL schedule starts on Friday and it’s another huge one against Georgetown.”