By Nick Curcuru
---- — It’s officially playoff time.
After a shortened seven game regular season that was not short on drama and important football games, both the Gloucester and Manchester Essex football teams have earned a spot in the playoffs and now know who its sectional quarterfinal opponent will be.
Gloucester (5-2) earned the No. 4 seed and will face off against a very familiar opponent Friday night at New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium (7 p.m.) in No. 5 Beverly (4-3) in the Division 3 North Quarterfinals. Manchester Essex (4-3), on the other hand, won a coin flip with Lowell Catholic to earn the No. 6 seed in Division 5 North and will travel to No. 3 Brighton (7-0) on Friday (7 p.m.).
The Fishermen and Panthers, conference rivals who shared the Northeastern Conference Large title with Marblehead this season, will be playing for the second time this fall. Gloucester beat Beverly 18-14 in dramatic fashion on September 27.
Beverly appeared to be in control leading 14-12 for the majority of the second half before Gloucester forced a fumble around midfield with under two minutes to play. Fishermen quarterback Ian Kennedy converted a quarterback sneak with 19 seconds to play.
The Panthers fell to 1-3 with the loss and haven’t won since improving to 4-3 with wins over Marblehead, Lynn English and Swampscott. The Fishermen head into the playoffs riding a two game winning streak with wins over Lynn English and Swampscott.
The winner of Friday’s tilt will move on to the sectional semifinals where it will meet the winner of No. 1 Tewksbury (7-0) vs. No. 8 Somerville (2-5). The two losing teams will also meet next week in the consolation round.
Rounding out the Division 3 Northeast bracket is No. 2 Marblehead (6-1) vs. No. 7 Wilmington (3-4) and No. 3 Danvers (6-10 vs. No. 6 Masconomet (4-3).
Manchester Essex will not be facing a familiar foe in Brighton. The last time the Hornets and Bengals played was in the Division 3A playoffs back in 2007.
Brighton is the unbeaten Boston City League champions and are known for a tough physical style of football.
Manchester Essex earned a trip to the Division 5 playoffs in impressive fashion on Friday with a 22-18 win over Amesbury at Hyland Field.
The winner of Manchester Essex and Brighton will move on to the Division 5 North semifinals to play the winner of No. 2 Northeast (7-0) and No. 7 Lowell Catholic (4-3). Like Division 3 Northeast, the losing teams will also meet in the consolation round.
On the other side of the Division 5 North bracket is No. 1 Bishop Fenwick (7-0) vs. No. 8 St. Mary’s (4-3) and No. 4 Austin Prep (5-2) vs. No. 5 Whittier Tech (5-2).