Over the final two weeks of the regular season the Manchester Essex football team turned a corner.
Following a disappointing loss to Hamilton-Wenham in Week 6 moving their record to 2-3 on the year, Hornets head coach Mike Athanas challenged his team to make more plays and find ways to win football games.
It was evident in the team’s 26-20 win over Ipswich and 22-18 win over Amesbury to end the season and earn a spot in the postseason that Manchester Essex got its coach’s message.
Tonight, the sixth seeded Hornets will be looking to take another step in the right direction when they travel to Harvard Stadium to take on No. 3 Brighton (7-0) the Boston City League champions in the Division 5 North Quarterfinals (7 p.m.). It will be the first postseason appearance for Manchester Essex since 2008, when it finished 13-0 and won the Division 3A Super Bowl.
“The kids are feeding off of the last two weeks. We are playing well and learning how to win,” Athanas said. “I’ll tell you it’s been a while since we’ve been in the playoffs and you can see it in the way we practice. The team is really excited for this one and it’s been the best week of practice we’ve had all season.”
The Hornets will have their hands full tonight at Harvard Stadium, as Brighton has ran roughshod over the competition this fall by an average score of 41-13.
Offensively the Bengals are simply a juggernaut as they have scored under 40 points just twice all season while eclipsing 50 points three times and scoring more than 60 points twice.
The Manchester Essex defense, which has carried the team all season long, will need to be wary of several players, most notably quarterback Jalen Apperwhite.
Apperwhite navigates Brighton’s pro-style offense to perfection and he leads all of Division 5 with 13 touchdown passes on the season. Apperwhite’s favorite target on the outside is Michael Dereus, who has caught seven of Apperwhite’s 13 touchdown passes this fall.