GLOUCESTER — All season long, Gloucester head football coach Tony Zerilli has stressed the importance of playing for all four quarters.
And while Zerilli's Fishermen have gained the reputation of a second-half team, they have had a tendency to dig themselves into first-half holes.
But in Friday's Division 3 Northeast Quarterfinal tilt at New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium against Northeastern Conference rival and fifth seeded Beverly, No. 4 Gloucester turned in a complete, four-quarter performance en route to a 28-13 win.
The win moves Gloucester, which swept its two games against Beverly this season, to the Division 3 Northeast semifinals, where it will play the winner of this afternoon's matchup between No. 1 Tewksbury and No. 8 Somerville.
Zerilli was quick to praise his team for a complete effort, because quite frankly it could not afford anything less against the Panthers.
"We talked before the game that we need to play four quarters, we need to put a full game together," Zerilli said. "And we did that, we played a great football game. Beverly made me nervous coming in, they've been playing really well and they're a much improved since Week 4. But the kids fought until the end and played a complete game."
Fishermen senior captain Jason Lattof echoed his coaches sentiment lauding his team for improving as the game went on.
"We always get stronger as the game goes on," Lattof said. "We played four quarters today and we are going to continue to play four quarters as the year goes on. This is team tough, mean, physical and we're coming for it. A state championship is our only goal, we've worked to hard to let it go now."
When Zerilli says his team turned in a complete effort, he was not exaggerating as the Fishermen were clicking on both offense and defense Friday night.
Offensively, Gloucester got its run game going with Jon Good and Jordan Pallazola, who each eclipsed the 100 yard mark on the night.
On the defensive side of the ball the Fishermen swarmed the Panthers as running backs rarely had any room to operate.
"We put a few wrinkles into our defensive game plan this week because we knew they were a much better team than they were the last time we met," Zerilli said. "But for the most part it was a well executed base defense. We read our keys, got to the ball and attacked their offense all night."
The Fishermen (6-2) controlled play in the first half taking a 7-0 lead into the break on a Good 37 yard first quarter run. But it was the Panthers that came out firing in the second half, forcing Gloucester into three-and-outs on its first two third-quarter drives and evening the score at 7-7 when Isiah White somehow broke free after it looked like he was bottled up at the line of scrimmage and raced 47 yards for the score.
On Gloucester ensuing drive, however, it imposed its will on Beverly. The Fishermen set up shop with 4:04 to play in the third quarter and methodically and efficiently moved their way down field 15 plays and 81 yards later, Pallazola found the end zone from four yards out with 6:12 remaining in the contest to make it 14-7.
"(That touchdown) was so important," Lattof said. "When (things aren't going you way) it's always about coming back stronger. We didn't dwell on that score and we brought the ball right back down."
Beverly did not go away quietly as Matt Madden raced 61 yards down to the Gloucester four yard line before Eli Horne hustled to bring him down from behind setting up a first and goal with five minutes to go.
After a killer personal foul penalty brought the Panthers back to the 17, the visitors reached into their bag of tricks and called a double reverse pass on third and goal which was picked off by Gloucester's Terrance Lane and ran back across midfield to thwart the drive.
Pallazola essentially delivered the nail in the coffin the very next play in the form of a 39 yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
The Panthers came right back down on the next drive on a score from Steve Negron, but Connor Adkins recovered the ensuing Beverly onside kick and Pallazola hit a 47 yard run down to the five and a touchdown on the next play to cap the scoring at 28-13.
While Gloucester celebrated its impressive win, the team was also well aware that it still has work to do.
"We had goals to start the season and this was step one," Zerilli said. "We got through step one, now we move on to step two — and that starts tomorrow at 2 o'clock when Tewksbury plays Somerville."
Sports Editor Nick Curcuru can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3444, or at email@example.com.