MANCHESTER — The opportunity was certainly there.
The end result, however, was not.
Based on the overall 44-minute performance by both teams, the Gloucester football team outplayed Masconomet Saturday afternoon at Hyland Field, But the visiting Chieftains capitalized on three huge plays to score all of their touchdowns and leave with a 21-19 victory.
“Those big plays will kill you,” said Gloucester head coach Tony Zerilli. “Ultimately, they did us in; that makes the loss that much worse.”
Playing one of its best games of the season, the Fishermen (1-4) came in with a game plan and stuck to it. They ground it out offensively by using running backs Jordan Pallazola (15 carries, 59 yards), Jon Good (9-26) and captain Mark Horgan (11-22) to hammer away at the Chieftains’ defense methodically.
At the same time, quarterback Santo Parisi picked his spots and found open receivers in Devin Hemeon and Horgan on both waggle and pop passes.
Defensively, Gloucester used its strength -- stopping the run -- against Masconomet’s stout running game and came out on top most of the time. They held the Chieftains to just 77 yards rushing and 120 yards of total offense while allowing only six first downs.
But oh, those big plays they allowed.
Big Play No. 1 came after Gloucester went three-and-out on the game’s opening series and punted the ball away. Masconomet captain Dylan Mann caught the ball on his own 26-yard line, saw a wall of blockers in white shirts similar to his along the left side of the field and raced 74 yards to paydirt.
Casey Tines’ extra point made it 7-0.
Gloucester never relented, however, scoring twice in the second quarter to take a 12-7 lead.
The Fishermen went on a monster 17-play, 82-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes, culminating when Parisi found Horgan over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown, making it 7-6. Horgan finished with three catches for 70 yards on the day.
On its next drive, the Fishermen again went 82 yards for a score, led by a 38-yard pass from Parisi to Hemeon and a 15-yard personal foul against Masco. Parisi snuck it in from a yard out, giving Gloucester a 12-7 lead with 23.2 seconds until halftime.
Hemeon had a terrific game for the Fishermen, playing both linebacker and defensive end (when Masco brought a tight end into the game) while also grabbing five passes for 68 yards from his own tight end spot. Anchoring the strong side of the Fishermen’s offense, his ability to block his man effectively enabled his coaches to make halftime adjustments to run more towards his side in the second half.
But Big Play No. 2 for Masconomet struck then.
Senior Adam Murphy returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to the Fishermen’s 35-yard line, leaving nine seconds on the clock.
“We were just going to take a knee, go into halftime and regroup if we hadn’t gotten the ball out to at least the 40-yard line,” admitted Masconomet head coach Jim Pugh.
Chieftains quarterback Chris Schleer then dropped back to pass and somehow found Mann in the end zone for a dramatic 35-yard TD and a 14-12 halftime lead.
Big Play No. 3 proved huge as senior John Tivinis grabbed a Parisi fumble on the Gloucester 7-yard line, and the big lineman rambled into the end zone to make it 21-12. It was big because Gloucester never packed it in, cutting the lead to two (21-19) on Parisi’s second TD pass of the game, a 1-yard pass to Devin Hemeon, with 4:19 to go.
But behind Mike Tivinis and Schleer, the Chieftains picked up three first downs on the ground to run out the clock.
“Defensively, we went in with a good game plan,” said Zerilli. “Their strength is running the ball and our strength on D is stopping the run, and I think we won that battle. They also have a good defense and know how to stop the Wing-T, but we made some adjustments at halftime and had some nice plays. But those big plays ... “
Penalties, an Achilles heel in recent years for the Fishermen, hurt them again Saturday as seven penalties (including a pair of 15-yarders) cost them 75 yards, including a face mask penalty on Masco’s final drive.
“We’re trying to get them to understand we want to make big plays, but when you get a penalty like that it kills the momentum,” said Zerilli, whose team faces Lynn Classical this week at Bishop Fenwick in Peabody (1 p.m.) Saturday night.
“Every week we play, we play to win and to play with pride. That’s the goal, the Fishermen Way. We want to build off of the mistakes we’ve made and continue to improve.”