By Nick Curcuru
---- — At 4-2 with one game remaining on the regular season schedule the Gloucester football team has wrapped up a playoff spot in Division 3 Northeast. But that certainly does not mean that there is nothing on the line Saturday when the Fishermen visit Blocksidge Field to take on Swampscott (2 p.m.).
A postseason berth is secure, but head coach Tony Zerilli and the Fishermen still view Saturday’s contest as a must win game.
“It’s a really important week for us, a must win,” Zerilli said. “The kids know it’s an important game and they know we still have work to do.”
The reason Gloucester sees Saturday’s Northeastern Conference Large tilt as a game it must win is because its still in the running for a first round home playoff game. Gloucester is currently third in Division 3 Northeast, but with a bye coming next week, it still has a game in hand on the three teams below it in the standings Danvers, Masconomet and Beverly, all of which are in striking distance.
With Tewksbury and Marblehead essentially locking up two of the top three spots in the section, there are still a pair of home games to be won, and Gloucester must beat the Big Blue on Saturday to have a shot at one of those spots.
“It’s very important to us to have a home game,” Zerilli said. “It means a lot to these kids, and they’ve worked hard to get it, but it takes one more week against a league opponent. In order to get that home game we need to beat Swampscott.”
Gloucester has good reason to want a first round home game as it sports a 4-0 record in its inaugural season at the refurbished New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium. The Fishermen have also made a habit of beating good teams on their home turf in dramatic fashion topping Lynn Classical, Beverly and most recently Lynn English.
Standing in the way of Gloucester’s home field aspirations is a 1-4 Swampscott team looking to play spoiler.
The Fishermen will be looking to take advantage of a Big Blue defense that’s allowing more than 34 points per game.
In last week’s win over Lynn English Gloucester showed off its most multi-faceted offensive attack of the season making plays up the middle, on the edge and in the passing game. The Fishermen are hoping to touch on that again this week.
“It really keeps the defense honest,” Zerilli said. “If you stack the middle against the fullback trap we can hit you on the edge, and if teams want to put an extra guy in the box (quarterback Ian) Kennedy showed that he can make the throws.”
When Swampscott has the ball it will brings its vaunted spread offense to the field. Head coach Steve Dembowski was the first coach to bring the spread to the Northeastern Conference and has run just about anything out of a number of formations.
Quarterback Brendan McDonald powers the offense and is the areas second leading passer. His favorite target, Ben Faulkner, is the areas second leading receiver.
The Fishermen secondary needs to expect everything as Swampscott’s passing attack has a knack for lulling defenses to sleep with underneath routes only to beat them over the top at the opportune time.
“They run a lot of wide receiver screens, slants and underneath stuff,” Zerilli said. “But they keep you honest by throwing deep as soon as you overcommit. Steve’s been doing it for a long time, he’s very good at it. We have to mix it up and play a few different looks against them.”
No matter the outcome on Saturday, Gloucester will then have to sit back and watch the final week of the regular season unfold from the sidelines. A win this week will go along way in making sure the Fishermen stay within the top four of the division.