By Nick Curcuru
---- — Make no mistake about it, the Manchester Essex football team’s Cape Ann League Small clash with Ipswich tonight at Hyland Field is a must win game.
At 2-3, the Hornets postseason aspirations hang in the balance over the next two weeks, a loss in either of those two games will essentially ruin their chances of qualifying for the playoffs.
With the CAL Small title out of the cards, the Hornets best chance for a postseason berth is through a wild card spot, and they have a little work to do as they are currently tenth in Division 5 North with 38 points, 11 points behind No. 8 seed St. Mary’s. A win tonight will give Manchester Essex 12 points, as Ipswich plays in Division 4.
“Without a doubt this is a must win game,” Manchester Essex head coach Mike Athanas said. “We wanted to win our last three games in the league but winning the last two should still put us in good position for a wild card.”
In the Cape Ann League Small this season Lynnfield has established itself as the best team in the league. But when it comes to that second spot, there isn’t much if anything separating Manchester Essex, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich, Amesbury and Georgetown.
Because the Hornets will be playing two evenly matched opponents, Athanas says the next two games will come down to execution.
“Lynnfield is head and shoulders the best team in the league but with the other five teams it comes down to who executes better on that day and who makes less mistakes,” he said. “All five teams are very similar. Maybe not in what they do but how they play.”
Manchester Essex and Ipswich (1-4) have had similar roads through the Cape Ann League schedule this season with identical 1-2 records featuring a win over Georgetown and a loss to Hamilton-Wenham.
First year Tigers head coach Greg Brotherton switched the offense from the wing-t to the spread, and they give defenses plenty of different looks.
Ipswich features a balanced offensive attack as quarterback Kyle Blomster and wide receiver Nate Glaster have formed a dangerous combination in the passing game while Derek Chamberlain is the team’s leading rusher.
The Manchester Essex defense has excelled at stopping the run this season and Athanas is hoping his defense makes the Ipswich offense one dimensional.
“The defense needs to keep playing like they have,” Athanas said. “Throughout the year the defense has played well and we will need to feed off of that.”
While the defense has been strong, the Hornets offense has struggled over the last two weeks scoring just six points. This week the team is looking to bring consistency back to the unit.
In last week’s 14-6 loss to Hamilton-Wenham the Manchester Essex offense got off to a great start thanks to a 56 yard Chris Dumont touchdown run on its second drive. But the unit struggled the rest of the way being held scoreless over the final three quarters of play.
“When we have an opportunity we need to capitalize,” Athanas said. “Last week Dumont had a great run early in the game but we couldn’t get anything going after that at all. This week we need to finish drives.”