By Nick Curcuru
---- — There has been much talk about the pros and cons of the new MIAA High School Football playoff format which was implemented for the first time this season.
Tonight’s Cape Ann League Small matchup between Manchester Essex and Amesbury represents everything that’s good about the new system.
The Hornets and Indians will both enter tonights game at Hyland Field (7 p.m.) with identical 3-3 records, and in 2012 this game would not have had much meaning. In 2013, however, with expanded state-wide sectional playoffs, tonight’s league matchup means everything for both teams. The winner will be propelled into the playoffs while the loser will most likely see its chances at a state title end tonight, although there are scenarios in which Manchester Essex could still sneak in with a loss.
“I think games like that are what this system was made for,” Hornets head coach Mike Athanas said. “Two teams around the .500 mark, last year we wouldn’t be playing for much of anything, this year we both need a win and there’s a lot on the line. It’s a huge game for both teams.”
A win for the Hornets, who currently have the eighth best power ranking in Division 5 North, would be work a whopping 21 points and would move Athanas’ squad comfortably into the top eight. A win tonight, however, will be no easy task against an Indians team that has won three straight games since starting off the year 0-3.
All three of those wins have come within the Cape Ann League Small over Hamilton-Wenham (20-13), Ipswich (35-14) and Georgetown (35-0). Manchester Essex has also played those three teams posting a 2-1 mark with the loss coming at the hands of Hamilton-Wenham (14-6).
All season Manchester Essex has been led by its swarming and physical defense, and that defense will need to come up big again tonight against a unique Amesbury offense.
The Indians essentially run the wing-t offense, it’s blocking schemes resemble the wing-t as does their backfield formation and relative design of most of their plays. But there’s run wrinkle, Amesbury runs it out of the shot gun.
The shot gun formation gives the Indians more room to throw the football and gives the defense an extra dimension to be wary of.
Quarterback Mac Short is a duel threat behind center and is especially dangerous in the run game along with halfback Ben Cullen. The Indians will run more than they will pass, but they are certainly not afraid to go to the air when needed.
“We need to treat (Amesbury’s offense) like the wing-t offense,” Athanas said. “Read our keys, know our roles, don’t get sucked in on the play fakes. They’re a good, physical football team on offense but we’re a good physical defense.”
For the past few weeks Athanas has wanted his offense to make a few more plays, and in last week’s 26-20 overtime win the Hornets did just that erasing a fourth quarter deficit to pick up the win.
Manchester Essex is hoping to take that offensive momentum into tonight’s game.
“We executed a lot better late in the game last week,” Athanas said. “It’s something we’ve been stressing all year and it was nice to make a few plays on offense with the game on the line. We have been in playoff mode since the league schedule started over a month ago. It’s nice to have some momentum heading into (tonight’s) game and we are looking to take the good things we did against Ipswich last week and build on them.”