AMESBURY -- Amesbury football coach Thom Connors had a short list of wishes for his birthday yesterday.
Luckily for him, he received the top item on that list last night when his Indians marched their way to a 28-7 win over Manchester Essex at Landry Stadium to open their season in decisive fashion last night.
With a slew of options at his disposal, Connors unveiled his team’s new Wing-T offense in impressive fashion. The Indians (1-0) jumped out to a 21-0 first half lead and never looked back.
“A win’s a win, doesn’t matter what day it is, birthday or not,” Connors said with a laugh after the game. “We had a pretty good first half, and overall it’s a good win. They’re a pretty good football team.”
It seemed Manchester Essex (0-1) was given a gift early in the first quarter. After Amesbury broke deep into Hornet territory with a 42-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, Manchester Essex was able to buckle down and force a turnover on downs.
Any momentum from that stop was soon lost, though, when consecutive false starts left the Hornets with a long-yardage situation. It only got worse when a completed pass across the middle was washed out by Amesbury linebacker Mac Short’s highlight-reel hit, which forced a fumble that again left the Hornets pinned deep in their own territory.
“It’s only one drive, but to stop them in our territory and then come back and complete a pass and then fumble, it’s mistakes you can’t have to win football games,” Hornets coach Mike Athanas said. “Turnovers in your own field will kill you every time.”
That proved true.
The Indians took over at the Manchester Essex 30 yard line after that turnover and didn’t look back for the rest of the first half. Running back Perry Mroz quickly turned that recovered fumble into six points, and after another failed Hornets’ drive, Amesbury quarterback Matt Talbot found Devlin Gobeil in the end zone to push the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Running back Tommy Connors’ three-yard touchdown plunge late in the half gave Amesbury its commanding halftime lead. Meanwhile, the Hornets struggled offensively throughout the game – but particularly in the first half, when they managed just 49 yards and never advanced past the Indians’ 49 yard line.
At the forefront of the Indians’ impressive offensive performance – which was capped off with another touchdown connection between Talbot and Gobeil in the fourth quarter – was its new Wing-T offense, which operated out of the shotgun.
With constant motion, good balance between the run and the pass and a veteran backfield, the Indians were able to keep Manchester Essex off-balance for much of the game. On top of that, the rangy Gobeil proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Hornets, hauling in four passes – two for touchdowns – and drawing two pass interference penalties in the end zone.
“I like the offense because it gives you a bunch of options,” Connors said. “It puts four guys as possible threats in the backfield including the quarterback and then you have your spread receivers. It gives you six immediate threats, and it’s fun.”
“He’s a big kid. A couple times we were beat, but a couple times we were there,” Athanas said of Gobeil. “He’s just too tall, good hands, and he goes up and gets it.”
The Hornets didn’t enjoy such success with their offensive attack, which relied heavily on quarterback Cory Burnham. Burnham found himself in the shotgun with an empty backfield for much of the game, and a combination of penalties, drops and constant pressure from the Indians’ defense left Athanas looking for answers. And while the Hornets were able to avoid the shutout when a late drive ended in a Burnham touchdown, it was of little solace.
Ultimately, Manchester Essex just didn’t do enough to hang with the Indians. An overall strong effort from the defense was overshadowed by an inability to get off the field, as the Indians converted five first downs after being faced with third down and seven or more yards.
Meanwhile, the experienced offensive attack Athanas had hoped to lean on never found a rhythm after an unsightly first drive, and the Hornets got on the bus home with a sour taste in their mouths.
“You put yourself in a hole against a good football team and it’s going to snowball,” Athanas said. “Too many mistakes to beat a football team like Amesbury.”