PEABODY -- As the Gloucester football team lined up at the Peabody nine-yard line with just two seconds remaining in the first half, it appeared that the next snap may be the deciding play of last night’s game.
The Fishermen were looking to cash in on a grueling 77-yard drive that had nearly consumed the entire second quarter. The Tanners were trying to sneak into halftime faced with just a eight-point deficit despite gaining just 21 total yards in the half.
That play proved to be the tipping point, as Gloucester quarterback Santo Parisi rolled out to the left and dove for the pylon for a touchdown to cap off the 21-play, 8:20 drive and sufficiently deflate Peabody.
From there, the Fishermen were rolling. With touchdown drives of two and three plays to start the second half -- both ending in Zach Smith touchdown runs of a combined 103 yards -- Gloucester got its first win of the season under its belt with a runaway 35-7 win on a sloppy, rain-soaked Coley Lee Field.
“Like I said before, we play tough teams at the beginning of the season so we can prepare to get back into our conference,” Gloucester coach Tony Zerilli said. “I think it helped us tonight. Us playing those top teams helps us in games like this. Our kids were prepared.”
It was clear from the start that last night’s game would typify high school football on a rainy night. Minimal offense. Fumbled snaps. Botched handoffs. Field position battles.
After slogging through most of the first quarter in that manner, though, a few strokes of fortune eventually gave the Fishermen (1-3) their first lead of the season -- a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
A Gloucester possession stalled at midfield, and in keeping with the game’s conservative start, the Fishermen punted the ball away. A low, short punt by Jordan Pallazola was avoided by the Tanners and took a Gloucester bounce, pinning the Tanners at their own three-yard line.
The good fortune continued for the Fishermen, as the Tanners fumbled the ball away on the very next snap.
Smith plunged in off the left tackle on the next play to put the Fishermen on the board.
The game hinged, however, on the Fishermen’s next drive. As had been the case in Gloucester’s three previous games, the Fishermen were moving the ball methodically but couldn’t seem to get out of their own way.
A converted 3rd-and-8 was called back for a hold. The Fishermen were able to convert again. A false start left them with a 2nd-and-long later in the drive, a mistake they again got through.
What looked to be the backbreaker, though, was when Mark Horgan took a screen pass 29 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown -- only to see the play called back for a block in the back.
But where they couldn’t earlier in the season, the Fishermen overcame their own mistakes when Parisi dove into the endzone to give Gloucester a 14-0 lead going into the half.
“It’s too bad, because I thought we got to the ball good and we really came out and did some hitting,” Peabody coach Scott Wlasuk said. “I know Gloucester had the ball for the bulk of the time, especially in the second quarter, and I thought our kids played tough football. I think it’s just part being so young again. We’ll learn from it and we’ll just work and we’ll get better.”
The wheels fell off from there for the Tanners (0-4). While wide receiver Michael Raymond (6 catches, 105 yards) notched Peabody’s lone bright spot with a 30-yard touchdown grab at the start of the fourth quarter, the Tanners struggled to get anything going offensively and were no longer able to hold the Fishermen in check on the ground, where they finished with all 304 yards of their offense.
In a drive set up by a long run by Smith -- who paced the Gloucester offense with 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns -- Gloucester fullback Jon Good tacked on an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter to answer for the Tanners’ lone score, but it was of little consequence.
The soul-sucking drive to close out the first half proved to be all the Fishermen needed to notch their first win on the year.
“To get the ball in the second half after scoring at the end of the first half, that’s just a tide-turn,” Zerilli said. “You score right there, then you get the ball back and you score again, that takes the wind out of their sails pretty quickly. We still made some mistakes, we’ll work those out, but when we needed a big play, when we needed a big run, we capitalized.”
Sports Editor Nick Curcuru contributed to this report.