By Nick Curcuru
---- — It is a call that has lived in infamy in the city of Gloucester over the last two and a half decades.
Gloucester trailed Chelmsford 21-14 in the final minutes of the Division 2 Super Bowl, Gloucester’s first Super Bowl appearance, at Sullivan Stadium - later known as Foxborough Stadium - and was driving in for a game tying, potentially game winning score facing a second-and-goal at the Lions’ one yard line. The play call was a quarterback keeper left, and Gloucester signal caller Joe Pasquina was stopped for no gain; so the Fishermen, their coaching staff and fans in attendance thought.
After Pasquina’s knees touched the ground - as shown in today’s main photo - he reached the football forward in an attempt to put it over the goal line. As the ball hit the ground it came loose, rolled into the end zone and a Chelmsford player picked it up after a brief hesitation and ran it out to the six yard line.
While Pasquina was clearly down by contact, the game officials ruled the play a fumble after a lengthy conversation giving Chelmsford the ball and the win. Nobody knows if Gloucester would have scored on third or fourth down, and what would have happened on the ensuing extra point. But the fact remains, the Fishermen were robbed of the opportunity, and ultimately the outcome of the game was not decided on the field.
“I honestly feel that the kids from Gloucester High got cheated,” Fishermen head coach Terry Silva told the Gloucester Daily Times after the contest. “I’m not taking anything away from Chelmsford, but they didn’t let the players decide the outcome of the game.”
Tom Walsh, an assistant coach on the 1987 team, echoed Silva’s sentiment.
“It was the worst and most controversial call that I’ve seen in over 30 years coaching in Gloucester,” the assistant coach told the Times on the 20 year anniversary of the game in 2007.
The call grew to legendary status in the city over the years, and the 1987 team is still known as “the team who was robbed in Foxborough.”
While the extremely controversial call is what most remember about the 1987 team, it certainly does not cloud that fact that it was an absolute juggernaut.
Led by its deadly efficient veer option offense, Gloucester broke the school’s single season scoring record, which stood for nearly four decades, scoring 322 points. The 6-2 defense was just as scary pitching four shutouts while not allowing more than three touchdowns in a game.
Gloucester entered the 1987 season breaking in several new starters, but the coaching staff and players knew all along that this team was a force to be reckoned with in the Northeastern Conference.
Tackle Danny King was the lone veteran on the team as he was joined by Mike McLeod at tackle along with Peter Martin and Joe Havener at guard, and Peter Ciarametaro at center.
Pasquina took the snaps under center in the veer option system and he was a threat to both throw and run the football. Steve Marshall and Eric Loiacano were the team’s top two rushers and are still regarded as one of the best 1-2 running back punches the program has seen as they were a mix of speed and power - Marshall with the power, Loiacano with the speed. Brian Fleming also chipped in greatly to the running game.
On the defensive end, Loiacano, Tony Alves, Mike Sutera and John Avila compiled a strong secondary unit. Matt Moynihan and John Feener manned the end spots with Tony Remington, Garron and King powering the interior line. Havener, Fleming and Pete Lucido made up a hard-hitting linebacker unit that was deadly against even the most powerful of running games.
Gloucester was picked to finish third in the Northeastern Conference by its coaches in the fall of 1987, but Silva’s squad quickly proved that the class of the NEC played at Newell Stadium.
Through three weeks, nobody scored a point on the Fishermen as they shutout Reading (12-0), Lynn English (26-0) and Lynn Classical (41-0) to open the season setting up a Week 4 showdown with Salem, one of the teams NEC coaches picked to finish ahead of Gloucester.
In that contest at Newell Stadium, the Fishermen took the Witches out of the game early capitalizing on three turnovers to break out to a 20-0 lead and an eventual 48-21 win.
Gloucester’s two toughest regular season games came in the next two weeks against Saugus and Swampscott. Gloucester shook off a slow start against a big and physical Saugus team trailing 7-0 at the half. The Fishermen, however, broke the game wide open in the second half outscoring the Sachems 28-0 en route to a 28-7 win and a 5-0 record.
The following week, Swampscott gave Gloucester even more trouble as the Fishermen trailed 7-0 heading into the fourth quarter of a sloppy game. But touchdowns from Loiacano and Marshall in the fourth quarter gave Gloucester a 14-7 win and its unbeaten record was still intact.
A win over Marblehead followed and a game against NEC favorite Beverly was next. The winner of the contest was more than likely winning the Northeastern Conference.
What started off as a highly anticipated contest quickly got out of hand as the Fishermen flexed their muscles scoring on five of their first six possessions en route to a 40-12 drubbing. Beverly finished the season 8-2 and was runner up in the Northeastern Conference, but it was not in Gloucester’s league as the victors put up 399 yards of total offense in the game.
Gloucester finished off the regular season with wins over Winthrop and a shutout of Danvers on Thanksgiving as Marshall broke the school’s touchdown record with 20.
The win set up a dream Super Bowl matchup, 10-0 Gloucester vs. 10-0 Chelmsford at Sullivan Stadium in front of nearly 20,000 fans, and the contest certainly lived up to its hype as it is still seen as one of the most controversial finishes in Massachusetts high school football history.
Chelmsford took a 6-0 lead early in the contest but the hungry Fishermen responded as a botched snap on a punt led to a safety and a Pasquina touchdown pass to Marshall followed giving the Fishermen an 8-6 lead.
The Lions took the lead back in the third quarter, only to see Marshall score from 12 yards out early in the fourth to tie the score at 14 a piece. After a Gloucester fumble, Chelmsford took the lead back in the fourth 21-14 setting the stage for arguably the most famous play in the program’s history, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
There was six minutes to play and Gloucester began the final drive on its own 30 yard line. Runs from Fleming and Loiacano along with a big reception from Remington had Gloucester driving. A 22 yard run from Loiacano brought the Fishermen down to the six yard line. He would add another five yard run to get down to the one. The infamous second-and-goal from the one yard line followed.
“The play call on second down was the veer right going to (Steve) Marshall,” recalled Walsh. “All year, the quarterback had the option of running on that play if he saw the defense right. So he went with the quarterback sneak.
“We already had the two-point conversion play planned because we thought we were going to score. We were going to go for the win, not the tie.”
After the controversial call, Gloucester players and coaches begged the officials to look up at the Sullivan Stadium jumbo-tron, which showed a missed call, but the pleas fell on deaf ears as Chelmsford was awarded the ball and the win.
There’s heartbreak, and then there’s what happened to the 1987 team on that fateful December 5 afternoon in Foxborough.
Gloucester may have fallen just shy of its first unbeaten season, but the way that it ended does not take away from what the team accomplished. A lethal 1-2 punch in the running game, even for Gloucester standards, and a dominant defense put the 1987 team in the top five when it comes to the best football teams in Gloucester football history.
Information from the book “Fishermen Football: First Century” by former Gloucester Daily Times reporter John “Doc” Enos was used in this report.
1987 Gloucester Football Schedule Gloucester 12 Reading 0 Gloucester 26 Lynn English 0 Gloucester 41 Lynn Classical 0 Gloucester 48 Salem 21 Gloucester 28 Saugus 7 Gloucester 14 Swampscott 7 Gloucester 39 Marblehead 8 Gloucester 40 Beverly 12 Gloucester 38 Winthrop 13 Gloucester 22 Danvers 0 Gloucester 14 Chelmsford 21* *Division 2 Super Bowl