By Nick Curcuru
---- — It’s a rare occurrence where the opening game of the football season is one of the most important games of the season.
On Friday night, the Gloucester football team is facing that exact unique situation, as there couldn’t be more at stake tonight when Lynn Classical visits the newly refurbished New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium (7:30 p.m., opening ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m.).
For starters, Gloucester is looking to open the season on the right foot against one of its toughest rivals. It also wants to open up its brand new stadium in style. Lastly, while it may be a non-league game, there is a little more on the line for Gloucester tonight as Lynn Classical plays in a higher division - Division 2 compared to Division 3 for Gloucester - meaning that 12 points are on the line towards the Division 3 Northeast standings as opposed to the standard 10 points for a win against a team in the same division.
A win tonight also gives Gloucester the opportunity to earn even more points down the road as Lynn Classical does not look to lose many games this season in the Northeastern Conference Small. If the Fishermen pick up a win tonight, they earn three additional points for each win the Rams pick up throughout the season.
If that weren’t enough, Lynn Classical has been Gloucester’s fiercest and toughest rival over the last two decades as games between the two are rarely settled by more than one score. The Rams also sport a two-game winning streak over the Fishermen including a 22-20 overtime heartbreaker last October.
To put it simply, a win tonight would carry extra meaning for the Fishermen.
“This is the most important game of the year,” Gloucester senior captain Connor Adkins said. “We need to use last year’s game as motivation. They are always tough but we expect to beat them.”
Gloucester head coach Tony Zerilli is hoping the team’s home field advantage will give it a boost.
“The team is feeling the excitement this week,” the third year head coach said. “They are going to experience what it’s like to be on this field on Friday night in front of a big crowd, against one of our biggest competitors. Lynn Classical is always tough, well coached and ready to play. The team is excited to get going, it should be a fun game.”
So what exactly is Gloucester facing in Lynn Classical? A team very similar to itself.
Like the Fishermen, the Rams enter the 2013 season with much anticipation sporting a roster with experienced players littered around the lineup.
Lynn Classical also plays a similar style to Gloucester as its offense is based around a power running attack while both teams pride itself on a physical style of play.
Defensively Gloucester will have to be wary of Lynn Classical’s backfield, which is exactly the same as it was last fall with Jordan Brown returning at quarterback and the trio of Devin Crayton, Justin Avery and Brad Scuzzarella lined up in the backfield.
At 245 pounds, Crayton is tough to bring down with just one tackler, while Avery is a strong blend of speed and power. It was Avery’s overtime touchdown and Scuzzarella’s two point conversion that sent the Rams home with a win over the Fishermen last October at Bishop Fenwick High School.
Tonight’s matchup pits strength vs. strength as the Gloucester defense is built around its ability to stop the run. The Fishermen did a fine job of slowing down the Rams vaunted rushing attack but Brown was able to toss a pair of clutch touchdown passes.
When Gloucester has the ball, the roles are reversed. The Fishermen will be looking to use their productive running game against a tough Rams front seven.
Given the way the teams played against each other last fall, and the fact that both teams have the majority of their respective lineups returning to the field tonight, the Fishermen are expecting a game that’s decided in the fourth quarter.
“It always ends up being a one score game against (Lynn Classical),” Zerilli said. “And they’re in the same boat this year returning a lot of players. I’m not anticipating anything different (tonight), it’s going to be a hard fought battle for all four quarters.”
At a Glance Who: Gloucester vs. Lynn Classical Where: New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m., Opening Ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. What Gloucester needs to do: Slow down Lynn Classical's backfield duo of Justin Avery and Devin Crayton. What Lynn Classical needs to do: Keep its offense on the field. What's at Stake?: With a win Gloucester can earn 12 points in the Division 3 Northeast standings, Lynn Classical can earn eight points in the Division 2 North standings. Did You Know?: Lynn Classical is currently riding a two-game winning streak over Gloucester, its first since the 1980-81 seasons. Parking and Shuttle: In addition to parking at Gloucester High School a free shuttle service will be offered to fans from Stage Fort Park to Newell Stadium for the community celebration, opening ceremonies and football game courtesy of CATA. The service begins at 4:45 p.m. and runs through the end of the football game.