There was a lot to like about the Gloucester football team’s performance in its 15-14 win over Lynn Classical Friday night in its first home game at New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium.
For starters, Gloucester was able to weather an explosive Classical offense led by an experienced, bruising backfield and a duel threat quarterback. The Fishermen were also able to establish a strong running game of their own as seniors John Curcuru (106 yards) and Jordan Pallazola (88 yards) each had a touchdown and combined to pick up 194 of the team’s 206 yards of total offense, while at the same time keeping the Rams offense off the field by controlling the clock.
But the most impressive aspect of the Fishermen’s win on Friday was their play in the clutch.
The 15-14 win shows Gloucester’s growth as a team as Friday night’s game is a contest that it may not have pulled out in 2011 and 2012. The Fishermen have had experience in nail biters, and up until Friday, they were always on the wrong end of those close games. But on Friday, the team made every play when it needed to make a play most.
We will start in the third quarter. The Fishermen just had a drive stall at the Rams seven yard line when head coach Tony Zerilli called on kicker Eli Horne. The senior played for the Gloucester soccer team in each of the last three seasons and was suddenly called upon to put his team ahead of one of its toughest competitors. He would nail the 24 yard attempt, which turned out to be the difference in the contest.
Gloucester wasn’t done coming up big from there as it turned in several big plays in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.
Classical appeared to be going in for a go-ahead score with just over three minutes to play in the game when Brad Scuzzarella, who broke Gloucester’s heart in 2012 with a two point conversion in overtime to seal a 22-20 Rams win, found daylight and raced towards the end zone. Gloucester’s Conor Harris, however, was able to chase him down.
The play did not seem like a huge play at the time, but one play later it turned out to be one of the most important plays of the game when Jacob Emerson forced a fumble that was recovered by Alex Enes just outside the Fishermen 10 yard line, thwarting Classical’s attempt to take the lead.
On the Rams next offensive possession, following an intentional safety from Gloucester, the game was on the line and the visitors were once again moving towards the end zone. Facing a first down at the Fishermen 29 with just over a minute to play Classical went to the running game, but the Fishermen defense never broke forcing the Rams to just six yards in three plays setting the stage for a fourth-and-four from the 23 with the game on the line.
The play was a counter trap to Justin Avery, a play the Rams had success with all game, but Gloucester collectively came together to stop it. Its line, led by captains Drew Shairs and David Dimaio along with tackle Nick Sanfilippo, created penetration; Pallazola took on a block and was able to wrap up the ball carrier while Terrance Lane finished the job at the 20 yard line, one yard shy of a first down clinching the win for the Fishermen.
The Fishermen coaching staff was even clicking on all cylinders in the fourth quarter as an intentional safety left Lynn Classical, a team that had not attempted to kick an extra point all game never mind a field goal, with a longer field needing to score a touchdown. Zerilli also deserves credit for having the confidence to send Horne out on the field to attempt a big kick despite his inexperience.
Of course with every win comes some things that you need to work on. The most glaring that Gloucester needs to improve is its red zone offense.
The Fishermen controlled the clock as the offense was on the field for 30:45 compared to just 13:15 seconds for Lynn Classical; the margin was even bigger in the first half as the teams went to the break tied at 12-12 with Gloucester holding onto the ball for 17:54 compared to just 4:06 for the Rams. But because Gloucester scored just two touchdowns in four trips to the red zone, Lynn Classical was able to stay in the game.
Now that’s not to say that the Rams didn’t come up big themselves. The visitors defense was up to the task Friday, giving Gloucester’s offensive line all it could handle. Combine that with a quick pursuing, strong tackling unit and it’s no wonder Gloucester had trouble moving the ball as the field grew smaller and smaller.
Every team has areas that need improvement after week one, Gloucester is no different, but those areas can be corrected.
Gloucester’s will to win and play in the clutch, however, is something that will be there all year, and could be a sign of things to come.