By Nick Curcuru
---- — The Gloucester football team did not get to work on its pass defense much in Week 1 against Lynn Classical. Running their patented double-wing, run heavy offense, the Fishermen faced just seven pass attempts during last week’s win.
That looks to change tonight, as Salem (0-0) brings the spread offense to New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium for a Northeastern Conference crossover tilt (7:00 p.m.).
“We’re going to have to cover a few passes this week,” Gloucester head coach Tony Zerilli said. “But we have to be ready for everything, be prepared to defend and block anything. This is Salem’s first game and we have only seen them in a couple short scrimmages, but they look very quick and athletic from what we have seen.”
The Witches, who Gloucester has beaten 13 straight times, may run the spread, but they run a balanced offense featuring the read option with quarterback Austin Connolly and running backs Aaron Palmer and Genrri Rosario.
Of course Salem can also throw the football with Shakir White being the team’s leading returning receiver.
It was last season’s meeting with Salem where Gloucester turned a corner against the spread offense. The spread was a thorn in its side all season, and after a rough first half it looked to doom the team once again. But in the second half of that November meeting Gloucester made adjustments and shut down the spread offense for the first time all season. The second half performance spring boarded Gloucester to three straight wins in its final three games.
Discipline is the term the Fishermen coaching staff have been pounding into the defense this week as they can not be over aggressive against Salem’s read option attack.
“From their scrimmages it looks like they run the read option well so we have to stay home on the back side and play the run on the play side,” Zerilli said. “If you overcommit on the quarterback he is going to hand it off to the running back and if you overcommit to the running back the quarterback is going to keep it, You have to play disciplined against this team.”
On the defensive end is where Salem believes its strength lies returning seven of 11 starters from last season. The Fishermen will face a 4-4 defense powered by its linebacking core of Rosario, Palmer, Christian Costa and Josh McRae.
Gloucester offense vs. Salem’s defense pits strength vs. strength as the Fishermen will bring their grinding run oriented offense against an eight man front that prides itself in stopping its opponents run game.
“We are going to have to deal with a very strong linebacker core,” Zerilli said. “They’re quick and they can get to the ball. The key for us is to get to the next level with our blocks. Block the linemen in front of us and put a body on the linebackers. We are expecting a tough game this week and we have to be prepared for everything.”
Gloucester comes into tonights matchup riding an emotional high from last week’s 15-14 thriller over Lynn Classical in the grand opening of New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium. Still, the veteran Fishermen have stayed grounded, stayed focused on the task at hand and continue to look for ways to improve.
“Classical is a tough team and with all the added emotion it was a sigh of relief after we won,” Zerilli said. “The kids had pressure on them all week and it built up as the week went on. But they aren’t satisfied which is good to see. They’ve been working hard all week, staying focused, staying upbeat and looking to get better. The mentality is that the next game is always the most important game and the next game is Salem.”
Coach Tony Zerilli's Three Keys to Victory 1. Block block block on offense: The offensive line needs to get on their blocks and get to the next level to block Salem's strong linebackers. 2. Score in the red zone: Gloucester scored just two touchdowns in four red zone trips last week and will be looking to improve upon that number tonight. 3. Play disciplined Fishermen defense: The defense needs to know its responsibility and count on their teammates to know theirs. If the they do that they will be in good shape.