By Nick Curcuru
---- — If there is one team that most represents the prototypical Gloucester football team during its run of success over the last two decades that team would be the 1995 Division 3 Super Bowl champs.
Terry Silva’s second state title squad had everything Gloucester football fans have grown accustomed to seeing - a relentless running attack featuring multiple backs out of the wing-t offense, a versatile and dominant line on both ends of the ball, an opportunistic, physical defense and top notch talent across the board.
“We were all about defense and running the football,” said Nate Bertolino, who started at quarterback and in the secondary for the Fishermen that season. “All I had to do was hand the ball off and it was eight yards, 10 yards, all the way down the field. You could see it was a special team at practice, both ends of the ball we went hard every day.”
The ‘95 team shook off an opening night loss to Reading and turned into an absolute juggernaut, running the table the rest of the way en route to the Division 3 Super Bowl title.
Everywhere you look, Gloucester had high quality football players fielding seven Northeastern Conference All Stars along with three or four other players who were legitimately snubbed.
The ‘95 team’s depth of talent, and the fact that it took care of business week in and week out during a strong year for the Northeastern Conference solidifies its spot as one of the top 10 teams in school history.
The Fishermen entered the 1995 season with a well established and feared defensive unit, but an offense filled with new starters had the coaches of the NEC vote Gloucester just third in the preseason poll behind Salem and Lynn Classical.
Gloucester’s 5-3 defense was powered by a strong pair of linebackers in senior captains Rob Benjamin, the Northeastern Conference MVP and Jim Curcuru, who was voted team MVP by his peers. All star Tom Pirano was a force at defensive tackle while Greg Moses and Jason Eliot were standouts at the end positions playing all star caliber football although they were not recognized on the All Conference team. Vito Ferrara and senior captain Peter Noble split time at the other defensive tackle spot, both were NEC All Stars on the offensive side of the ball, while Dan Cabral effectively manned the middle despite weighing just 165 pounds.
Bertolino was an All Star in the secondary as his nine interceptions in 1995 still stand as a school record as do his 15 career picks. Jody Curcuru and Jon Newman joined him in the defensive backfield.
“Going into the season we knew we were going to contend for the NEC title because of the defense,” Bertolino said. “We were a stay in your zone, make the right reads type of defense and we executed. Our offense was kind of unknown but we knew the talent we had.”
The offense may have been a bit unknown, with a few players moving to different positions and some new starters making their way into the lineup, but the unit turned into a juggernaut scoring four touchdowns or more in seven of the team’s final eight games.
Bertolino became the first quarterback to lead the Fishermen to ten straight wins in his first year behind center. It has been done five more times since. Jim Curcuru led the team in rushing eclipsing the 800 yard mark, but the Fishermen back field was a four-headed monster as Brian LoPiccolo, Jody Curcuru and Ryan Viator each made plenty of plays for the Gloucester offense.
Gloucester’s offensive line was big and they were always fresh as just about every lineman only played one way. Steve Mione was an all star at the center position and he was flanked by guards Noble and Dana Muise. Kyle Ciarametaro and Sean Andrus played tackle while Benjamin and Ferrara gave Gloucester the Northeastern Conference’s top combination of ends.
“Everybody on that offensive line was a monster, even the ends,” Bertolino said. “I’ve always said collectively that’s one of the best teams I’ve ever seen at Gloucester.”
A Super Bowl championship seemed like a long way away after Reading handed Gloucester a 29-8 defeat on opening night. Reading, however, was certainly no slouch as it went on to win the Division 2 Super Bowl crown that season finishing with an unbeaten record.
“After that first loss we took a long look at ourselves and said “what do we have to do to improve,”’ Bertolino said. “We made up our mind after that game that there was no way we were going to lose again, we couldn’t lose again.”
Gloucester bounced back with a 16-0 win over Lynn English in week two at Manning Bowl and had arguably its toughest game of the season in week three against Lynn Classical back at the Manning Bowl. The Rams came into the season as one of the favorites in the Northeastern Conference featuring the league’s fastest backfield and biggest line.
Classical flexed its muscles early slowing down the Gloucester offense and opening up a 15-6 lead late in the first half. Gloucester, however, was not intimidated by its bigger foe and put together a drive late in the second half that culminated with guard Muise falling on a fumble and taking it into the end zone to make it 15-12 Classical at the break.
On its next possession the Fishermen showed what a championship team was made of, completing a 73 yard jaunt to the end zone that culminated with a LoPiccolo one yard plunge and an 18-15 Gloucester lead, a lead that it would hold onto to essentially take control of the Northeastern Conference race.
“That Lynn Classical game was a big one for us, probably our toughest game,” Bertolino said. “They had players all over the field. Our job was to contain them and we did. We ran the ball real tough that game. We did every game, but in that game we were particularly tough.”
After the Classical win Gloucester was on a tear doubling up defending NEC champ Salem 40-20 and besting Saugus, Swampscott, Marblehead, a tough Beverly team and Winthrop before clinching a Super Bowl berth with a 35-8 Thanksgiving Day win over Danvers.
The Beverly win was a particularly important win for Gloucester, who edged the upstart Panthers 28-25 at Hurd Stadium erasing an 18-8 halftime deficit culminating with a Viator touchdown run in the final two minutes of play.
Gloucester’s Division 3 Super Bowl opponent in 1995 was a familiar one, as it met Dartmouth at Boston University’s Nickerson Field, the same team Gloucester beat in 1991 to capture its last Division 3 Super Bowl crown.
The Indians, Eastern Athletic Conference champs, entered the contest with a bruising, physical team, but the Fishermen were just on too much of a roll.
The Dartmouth defense held strong in the first half and trailed just 7-0 heading into the break, but Gloucester was just getting going. Jody Curcuru delivered the biggest play of the game to start the second half in the form of an 85 yard return to the end zone extending Gloucester’s lead to 14-0.
“We didn’t really play our game in the first half and Jody’s kick return was the big turning point of the game,” Bertolino said. “That really got everybody going. We still respected Dartmouth and knew they were good enough to make a come back but they wouldn’t if we played our defense.”
Gloucester certainly played its defense stopping Dartmouth on its next drive before Jody Curcuru struck again, this time he took the defense by surprise by throwing the football on a wing back sweep pass to a wide open Benjamin for a 23 yard touchdown and a 21-0 Gloucester lead.
The Indians did score on their next possession but it was too little, too late as Gloucester was just too strong delivering two more scores before the final whistle sounded to take the 33-8 win and the program’s second Super Bowl title in four years.
“It was just an awesome team,” Bertolino said. “It was fun to play on such a stacked team who all wanted to win badly.”
Gloucester’s 1995 Super Bowl title proved once and for all that the Fishermen were one of the premier programs in the area. Its collection of punishing linemen, hard hitting linebackers and a deep and diverse backfield make the ‘95 team one of the program’s greatest.
1995 Gloucester Football Schedule Gloucester 8 Reading 29 Gloucester 16 Lynn English 0 Gloucester 18 Lynn Classical 15 Gloucester 40 Salem 20 Gloucester 34 Saugus 12 Gloucester 21 Swampscott 13 Gloucester 45 Marblehead 0 Gloucester 28 Beverly 25 Gloucester 27 Winthrop 6 Gloucester 35 Danvers 8 Gloucester 33 Dartmouth 8* *Division 3 Super Bowl