When the Manchester Essex football team takes the field this fall it will be the smaller school in the vast majority of its games, and that’s just the way head coach Mike Athanas and company want it.
The Hornets, who finished 5-6 in 2011, have embraced a difficult non-league schedule to go along with a tough conference schedule in the NEC/CAL Division 4.
Manchester Essex will be thrown right into the fire early starting the year with back to back games against NEC/CAL Division 3 teams when they travel to Amesbury on September 7 and Saugus comes to Hyland Field on September 14 (both games 7:00 p.m.).
“It’s a tough start but that’s the way we like it,” Athanas said. “Our schedule takes a physical toll on us and it’s difficult being such a small school but I would rather have a challenging schedule. It makes the kids better football players in the long run.”
In week three the Hornets have another intriguing matchup as they travel to Cathedral, a team that beat the Hornets by a single point last year in a game that Athanas and company believe they let get away from them.
The two teams were evenly matched last season and to add to the story line Cathedral is coached by former Manchester Essex basketball coach Duane Sigsbury.
“Cathedral is a game we are really looking forward too,” Athanas said. “They are good. Last year’s game was a great game, we went up 12-0 and they scored 13 unanswered and won in the last minute.”
Manchester Essex finishes off its non league schedule with games at Pope John on September 29, the only team on the Hornets’ schedule that they did not play in 2011, vs. Austin Prep and vs. Northeast, a perennial power in Manchester Essex’s old stomping grounds, the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
Next is the NEC/CAL Division 4 schedule, and the conference opener will be a great barometer as to where the Hornets stand in the division as they travel to defending champ Hamilton-Wenham on October 20 (2:00 p.m.).
The Generals were a Super Bowl qualifier in 2011 and return league MVP quarterback Trevor Lyons.
“They are the defending champs and have the reigning MVP returning,” Athanas said. “They have to be the favorites right now, but this is a really tough league and it will not be decided early.”
Manchester Esssex finishes off the season against North Reading, Ipswich, Lynnfield and Georgetown respectively.
The Hornets went 2-3 in the conference last year and every game was closely contested, Athanas sees more of the same this season.
“There are a lot of good teams in the league with a lot of players returning,” Athanas said. “North Reading is really physical and returns a lot, Ipswich also returns a lot and so do we. It’s going to be a good conference this year.”
2012 Manchester Essex High School Football Schedule Friday, September 7, at Amesbury (7:00 p.m.) Friday, September 14, vs. Saugus (7:00 p.m.) Friday, September 21, at Cathedral (7:00 p.m.) Saturday, September 29, at Pope John (Time TBA) Friday, October 5, vs. Austin Prep (5:00 p.m.) Friday, October 12, vs. Northeast (7:00 p.m.) Saturday, October 20, at Hamilton-Wenham (2:00 p.m.) Friday, October 26, vs. North Reading (7:00 p.m.) Friday, November 2, at Ipswich (7:00 p.m.) Friday, November 9, vs. Lynnfield (7:00 p.m.) Thursday, November 22, vs. Georgetown (10:00 a.m.)