Hornets looking to break into win column tonight
Last time around, the Manchester Essex football team wasn’t far off when they squared off against Boston Cathedral.
In perhaps the most exciting game of Hornets’ 2011 season, they went blow for blow with visiting Cathedral before eventually dropping the contest by a single point.
From there, the Hornets wrapped up their season at 5-6 while watching as Cathedral -- a team led by former Manchester Essex basketball coach Duane Sigsbury -- marched all the way to the Division 4 Super Bowl.
That Super Bowl loss to Blue Hills made headlines throughout the state -- and even across the country -- after a game-winning touchdown by the Panthers was wiped away when the scorer raised his arm while heading toward the end zone, earning him a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that essentially handed Cathedral its only loss on the season.
And looking back, coach Mike Athanas believes the Hornets let a chance to hand Cathedral a loss much earlier in the season slip through their fingers.
“It really was a great game,” Athanas said. “They just turned a broken hitch play into a great play to take the lead toward the end of the fourth quarter. From there, we had a couple chances, a couple good drives and we just couldn’t get into the end zone.”
A year later, when the Hornets visit Cathedral tonight (7:00), a win seems farther out of Manchester Essex’s reach. The Hornets (0-2) enter the game still reeling from consecutive drubbings at the hands of Amesbury and Saugus, and the team’s struggles on both sides of the ball have left Athanas scratching his head.
Meanwhile, the Panthers (1-1) return the core from their Super Bowl run last year, and their top-to-bottom athleticism will present Manchester Essex with its third-straight difficult matchup.
“They’re coming off of a Super Bowl appearance and they’ve got a lot of athletic kids coming back,” Athanas said. “It’s a really fast team. They spread you out, the quarterback can throw, they’ve got a couple of good backs and they’ve got a big, 6-foot-1 receiver who can really run. Defensively they’re all about speed. They get to the ball quick. We’ve got our hands full.”
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Hornets, who have been unable to build confidence in any facet of the game to this point in the season after being outscored by a combined 40 points in two games.
It doesn’t help, either, that two two-way starters -- senior co-captain Jake Fitzgerald (RB/DB) and sophomore Doug Rodier (OL/MLB) -- have been swallowed up by the injury bug that’s hit the Hornets.
Both Fitzgerald and Rodier missed last Friday’s loss to Saugus, and while Fitzgerald will return tonight in a limited capacity, Rodier remains sidelined.
And against a team like Cathedral, the Hornets could use all the help they can get.
“It’s been very frustrating, especially defensively,” Athanas said. “We’ve had some injuries. You don’t want to make excuses, but kids are playing out of position and it’s definitely been hurting us. It’s not missed tackles or anything, just missed assignments. We’re still playing physical, though, which I’m happy to see.”
It’s been far from the start to the season Athanas or the veteran Hornets envisioned. But while tonight’s tilt with the Panthers puts the Hornets in position to possibly open their season with three consecutive non-conference losses, a win over favored Cathedral would do wonders to get Manchester Essex back on track.
“The way our injuries have piled up, it’s not a shock to me that we’re 0-2. Without the injuries, it’d be a different story,” Athanas said. “You really just want to get a win under your belts, so it’s there and you know you can do it and build confidence from there. We’ve still got a good team, it’s just a matter of putting it all together for a full game.”