We have hit the stretch run of the abbreviated yet exciting "Fall 2" high school football season. In Week 6, both Gloucester and Manchester Essex could be facing its toughest opponents of the season.Gloucester has two games remaining on its schedule, both Northeastern Conference crossover games starting on Friday night when Peabody visits Newell Stadium. The Tanners are coming off of a big win over Beverly last week and are 3-1 with the lone loss a 20-13 setback to a Marblehead team that has beaten every one of its other opponents by two scores or more.
Manchester Essex, on the other hand, is playing an undefeated Ipswich team in Friday's regular season finale at Hyland Field that is looking to not only win the Cape Ann League Baker Division, but the outright CAL championship.
Here's a look at what to expect in Week 6.
GLOUCESTER (3-2) vs. PEABODY (3-1), FRIDAY AT NEWLL STADIUM (5 p.m.)
When Gloucester has the ball: The Fishermen showed off some balance last week in a hard fought, 27-20 loss to Winthrop and they may need to show off that balance again on Friday night against a physical Peabody defense that has allowed only 47 points in four games this season.
Gloucester struggled to get the run game going a week ago against Winthrop with leading rusher Frank DeSisto out. If DeSisto is in this week, expect a heavy dose of him and Caleb DeCoste in the run game. In the passing game, quarterback Brett Gaipo has become very comfortable throwing to receivers Aidan Cornetta and Jayden DelTorchio.
The Tanners have been tough against the run and the pass so Gloucester will have to keep them honest and probably open up the playbook a bit. Peabody boasts a physical front seven with athletes in the secondary that have given every one of its opponents trouble.
When Peabody has the ball: The Tanners are one of the more balanced offensive teams Gloucester will play this season as they can air it out and pound the rock when needed.
Quarterback Shea Lynch has been Peabody's most effective weapon as he has thrown for 511 yards and five touchdowns this season. Wide receiver Brandon Pszenny is a big play threat on the outside as he has 249 yards on 14 catches. Gloucester will have to keep a close eye on Pszenny everywhere he goes.
In the run game, which is what Peabody relied on to beat Gloucester a season ago, the Tanners will use both Cam Cuzzi and Kyle Maglione to pick up yards. Maglione has three touchdowns in just two games this season.
Gloucester keys to victory: If Gloucester can eliminate the big play and make the Peabody offense drive the length of the field, it should be right in this one. The Fishermen have no problems grinding out games and they will certainly need to do that to earn a victory on Friday night. If the Tanners can hit on a few big plays, that's when Gloucester could be in some trouble.
Peabody keys to victory: The Tanners need to win the battle up front. Gloucester is physical but not exactly deep, so Peabody must be persistent with its physical play up front. If Peabody can get that push up front it can open up its entire offense. On defense, winning the battle in the trenches can serious limit what Gloucester wants to do offensively.
MANCHESTER ESSEX (1-4) vs. IPSWICH (4-0), FRIDAY AT HYLAND FIELD (5 p.m.)
When Manchester Essex has the ball: The Hornets are in a serious offensive funk at the moment as they have not scored a point since a Week 2 win over Triton and have not scored more than 13 points in a game all season. Manchester Essex is banged up offensively, but must find a way to move the chains, whether it's through the air or on the ground.
Ipswich has been tough on defense this season, allowing just 41 points in four games this year. The Tigers are also playing some of their best football of the season at the moment as they allowed just one touchdown, in garbage time, to both Lynnfield and Newburyport in blowout wins.
When Ipswich has the ball: The Hornets better be ready for a heavy dose of the run game. Ipswich has an elite rushing attack led by the two-pronged attack of Cole Terry (team high 356 yards) and Chase Huntley (266 yards). Both backs have gashed defenses this season although Huntley missed last week's win over Lynnfield with an injury.
Ipswich does not pass much, but quarterback Aidan Arnold - who local fans may recognize an an all-star defenseman for the Rockport hockey team, a co-op program with Ipswich - has been very capable when the team has needed to go to the air.
Manchester Essex keys to victory: The key to an upset is by winning the turnover battle. If the Hornets can force multiple turnovers and get momentum on their side, anything can happen in a high school football game. Manchester Essex has struggled in the turnover department over the last two weeks and it can not afford a single giveaway this week against a team of Ipswich's caliber.
Ipswich keys to victory: Control the tempo. Ipswich loves to pound teams to death with its vaunted rushing attack. If it can dictate its style of game and keep the Manchester Essex defense on the field, it could be a long night for the Hornets.