By Phil Stacey
PEABODY — In essence, they got sick of losing.
So the Bishop Fenwick football team decided to do something about it.
It began last Tuesday at practice as the Crusaders were gearing up for last week's meeting at Bishop Fenwick. Head coach David Woods and his staff noticed something different about their squad that day — energy and enthusiasm were abundant — and it carried over the entire week.
The players noticed it, too. Senior Ryan Lipka said the Fenwick defense "just started clicking" after linebackers Dan Delomba and Jake Bugler had everyone else feed off of their play at that same practice. Quarterback Bret Kidik said both sides of the football "dominated" at practice all week — then went out and did the same thing on game day.
Five days removed from Fenwick's first victory of 2010 — a surprising 25-7 defeat of previously unbeaten Hamilton-Wenham — the Crusaders are feeling a surge of momentum and are eager to add to that victory total. They'll get the chance to improve to 2-3 when they play at winless North Reading tomorrow (7 p.m.) in a non-league encounter.
"North Reading, I'm sure, is feeling the way we felt last week," said Lipka, the sure-handed wide receiver and cornerback from Peabody. "We know what it's like to have no wins, and we know what they're going to come out like (tomorrow) against us. We have to be able to match their intensity.
His quarterback, the 18-year-old Kidik, agreed during a break in yesterday's rain-soaked practice.
"As great as it was winning last week," said the Wilmington native, "we need to bring the same (style tomorrow night). We need to blitz and put pressure on their QB and have those same interceptions and fumble recoveries we had defensively last week, and we need to be able to throw and run the football as well as we did last week."
Defense has to be the key
Talent — nor confidence — is lacking at Bishop Fenwick. The Brown-and-Gold have eight seniors starting defensively and a talented crop of skill players on offense, including Kidik, receivers Lipka, Bugler, Billy Klemczuk (a senior out for football for the first time) and Tyler Thomann, in addition to workhorse fullback Eamon Barrett.
So it was a head-scratcher when Bishop Fenwick began the season 0-3, giving up more than 40 points in two of those losses and losing each of those by at least 21 points.
"Everyone made a lot of mistakes and the ball just didn't go our way," said Kidik. "It was really frustrating."
Sensing that his team was watching their hard work in practice go for naught, Woods and his assistant coaches preached the mantra of having fun last week. It seemed to light a spark under the Crusaders, who have a renewed vigor with the season still not even half over.
"Kids are getting better and better learning their positions, especially defensively," said Woods, whose team switched from its traditional 4-4 scheme to a 5-2 this fall. "We've gotten a lot better at outside contain, plugging the different gaps and things of that nature.
"We know we're a pretty good team; the win we had last week over an undefeated Hamilton-Wenham team legitimizes that."
For Fenwick — which doesn't begin its Catholic Central League Large play for another two weeks — playing stout defensively is paramount to any future success they'll have. Delomba and Bugler, the two Danvers natives, are the anchors at linebacker, with Zach Nardone at nose guard, Matt Mastromarino and junior Will Clancy at the two tackles and Josh Zabliski and Thomann — who each play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker slots — controlling the defensive front.
The secondary is interesting with Lipka and Klemczuk manning the two corner roles and two freshmen — Peabody's Charlie Mastrellis and Nick Bona — the starting safeties.
"Playing safety can be very tough at that age, with rolling coverages and switching from man to zone," said Woods, "but they've both got great football instincts, terrific speed and are naturally gifted."
Record breaking receiving season?
On offense, Lipka is unquestionably Kidik's go-to receiver. Friends since they came into Fenwick as freshmen three years ago, they'd often talk about the day they would connect on pass after pass as seniors; the team's commitment to the Spread offense has enabled that to happen.
Through four games, Lipka has caught 42 passes from Kidik for 382 yards and three touchdowns. His absurd average of 10 1/2 catches per game would average out to 115 receptions this season over an 11-game regular season, absolutely smashing the North Shore record of receptions in one season set by Swampscott's Tim Kiely (68) eight years ago.
To put it in perspective, Lipka needs just 23 catches to surpass Fenwick's career receiving leader, Neal Gendron, who caught 64 passes between 2001-03.
"I'm not the fastest guy," said the 17-year-old Lipka, who caught an amazing 16 passes on opening night last month vs. Saugus, "but I feel like I know how to run routes and know where the open spot is going to be. My receivers coach (Matt Schena) has taught me everything about being a better receiver, and Bret always knows where to throw it.
"The big thing in our locker room these days is the saying, 'Only Up From Here'; that's where we can go and what we're going to do. We finally played the way we know we can, and we want to come out even better (tomorrow) night. We'll be ready."
throw it to lipka
Bishop Fenwick senior wide receiver Ryan Lipka is on a pace to shatter the North Shore record for pass receptions in one season (68). Through four games this fall, Lipka has already hauled in 42 passes — a 10.5 average per game — and if he should keep up that pace, the Peabody native would finish with a blistering 115 catches. Here's his game-by-game breakdown so far this season: