By Matt Williams
The Hamilton-Wenham football team will be feeling a bit like travelling salesmen in October, taking their act on the road for five straight games.
So the sense of urgency surrounding this Saturday's battle of unbeatens against Pentucket is a bit more heightened than a garden variety non-league September scuffle.
The Generals want to leave home on a positive note and keep the good vibes they're enjoying going strong after starting the year 2-0 with wins over Newburyport and Triton.
For the record, Hamilton-Wenham isn't concerned with their elongated road trip, either.
"I actually think it helped us because it means we've been at home to start the season. That's really given us a chance to get comfortable," said Jake Prince, a senior.
The Generals are coming off a forgettable 2-8 season, but perhaps the key to their quick turnaround has been the senior class utterly refusing to forget what happened last year. Instead, they used that tough campaign and a surprising Thanksgiving loss to Ipswich as motivation all this past offseason.
"Anytime you lose to a team to end their big losing streak (Ipswich had dropped 31 straight before beating the Generals), that stays with you. You don't want to feel that way again," said Prince, whom head coach Andrew Morency called the team's "Mr. Everything."
The results thus far in 2010 have spoken volumes, as Hamilton-Wenham has controlled the line of scrimmage on the offensive and defensive lines in both wins to open the year. That's a credit not only to the talents of linemen James Brao, Prince, Nick Vogus, Jake Andre, Shane Jenkins and Taylor Drinkwater, but also to work they put in all summer.
"This (offseason) was definitely the most guys we ever had for weightlifting," said Brao. "Everybody put the time in."
Offensively, the Generals are excited about a potential three-headed monster toting the mail out of the backfield. Running backs Elliott Burr and Tucker White are the experienced veterans and have a touchdown each, but youngster Trevor Lyons appears to have big play ability as well.
The running game is complimented by quarterback Dylan Keith and deep threat receiver Jimmy Love — who burned Triton for a pair of scoring grabs.
"For me, as far as the offseason program goes, this group was our biggest turnout by far," said Morency. "This group of seniors has exhibited such leadership; not just the captains, but all of them.
"Sometimes a group has a certain chemistry and this group seems to have that. They could be special."
The Generals face a Pentucket team that runs the traditional wing-T and appears bent on running the ball down the opponent's throat. They certainly did that against Danvers last Saturday — to the tune of 358 yards on 46 carries — but had a far more manageable 160 yards on 34 rushes in a narrow win season opening over Marblehead.
"It's kind of fun as a fan of football because it's strength against strength. Our run defense has been great and they're very good at running the ball," said Morency. "We have our work cut out of us this week."
Jeremy Krugh is the key cog for the Sachems at running back, while Paul Treado is another ball carrier to keep an eye on. Quarterback Mike Doud is a two-year starter who can go over the top if necessary for Pentucket, who will be playing its first road game this season.
The Generals last toppled Pentucket in the season opener in 2007 but haven't scored on the Sachems since (a 14-0 loss in 2008, 35-0 last year). They'd like nothing better than to change that this weekend at home.
"Another card in this is that finality. The seniors, they only have so many games left — and so many home games. They want to make the most of them," said Morency.
The season is young, but Hamilton-Wenham has already left last year's struggles behind.
"I think as the season moves along, teams form their identity and for us, the offensive and defensive lines have predicated our success," said Morency. "We're coming to the table with physicality and our guys have been very coachable; they've made the sacrifices to get back to our winning ways."
PENTUCKET (2-0) VS. HAMILTON-WENHAM (2-0)
Where: Hamilton-Wenham Regional H.S. field
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
All-time series: Pentucket leads, 26-21-1, and has won four of the last six meetings between the two Cape Ann League schools.
Key to the game: Hamilton-Wenham's defense has allowed just 15 points in two games; its run defense has been particularly stingy. They'll need to ramp it up another notch against a Pentucket run game that is averaging 259 yards on the ground per contest.