IPSWICH — Injuries are as much a part of high school football as punts and penalties, but their sting tends to linger a little longer for the small schools.
Ipswich and Georgetown are two of those small schools currently trying to overcome depleted rosters, and the winner of their Cape Ann League Small battle set for tomorrow night (7 p.m.) at Jack Welch Stadium in Ipswich will be in great position to turn the corner toward a successful season.
When a player from a small high school goes down to injury coaches aren't filling one hole, they're filling two or three. Small school football is iron man at its best, when the fullback is also a middle linebacker who occupies a space somewhere on special teams as well.
Any inconsistency shown by 3-3 Ipswich and 1-4 Georgetown so far this season can be directly traced back to hurt players, but right now the health of both teams is improving and, not coincidentally, so is their on-field performance.
Ipswich has been forced to battle through the injuries sustained by key players Jake LeBlanc, John Eldredge and John Elnagger, but still the Tigers are in position to move one game above .500 for the first time this late in the season since their Super Bowl year of 2006.
"To be honest, it's been pretty difficult," said Ipswich coach Ted Flaherty, who once again does have the services of LeBlanc on the defensive line after returning from a sprained ankle last week. "We've had key injuries on offense and defense and I think that's why we've been inconsistent. But on the other hand, anyone who coaches has to deal with that. There's always a silver lining and overcoming that adversity is a part of a great thing that can happen. In a one-week span you can go from being totally flat (in a 41-2 loss to Pentucket) to playing inspired a week later (in a 23-0 win over Manchester Essex)."
Georgetown coach Matt Bouchard can relate.
After starting 0-4 while getting outscored 143-22 the Royals made a statement last week, dominating a Bishop Fenwick team that was thought to be on the rise, 25-14.
"At the start of this year we had a lot of inexperience. We had some veterans but the leadership wasn't where it needed to be," Bouchard said. "It's taken a little time to develop and get those underclassmen up to speed, but this past week going into Fenwick the leadership took hold. I saw a different attitude when they stepped on the field."
Georgetown got a boost from the return of senior captain Ryan Moriarty, a two-way lineman who was playing his first game this year after recovering from a concussion.
Moriarty clearly sparked the Royals' line play, which overwhelmed Fenwick.
"The first thing I noticed was their defensive line," Flaherty, who was able to scout Georgetown's game against Fenwick, said. "I thought they were tough to run against and their big guys pressured well."
Flaherty also noticed nearly all of Georgetown's offense goes through junior quarterback Tyler Wade (194 yards passing against Fenwick) and senior running backs Derek Depasquale (167 yards of offense) and Max Mangano (76 yards of offense).
Ipswich spreads its offense out. Louis Galanis leads the team with 216 yards rushing and senior quarterback Brendan Gallagher is second with 139 yards. LeBlanc, Cam Murray and Brenden Gallagher have also made an impact in the running game.
Kenny Wing is also a valuable asset to the Tigers, serving as a receiving threat in addition to being the team's kicker. Wing has booted mutliple field goals this fall.
Flaherty also credited junior Chris Desmond as a reason the Tigers have remained competitive throughout the injuries. Desmond is only 5-foot-6, 150 pounds yet he plays center and middle linebacker and is one of Ipswich's best blockers.
The Tigers will need solid contributions from all their assets against Georgetown.
"It's really important. We're starting to get the taste of winning and it's incredible to watch the whole thing," Flaherty said. "The difference between 4-3 and 3-4 is huge and it's a division game that you feel like you can win if you play well. If you put all those things together you can really take a huge step forward. But similarly, if you lose you can really take a step back because you'll be trying to figure out who you are still."