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November 12, 2010

Back To The Future

Beverly football wants its first playoff berth in 22 years — but Swampscott has other ideas

BEVERLY — George H.W. Bush had just been elected President of the United States four days earlier. The Escape Club's "Wild Wild West" hit No. 1 on the pop music charts this day, and the Celtics lost to the Milwaukee Bucks that evening in the fifth game of the season — and would lose Larry Bird to a season-ending back injury one game later.

The date was Nov. 12, 1988. It was the day that the 8-0 Beverly Panthers hosted the 8-0 Swampscott Big Blue in a Northeastern Conference football dream matchup. The host Panthers rolled to a 34-14 victory at Hurd Stadium, officially clinching the NEC title and the school's first-ever playoff berth in football.

That day was also the only time Beverly High has ever qualified for postseason play on the gridiron. Twenty-two long seasons later, the Orange-and-Black have a chance to finally get back to The Big Dance this Saturday afternoon.

The opponent and the venue just happen to be the same as that classic contest 22 years ago. And while the Northeastern Conference landscape is radically different than it was three decades ago — Beverly is 4-5 overall, but more importantly unbeaten (4-0) in NEC Small play — the stakes are just as high when Swampscott visits Hurd Stadium tomorrow (1 p.m.).

"I think it's pretty obvious to everyone they have talent, they have size and they've been able to pretty much manhandle everyone they've played up front," Swampscott coach Steve Dembowski said of the Panthers. His team takes a 2-1 league mark (7-2 overall) into this contest and must beat not only Beverly, but also Marblehead on Thanksgiving to win the NEC Small crown.

"Everyone was surprised they didn't start off with a better record," added Dembowski, alluding to the Panthers five straight non-league losses to begin the 2010 season, "but no one is surprised they're in the mix for the NEC South title. For us to be successful, we're going to have to play our assignments and be physical at line of scrimmage."

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