By Nick Curcuru
---- — GLOUCESTER — The Gloucester team appeared to be on its way to a loss multiple times in the fourth quarter of its Northeastern Conference Large opener against Beverly High last night at New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium.
The Fishermen offense was stuffed on a pair of late drives by the stingy Panther defense, and all the road team needed to do was take care of the football to run out the clock for a victory.
But Beverly could not hold onto the ball as the opportunistic Gloucester defense, which forced and recovered four fumbles in the game, forced and recovered two of those on Beverly’s final two drives. Gloucester would make the most of its chances as quarterback Ian Kennedy plunged into the end zone from a yard out with just 19.9 seconds to play, sending Beverly to a 18-14 defeat.
“You aren’t going to win when you make that many mistakes,” Panthers head coach Dan Bauer said. “You can’t take anything away from Gloucester; they played really tough, made less mistakes and deserved to win.”
Mistakes were the key for Beverly (1-3) as two of its fumbles happened in the red zone and another in its own territory, giving the Fishermen the ball back with under two minutes to play.
“When you make mistakes like that, you put yourself in a hole,” Bauer said. “The kids played hard to the end like they always do, but when you make that many mistakes it’s hard to win.”
Leading 14-12 at the half, Beverly struggled to get anything going in the second half as the Gloucester defense would not give an inch.
The Beverly defense, however, was equally up to the task and made several big second half stops, including a fourth down stop just inside the Panthers’ 20 early in the fourth that thwarted a 13-play, 9-minute and 32-second drive by Gloucester (now 3-1).
The Panthers looked to be going in for another score late in the fourth when a bad snap on a punt set them up at the Gloucester 27-yard line — only to fumble the ball away at the 16 when Gloucester’s Jacob Emerson dove on the loose ball.
The Beverly defense forced yet another punt and got the ball back at its own 40 with under two minutes to go, but coughed up the ball again as a swarm of Fishermen defenders were involved in the play, giving the home team a chance to win starting at the 40-yard line with 1:39 to play.
“If we punch it in or take more time off the clock on either of those drives, it’s a different game,” Bauer said. “But Gloucester made the plays when it needed to.”
A 24-yard run from Gloucester’s Jordan Pallazola (who eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the first half) set up his team at the BHS 16-yard-line, and a 10-yard scamper on 4th-and-5 set the offense up at the 1-yard-line with 34 seconds to play. On 2nd-and-goal Kennedy finished the drive with a quarterback sneak.
“Just when you thought it was over they fumble, we pick it up and we move down field for the win,” Gloucester head coach Tony Zerilli said. “We made a few big plays in their backfield. It was one of those grin-and-bear-it-type games; you don’t know what’s going to happen, (so) you just hope you play hard every play and have a chance to win at the end. We got our chance and won it.”
The Fishermen got off to a nice start when Pallazola raced 59 yards for a score on their second drive of the game to make it 6-0. They’d score again on their next drive as a 56-yard run from Pallazola set up his 1-yard plunge and a 12-0 advantage.
Beverly got to work late in the first half as quarterback Nick Manthorne scored from 9 yards out to get Beverly on the board with 1:51 to play in the half, making it 12-7. The Panthers got the ball back with just over a minute to go before intermission, and a 40-yard pass from Manthorne to Isaiah White (who also ran for over 100 yards) set up a 4-yard run from Bruno Caetano. Another extra point made it 14-12 Beverly at the half.