SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 4, 2013

Moving The Chains: Salem ready for its first home game tomorrow -- in Beverly

Moving the Chains
Phil Stacey

---- — For the first time in 2013 the Salem High football team will put on their red jerseys tomorrow afternoon, signifying them as the ‘home’ team in their game against Winthrop.

But they’ll be doing so in a city that for more than 100 years has been known as enemy territory.

With the Witches’ Bertram Field in the final stages of a major renovation and not completely ready yet, they’ll instead travel across the Memorial Bridge and take to the grass at Hurd Stadium in Beverly for their ‘home’ opener.

Surreal? Slightly.

“We’re so thankful to Beverly High School and the city of Beverly for giving us this opportunity to host a home game,” said Salem head coach Scott Connolly, who doubles as the school’s athletic director. “It’s a neighboring town being very generous and helping us out.

“James (Coffey, the Beverly High AD) and I have a great relationship, and knowing what we had going on over at Bertram, he said to me earlier this year ‘If you need to use Hurd as a home site, we can accomodate you.’ It just so happens this Saturday was open, so we jumped at it.’

Getting the chance to play a ‘home’ game means the senior class at Salem High gets to keep the concession money, which go towards costs for Senior Week and the Senior Prom, among others according to Connolly. It’ll also be Salem’s gate, another much needed perk. (Salem had to change its original home opener two weeks ago against Marblehead over to Piper Field in Marblehead).

Most importantly, Hurd Stadium is also a field virtually all of the Salem High players are familiar with, having played there in youth football or at the high school level.

“We took a team vote before we made a decision to do this or not, and the vote was unanimous,” said Connolly. “No one blinked an eye. And Winthrop was great about it, too; they understand our situation.”

There will be some diferences, naturally. Salem will not only wear its red jerseys, but also stand on the Beverly sidelines. That means their fans will sit in the home (i.e., non-sun) stands, and the some of the Witches’ assistant coaches will watch the game from the press box as opposed to the top row of visitor’s stands.

A walk-through of the construction going on at Bertram earlier this week was definitely encouraging for Connolly; it’s supposed to re-open for use on Nov. 1, meaning Salem will definitely be able to hosts its annual Thanksgiving Day game with Beverly. “It’s going to be so beautiful when it’s done,” said Connolly.

Until then, however, the Witches will either have to hit the road for scheduled home games — like next Friday night, when they’ll have to travel to Revere — or, in tomorrow’s case, bask in the chance to play a home game at an opponent’s venue.

At 0-3 and having surrendered 125 points so far, Salem is in desperate need of a victory. They’re hoping it comes tomorrow against Winthrop, a 2-1 team that doesn’t ever seem to change its basic formula: not a deep roster, but one full of hard-nosed players with speed, skill and the will to do whatever it takes to win football games. Allowing the Vikings’ running backs to cut back or run downhill is a formula for trouble, and quarterback Dylan Driscoll (son of head coach Sean Driscoll) is smart and tough, both running the ball on designed plays and throwing the football with accuracy.

Defensively, it’s about making third down stops and forcing their opponents to punt. On offense the Witches need to sustain drives and eat time off the clock while getting into the red zone and putting up points. They only ran 21 plays last Friday night in a loss at Lynn Classical while the hosts held the ball for more than 30 minutes.

“We need a win to get our confidence going and build it up,” said Connolly. “We have a committed group of players and coaches here; it’s time for all of us to put a complete game together and get that win.”

An undersized defensive end, Jerry Canada, has opened some eyes on the Salem staff with the way he’s taking on blocks and playing bigger than he is. Juniors Glen Gard and Victor Claudio are two tough linebackers who started vs. Classical and will remain in that role tomorrow against the Vikings.

Salem will be looking to knot up its all-time series with the Vikings at 20-20 in this, their 40th meeting. Winthrop had won seven straight before the Witches scored a 14-0 shutout in 2010, their last clash.

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Following his team’s 38-point home win over Tilton last weekend, Pingree head coach Chris Powers said his squad was hitting the road tomorrow night to face “a powerhouse” team — and it looks like that wasn’t just coach-speak.

The Highlanders will make a 3-hour trip to Connecticut tomorrow afternoon to meet up with Hamden Call Country Day School in a battle of two prep school unbeatens that can put up points — and blow out their opponents — in a hurry.

Pingree has scored 35 and 52 points in wins over Portsmouth Abbey and Tilton, respectively, while allowing just 20. Hamden Hall, however, has been equally frightening with the ball in its hands, having scored 52, 41 and 54 points in routs over Woodstock Academy, Kingswood-Oxford and St. Luke’s (having allowed a total of 52 points). The Hornets also tuned up for the regular season with a 62-6 obliteration of Wilcox Tech.

The two teams have never met on the gridiron before, giving added oomph to what promises to be a tremendous matchup in the Nutmeg State tomorrow night.

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As always, a look at some other weekend games and the history behind them:

For many years — 16, to be precise — Gloucester had no problems defeating Marblehead, doing so every year from 1992 to 2007. But when the series resumed in 2011, it was Marblehead that prevailed (22-16) and repeated that feat last fall. Can the Magicians make it three straight — and five straight wins to begin this season — tonight on their new Piper Field turf (7 p.m.)?

Together in the same league bracket again as Northeastern Conference South foes, Danvers and Revere renew acquaintances after a two-year gridiron layoff tonight at Deering Stadium (7 p.m.). The host Falcons have won four of the six meetings (all by at least 13 points) and will be looking to go to 2-0 in conference play against the winless Patriots.

Peabody, which takes on Lynn Classical in the second game of a Manning Field doubleheader tonight (7:30 p.m.), would love nothing better than to gain a measure of revenge on the Rams after last year’s 40-6 home setback.

The early game in Lynn tonight features Swampscott at Lynn English (5 p.m.). Expect a high scoring contest, which is usually the case when the Big Blue (who lead the series, 33-22-2) and the Bulldogs get together.

Bishop Fenwick heads to Brockton tonight to meet league rival Cardinal Spellman for the 46th time. Parity has ruled in this series, which is as close as you can get with Fenwick holding a 23-22 edge. The Crusaders put up 44 points in a home victory last year, but dropped the previous three meetings and haven’t beaten Spellman on the road since 2007.

Masconomet hasn’t faced North Reading in eight years, but if past history is any indication the tri-town school could be in for a good outing. From 1994 to 2005, the Chieftains won 11 straight meetings to take a 22-18 overall series lead.

Ipswich (0-3) is in need of its first victory, and that very well come could tonight when Georgetown () comes in for a 7 p.m. game at Jack Welch Stadium. The Tigers have prevailed in each of the last three meetings, outscoring the Royals 107-26 and having put up 40+ points twice, including last year’s 40-6 win on the road in Georgetown.

Playing at Amesbury has served very well for Hamilton-Wenham over the last two decades; when the Generals play there tonight (7 p.m.), they’ll be looking for their ninth win in the last 10 tries at Landry Stadium. The teams have split their last six meetings overall, with the Indians winning in Hamilton a year ago.

Of their four Catholic Conference foes, the one St. John’s Prep has had the most ease in defeating over the years has consistently been Malden Catholic. When they host the Lancers tomorrow (3 p.m.), the Eagles will be looking for their ninth straight win in the series, which they lead 42-13-1. St. John’s has won 15 of the last 16 meetings and, dating back to 1985, 25 of the last 28 contests.

North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie plays a rare Saturday night game (7 p.m.) at Manning Field tomorrow against Lynn Tech, a team they’ve split their last four meetings with. This will be the 10th meeting between the two; the Bulldogs have captured five of those.

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Moving The Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears each Friday in The Salem News during the high school football season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at pstacey@salemnews.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.