By Matt Williams
---- — SWAMPSCOTT — The Big Blue were left wondering when they might catch a big break.
Swampscott fell a yard short of forcing a third overtime, after falling a second short of a game-winning field goal try in regulation, and swallowed a difficult 32-30 loss to Gloucester at Blocksidge Field Saturday afternoon.
Quarterback Brendan McDonald powered into the end zone on fourth down after the Fisherman scored first in the second OT, but the Big Blue’s Desmond Wilhelmsen was stopped shy on the two-point conversion try.
“We’re snakebit when it comes to making the winning play. The kids played their hearts out and it’s unfortunate that we end up with a loss. We’re a team that has no luck,” said Swampscott head coach Steve Dembowski, whose team fell to 1-5 and 0-3 in NEC North action.
With the loss, the Big Blue’s playoff hopes are likely history.
“We blew our chance to finish second in the league. We did a lot of good things (but) didn’t take advantage.”
The Big Blue played inspired football most of the afternoon, shutting out Gloucester (5-2) in the first half and taking the lead on four occasions. A costly fumble with 2:57 to play set up the Fishermen’s tying touchdown, a 17-yard run by John Salvi-Souza with 55 seconds remaining.
McDonald (255 yards passing) then hooked up with Ryan Cresta to put the hosts in field goal range, but a holding penalty brought it back to midfield. He then hit Ben Faulkner, who ran down to the 5-yard line. Swamspcott was out of timeouts, though, and by the time they spiked the ball time had expired.
Swampscott’s Jeremy Epstein hit a 30-yard field goal in overtime to put his team ahead, 24-21 (“He’s been awesome all year,” Dembowski said), and the Big Blue defense forced a field goal try that Gloucester’s Eli Horne converted to set up overtime number two.
Jordan Pallazola (game-high 145 yards rushing) scored on the first play of the second overtime for the Fishermen and rushed in for the conversion to give Gloucester the lead, 32-24. Swampscott answered with a touchdown, but was left looking for answers after its two-point try was stopped.
“To the kids’ credit we’re the best 1-5 team in the state,” said Dembowski. “We’re in the large division (of the NEC) as the second smallest school in the conference and we’re going uphill every week. The kids give everything they have and it’s not been enough.”
Swampscott’s defense, led by Jordan James (2 sacks) and Mike Faia in the middle, held Gloucester off the board in the first half. Joey Faia had an interception and a tackle-for-loss, and Devin Conroy came up with some solid stops off the edge.
The hosts led 7-0 at the break after McDonald (who completed 16-of-24 passes to six receivers) hit Mike Faia for a touchdown in the first quarter. Pallazola and the Fisherman got on track in the third, scoring to even it 7-7 on their first possession.
“Our offense has been flat early and we’ve been trying to correct that,” said Gloucester coach Tony Zerilli. “Once we wake up and start recognizing the defense and seeing our responsibilities, the offense has been good.”
Wilhelmsen (67 rushing yards, 66 receiving yards) scored to give the hosts the lead twice. The first was at 14-7, and after Pallazola tied it up once more Wilhlemsen scored again. The TD that made it 21-14 came with 8:32 to play after Christian Llorente recovered a Gloucester fumble.
“The defense played well,” said Dembowski, whose team looked much better coming off a bye week. “We worked hard and tried to prepare. It’s football; we turned it over and had too many penalties to overcome.”
Faulkner had four grabs for 104 yards, including a 56-yard snag on the game’s first play. The Big Blue fumbled deep in Gloucester territory after that, and unfortunately it was a sign of things to come.
Gloucester wraps up its NEC North slate at 3-1 and has earned a share of the league title. Beverly (hosting Swampscott) and Marblehead (hosting Lynn English) are 2-1 in league play and wins by both next weekend would mean a three-way tie for the crown.
“It’s what we’ve been working towards,” said Zerilli, whose team has played five games decided by fewer than seven points this year and won four of them. “There’s a little more pressure in overtime, but the kids know what to do.”