By Phil Stacey Sports editor
The Salem News
---- — MANCHESTER — During most of the 39 times that a Masconomet player touched the football Saturday afternoon, it didn’t make much of a ripple.
But on three all-important occasions, the Chieftains caused major waves — much to Gloucester’s dismay.
A punt run back for a long score, a desperation touchdown pass on the final play before halftime (set up by a lengthy kickoff return) and a fumble that was returned to pay dirt are the reasons Masconomet sits at 4-1 on the season. It was those three key plays that enabled them to escape a gritty Fishermen squad, 21-19, at Hyland Field.
“You learn a lot more about yourselves as players when you play tough games like this,” said Masconomet captain Dylan Mann, who produced two of his team’s three touchdowns. “Guys on both teams going home with all kinds of bumps and bruises ... that’s how you know you were in a great game.”
Indeed, these two squads slugged it out for 44 minutes as Masconomet found itself in a dogfight against the embattled Fishermen (1-4). The hosts never gave an inch, holding a wide edge in rushing yards (162-77), passing yards (138-43) and first downs (13-6) while holding the football for seven minutes more than the Chieftains.
If not for those above-mentioned three big plays, Gloucester would have left with an upset victory. Instead, it was a tough lesson to learn from.
“Those big plays will kill you,” said Gloucester head coach Tony Zerilli. “Ultimately, they did us in; that makes the loss that much worse.
“Defensively, we went in with a good game plan. Their strength is running the ball, and our strength on D is stopping the run, and I think we won that battle. They also have a good defense and know how to stop the Wing-T, but we made some adjustments at halftime and had some nice plays. But those big plays ... “
Big Play No. 1 came after Gloucester went three-and-out on the game’s opening series and punted the ball away. Mann caught the ball on his own 26-yard line, saw a wall of blockers in white shirts similar to his along the left side of the field and raced 74 yards to pay dirt. The key block was delivered by junior Harry Cwik, who blew his man off his feet to clear the lane for Mann. Casey Tines’ extra point made it 7-0.
Big Play No. 2 came after Gloucester scored its second touchdown of the second quarter, a 1-yard sneak from quarterback Santo Parisi with just 23.2 seconds to go until halftime that gave his club a 12-7. The Fishermen kicked off and Masconomet senior Adam Murphy corralled it at his own 8-yard line. Using his tremendous speed — he runs the 50 sprints for the indoor track team at Masco — Murphy turned on the jets up the left sideline and took it 57 yards to the Fishermen’s 35-yard line, leaving nine seconds on the clock.
“We were just going to take a knee, go into halftime and regroup if we hadn’t gotten the ball out to at least the 40-yard line,” admitted Masconomet head coach Jim Pugh.
Chieftains quarterback Chris Schleer (who wound up as his team’s leading rusher with 40 yards on 8 carries) dropped back to pass and somehow found Mann in the end zone for a dramatic 35-yard TD and a 14-12 halftime lead.
“That play doesn’t happen without Murph,” said Mann, an 18-year-old from Middleton. “He’s by far the fastest kid on our team.
“On the pass, that was just a go-route; I had a good feeling Chris would put it up for me. In that instance, I got around their defensive back and leaped so I could get the ball at its highest point.”
Big Play No. 3 proved huge as senior John Tivinis grabbed a Parisi fumble on the Gloucester 7-yard line, and the big lineman rambled into the end zone. It was big because Gloucester never packed it in, cutting the lead to two (21-19) on Parisi’s second TD pass of the game, a 1-yard pop pass to Devin Hemeon, with 4:19 to go. But behind Mike Tivinis and Schleer, the Chieftains picked up three first downs on the ground to run out the clock.
“We got lucky,” admitted Pugh, whose team hosts unbeaten Beverly this Friday (7 p.m.) at Walt Roberts Field. “But we didn’t panic and got some huge, huge scores.”