Fundamental football comes down to running the ball and stopping the run. These days, there aren’t many North Shore football teams that are more fundamentally sound than Beverly and Masconomet, which makes tomorrow night’s clash at Walt Roberts Field easily the most enticing of the local non-league season thus far.
The unbeaten Panthers (5-0) have run it on everybody, to the tune of a 206-28 point differential. Captains Brendan Flaherty (421 yards rushing, 6 TDs) and Kenny Pierce (392 yards rushing, 7 TDs) have helped Beverly carve up its opponents over the season’s first five weeks.
“You have to tip your cap to what Beverly’s done so far and I’m sure they have bigger goals than being 5-0,” said veteran Masconomet head coach Jim Pugh. “They’re one of the top dogs right now and we’re looking forward to this challenge.”
The Chieftains, 4-1, are no slouch. They beat Division 1 Catholic Memorial and while they’ve played more close games than Beverly, that could be a strength in terms of tested mettle.
“We need the game to be a slugfest, and not a track meet,” said Pugh.
You don’t need to look any further than last season, when Masconomet topped Beverly 24-7 at Hurd Stadium, for evidence of the Chieftains’ strength. Masco’s defense held Beverly to 139 rushing yards and the Panthers averaged 268 on the ground in rest of their games.
Junior Mike Tivinis had a breakout game against Beverly last year with 140 yards rushing. He leads the Chieftains with 330 this year, and Beverly will need to bottle him up to reverse last year’s result.
“Masco is a well coached team and they execute. They’ve always played us tough,” said Beverly coach Dan Bauer. “They have two really good backs in Tivinis and Dylan Mann, so this should be a heck of a game.”
Beverly executes its wing-t offense with speed and precision. The ball could be carried by Flaherty, Pierce, Dom Abate or Isiah White on any play — and defenders that cheat on one guy get burned. Masconomet will need to avoid getting caught doing that.
“They’ve been a scoring machine,” said Pugh. “One guy can’t stop that. You have to have all 11 guys reading their guys and trying not to win it by themselves. All week we preach read your key and win your battle.”
For Masco, defensive ends John Tivinis and Sean Antonuccio will be tasked with keeping Beverly’s fast, athletic line off linebackers Mike McKay and Steve O’Reilly. The Chieftains’ outside linebackers Andrew Swimm and Mac Cashin have also been strong against the run so far this year.
Beverly’s been scoring on big plays, with 10 of their 20 rushing TDs coming on runs of 20 yards or longer. QB Nick Morency has developed a nice rhythm filling in for senior Dave Rollins (illness).
“The system is working and our line play has been fantastic,” Flaherty said after last Friday’s win over Peabody. “We know Masco is a good team and we have a lot of respect for them. We have to practice hard and work hard this week.”
Masco, which is 8-1 against teams from the Northeastern Conference the last two seasons, will rely on a gang-tackling mentality to try to slow down the Beverly attack.
“You’re not going to shut them down entirely, so it has to be bend but don’t break,” said Pugh. “You can’t give up those 70-yard scores and you can’t let up for a second.”
Pugh was particularly impressed by Flaherty, who became Beverly’s all-time TD leader with his 47th career score last week. The senior’s ability to make defenders miss often masks his ability to break tackles with pure strength, something Masco’s coach pointed out.
“Honestly, he reminds me of Evan Bunker. He’s not going down with one guy, you have to have two and three guys on him. He has speed, moves, instincts and he’s strong as an ox,” said Pugh. “He really is a total football player.”
Masconomet has a solid ground attack of its own between Tivinis and Mann (260 yards). Cashin is tough to defend in short yardage situations and Chieftain QB Chris Schleer has shown the ability to make the big play with four touchdown passes. It’ll be a tall order for the likes of Beverly defenders Mike Dooling, Marc Babcock and Sean Winston to stop Masco from moving the chains.
“We want to control the ball. If we have a bunch of three-and-outs, it’s going to be a long night,” said Pugh.
Keep an eye on special teams in this game as well. Beverly has five return touchdowns this season (four of them by Flaherty) and one on each of their last four games. Masconomet is dangerous in the return game as well, with Mann contributing a pair of scores.
“So much confidence comes from those kinds of plays,” said Pugh. “One guys takes it the house and it gets everybody fired up.”