SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 22, 2012

No looking ahead for unbeaten Panthers

Phil Stacey
The Salem News

---- — BEVERLY — They say all the right things, respect every opponent and are so earnest in their convictions that you really want to believe them.

We are not looking ahead on our schedule, insist the members of the unbeaten Beverly High football team. We’re only worried about the team we’re playing this week; after that, we’ll worry about the team we’re playing next week. Ours is a singular focus: winning this week’s game. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s human nature to peer into the future and think about what could be or what might happen. Who doesn’t dare to dream?

But if their current approach is working — and it obviously is — for the lava-hot Panthers, then why change it?

A 35-13 victory over Danvers on a splendid afternoon at Hurd Stadium on Saturday pushed the Panthers’ record to 7-0. They have not been unbeaten this far into a season since the fabled 1988 squad finished a perfect 10-0.

After spotting the visiting Falcons the game’s first score (just the second time all season Beverly has trailed in a game, and the only time so far it hasn’t scored first), the Orange-and-Black reeled off five straight touchdowns to prevail in their Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League Tier 2 league opener.

But if it seems as though everyone in the Garden City can’t jump onto the team’s bandwagon fast enough, the players have remained even keeled, focused and undeterred by all the attention surrounding them.

“We all know every team we play will be bringing 110 percent towards us,” said mustachioed senior Brian Perry, a two-year starter in the trenches. “We’re expecting it. That’s why we practice hard and practice fast, so we’re ready (on game days).”

“These are the games that actually count,” added senior linebacker Rob Cattell, referring to Beverly’s five-game slate of league contests. “This is the good stuff, what you’ve worked for all offseason and during the (regular) season, to get to this point.”

You have to give mounds of credit to Danvers (3-4), which came into Hurd Stadium and didn’t give an inch to their heavily favored, more heralded opponents. The Falcons scored first, outgained the Panthers in the first half and had one of their best games rushing the football this season.

“We played very tough. But that,” said head coach Sean Rogers, pointing to some Panther players walking off the field, “that’s a great football team right there.

“Their offensive line does a great job holding their blocks, cutting guys down and giving their running backs a crease. They run so well, then mix in the pass and can beat you with that, too. The tempo of their offense, with all the shifting and pre-snap movement and looks, gets (opposing) kids’ heads spinning. They know what works.”

One of the Panthers’ hallmarks is for their players to be prepared for any and all situations. So with captain Kenny Pierce (concussion) unable to go on Saturday, junior Isiah White and senior captain Dom Abate helped fill his role at running back, while Abate doubled as a shutdown corner defensively.

White finished with a team-high 103 yards on 15 carries and scored his team’s final touchdown, a 3-yard jaunt in the third quarter to make it 35-7. Earlier, he swung the momentum back in his team’s favor after Danvers’ first score (a beautiful 79-yard run off a power sweep by Falcon junior Alex Valles) by returning the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to tie the game up.

“Danvers came to play, simple as that,” said Cattell, a 6-foot-4 senior. “They’re very well-coached and disciplined.”

Brendan Flaherty, the centerpiece of everything Beverly does on offense, had a 12-yard touchdown run on a sweep (in which his blockers set up a beautiful wall for him to easy scamper through), then hauled in a picture-perfect 35-yard touch pass in the right corner of the end zone from fellow senior captain Dave Rollins. Back after missing the last month with mononucleosis, Rollins was extremely efficient in completing seven of 12 passes for 89 yards.

Abate had his team’s other score; the senior back, hampered earlier this season by a turf toe, turned on the jets and showed off his running acumen on a pretty 31-yard sweep right. As he did on all five of Beverly’s scores, Harry Brown booted the point after.

“Danvers came out and were super-physical,” Perry said. “We just had to flip the switch and get it going. We really brought it hard after that.”

Sophomore quarterback Nick Andreas showed poise in connecting with six receivers for Danvers, completing 10 passes for 77 yards. Duncan D’Hemecourt was on a mission at middle linebacker, making double-digit tackles and causing havoc all over the field, while senior Jake Kobierski excelled in his first game starting at cornerback.

Rogers also noted that Valles “had his best game of the season” running the ball, complementing hard-charging senior captain and fullback (50 yards on 10 carries, mostly off belly and trap plays) nicely.

While Danvers looks to get back to .500 when it hosts Swampscott (4-3)on Friday night, Beverly will look for its eighth straight victory when it travels to Hyland Field in Manchester on Saturday night for a date with the Gloucester Fishermen (7 p.m.).

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Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.