By Matt Jenkins
---- — Going back more than 40 years, the Masconomet and Danvers High football teams have met just once. In 2004, the host Chieftains defeated Danvers, 42-20, in the first game played under newly installed lights at Roberts Field.
Tomorrow night, the two teams will be under the spotlight once again — this time at Dr. Deering Stadium in a Division 3 Northeast opening round game of the new MIAA football playoff system.
It’s hard to believe that two teams located in such close proximity to one another have met so sparingly over the years. But regardless of their unfamiliarity on the gridiron, the respective coaches have made sure they aren’t strangers this week.
“Masco has a rich history in football and coach (Jim) Pugh has done a phenomenal job building that program,” Danvers (6-1) coach Sean Rogers said. “They’ve been very successful since I was in high school (at Amesbury) and I played against him ... and now I’m coaching against him.”
The Falcons enter the postseason riding a six-game win streak and earned the home game with the No. 3 seed. Sixth-seeded Masconomet stumbled down the stretch, dropping two of its last three games.
Every sports cliche applies here, though, so don’t count out the Chieftains (4-3).
“They’re as good as advertised,” Pugh said about Danvers. “(Senior captain) Alex Valles is legit; he’s one of the top running backs in the area and (junior quarterback) Nick Andreas, he’s pretty good. I like him and they haven’t thrown a lot, but he’s got a great arm and a nice presence out there. We’ve got to slow him down and put pressure on him. He makes them multi-dimensional; they’re not just a running team.”
Valles is a known threat for the Falcons. He’s rushed for 947 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, but Danvers didn’t win the Northeastern Conference South division by being a one-man team. Chris Behen (55 carries, 410 yards, 5 TDs) and captain Anthony Cordoba (48-315-3) are solid compliments to Valles in the backfield, and Andreas is a dangerous passer. He’s completed 27 of 56 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns.
“Their skill people are fast. They’re good, strong up front and they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Pugh said. “They’re peaking at the right time. We need to turn things around.”
Masconomet lost starting running back Michael Tivinis to a broken collarbone. Rogers knows Danvers can’t relax, though.
“We have to play very strong defense,” Rogers said. “We talk of offense winning games here or there, but defense will win you a championship. When games are on the line, the defense has done a phenomenal job. We’ve come up with big stops when it really matters.”
Valles has been good at linebacker for Danvers and Andy Curtin has also been an unsung hero on defense for the Falcons.
Danvers has to control Masco’s running game and make sure Corey Tines doesn’t make any big plays on the outside.
“I think (Troy) Bunker is a phenomenal athlete at quarterback and their receiver has big-play capability, especially on the deep ball,” Rogers said.
Mackenzie Cashin will be a key offensive player for the Chieftains with Tivinis on the shelf, and Pugh has liked the play tight end Nolan Rice has provided.
On defense, Gavin Monagle, Cashin, Steve O’Reilly and Mike MacKay have played well for Masco.
“We gotta slow down Danvers,” Pugh said. “They’re explosive and fast. We need our defense and our linebackers to step up and have a big week.”