By Phil Stacey
---- — Five weeks from today high school football teams from across the Bay State will officially begin the 2013 season. Three days after that practices with pads start, and just 15 days later the games begin for real.
And we’re betting you might have some questions.
The state’s new two-year trial playoff system has folks wondering where their teams are being placed, if leagues and conferences have been changed or realigned, and most importantly who their favorite clubs will be playing before the three-week state playoffs begin in November.
To clear things up, The Salem News-area teams will now be slotted in five different playoff brackets. The two biggest schools, St. John’s Prep and Peabody, will try and qualify for the playoffs in Division 1 North; Beverly, Salem, Danvers Marblehead, Masconomet and Gloucester are six of the 11 teams battling for postseason berths in Division 3 Northeast; Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich and Swampscott will do likewise in Division 4; Bishop Fenwick and Manchester-Essex will now be playing out of Division 5 North; and the North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie team is one of 20 squads fighting it out for a spot in the Division 6 North playoffs.
The Northeastern Conference’s North (i.e., “upper”) division will consist of Beverly, Marblehead, Swampscott, Gloucester and Lynn English; the NEC South is made up of Salem, Danvers, Peabody, Revere, Lynn Classical and Winthrop. Similarly, Masconomet will play in the Cape Ann League’s Division 1 along with Triton, Pentucket, Newburyport, North Reading and (moving over from the NEC) Saugus; in CAL Division 2, Ipswich and Hamilton-Wenham will butt heads with Lynnfield, Amesbury, Manchester-Essex and Georgetown.
As for the games themselves — each team has eight regularly scheduled contests (plus Thanksgiving), with three holes for playoff or non-playoff matchups, based on seeding, in November — here’s a look at each of the 13 teams covered by The Salem News:
Danvers and Marblehead get the honor of kicking off the 2013 North Shore high school football season when they meet under the lights at Danvers’ Dr. Deering Stadium on Friday, Sept. 6. The Falcons will follow that with another home date, this time against Beverly, then have their bye week before five straight weeks of league games: at Peabody (Sept. 27), home vs. Revere (Oct. 4), at Lynn Classical (Oct. 11), home vs. Salem (Oct. 18) and at Winthrop (Oct. 25).
Marblehead follows its opener with its home opener against Lynn Classical on Thursday, Sept. 12 (in observance of Yom Kippur, which starts the following night). A non-leaguer at Salem the following week (Sept. 20) ends the Magicians’ non-league slate; for their first league matchup, they’ll face arch rival Swampscott on the road (Sept. 28, 2 p.m.) in a non-Thanksgiving Day scheduled tilt for the first time in 104 seasons.
The defending Super Bowl champions from Beverly will travel a grand total of about 12 miles for their three non-league games to start the season, hosting Haverhill (Sept. 7) and North Andover (Sept. 21) while playing at Danvers on Sept. 13. The Panthers begin their league schedule at Gloucester on Sept. 27, have the next week off and then play, in order, Marblehead (Oct. 12), at Lynn English (Oct. 18) and Swampscott (Oct. 26) before the playoffs begin the first weekend in November.
The area’s other Super Bowl titlist of a year ago, St. John’s Prep, begins defense of its crown at home against Bridgewater-Raynham on Sept. 7. Three of their traditional non-league rivals follow in Brockton, Central Catholic (on the road) and Everett before Catholic Conference play begins Oct. 5 at home against Malden Catholic. Playing just four league games, including Xaverian on Thanksgiving, their next two regular season games (against Catholic Memorial and B.C. High) are both on the road.
Playing a greater percentage of their games on Saturday afternoons (six out of seven) than any other North Shore club, the Bulldogs of North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie open up at home in Middleton against Tri-County Tech on Sept. 7. Other home dates include battles with Chelsea (Sept. 28) and Minuteman (Oct. 19); they also have an appealing road game at Bishop Fenwick on Sept. 20, the only time they’ll play under the halogens.
Swampscott will open the season with three games in 14 days, playing Triton (Sept. 7) at St. Mary’s of Lynn (Sept. 12) and at Winthrop (Sept. 20) before NEC play commences. The Big Blue meet Marblehead and Gloucester (Oct. 19) on their home turf; Lynn English (Oct. 4) and Beverly are road tests.
The third local team to play on Thursday, Sept. 12, is Masconomet, which begins the 2013 campaign at Melrose that night. The Chieftains’ home opener against Gloucester occurs the following Friday, and they’ll host CAL newcomer Saugus in their league opener seven days thereafter.
Playing on the brand new turf at Newell Stadium to begin the season, Salem is eagerly anticipating its Sept. 13 opener at Gloucester. The Witches will play for seven straight weeks (opening weekend is their bye), with home contests at Bertram Field against Marblehead (Sept. 20), Winthrop (Oct. 4) and Revere (Oct. 11) balanced out by road games at Lynn Classical (Sept. 27), Danvers (Oct. 18) and Peabody (Oct. 25).
With a new head coach in Mark Bettencourt, Peabody also kicks off its season Sept. 13 on the road at Lynn English. The Tanners will taste home cookin’ in back-to-back weeks against Somerville (Sept. 20) and Danvers (Sept. 27), the latter in its conference opener. They don’t have a scheduled day game through their first even, with night matchups at Lynn Classical (Oct. 4), at Winthrop (Oct. 11), home vs. Revere (Oct. 18) and home again against Salem (Oct. 25).
Another pigskin squad with a new head coach, Ipswich (with Greg Brotherton now at the helm), starts its quest for greatness at home vs. North Reading on Sept. 13. The only other scheduled home games for the Tigers are against league foes Georgetown (Oct. 4) and Lynnfield (Oct. 25); they’ll meet long-time rivals Newburyport on the road (Sept. 20) in one of their two non-league contests.
Hamilton-Wenham is among the last teams in the state to open up, kicking off their season at home on Saturday, Sept. 14 against North Shore foe Bishop Fenwick. Including Thanksgiving morning, the Generals have six of their eight scheduled games taking place during the daytime. H-W will hosts its long-time Turkey Day rival, Ipswich, on Sept. 28 (1 p.m.) before playing the Tigers on the road at Jack Welch Stadium exactly two months later on the holiday.
Bishop Fenwick follows that opening date in Hamilton with a home game against North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie (Sept. 20) at Donaldson Stadium. Then the Catholic Central League Large dates kick in; the Crusaders go on the road to play Arlington Catholic (Sept. 27) and Cardinal Spellman (Oct. 4); return home to play Austin Prep Oct. 11; take on host St. Mary’s of Lynn at Manning Field Oct. 19 in a Saturday night showdown; and play their last non-playoff game vs. Archbishop Williams at home Oct. 25.
The only non-MIAA team in our area, Pingree, starts its season on the road Sept. 21 at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island. The Highlanders will, for the first time ever, play half of their games (4 out of 8) at night, including a Nov. 2 home date against Evergreen League Clements Division rival Holderness, in which portable lights will be brought onto the South Hamilton campus.
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter at @PhilStacey_SN.
OPENING GAMES FOR SALEM NEWS-AREA FOOTBALL TEAMS Date Team Opponent Time Sept. 6 Danvers vs. Marblehead 7 Sept. 6 Marblehead at Danvers 7 Sept. 7 Swampscott Triton noon Sept. 7 Beverly Haverhill 1 Sept. 7 No. Shore Tech Tri-County 1 Sept. 7 St. John's Prep Bridgewater-Raynham 1:30 Sept. 12 Masconomet at Melrose 7 Sept. 13 Salem at Gloucester 7 Sept. 13 Peabody at Lynn English 7 Sept. 13 Ipswich North Reading 7 Sept. 14 Bishop Fenwick at Hamilton-Wenham 1 Sept. 14 Hamilton-Wenham Bishop Fenwick 1 Sept. 21 Pingree at Portsmouth Abbey 1:30