By Matt Jenkins
---- — Kenny Pierce is blessed with breakaway speed, excellent vision, and a knack for finding the end zone.
In the eyes of Beverly High football offensive coordinator Roger Day, those three skills fall a bit short on Pierce’s list of attributes.
“The first thing that comes to my head is how unselfish a player he is. He’s really kind of saved my butt for three years,” Day said. “He’s been a huge part of our offense for three years, but whether he’s getting the ball or blocking, or if he’s getting it three times or 15 times he’s the same kid. He’s such a team player.”
Beverly, which plays in the Division 2A playoffs tomorrow night on the road (7:45 p.m.) against Burlington, has an offense built on balance. Everyone eats at the Panthers’ offensive table, and while Pierce could certainly get fat on statistics if he had the chance, he prefers to do his job and enjoy the wins that follow.
Pierce’s overall statistics — 780 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns — aren’t mind-bending, at least not on the surface.
What Pierce is very good at is making the most of his opportunities. His yardage and touchdowns came on only 60 carries, which means he is averaging 13 yards per carry and scoring touchdowns 20 percent of the time, or once every five touches. If you factor in his three receptions and one receiving touchdown, that percentage actually climbs slightly.
“I don’t think of that stuff at all really,” Pierce, a senior captain, said. “I really just follow my blockers; they’re the ones that get it done. I have to give a lot of credit to the line and to Brendan (Flaherty), Dom (Abate), and Isaiah (White).”
As good as Pierce is running with the football, he is just one part of what is arguably the most dangerous Beverly backfield in program history.
Flaherty has amassed 1,070 yards and 12 touchdowns on 117 carries, White has produced 666 yards and six scores on 79 touches, and Abate has done his part by accumulating 270 yards and five TDs on 48 carries.
“I think we all have our own style in the offense and I really like how he (Pierce) uses his speed to his advantage,” Flaherty said. “He makes good cuts when he needs to, but he’s also a tough runner even though he’s got the speed. I think he’s pretty well-rounded.”
Beverly’s running backs have produced a ton of big plays while helping the Panthers complete a perfect 11-0 regular season. But in a stable full of power hitters, Pierce may be the biggest home run threat.
“He keeps defenses so honest because he’s so capable of breaking a big play every time he touches it. It’s crazy what his average is for every time he touches the ball,” Day said. “He’s tough and aggressive and he’s just another piece so we can attack from anywhere. Teams can’t gang up on any other guys. You really have to pay attention to him or he’ll hurt you really bad.”
Flaherty is typically the player opposing defenses will focus on, but Pierce is a huge reason why teams can’t stack the box to shut him down.
Over-commit to Flaherty, and you’ll be trying to catch Pierce’s license plate number as he sprints to paydirt.
Pierce is an outside runner, but he’s also dangerous between the tackles.
“I’d probably say I look to the outside first, but I wouldn’t say I have a particular running style,” the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Pierce said. “I look to follow the blocks from my line. If I hit an open hole and if I break it, that just motivates me to not get caught. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Pierce has been a running back since the day he first strapped on pads as a second grader.
Many of his teammates began playing around the same time, which has created and amazing team dynamic.
Beverly captured the Division 3 Super Bowl championship two years ago — with Flaherty and Pierce playing a major role on that team — but this season has been something this group of players has been targeting for a long time.
“We’ve been playing together since the third or fourth grade. We bonded and molded together,” Pierce said. “We all know how each other plays.”
Pierce and the Panthers also know they’ll be in for a tough test against Burlington, but they feel they’ll be in good shape as long as they trust in each other.
Beverly is also playing with the motivation of coming up short in its bid for a playoff berth last season. The Panthers played last year with high expectations, but couldn’t achieve their goals.
“I know Burlington is going to be fast and fly to the ball and be physical. But we have to stay low and block well for each other,” Pierce said. “All through the summer, running and lifting at 6 a.m., this was our motivation.”