SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 5, 2012

Moving The Chains: Revival of the running backs

Rushing attack back on track on North Shore

Moving The Chains Phil Stacey
The Salem News

---- — Through one month of the high school football season, one thing has already been made abundantly clear:

The running backs are back.

Not that they ever went away; quite the contrary. Running the football always has, always will, be a staple for any team that hopes to have gridiron success, no matter what level you’re talking about.

Early indications have told us that, at least on the North Shore, the guys who lug the football on sweeps, dives, traps, counters, draws, bootlegs, reverses and options have emerged as the brightest stars of 2012.

Looking at the past 10 seasons, four of those (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2011) had six players from The Salem News coverage area run for 1,000 or more yards. There were also drops in production during the past decade; 2005 had only two 1,000-yard rushers, and there were just three apiece in both 2007 and 2008.

This fall, however, looks to be the year in which that high water mark is topped.

Based on a number of factors, there are as many as 10 players in the area who could crack 1,000 yards on the ground before the helmets are finally put away.

Beverly could have a pair of 1,000-yard teammates in Brendan Flaherty and Kenny Pierce. Either one would easily crack the barrier if they were the featured back in the Panthers’ offense, but they virtually split carries and see what could be individual monster numbers reduced for the definite betterment of the team. Still, Flaherty is on pace for 1,029 yards rushing and Pierce for 963, numbers they should easy pass.

Only a sophomore but already one of the North Shore’s prolific runners, burly Rufus Rushins is averaging 185 yards a game through four games for the unbeaten Crusaders; that averages out to a ridiculous 2,035 rushing yards in 11 games. Of course, Fenwick is no stranger to 2K backs; Bobby Tarr went for more than 2,000 in both 2006 (2,119) and 2007 (2,380).

St. John’s Prep star Jon Thomas is on pace for 1,562 rushing yards; he’s averaging 142 yards per game and 8.1 yards per carry. Teammate Alex Moore, who averages 8.7 a pop, could easily work his way past the four-figure mark; he’s slated for 910 yards based on his four game totals.

Mike Tivinis has only played two games for Masconomet because of an early season injury, but has already ground up 295 yards. If he maintains that 147.5 per game average, that comes out to 1,328 yards in nine contests. For a back as talented as Tivinis, that’s absolutely attainable.

That’s six right there. Then there are the other North Shore rushers who could heat up and approach the 1,000-yard mark, including Salem’s QB Christian Dunston, Hamilton-Wenham’s signal caller Trevor Lyons, Ipswich’s Derek Chamberlain, North Shore Tech’s Ross Murphy, Masconomet’s Dylan Mann, and the Marblehead duo of Ian Maag and Brooks Tyrell.

There are a number of variables, including how often backs have carried so far this season; there’s no garuntee their workload won’t go up or down. When the weather turns, teams also have a tendency to hold onto the football more and are less likely to put it up in the air.

There’s also the fact that in this age of split seasons where the first half of games are non-leaguers, but the second half all count in the standings, true backfield workhorses lug the leather a lot more.

There’s still more than half a season of football to play. But it wouldn’t be premature to make a rush to judgment that the above-mentioned backs will continue putting up big numbers in the weeks to come.

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Hamilton-Wenham has a bye this weekend, but the Generals’ coaches were still marveling over the performance that QB Trevor Lyons turned in last week at Amesbury.

The senior captain ran for a touchdown, threw for two others, caught a two-point conversion pass and threw two others. That means he was involved in all 24 of his team’s points (in addtion to throwing for 309 yards) in a 37-24 setback to the Indians.

“I’d say that’s a pretty rare occurence,” said Hamilton-Wenham head coach Andrew Morency. “Trevor did it all.”

There was actually an instance during the game when Lyons, while playing defense, got banged on his right (throwing) shoulder, the same one that forced him out of last year’s Super Bowl. The Generals got him out of the game and checked him out, but Lyons was ultimately fine ... as his offensive stats will attest.

On the year, Lyons leads the Generals in rushing with 283 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also completed 35 of 68 passes for 579 yards and a half-dozen TDs.

If there’s ever a good time for a team to be off, this would be it for the Generals. Morency said they’ll be able to nurse some of their bumps and bruises as they prepare for their next contest at Bishop Fenwick a week from tonight.

Hamilton-Wenham is hoping to get defensive tackle Alex Rogers back; the 220-pound junior has been a beast in his team’s two victories, but has been out of action in both of their losses. At the very least, Morency expects to have him back when H-W starts NEC/CAL Tier 4 play later this month.

A star in the making has been 6-foot-3 sophomore Jimmy Campbell, who plays center on the Generals’ basketball team but is out for football as a first-timer. He had six grabs for 115 yards and two scores vs. Amesbury and leads the North Shore with 14 catches and three touchdowns while placing second in receiving yardage (228). Alongside 6-foot junior Christian Ecker (6 catches for 159 yards and 2 TDs), they are a pair of formidable ends for opposing defensive backs to cover.

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Far and away, the 13 passes attempted by Beverly are the fewest of any of our local teams. Here’s an utterly fascinating stat: five different players have thrown passes for the Panthers — and all of them completed at least one pass. Even more remarkably, they’ve had as many players complete passes as actually catch them.

The passers include QB Dave Rollins (5 for 7, 111 yards, 3 TDs), running backs Brendan Flaherty (1 for 1, 57 yards, TD) and Dom Abate (1 for 1, 6 yards), and QBs Nick Manthorne (1 for 3, 17 yards) and Jack Morency (1 for 1, 11 yards).

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Looking at this weekend’s matchups:

Playing its third-ever night game at Hurd Stadium (with portable lights), unbeaten Beverly looks to expand on its all-time series lead over Peabody tonight. The Orange-and-Black have won three straight in the series, which stands at 31-26-3 in their favor.

The two squads played for 54 straight years beginning in 1920; since the Allman Brothers released their all-time classic ‘Brothers and Sisters’ album in ‘73, the Panthers and Tanners have played just six times: 1991, ‘96, ‘97, 2007, ‘08 and last fall.

Hands down the most crushing loss last season for Marblehead was its 28-26 home setback to Newburyport, in which the Magicians led by 19 points with two minutes to play, yet gave up three touchdowns in the next 98 seconds to incredibly suffer a defeat. It won’t take long to recall that hideous result for the returning Marblehead players when they travel up Route 95 North to face the Clippers at World War II Memorial Stadium tonight.

Bishop Fenwick, which hosts Weston tonight, has not fared well in their meetings the two previous seasons; the Wildcats have held Fenwick to a grand total of six points. That’ll have to change if the Crusaders (4-0) hope to remain unbeaten this fall.

Masconomet finally broke into the win column against Gloucester last year, pinning a 20-15 setback on the Fishermen to snap a streak of five straight setbacks against them. The Chieftains will look to make it two straight tomorrow when the two squads meet at beautiful Hyland Field in Manchester (where Gloucester is playing its home games this season).

Swampscott aims for its third straight win in as many tries over Triton tomorrow afternoon in Byfield, while St. John’s Prep travels south to face Bridgewater-Raynham in the first gridiron meeting between the two.

Lastly, you make recall Ipswich’s epic 37-34, 4-overtime victory over Amesbury last fall, snapping a four-game win streak for Amesbury in the series. Tomorrow afternoon’s matchup at Jack Welch Stadium in Ipswich will be the 46th meeting between the two; the Tigers still lead the series 26-17-2.

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Moving The Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears each Friday during the high school season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at pstacey@salemnews.com, at 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.