BEVERLY — It’s one loss. Don’t fret, Garden City faithful.
There is absolutely, positively nothing to worry about.
So the 14-game winning streak, most of any public or parochial football team in Massachusetts, is over after Saturday afternoon’s 21-19 loss to Haverhill at Hurd Stadium in the season opener.
Sure, a win would have been terrific for the Panthers — especially against a Haverhill team that’s big in the trenches, has a workhorse running back in Ian Kessel and will, in all likelihood, win a lot more games than they lose in 2013.
But consider that the Orange-and-Black lost three fumbles, threw one interception, gave up two 15-yard penalties and, in general, made the kind of mistakes that a squad with new players working into the mix are going to make early on — and they still had a chance to win the game on the game’s final play.
That, to me, is a good sign.
“This will be a great teaching tool,” Beverly head coach Dan Bauer said, mere minutes after his team’s 45-yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining was blocked by Haverhill. “The best kind of teaching tool.”
Consider: only four players who started for the Panthers during their 13-0 Super Bowl season of a year ago did so again Saturday afternoon: offensive guard/defensive end Zach Duguid, and linebackers Isaiah White, Sam Mulumba and Sean Winston. (White saw plenty of time in the Panther backfield last fall, but did not start).
There were eight seniors who, despite getting valuable playing time in 2012, were starting for the first time against Haverhill. So were juniors Jimmy Kastrinakis, who doubled at guard and weak side linebacker, and classmate Mike McKenna in the secondary; and a quartet of sophomores: tackle Chris Faust, defensive tackle Jake Berry and running backs Peter Mulumba and Matt Madden.
The talent is evident, but will take some time to ferment. Not long — in a condensed 7-game regular season before the playoffs, there simply isn’t time for that — but some time nonetheless.
Madden is a perfect example. Stepping up to the varsity stage for the first time after a stellar season on Beverly’s unbeaten freshman team of a year ago, he wound up with 16 carries for 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns, all team highs. He showed power, stamina and the ability to break tackles while reading the defense in front of him. As he adjusts to the speed, physicality and attention to detail needed to succeed at this level, he’ll become even more valuable to his team.
Both of Madden’s scores came in the second half: a 1-yard toss to the left side and a 2-yard burst off an inside handoff in the fourth quarter, getting Beverly to within two points.
White, the team’s top option out of the backfield, also had a fine day with 83 yards on 14 carries. He also caught two passes for another 83 yards, including a 64-yard halfback option pass for a touchdown from backup quarterback Bryan Flaherty.
With White, Madden, senior Joey Kozlowski, junior Bruno Caetano, Peter Malumba and Christian Miller (who was injured and didn’t play Saturday) all as options to run the football, Beverly will be in fine shape.
Defense is where the Panthers will be strongest, and you can see why; the linebacking corps is elite; the front three of Duguid, Berry and senior Jared Paris got their second wind against a bigger Haverhill team Saturday and showed what type of pressure they’re capable of putting on; and the rebuild secondary, with seniors Jack Morency, Nick Donovan and Kozlowski in addition to junior Mike McKenna, appears to be athletic and fleet of foot.
So don’t worry that the Panthers never led against Haverhill, or that the Hillies’ Ian Kessel ran for 155 yards (on 36 carries!) and three touchdowns. Focus more on the fact that Beverly outgained Haverhill (337 yards to 279), got lots of fresh faces some crucial experience and seem to have the depth and ability for another very successful season in 2013.
“We had a chance to win it on the final play against a good football team that’s going to win a lot of games,” said Bauer. “In spite of our mistakes, we had a chance to win.
“We maybe shouldn’t have been in the game, so that tells me what kind of heart this team has.”
Bauer likes to say Week 2 of any given football season is about the most telling; it shows how much at team can improve (or not) in the span of one week. “If you improve in Week 2, you’ve got it made,” he said.
Beverly visits Danvers Friday night. We’ll find out then.
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.