By Matt Williams
---- — LYNN — The Peabody High football team did not find its first win of a new era at Manning Field last night, as Lynn English came away with a 29-15 victory.
The Tanners did, however, find an offensive line hungry to open some holes, a young running back eager to burst through them and plenty of reasons to look forward to the rest of the season.
Sophomore Doug Santos ran for 167 yards and Peabody had a chance to tie the game twice in the second half before the hosts Bulldogs (1-0) scored to put the game away in the season opener for both clubs.
Mistakes cost the Tanners as four of their first five drives in the second half were ended by turnovers. In all, Peabody lost four fumbles and had an interception. Penalties didn’t help either as Peabody took seven, with too many of those procedural errors that put the offense in third-and-long situations.
“You can’t give the ball back to a team like Lynn English five or six times,” said Peabody’s Mark Bettencourt following his head football coaching debut. “If holding onto the ball is what we’re working on, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Peabody’s other possession in the second half was an impressive 80-yard drive, keyed by Santos’ 47-yard run on 4th-and-1 in his own territory. The sophomore was pressed into action when captain Cody Wlasuk was lost to an ankle injury in the first quarter and burst through holes opened by the offensive line: captains Brandon Rapoza and Joe Molica, Ethan Mercedes, Anthony Christo and Matt Crawford.
Santos ran for 132 of his yards in the second half as Peabody went back to the pro-set, double-right and power-I formations fans remember from the glory days.
“We found a warrior in Doug Santos,” said Bettencourt. “We leaned on him when Cody went down, and the way we moved the ball late in the game against a good team with good athletes was encouraging.”
English had turnover issues of their own; in one stretch of the third quarter the teams traded three consecutive fumbles. But when the chips were down with the Bulldogs ahead 22-15 in the fourth, quarterback Jordan Javier (199 yards, 2 TDs) completed a 41-yard pass (his third completion of 40-plus in the game) then called his own number for the final TD with 3:15 to go.
“First game jitters for both teams,” said English head coach Peter Holey. “Jordan has a cannon and we worked on that all summer; our guys made plays when they had to.
“Peabody played their tails off ... I can’t have more positive things to say about the way they played.”
Santos’ first carry of the game was a three-yard touchdown in the first quarter that gave the Tanners their first lead in any game since Thanksgiving of 2011, a stretch of 96 weeks. His score capped a drive keyed by a 47-yard completion from Mike Raymond to Ryan Collins.
English tied it after Peabody’s punter was ruled down at his own 5-yard line; he bent down to pick up a low snap and the official determined his knee had touched the turf.
The Javier hooked up with Chris Lessard for the first of two scores. The first was a jump ball in the end zone (“We were in position but we needed a ladder,” Bettencourt said of Lessard’s height and athleticism) and the second was a perfectly blocked 49-yard middle screen that made it 22-8.
Peabody advanced inside the English 5-yard line late in the first half but some miscommunication and an untimely intentional grounding penalty preventing them from scoring.
“Growing pains,” Bettencourt said. “Those are things you deal with in a first game when you’re still learning.”
Defensively, the Tanners did a good job tackling in the open field. Santos and Tanner Moquin had a pair of sacks each and Mark Murphy had one tackle-for-loss; and Michael James, Ivan Tran and Ryan Collins played well in the secondary.
Wlasuk, Peabody’s best tackler last season, will be evaluated over the weekend, but Bettencourt was pleased with the way his younger defenders responded without their senior leader.
“If you told me we’d play three quarters without Cody, I’d have thought the scoreboard would look a lot different,” the coach said. “Cody’s a tough kid ... I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to get back out there next week (against Somerville in the Tanners’ home opener).”