By Phil Stacey
---- — DANVERS — They simply believed in themselves when no one else did.
It’s the best way to describe how the Danvers High football team, which gave up an early three-touchdown lead and trailed on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter, found a way to come back and upset not only the defending Division 2A Super Bowl champions, but also one of their biggest rivals.
Senior captain Alex Valles rushed for 233 yards and scored four touchdowns, the last of those a 47-yard TD catch off a Nick Andreas pass with 3:18 to play, as Danvers shocked Beverly, 33-28, before a loud crowd at Dr. Deering Stadium last night.
“It was my best game because it was a great team win,” said Valles, who started off the scoring with a scintillating 95-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. “We knew even after (Beverly scored late to go ahead) that we’d come back and win it. Everyone believed.”
The Falcons, who had been shut out and lost to Marblehead by 44 points in their home opener a week ago, did a complete 180 last night by playing with confidence from the first to the last whistle. That was never more evident than in a wild fourth quarter of momentum swings and lead changes.
“We had nothing to lose and played our hearts out,” said captain Mike Favreau. “It was an unbelievable effort from the entire team.”
Trailing by 19 late in the second quarter, Beverly (0-2) roared all the way back to take a 21-19 lead heading into the final stanza thanks in large part to senior captain Isaiah White. In finishing with 162 yards on the ground, the burly back also scored on runs of 19 and 6 yards while quarterback Nick Manthorne snuck in from a yard out following a bad snap on an attempted Danvers punt, giving the visitors 1st-and-goal from the 1.
Beverly had the ball to begin the fourth quarter and was driving in Danvers territory when the hosts made the first of many big plays over the next 11 minutes. On 4-and-4 from the 34, Falcons linebackers Sam Vitale and Joe O’Donnell stepped up to stop Beverly’s Matt Madden (51 yards rushing) for a 1-yard loss, giving them the football back.
The Falcons then drove 65 yards in over six minutes, all on the ground, to retake the lead. Twice they converted on third down and another on fourth down (thanks to a 15-yard Panther penalty). Valles’ third score of the night, in which he went up and over the pile from two yards out, and his subsequent conversion rush gave the Blue-and-White a 27-21 lead with 4:06 to play.
“You could tell Alex had it (last night); you could see it in his eyes,” said Andreas, who threw for 85 yards. “He wants to perform well for the team, not for himself.”
But Danvers made the mistake of kicking off directly to White, who corralled the football at his own 16-yard line, found a seam and took off, going 84 yards to paydirt. Madden’s fourth extra point of the night gave Beverly the lead back just like that, 28-27.
But the Falcons did not flinch. A 24-yard pass from Andreas to Cris Valles gave the home team first down on their own 47 when Andreas hit Alex Valles on a seam route. Catching the pass in stride, he made one move near the Beverly 40-yard line and simply outran the secondary from there, scoring his fourth TD and giving Danvers the lead for good, 33-28.
“Valles is an outstanding player,” said Beverly head coach Dan Bauer. “He made plays when they really needed him to and played inspired.”
The teams combined to score three touchdowns in 48 seconds in that wild fourth quarter.
“It was all about confidence,” said Danvers head coach Sean Rogers, whose team had possession of the football (28:50 out of 44 minutes) nearly twice as long as Beverly (15:10). “This week our guys stopped thinking and just played. I saw it in the speed coming off the line and executing their assignments.
“When White scored on that kick return, no one’s heads were down; they were all focused on me, waiting for the next command. We’re always telling the team, ‘Win the next play’, and that’s precisely what they were focused on.”
Danvers then had another huge defensive play with 1:53 to go, stopping Beverly’s Peter Mulumba for a three-yard loss on 4th-and-1 from the hosts’ 37-yard line. Two plays later Alex Valles ripped off a 55-yard run down to the Panther 5, and they ran out the clock from there.
“This team has total confidence in themselves and our players,” said Andreas, “but it all comes from the coaches and the captains. The captains get everyone up, myself included, and the coaches got us all ready to go. The leadership on this team is second to none.”
“For us, we didn’t finish off and sustain,” said Bauer. “It’s clearly not where we want to be after Week 2. We made too many mistakes.”
While Beverly looks to regroup before North Andover comes to Hurd Stadium next Friday night, Danvers has its bye week coming up and wants the good feeling from last night to continue into practice before meeting Peabody in two weeks.
“A game like this,” said Valles, “makes us realize how good we can be when we put it all together.”