Three weeks ago, the Swampscott football team was unthinkably having trouble scoring points.
As far as the Big Blue are concerned, that’s now ancient history.
Led by emerging senior quarterback Brian Santry, Swampscott shook off the sting of three straight losses — and three straight lackluster offensive performances — by putting up 60 total points in back-to-back wins over Triton and Malden.
Now, heading into Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League Tier 2 play tomorrow against Salem (2:30 p.m. at Blocksidge Field), Swampscott has the look of a team that can test just about every defense in the league.
The Big Blue (3-3) are getting it done by returning to their roots as masters of the spread passing game, as Santry leads all local passers with 1,165 yards in six games. The cerebral senior is in his first year under center, and had the unenviable task of replacing last year’s Salem News Player of the Year, two-year starter Mike Walsh.
“The way we’re playing is a credit to Brian’s composure and development,” said Swampscott head coach Steve Dembowski. “The aren’t many guys who, with no experience, could come in and do what Brian’s done for us.”
Santry has six touchdown passes on the season, and five of those have come in the last two weeks.
The Big Blue didn’t return any starters at receiver from last year, and though they won the opener, 34-32 over Somerville, Swampscott scored just 10, 6 and 7 points in losses to Winthrop Revere and Lynn English left them an uncharacteristic 1-3.
“It’s all practice. We’re seeing the schemes and we’re executing them,” Santry said in explaining his team’s turnaround on offense. “We’ve come a long way and it’s all a reflection of the line playing great, the receivers playing great and us building some confidence.”
The Big Blue fell behind Malden early last Saturday, but unlike in previous weeks they roared back. That type of surge isn’t uncommon for a Dembowski team, though seeing a 2012 team with 22 new starters do so was an immense confidence boost.
“The guys that have been here have seen this over and over again: We figure out what (the opponent) is doing, how to attack them, and we make some plays,” said Dembowski. “The key for us now is we got down and we were able to make those plays.”
Santry is delivering the ball with confidence and poise and his receivers — seniors Josh Rothwell, Aaron Cronin, Bob Serino and Alex Powell and junior Ben Faulkner — are making plays. The QB has done an excellent job reading defenses and going to his third read if necessary while keeping himself alive in the pocket.
“We’ve worked on that and (are) throwing it more,” said Dembowski. “We’re not waiting until third-and-long to throw, and we’ve kept ourselves out of third-and-longs by doing that. When we’ve had a few of those, Brian is finding ways of converting them.”
Santry is averaging 8.5 yards per passing attempt, which is better than the Big Blue did in the passing game in 2010 and 2011. While he’s finding ways to finish drives with his legs (8 rushing TDs), he’s also showing patience to wait for his receivers to get open instead of pulling the ball down and running.
That’s also a credit to the pass protection of his line: center Patrick Dennis, guards Justin Chasse and Justin Nestor, and tackles Chris Carman and Bobby Bradley.
“Brian’s a gutsy football player,” said Dembowski. “We have to get everyone else playing at his level.”
Cronin has been a revelation, alternating between running back and receiver and creating mismatches. He has 621 total yards (310 rushing, 311 receiving) and five TDs.
“Aaron is a true receiver, but we’ve asked him to play running back so we can get the ball in his hands a few more times,” said Dembowski. “He makes plays and we’re leaning on him for that big play ability.”
Rothwell (19 grabs, 296 yards), Faulkner (12 for 218 yards) and Serino (13 for 217) are all among the top-10 in receiving locally. Powell, “the best surprise of the season,” said Dembowski, had five catches last week and rounds out the Big Blue’s four-wide sets.
“Every morning workout last summer, those guys were there and were working as hard as anybody,” said Santry.
The Big Blue want to carry that momentum into tomorrow’s clash with Salem, also 3-3 and coming off two straight losses. The Witches have a dynamic QB in Christian Dunston and an excellent secondary that includes Dunston, Ben Kapnis, Shakir White and Austin Connolly.
“We’re continuing to develop and I don’t think we’ve maxed our potential yet,” said Dembowski. “Salem has some real good athletes with schemes, a good run game and a quarterback that can beat you by himself if you let him.”
Interim Peabody coach Matt O’Brien was looking forward to getting the Tanners back into a normal routine as the team prepares for Masconomet Regional tonight.
The Tanners had some success running the ball against Revere in last week’s loss, with a season high 153 yards split between junior QB Cody Wlasuk and sophomore running backs Billy Teehan and Ryan Collins.
“We’re a team that needs to control the ball and chew up some clock. We can’t be throwing incomplete passes and going three-and-out,” said O’Brien. “We feel like we have some strength staying between the tackles, and last week we focused on that.”
Peabody is certainly in the midst of a trying season, facing dropping to 0-7 for the first time since 1967 against a strong Masconomet (4-2) team tonight. O’Brien is focused on buiidling confidence, and culture, over the next six weeks.
“If the kids are enjoying things, they’re going to tell a friend, and maybe that kid tells another friend, and before long we have 60 or more kids out here again,” said O’Brien, who served as Peabody’s freshman coach for before coming up with the varsity last season. He took over the offense after three weeks last year, and was named interim head coach when Scott Wlasuk resigned last week.
“Scott’s a good friend and the thing I’ll take with me is his passion. He had so much passion for the game, and we want to keep that going forward.”
With non-league play, for the most part, over, let’s take a look at how each tier of the Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League arrangement did against each other.
Tier 1 went 8-8 against its NEC/CAL compatriots, including a 7-8 mark against Tier 2. The only other match-up was Revere’s game against Georgetown in a rare Tier 1 vs. Tier 4 bout. Tier 1 has two Thanksgiving games against Tier 3 remaining in Peabody/Saugus and Revere/Winthrop.
Tier 2 amassed a 15-12 overall mark, the best among the four groups. It was also the most diverse: Tier 2 went 8-8 playing up against Tier 1, 7-3 against Tier 3 and 0-1 against Tier 4 (Danvers’ loss to Lynnfield). Marblehead was the only team that didn’t play up, with three games agaisnt Tier 3. Salem had the most games playing up, with five against Tier 1, followed by Beverly’s four.
Tier 3 had a 13-15 mark. No team from the third group played a Tier 1 squad, while the tier was 3-7 playing up against Tier 2 and 10-8 playing against Tier 4. Most of the traditional CAL rivalries take place between Tiers 3 and 4, and the NEC’s Winthrop played up a tier-high four times.
Tier 4 went 9-11, including Georgetown’s aforementioned loss to Revere. Lynnfield’s win over Danvers was the group’s only game against the second tier while Tier 4 was 8-10 against Tier 3.
Hamilton-Wenham’s Jimmy Campbell suffered a broken leg during last week’s overtime win against Bishop Fenwick and while he may miss the rest of the season on the field, the sophomore has already been an inspiration to his teammates.
Campbell, who has 15 catches for 246 yards and three TDs, was at Hamilton-Wenham’s film session on Monday just days after the injury and a subsequent surgery.
“Jimmy came in with his cast on and everybody clapped it up. He’s a true champ and our guys have been so inspired by that,” said H-W head coach Andrew Morency.
Campbell, who also plays basketball, was victimized by a spell of bad luck on the injury. He was blocking downfield and wound up at the bottom of the pile at a bad angle that resulted in the broken bone.
“He was really coming into his own. He’s a great athlete with great hands and he’s already talking about next year,” said Morency. “He’s been bundled up out at practice; his character is outstanding.”
The Generals’ effort in holding off Fenwick and the area’s leading rusher, Rufus Rushins, sends them into Tier 4 play against Manchester Essex tomorrow on a high note. Freshman Cam Macri scored the winning TD vs. Fenwick in overtime, giving all-star QB Trevor Lyons an excellent option behind him.
Moving the Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears every Friday during the fall season in The Salem News. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.