By Matt Williams
SAUGUS — This was not how they thought it would end.
The Peabody High football team wasn’t able to go into the offseason on a high note, primarily because host Saugus had no interest in being a steppingstone for the Tanners as they try to rebuild their program.
Instead, the Sachems controlled the line of scrimmage and found the end zone on a myriad of big plays in seizing a 25-12 win on a chilly Thanksgiving morning at Stackpole Field.
A season that began with some promise for Peabody (3-8) ground to a halt with four straight losses to close out the careers of nine dedicated seniors.
“It can’t get any worse,” said Tanner head coach Mark Bettencourt, wrapping up his first year in charge on the sidelines. “We wanted our seniors to walk off our home field as winners last week and didn’t get that done. We wanted them to walk off here as winners, and we didn’t get that done.
“A lot of things we had in store that we wanted to build on, we failed at. As a coaching staff, we have to deal with that.”
Saugus (3-8) had a 19-0 lead early in the third quarter and Peabody fought back to get within two scores late in the fourth. Quarterback Michael Raymond drove his team to the Saugus 26-yard line with under two minutes to play, but his third and fourth down passes fell incomplete.
The things that ailed the Tanners — missed tackles and assignments on defense and an inability win third down on either side of the ball — were a matter of execution rather than motivation or desire.
“It was not the outcome we wanted, but we all played hard,” said Peabody senior Michael James, a cornerback and one of five captains. “We left everything we had on that field together as a team. I love all these guys.”
The Sachems took the wind out of Peabody’s sails early when Marcus Atkins intercepted a tipped Raymond pass and took it 55 yards to the house. Saugus’ other touchdowns were a 45-yard screen to Atkins and runs of 88 and 37 yards by QB Justin Winn. Saugus scoring plays averaged a whopping 56 yards.
“It’s the story of the season,” said Bettencourt. “Saugus’ offense required disciplined defense and we lost our discipline a handful of times. Those turned into big plays and scores.”
Winn, a junior captain, ran for a game-high 163 yards on just 12 carries. He ran the triple-option crisply, sneaking away for big gains when Peabody pounced on Dan Cacciola (75 yards) and Atkins (26), and handing it off when the Tanners closed in. His 88-yard scamper to paydirt came on a 2nd-and-19 play early in the third quarter and essentially blew the game open.
“The turkey’s better with a win. To beat Peabody two in a row is unbelievable. It’s a good feeling,” said Saugus head coach Mike Broderick, whose Sachems beat the Tanners in back-to-back years for the first time since 1987-88.
“We don’t have many seniors and I’m really proud of those guys. Winn, Ryan Clarke, the whole offensive line — all those guys did a great job.”
Senior Cody Wlasuk (62 yards) scored from 5-yards out to make it 19-6 with 12 seconds left in the third. Saugus responded with yet another scoring run by Winn, and Peabody junior Ryan Collins took the kickoff back 82 yards to keep his team in it.
By the time the Tanner defense forced a stop, there was only 3:37 to go. Peabody went to a no-huddle spread and Raymond (100 yards passing) hit Andrew McLaughlin (two catches, 80 yards) for a big gain, but the visitors couldn’t get to the end zone.
The Sachems outgained Peabody 326-260 in total offense and really hurt the Tanners on third down. Peabody didn’t convert one on offense until the game’s final drive (finishing 2-of-9) and Saugus was 4-of-5 in the first half alone.
“We have to fix what’s wrong,” said Bettencourt. “We don’t want to be fighting for our fourth win on Thanksgiving.”
Saugus 25, Peabody 14
at Stackpole Field, Saugus
Peabody (3-8) 0 0 6 8 — 14
Saugus (3-8) 7 6 6 6 — 25
S- Marcus Atkins 55 interception return (Jacob DeMonte kick)
S- Atkins 45 pass from Justin Winn (kick failed)
S- Winn 88 run (rush failed)
P- Cody Wlasuk 2 run (rush failed)
S- Winn 37 run (rush failed)
P- Ryan Collins 82 kick return (Wlasuk rush)
RUSHING: Peabody — Cody Wlasuk 11-62, Ryan Collins 8-43, Billy Teehan 4-28, Doug Santos 5-24, Michael Raymond 5-3; Saugus — Justin Winn 12-163, Dan Cacciola 14-75, Marcus Atkins 5-26, Brandon Rolli 2-10, Ryan Clarke 3-7.
PASSING: Peabody — Raymond 8-14-100-0-1, Wlasuk 0-1-0-0-0; Saugus — Winn 1-2-45-1-0.
RECEIVING: Peabody — Andrew McLaughlin 2-80, Collins 2-6, Santos 1-6, Wlasuk 1-4, Teehan 1-3, Tanner Moquin 1-1; Saugus —Atkins 1-45.