By Phil Stacey
---- — DANVERS — Eight months of running, lifting weights and preparing both their minds and bodies for this exact moment commences when the first whistle is blown to kick things off tomorrow night.
That’s when host Danvers and visiting Marblehead will begin the North Shore high school football season (7 p.m.) at Dr. Charles Deering Stadium. All of the offseason and preseason waiting and anticipating will be over; the games start for real from this point forward.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Danvers head coach Sean Rogers after his tired-but-satisfied team walked off the practice field earlier this week. “Ever since we started (the preseason), we’ve been focused on Marblehead and getting ready for this game.”
The Magicians say the same thing; they’ve had their scout team impersonating the Falcons to prepare the starters for some time now.
Naturally, each club wants to begin the 2013 season with a victory and move forward from there. Adding to that is while this is technically a non-league game — Marblehead resides in the Northeastern Conference North, while Danvers calls the NEC South home — the state’s newly reconfigured playoff system and alignments have put both clubs in Division 3 Northeast, meaning they’re both vying for one of the eight available playoff spots up for grabs in their division. That puts even more emphasis on every win — or loss — in a 7-game regular season before the postseason starts.
“From everything we know about them and what we’ve seen in the past, this will be the most talented Danvers team in years,” Marblehead head coach Jim Rudloff said. “It’s the toughest opening game we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
In case you’ve forgotten, Danvers has the added motivation of revenge. The Falcons were on the verge of pulling a major upset over the once-beaten Marbleheaders in Week 9 last season, taking the lead on a 60-yard TD pass with 38 seconds left. But the Magicians won it on the contest’s final play, a 46-yard hook-and-ladder play that stunned players, coaches and fans from both sides.
“I’m sure that sour taste in their mouths from last year is one they want to get rid of this season,” admitted Rudloff.
Running both a Wing-T and an empty spread, Danvers’ offense can be difficult for teams to defend. Senior captain Alex Valles is the primary cog; he ran for a team-high 849 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago (much of that in the second half against NEC foes). Arguably the most talented player in the conference, he’ll no doubt be his team’s primary ballcarrier and a growing concern for the Marblehead defense any time his number is called.
But Valles is not alone. Junior speedster Jon Thomas, who can be lethal if he gets outside the tackles, must be watched carefully; junior Chris Behen is another threat out of the backfield. Big-armed quarterback Nick Andreas is very definitely a concern; the junior completed 55 passes for 670 yards and five scores a year ago. He’ll look to captain Anthony Cordoba, fellow senior Lucas Lentine, senior tight end Evan Haynes, sophomore Dan Lynch, and even his brother, freshman Matt Andreas, when dropping back in the pocket to pass.
“(Nick) Andreas is a terrific player,” said Rudloff, “and this could be his breakout season. He’s got excellent skills. And Valles, everyone knows what he can do; he ran back the opening kickoff (for a TD) against us last year. Danvers has the skill guys, some very good linemen back and looked good this summer in 7-on-7s.”
Defensively, Sam Anderson will be key for the Falcons as a middle linebacker; the senior will have emerging sophomore Sam Vitale next to him as an outside backer. Brian Daly, Tom Quinn and captain Mike Favreau are among the starters that the Blue-and-White will count on for some push up front.
Marblehead brings a plethora of skill players and experience with them into Deering Stadium tomorrow night. Start with junior Brooks Tyrrell, the junior running back who had 612 yards and 8 TDs a year ago and whom Rogers says “could really become a special player for them over these next two seasons.”
Brian Daly (27 catches for 417 yards and 4 TDs in 2012) leads a deep Marblehead receiving corps that includes senior captain Dylan Cressy (who’ll line up wide opposite Daly); another captain, slot receiver Jeremy Gillis; senior Trey Blackmere and 6-foot-3 junior tight end Will Millett. The team’s third captain, Liam Gillis, is at the forefront of a strong, smart group of linemen that also include stalwarts Trevor Gelineau, Crandall Maxwell, Sam York and rock solid Tom Koopman.
Moving to a 4-4 defensive scheme this fall, the three captains — Liam Gillis at middle linebacker, Jeremy Gillis in the defensive secondary and Cressy at cornerback — will have a large say in how the Magicians are able to slow down the Falcons. Add Ben Anderson, Spencer Craig, Tyrrell and Will Millett to the mix at LB, and this is a formidable unit.
“They’ve got a lot of really good ballplayers,” acknowledged Rogers. “This is going to be a real challenge for us.”
MARBLEHEAD (0-0) AT DANVERS (0-0) When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m. Where: Deering Stadium, Danvers Last meeting: Marblehead won, 28-25, on a last-second play Last year: Marblehead went 8-3; Danvers was 5-6 Key matchup: Danvers' linebackers against the Marblehead skill players. For the Falcons to keep the visitors off the scoreboard, they'll need to have their defensive line make big hits at the point of contact, allowing their linebackers to step up and complete the tackle. If the Magicians can get past that second wave of defenders with an open lane, they could cause major problems. Expect to hear Danvers MLB Sam Anderson's name called often over the PA system tomorrow night. Did you know?: Both teams have a player with the same name and spelling. Marblehead's Brian Daly, a senior wideout, is the Magicians' leading returner with 417 yards receiving and 4 TDs a year ago; Danvers' Brian Daly, who is also a senior, is one of the anchors of the Falcons' offensive line.