By Phil Stacey
---- — They are the last athletic team at the combined North Shore Tech and Essex Aggie to call themselves “Bulldogs;” every other squad at the regional school uses the nickname “Hawks.”
By 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, the school’s football team hopes to have something else all to themselves: the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Small championship.
With strong senior leadership, unexpected contributions from many underclassmen and the ability to learn from their mistakes, the Bulldogs of North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie are one win away from repeating as league champions and heading back to the state playoffs. They’ll host Minuteman tomorrow at Barry Field in Middleton (2 p.m.) for that chance.
”I think we’ve played above expectations, to be blunt,” said veteran head coach Paul Worth, whose club starts seven underclassmen on both sides of the football. “I thought we’d be OK, but I never expected us to grow up as fast as we have.
”(Tomorrow’s) game is everything for us: our Homecoming with a championship on the line. That’s what you play for, games like this.”
North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie is 3-2 overall but 2-0 in league play; Minuteman, back in the CAC this fall after a few years off, is 2-1 in league play and 4-1 overall.
For the Bulldogs, it was a lopsided loss that turned their season around. After winning their opener easily over Tri-County, 33-8, they lost a close game at Blue Hills, 16-7, before travelling to Bishop Fenwick for Week 3. There, the powerful (and unbeaten) Crusaders scored a 41-0 victory — but not before Worth’s club gained some valuable lessons along the way.
”Our kids realized what it really took to play a strong football team,” said Worth. “They’re powerful on offense, have a strong defense and their special teams killed us. But our kids seemed to figure it out that game ... and it’s been Katy bar the door ever since.”
The offensive and defensive lines have been instrumental in Tech’s surge, really taking to the coaching each day during practice and putting those lessons to work on game day. Senior two-year captain John Savio sets the tone as a two-way starter on the line with his renowned work ethic. In the Bulldogs’ new 4-3 defensive alignment this fall, he’s been tough for opposing linemen to move and clogs holes nicely.
Two sophomores — 235-pound center/defensive end Bryan Raustad of Swampscott (”the best center we’ve had in 6-7 years” said Worth), 5-foot-11, 320-pound Brent Campbell at offensive tackle and nose guard (”he’s our Vince Wilfork” said Worth) — have also been rocks up front, as have senior first-year starter Charlie Self at tackle and junior Matt Almon of Danvers at tight end and outside linebacker; he’s the team’s second-leading tackler.
Another sophomore, fullback/outside ‘backer Mike Nuernberg (the only Essex Aggie player on the roster), is one of the fastest players on the team; a 6-foot, 230-pound 15-year-old is in just his second year of playing organized football. His growth potential is limitless, said Worth.
Three-year starting tailback Ross Murphy of Danvers (who missed the Fenwick game) has scored 198 points in the last year-and-a-half and is a threat to score every time he touches the football. Deceptively fast and strong as an ox at 5-11 and 185 lbs., he can lug the leather 20-25 times a game. Captain Ian Lefavour of Beverly is the Bulldogs’ quarterback, a third-year starter at defensive back calling out the offensive plays for the first time. A converted tailback, he can roll out nicely and has developed a fine touch in the passing game for whenever Tech might need it.
Junior captain Dan Bailey of Salem, at 6-foot and 190 lbs., is whom Worth feels is the team’s best player. A running back and middle linebacker, he calls all of the Bulldogs’ defensive schemes and already has 60 tackles in five games, including 25 unassisted (5 of those for losses). A gifted athlete with great speed, Worth calls him a legit college prospect.
”I’m not taking any credit for Bailey; he’s a kid who was born to play,” said the coach.
The team’s fourth captain, Yordany Sanchez of Salem, plays left end and strong safety. Tough and strong for 165 pounds, this pass catcher and kick returner was good enough to play defensive end in Tech’s 30 Stack defense last fall. Senior Luke Popoloski now mans the DE spot.
Senior Andrew Gallione of Beverly missed the first few games with a shoulder injury, but is back starting at cornerback now. Paul Lazzaro of Peabody, a sophomore who starts at cornerback, is also a split end and backup quarterback while junior Danny Ramirez, who tore his ACL during basketball season last winter, was cleared to resume football activities three weeks ago and is ready to go tomorrow.
Worth’s teams have always loved to play Power-I and run the ball down their opponents’ throats; that hasn’t changed much. But expecting to see teams — perhaps even Minuteman tomorrow — stacking the box with eight or nine defenders, he’s confident his team has the personnel to throw the ball in spread and zone read sets.
”These kids are ready,” said Worth, whose teams have won five titles in his 19 years and finished second in league play another seven times. “If we’re lucky enough to win (tomorrow), it’ll be an unbelievable year — with the (Division 6 North) playoffs still to come.”
Masconomet will definitely miss the services of Mike Tivinis, the senior All-League running back, who will be out the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. He already had a cast on his thumb for an earlier injury there when, against North Reading last week, he was hit awkwardly (after gaining 155 yards on 11 carries) and caused damage to his shoulder.
In his place, look for an increased workload for fellow senior Mackenzie Cashin out of the Chieftains’ backfield. His twin, Austin Cashin, as well as Gavin Monagle, will also be asked to pick up the running back slack in ‘Tivvy’s’ absence.
As always, it’s time for a stroll down Memory Lane, North Shore football style, by delving into this week’s matchups and the history behind them:
Beverly meets Lynn English tonight (7 p.m.) for the 89th time when it travels to Manning Field. The Panthers’ last trip there was a memorable one; down 21-0 in the first quarter, the Orange-and-Black rallied for one of their greatest-ever comeback victories, 36-35. They lead the all-time series, 49-33-6 and have taken six of the last seven meetings.
Peabody, which plays at Revere tonight (7), holds a 37-10-1 edge over the Patriots in a series that began in 1942. But the host Patriots, who’ll be looking for their first victory of 2013 tonight, are in the midst of their greatest ever success against Peabody, having won five of the last six meetings.
When you consider their first game against one another came all the way back in 1897, it’s amazing to think that seven of the 13 victories Danvers has recorded over Salem have come since 2000. When the Witches visit Deering Stadium tonight, they’re hoping to put up much more of a defensive stand than the last two seasons, when the Blue-and-White scored a combined 88 points against them. Salem still holds a comfortable 38-13-4 all-time series lead.
The last few odd numbered years have produced some high scoring affairs between Ipswich and host Manchester Essex, who meet tonight (7 p.m.). A combined 78 points were put up four years ago in a Manchester victory, while the Tigers were on the winning side in 2011 when 59 points were put up. Will we see similar fireworks tonight?
Victories in each of their last seven meetings (2002 to 2006, as well as 2009-10) have greatly cut into Masconomet’s all-time deficit against tonight’s foe, Newburyport (7 p.m.). The Clippers still lead, 22-13, but the visiting Chieftains will be looking to get back into the win column tonight at World War II Memorial Stadium.
Having played every year since 1974, St. John’s Prep heads into Dorchester tonight (7 p.m.) to meet B.C. High, where they haven’t tasted victory since 2005. In fact, the Prep’s 5-point win over their fellow Eagles in Danvers last fall snapped a five-year losing streak against their Catholic Conference rivals.
Two years ago, Pingree had its 20-game unbeaten streak snapped at New Hampton Prep in a rude way, falling 35-7. Now the unbeaten Highlanders return to the scene tonight (7 p.m.) hoping to exact a measure of revenge. (They did topple the Huskies at home last season, 35-22).
Tomorrow afternoon (2 p.m.), Gloucester and host Swampscott will lock horns for the 82nd time. The Big Blue have won just four meetings in the 21st century, but three of those have come in odd-numbered years (2003, 2005 and 2011). Gloucester, meanwhile, hopes to add to its 42-36-3 series advantage.
When Hamilton-Wenham travels down Route 95 South to meet Lynnfield (2 p.m.) tomorrow, it will do so hoping to prevent the Pioneers from tying their all-time series. The unbeaten hosts will be favored to win, and if they do will knot the series up at 20-20-1. The visiting Generals, however, have won 11 of the last 14 meetings.
No one who cares about Bishop Fenwick football will forget last year’s meeting with St. Mary’s of Lynn, a 14-12 loss in which the Crusaders lost the ball in the final minute and ended their dreams of a Catholic Central League Large crown. Now, they can gain a measure of sweet revenge tomorrow night at Manning Field (7 p.m.), as a win not only clinches the CCL title for the unbeaten Crusaders, but also gives them the 300th victory in program history. (They were also shut out each of the previous two years by the Spartans to the combined tune of 74-0). In other words, the incentive for Fenwick is through the roof.
We’ve repeated this many, many times over the years, but once again it needs to be said.
Earlier this season a home team football player was injured in the middle of the fourth quarter of a close game. The trainer came out onto the field, everyone from both teams took a knee and a general silence fell over the crowd, an unspoken sign of respect to make sure the fallen player is all right. But the home team’s band was oblivious to all of this; they started playing — not an actual song, but rather a repetitive chant accompanied by rapid drums for over a minute before one of the home team’s assistant coaches screamed up to them to pull the plug.
Listen, we’re not anti-band; far, far from it. Bands are an essential part of the high school football experience; the pomp and circumstance, the hometown feel, the festive vibe they bring. The halftime shows are usually very good, sometimes spectacular. These students practice just as hard at their vocation as athletes do at theirs, and we’re fortunate to have some of the best bands you’ll find anywhere here on the North Shore.
But like most things in life, there’s a time and a place. The best bands work within the framework of the game itself. The home team gets a big first down? Strike up the band! (But stop before the next play is run). There’s a big runback after an interception? By all means, the band should get the crowd even more fired up. How about a time out, or the end of a quarter? Show us what you’ve got.
But don’t, under any circumstances, play while the game is going on. It’s annoying. No, it’s beyond annoying; it’s unfair to those people who actually want to watch — and listen — to the football game being played on the field. If a play is being run, put the instruments away. Seems fair, right?
So until a high school football team goes on the field at halftime and starts practicing pass patterns and defensive drills — thereby interrupting the scheduled intermission entertainment — then the high school band should not play when plays are being run during the actual game.
Moving The Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears each Friday during the fall sports season. Contact sports editor Phil Stacey at email@example.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.