PEABODY — Coming within an eyelash of their first victory over a ranked opponent in 15 years was a bitter pill to swallow for the Peabody High football team Friday night.
On the other sideline, a second straight razor thin margin of victory went down as smoothly as silk for the undefeated Danvers Falcons.
Courtesy of three red zone defensive stands that led to three unconverted field goals, Danvers (4-0) escaped Coley Lee Field with a 14-13 decision to beat the host Tanners (2-2) for a fourth consecutive season.
A massive surge by the Falcon defensive front led by Jacob Stone and Andy Chronis denied Peabody when it had first-and-goal at the 7-yard line with just over four minutes to play. The Tanners tried to take the lead on a 28-yard field goal with 2:28 left but the kick sailed wide; with only one Peabody timeout left, Danvers was able to run out the clock.
“It shouldn’t have ever come down to that. We can’t sit here and blame a kicker — we need to put the ball in the end zone and we need to score more than 13 points,” said Peabody head coach Mark Bettencourt. “We fumbled snaps, we missed blocks — we need to handle red zone opportunities a lot better than that.”
Credit the veteran linebacking corps of Danvers — Tom Walfield, Jack Strangie and twins Rich and Russ Canova — for stiffening with their backs against their own end zone. The Tanners made four trips inside the Falcons’ 20-yard line and came away with only one touchdown.
“I was really proud of the way they battled and held their ground. That’s a really good sign because we’re going to play a lot of close games and those are stops we need to make,” said Danvers head coach Ryan Nolan.
Trailing by 14 at halftime, Peabody came back to life in the second stanza. Junior QB Alex DeNisco withstood an all-out blitz to hit captain Colby Therrien for a 65-yard TD down the middle early in the third, but the thrilling score led to a blocked extra point that wound up being the difference in the game.
“We’re so excited about Colby’s play that someone forgets they’re on the PAT,” said Bettencourt. “Do you burn a timeout there? We tried to get away with 10 guys and the kick got blocked; that’s the kind of stuff I thought we’d cleaned up that showed up in this game.”
Five snaps later, Therrien was in the end zone again. After the Tanner defense forced a three-and-out, Phil Makoci and Brandon Glass blocked a punt and Therrien took a wildcat run in from the 8-yard line to make it 14-13 with that wound up being the game’s final points.
“That quick change, we weren’t ready for the play. We got blown off the ball,” Nolan said. “That was a wake up call for our guys, and we were much better the rest of the way.”
On the following drive, Peabody’s Chris Faraca snatched a handoff from Danvers for his team’s second turnover in as many many drives. The Tanners drove down inside the 5-yard line, but moved backwards on two bad snaps and would up having a go-ahead 40-yard field goal try blocked.
Led up front by Steven Bua, Kyle Maglione and Joe Casey, Peabody’s defense held the Falcons to just two first downs and 41 total yards in the second half. It was an inspired effort, but Danvers’ ability to convert in the first half made the difference.
“The big things we executed well,” Bettencourt said, “and the little things came back to bite us.”
Chase Eary (56 yards on 17 carries) scored from the 1-yard line early in the second quarter and after Stone recovered a fumble, J.P. Kelter took an option 28 yards up the sideline. Max Leete made both his extra points in a span of 79 seconds for a 14-0 Danvers edge.
“We need to clean things up in the run game,” said Nolan, whose team had 153 yards in the first half but sputtered after the break. “We need to find a way to establish our run game and improve that.”
The Tanners also missed a 28-yard field goal when it was 0-0 in the opening quarter. Danvers held them to 60 yards on the ground and nearly put the game out of reach before hafltime on James Carmilia’s late interception; Peabody senior Brandon Caniff came up with a pick in his own end zone to deny the Falcons, however.
“Not getting that three score lead before halftime opened the door for them to come back,” said Nolan. “One big play would make it a crunch-time situation the rest of the way — and that’s what happened.”
DeNisco, who completed 10-of-13 for 143 yards, hit that big play to Therrien, who had 70 receiving yards. Caniff added 50 receiving yards for the hosts, who got tackles for loss from Bua, Maglione, Makoci and Ari Rozopoulos.
Danvers got a pair of tackles-for-loss from Russ Canova.