BOXFORD — The way he read holes as if he’d seen them a thousand times before and effortlessly cut off the hips of the blockers on Friday night, you’d imagine Danvers High senior captain Rich Canova was a two- or three-year starter at running back.
The almost stunning fact that Canova carried the ball only once as a junior only serves to make his coming out party of 155 yards and three touchdowns that much more impressive. The lead dog in the Falcons’ opening night 41-20 romp over host Masconomet relished each of his game-high 25 carries while helping Danvers rack up 354 yards on the ground.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a real long time. It feels good,” said Canova, who followed full backs Jack Strangie and Russ Canova to daylight while slicing through the Chieftain defense all night long.
“Our blocking was great. There were holes everywhere and I was just trying to follow them. We have a lot of really big, really good blockers.”
In winning their season opener for the fifth straight year, Danvers (1-0) was dominant on the front line on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Russ Canova opened the game with a thunderous tackle-for-loss on the first snap — a tonesetting blow that seemed to knock Masco (0-1) into a funk that led to punts on their first three possessions.
“Any big hit in the beginning of the game gets everybody going,” said Russ Canova. “We came in ready. We had the right mindset and we wanted this game real bad.”
“That hit got me jacked up,” Rich Canova added of that opening snap wood-laying. “I was screaming after that. It got us going.”
Offensively, Danvers mostly deployed a duel full back set with either Rich Canova or Chase Eary (156 yards and a TD) doing the damage either off-guard or between the tackles. QB Ezra Lombardi finished the first two drives on sneaks for a quick 14-0 Falcon edge and Rich Canova scored the first of his three TD’s midway through the second quarter as the visitors grabbed a 21-0 lead.
“A lot of the credit had to go to Jack and Russ for blocking the way they did at the point of attack,” Danvers head coach Ryan Nolan said. “About 70 percent of time they were leading the way up through those holes.”
Masconomet’s Will Hunter took a punt 60 yards to the house to get his team on the board with 4:36 left in the second quarter. Freshman Hudson Weidman made an interception in his own end zone to give the hosts some momentum going into halftime and it carried over with sophomore Richard Guarino picking off a pass on the opening drive of the second half.
Defensively, though, Danvers clamped down on Masco’s new double-wing attack and did not allow the hosts to get anything going on the ground.
“Danvers is a very good team — their linebacking crew was outstanding, as was their D-line. They’re very sure in the tackling,” Masco coach Gavin Monagle observed.
The teams traded scores throughout the third and fourth quarters. Canova stretched Danvers’ lead to 27-6 but Masco responded with Jack Corcoran making a ricocheted catch in the end zone to get it to 27-14 with 8:40 left.
Danvers responded again, this time with a 4-yard score from Eary to go ahead by two scores once more. Masco then unleashed some trickery: A 10-yard hook pattern from Marshall Lastes to Andrew Alywin was lateraled to Nick Cantalupo, who raced 39 yards to the end zone for the Chieftains’ final points of the game.
“The kids played hard and they fought to the end, which was good to see,” said Monagle. “We knew we were coming in with some inexperience so now after one game we’d got a little more under our belts.”
Rich Canova’s third score of the game came with 2:01 left and capped what was a fairly dominant effort from the Falcon offensive line, led primarily by Tom Walfield and Jacob Stone.
“Richie worked hard to earn his carries. He bounced some plays outside and ran through some arm tackles — he made some plays when they were no hole there,” said Nolan, who was happy with the way Russ Canova and Strangie set the tone defensively as well.
“They’re special players and we were able to rotate eight guys on our defensive line. We had some really unheralded guys going good work up front.”
Sophomore Evan Glynos and junior Andy Chronis had some good run-stuffs on the line for Danvers while J.P. Kelter laid out a couple of big hits in the secondary. For the Chieftains, who lost their 10th straight season opener, sophomore Dana Michael grabbed two balls for a game-high 52 yards.