IPSWICH — The first five minutes and 38 seconds were near perfect.
The last three-and-a-half quarters of play? Eh, not so much.
A fast and fortuitous start had the Ipswich High football team feeling good in its home opener Friday night at Jack Welch Field. But visiting Pentucket didn’t panic after falling behind by two scores early, rallying to knot things up before the first quarter ended and using that momentum to pull away for a 41-20 victory.
“They have the talent, and you can see with the numbers that they have that they’re tough. Coach (Steve) Hayden always has them ready to go,” Ipswich head coach Kevin Fessette said afterwards. “If you’re not ready and don’t respond to that counter punch of theirs, ... well, that stuff that happened is going to happen.”
In falling to 1-1 on the young season, Ipswich was limited to 115 yards on the ground and just 209 yards of offense against a Pentucket defense that became more aggressive and attacking as the evening wore on. Senior quarterback and team captain Cam James completed three passes for 94 yards and a touchdown and had a team-high 51 yards rushing, but the hosts had difficulty consistently moving the football.
The Tigers had jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the first quarter was half over. Justin Bruhm picked off Pentucket quarterback Peter Cleary on the game’s first offensive play, and following a 26-yard run by junior captain Cole Terry, classmate Chase Huntley broke the plane into the end zone from three yards out.
Pentucket fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Tiger sophomore Farlei Marques recovered on the Sachems’ 37-yard line. The visitors, however, held and got the ball back on downs.
After working their way into Ipswich territory, the Sachems were again victimized by an interception as Huntley intercepted the first of his two passes along the Pentucket sideline and sped 53 yards to paydirt. Jack Wile’s second PAT made it 14-0.
“We always talk about not letting the highs become too high and the lows getting too low,” said Fessette, “and that may have been a case where some guys started getting it in their heads (in regards to the early lead). That’s my fault as a coach; I’ve got to keep them more focused.”
The Sachems were forced to punt again on their next series — but this time they took advantage of an IHS miscue, and the game began to turn from that point forward. A fumbled punt recovered by Pentucket put the ball on the Ipswich 33-yard line, and three plays later Cleary (10-for-17, 142 yards, 3 TDs) found Jake Etter on a quick 35-yard slant for the score.
Before the quarter was over, Keegan O’Keefe took it around right end on a double reverse from 28 yards out and Michael Perlitch’s kick was good, making it 14-14.
“My nephew (Dan Leary) is the offensive head coach, and he’s done a fabulous job with it,” said long time Pentucket head coach Steve Hayden, who went on to joke, “but I put the first few plays in tonight, the interceptions.”
Dylan O’Rourke led Pentucket on the ground with 82 yards on 17 carries, including a 9-yard scoring burst late in the third quarter. O’Keefe went around left end from five yards out for his team’s final score underneath a full moon.
In all, nine different players carried the ball for Pentucket, accumulating 153 yards, while five players (including captain Austin Senfleben and junior Andrew Melone) caught passes from Cleary.
“Every year we’ve tried to add a little more to give us some passing options. But this year we felt we had to go one way or another to start the season, and we decided to go with the spread,” said the 31-year-old Leary. “We still have some wrinkles of the Wing-T and power stuff from our past, but we’ve got a good quarterback in Peter and a strong corps of receivers who are athletic and block for each other very well on the perimeter.”
A Cleary-to-O’Rourke hookup gave Pentucket its first lead, 21-14, before Ipswich responded on a James-to-Ethan Jean-Charles 24-yard scoring strike (although the extra point sailed wide). Etter then returned an Ipswich punt late in the quarter 27 yards to the hosts’ 31, and Cleary found O’Keefe over the middle for the last second score.
“We got away with a lot of things last week against a good Amesbury team, but in reality we escaped,” Fessette said of his club’s opening night win last weekend. “Tonight that didn’t happen, and there are mistakes we need to clean up before playing up at Newburyport next Friday. They’re all correctable, though.”