PEABODY — Find a tall ladder, a bucket of navy blue paint and break out the numbered stencils: it's finally time to add a year to the list of football league champions in Peabody High's field house.
The Tanners handled Saugus, 41-6, on a sunny Thanksgiving morning to officially win the Northeastern Conference's Lynch Division title. Peabody ended the longest league championship drought in the program's 120-plus year history by running the table against NEC Lynch foes and winning six in a row to close out the 2021 season at 7-4.
"To end the season with a big 'dub and win that title for this program is beautiful," said senior captain and two-way lineman Peter Gardikas, noting that being on Coley Lee Field for the holiday was much better than being home last year when all Thanksgiving football was lost to the pandemic.
"My first time playing on Thanksgiving and it's also my last time. That's surreal."
Finishing undefeated against league foes for the first time since 1994 was largely a formality for Peabody since Saugus (0-11) entered this 75th holiday meeting with only 45 points on the season and around 30 players dressed. The Lynch crown is the school's first football title as an NEC member and first of any kind since it shared the Greater Boston League title in 2000.
The Tanners handled their business in the first half, scoring 27 points on only eight offensive plays on their way to an eighth consecutive win over the Sachems. Junior quarterback Shea Lynch was surgical, completing 13-of-14 passes for 160 yards and five touchdowns to bring his single season school records to 2,311 yards passing and 31 TDs (against only 4 interceptions).
"Shea's a student of the game. What he does is no accident: he works at it all summer, every day in practice. He even plays scout team QB against our defense to get more looks, more reads," said head coach Mark Bettencourt. "Those records that fell were because he and his receivers worked their butts off."
Opening the scoring with a 44-yard strike to senior Daviel Canela, Lynch then completed a one-play TD drive with a 16-yard toss to Colin Ridley. The dynamic junior took care of his top two targets, finding both Danny Barrett (3 catches, 42 yards) and Eli Batista (6 catches, 46 yards) for scores to make sure they'll share Peabody's single season touchdown reception record with 10 apiece.
"We knew the numbers and I tried to get them both in to let them share that record," Lynch said. "It was a great season all-around for both those guys. To bounce back they way we did after being 1-4, keeping our heads high, feels great."
Dailey took an interception back 39 yards for a touchdown to punctuate a 20-point first quarter outburst. This 2021 squad was the fourth in program history to surpass 300 points scored, finishing with 336.
They're now 9-3 against Saugus since joining the NEC, 46-28 on the holiday overall and have outscored the Sachems 277-32 since their last holiday loss in 2013.
"The best news I heard all year was that this game would be at home after we couldn't play on Thanksgiving last year," said senior linebacker Michael Perez, his team's leading tackler with over 70. "We might've been wobbly on our feet early in the season, but we found ourselves. To end with six wins in a row at home for my senior year? There's nothing better than that."
Defensively, Peabody limited the Sachems to four first downs in the first half and used chunk yardage on punt returns by Batista to build the lead to 34-0 by halftime with short fields. Junior Giovanni Guglielmo had two tackles-for-loss while senior captain Raf Casiano had a QB sack. Fellow captain Jordan Tompkins had one sack and made an interception in his own end zone to end a Sachem scoring threat in the third quarter.
Mark MacEachern (81 rushing yards) scored from eight yards out with 6:05 left to get Saugus on the board after the Sachems recovered a Tanner fumble.
Peabody's seven wins are the second most by a Bettencourt-led squad. The '21 team was the first to go unbeaten on the road since 2004 and their six straight wins matches the longest win streak under their current coach. That turnaround came after they dropped four straight, all at home and all against NEC Dunn Division rivals.
"I give our captains (Lynch, Tompkins, Casiano, Gardikas and Brendan Smith) a lot of credit because at 1-4 no one threw the towel in," said Bettencourt. "These last six weeks have been a lot of fun. Obviously its more fun when you win, and this is icing on the cake for the work our kids put in to make it happen."
"We knew we'd pull through as a family," Gardikas added. "Those practices before we started winning were probably the best we ever had. They brought us together."
On the heels of a satisfying holiday win, and with three of Lynch's top for receivers returning, the Tanners will look to carry momentum into what they hope is a return to the Division 2 playoffs in 2022.
"Our skills kids made a commitment to each other last summer and we need that from our linemen and defense. It doesn't have to be six days a week, just a commitment to have football on your mind all throughout the year," Bettencourt said. "All the successful teams are doing that and we need to be on that bandwagon."
Peabody 41, Saugus 6
at Coley Lee Field, Peabody
P- Daviel Canela 44 pass from Shea Lynch (kick failed)
P - Colin Ridley 16 pass from Lynch (Dom Scalese kick)
P - Jovante Dailey 39 interception return (Scalese kick)
P - Danny Barrett 4 pass from Lynch (Scalese kick)
P - Dailey 8 pass from Lynch (Scalese kick)
P - Eli Batista 3 pass from Lynch (Scalese kick)
S - Mark MacEachern 8 run (pass failed)
RUSHING: Saugus — Mark MacEachern 9-81, Sean O'Rourke 6-11, Drew Gardiner 5-2, Thomas DeSimone 3-(-1) ; Peabody — Jordan Tompkins 4-18, Michael Perez 1-14, Will Pinto 3-13, Shea Lynch 1-6, Alex Silva 2-4, Daviel Canela 1-1, Derek Pattuerlli 1-(-2).
PASSING: Saugus— O'Rourke 2-11-23-0-2 ; Peabody — Lynch 13-14-160-5-0.
RECEIVING: Saugus — Gardiner 1-17, Ryan Mabee 1-6 ; Peabody — Eli Batista 6-46, Canela 1-44, Danny Barrett 3-42, Colin Ridley 1-16, Jovante Dailey 1-8, Perez 1-4.