SAUGUS– When the Peabody football team stared at a 1-4 record after its first five games, it seemed as though the 2017 campaign wasn’t going to be much to smile about.
The Tanners could have taken the easy route and thrown in the towel. Instead, they turned things around and ended their season on a winning note. Thursday’s Thanksgiving victory over rival Saugus, a 33-7 Tanners win, gave Peabody a 6-5 season record.
The Tanners’ turnaround couldn’t have been possible without the running back duo of Eric DeMayo and Noah Freedman. Both seniors and team captains, DeMayo and Freedman were a crucial part of the late-season success the Tanners saw in winning five of their final six games.
“We knew coming into the season that we had a two-headed monster at running back,” Tanners coach Mark Bettencourt said. “We knew that we could pound the ball with those two guys. They know how I want the ball run. They run hard and they don’t run East-West. They run North-South.
“I love that all our young guys were able to watch them. That’s how I want them to run the ball. I want that tradition to carry on. Those guys carried the torch for us.”
Both DeMayo and Freedman were integral in the Tanners’ victory over the Sachems. Freedman, who also plays defensive back, scored the game’s first touchdown on a 5-yard sweep in the second quarter. DeMayo, who plays linebacker on defense, found the end zone minutes later on a 2-yard carry.
“It’s good to go out with an overall winning record in the four years that I’ve played here,” DeMayo said. “We only had one losing record and that was last year. It says a lot about the seniors and Peabody football in general. We played for ourselves, for each other and for Peabody. That proved something.”
On the opening possession of the third quarter, Peabody quarterback Jonell Espinal fired a 25-yard touchdown pass to Freedman to pad the Tanners’ lead to 21-0.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Freedman said. “The feeling of getting into the end zone and ending my senior career with two touchdowns was fantastic feeling. There’s nothing better.”
A pair of touchdown catches hauled in by sophomore wide receiver Dylan Peluso, one from Espinal and another from Colby Therrien, sealed the victory for the Tanners. In his four seasons playing varsity for the Tanners, DeMayo has been part of four Thanksgiving victories against the Sachems.
“It’s special because it’s a special game,” DeMayo said. “It’s always the last game for our seniors. In my first three years, I gave a full effort playing for the seniors on the team. They all got to go out with a win and now these guys helped me go out with a win.”
Freedman shared a similar feeling, noting that the intensity of the Peabody-Saugus rivalry always brings the best out of the Tanners.
“It feels amazing to continue that legacy that we’ve built,” Freedman said. “We’ve won the past three years in a row so we knew we had to win this year. It’s a huge rivalry between us and Saugus and it’s great to come out with a win.”
Needless to say, Bettencourt will certainly miss having two reliable running backs shouldering the bulk of the Tanner carries out of the backfield. Players such as DeMayo and Freedman, Bettencourt noted, are always remembered for their hard work and leadership.
“I’m going to miss them immensely,” Bettencourt said. “It’s not often that you get a player that plays four years of varsity football like Eric. He’s a baseball player and I coach both sports. I’m around him a lot and he’s such a role model to my son, Mark Jr. Both Eric and Noah have been great leaders.”
Bettencourt also has full confidence that DeMayo and Freedman will succeed in their future endeavors.
“The hard part about coaching is letting these guys go,” Bettencourt said. “But you feel comfortable knowing you did your part getting them ready for the world and preparing them to succeed.”