SAUGUS— The Saugus football team came into Thursday morning’s Thanksgiving game against rival Peabody looking to end its season on a win in front of its home fans at Stackpole Field. The Tanners, winners of three in a row against the Sachems, had different plans.
After a scoreless first quarter, Peabody’s offense came alive for 14 points in the second period and 19 more the rest of the way en route to a 33-7 turkey day win.
“Anytime we come here to play, it’s a battle,” Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt said. “It will always be a battle here. Saugus plays tough at home.”
With the victory, the Tanners ended their season at 6-5 while Saugus finished at 4-7.
“For us as a coaching staff, this win puts us exactly one game above .500 in our five years here and that’s a big difference to us,” Bettencourt said. “Now we can enjoy our turkey and know we’re above .500 moving into next season.”
Peabody quarterback Jonell Espinal tossed a pair of touchdown passes, while Noah Freedman scored twice and Eric DeMayo scored once. Dylan Peluso hauled in two touchdown passes.
Saugus quarterback Mike Mabee completed 17-of-29 pass attempts for 110 yards. The lone Sachems touchdown was scored by James Moise on a 90-yard kick return.
Neither team found the end zone in the first quarter. After trading turnovers on downs, Saugus began to find rhythm in its second possession. Mabee tossed passes to receivers Ricky Martinez, Christian Correia and Vincent Cirame to lead the Sachems into Peabody territory. A Saugus fumble in Peabody’s end zone ended the promising drive, and the Tanners dodged a bullet.
“Peabody’s so tough,” Saugus coach Anthony Nalen, in his first season directing the Sachems, said. “They’re physical and they play for four quarters. If at any point you don’t play for four quarters with them, you’re going to lose the football game and that’s what happened. We started hot and fast but we just couldn’t do it for four quarters.”
Peabody came alive in the second quarter. An early Saugus punt, returned for 10 yards by Nolan Murphy, gave the Tanners solid field position on Saugus’ 25-yard mark. DeMayo plowed his way inside the Sachems 10-yard line on three carries and Freedman cashed in with a 5-yard touchdown run on a sweep. Austin Leggett split the uprights on the PAT kick and Peabody claimed the first lead of the game, 7-0, with 4:40 to play in the quarter.
“I was very concerned prior to the game with our lack of playing on grass,” Bettencourt said. “It rained so much making the field muddy and that affected our traction, slowing things down. I think there was some of that going on in the first quarter but the kids adjusted to that well. We did much better in the second quarter.”
Three plays later, Chris Glass intercepted a Mabee pass and returned it to the Saugus 8-yard line. DeMayo turned the interception into points for Peabody with a 2-yard touchdown carry. Leggett nailed the PAT kick to make it a two-touchdown lead at 14-0 with 2:10 remaining in the half.
A pair of Tanners sacks on the ensuing Saugus possession forced the Sachems into a 4th-and-long. The Sachems elected to punt the ball and went into the locker room trailing 14-0 at recess.
The hole got deeper for Saugus, 21-0, after Espinal found a wide open Freedman for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the third quarter (Leggett kick). After the Sachems turned the ball over on downs, Espinal boosted the lead to 27-0 with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Peluso (conversion failed).
Peabody put the game away in the early stages of the fourth quarter. A 59-yard touchdown toss from Colby Therrien to Peluso bumped the advantage to 33-0 (kick failed). Saugus got on the scoreboard on the ensuing kickoff when Moise returned it 90 yards for the late score. Javier Martinez added the PAT kick to end the scoring at 33-7.
“We thought we had some angles on their kickoffs the way they were kicking it,” Nalen said. “We tried to get James in the crease. We did a couple times and that’s the one that broke for the touchdown. James has some great open-field speed and that really worked out for us.”
Despite the defeat, Nalen sees a promising future for his Sachems.
“I’m happy we were able to set up a good foundation here for years to come,” Nalen said. “We have a ton of youth coming in the next few years. Hopefully we’ll be able to build with that in the offseason.”