The 2017 season was an unfamiliar one for the Beverly football team. A perennial contender in the Northeastern Conference, the Panthers struggled to a 3-8 record last year after winning the Division 2 North title in 2016.
“It was obviously not the kind of season we’re used to at Beverly,” said head coach Andrew Morency, now entering his third season at the helm. “We lost a lot of games in the second half, games where we took a lead into the break and just couldn’t close them out. But even though we had problems closing teams out, the fact that we were able to take early leads in a lot of games showed us that we’re not miles away from being a much better team.”
So now it’s time for Beverly to get after it for the 2018 season. A solid core of upperclassmen is back to help lead the way, while a group of 28 sophomores bolsters the Panthers squad with some young talent.
The upperclassmen are led by senior running back/defensive end Clayton McAlpine, one of the few remaining contributors from the 2016 title team. Also expected to have big years are senior quarterback Ryan Barror, who scored four touchdowns against Salem last Thanksgiving, senior tight end Bobby Adams and junior receiver Duncan Moreland.
“I think this year we’re going to have a very solid combination of experienced players and young talent, and I think we’re going to mesh well,” said Morency.
Beverly has held scrimmages against Winthrop, Ipswich and Pope John this preseason in addition to getting some 7v7 work in over the summer. It’s all in preparation for the season opener Saturday afternoon against Lynn English, a team the Panthers have played close over the past few seasons.
“Whenever we go up against English, it’s always a tough, close game,” Morency said. “We certainly don’t expect anything different this year. We know they’re expected to be a very good team this year. It’ll be nice to play them at our place this year.”
Beverly and English face off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hurd Stadium.
The Salem football team is coming off of one of its better seasons in recent years, which included a 7-4 record, a trip to the Division 6 North playoffs and a Thanksgiving win over rival Beverly.
The only problem is that one of the key reasons the Witches had such a good year in 2017 was their senior running back Vinnie Gaskins, who lit up the record books before graduating and heading off to the Framingham State football team. Gaskins had 1,682 rushing yards last season and set school records for most points in a game (31), most touchdowns in a game (five) and most rushing yards in a game (305).
And Gaskins isn’t the only player that Salem lost after last Thanksgiving’s win. Tight end Tyler Skeffington and linebacker Felix Cruz, captains on each side of the ball, along with quarterback Aneudy Espinal and wide receiver Jeffery Rodriguez highlight the list of 12 seniors who graduated from the team.
But the cupboards aren’t completely bare in Salem. Senior tight end/defensive end Jayco Pena is poised to have a big season on both sides of the ball, linebacker/running back Chris Ngarambe should be an impact player and junior quarterback Wayne Holloway is ready to take the offense on his shoulders this season.
Salem is set to open up the 2018 season Friday night (7) against Austin Prep at Bertram Field.