Late in the 4th against Wellesley a snap flew over Matt D'Amato’s head as the Peabody Tanners frantically tried to scrap their way into the game. Instead of scrambling for a loose ball late on Friday against Somerville, D’Amato was on the sideline, congratulating his fellow starters on a job well done at the end of the third up 35-0.
Week 2: Peabody 35 Somerville 0
The fourth quarter began with the Tanners sending in their JV team, Coach Betterncourt pulled the plug on his starting unit as victory was in hand for the team and the embattled offense that was hit so hard in their first game.
It only took 33 minutes to put Wellesley in the past, which was no easy nightmare to forget. Missed assignments, constant cracks at the ball handler from the point of exchange, and a pure stagnancy kept the Tanners struggling to even compete in their 20-8 loss on the road to begin the regular season.
For Bettencourt, as is now known in his third season as Peabody’s head coach, the game starts and ends in the trenches. For the Tanners it ended very early, with one player wrapping up their effort early in that game with one word, “soft.”
“Everybody made mistakes last week including the coaching staff” as coach summed it up. “To have Doug carry the ball 32 times and Uggy carry it once was a mistake. So we tried to diversify ourselves a little.”
When the Tanners went through their pre-game routine eyes quickly turned to the front five. Left to right it featured Dan Smith, Chris Goggin, David Pence, Marcus Gutierrez (game captain), and Dan Heredia.
Whether it was the new personnel from Pence to Heredia or another week of fundamental work, the Tanners’ offensive line did not let anybody down.
“It was a little bit of both” Bettencourt commented. “We focused on the mistakes that were made…we watched the film, broke it down. We had several meetings with the offensive line…focused on holding our blocks instead of hitting somebody…I think you saw it worked.”
In Wellesley, Doug Santos and the offense searched for one blood-rushing play to spark the team forward but it never came without an effective establishment up front. This week it came immediately with Peabody receiving and Doug bursting to the left side of his line and finding his way to midfield.
“We pride ourselves on the first play of the game, every week the whole team wants to know what we are coming out with. Me personally, I think it sets the tone for our offensive line. Which is huge, that we’re going to gain yards today” Bettencourt stated.
While Santos began to find his comfort behind a steadier front push, racking up 219 total yards, D’Amato was beginning to build off his first start. Stepping back for his third attempt, he eyed Jake Doherty getting a step over his defender in the right corner of the end-zone. Gunning a bullet right where only Doherty could grab it, the Tanners’ new QB put his team ahead 7-0.
D’Amato attributed preparation to big plays like Doherty’s TD:
“In practice we've worked on me getting the ball out quick…I was taking too many steps and not really reading the defense, but tonight for example the first play I threw to Jake in the end zone I read the corner and threw it. Jake made a wonderful catch.”
D’Amato played brilliantly in the first half, completing 7 of his 8 passes for two touchdowns. He also stunningly provided the minor kicking presence the Tanners will need, drilling 3 of 4 extra points in the game.
“Its just timing, we’ve worked on those routes all the time in practice, it comes with preparation and I was prepared” D’Amato said.
As Peabody’s offense helped themselves to points, the defense began to see their own steps turn into strides as well.
Somerville quarterback Jeffreys fired away at the Tanners to begin with slicing, intermediate throws before he was stopped twice in Peabody’s red zone on 4th.
It was impossible to see Peabody stop Somerville five times in a row through three quarters and not notice the expounding impact safety and captain Cam Cordaro had on the game.
Once again playing a single, deep-back safety role; Cordaro took his aggression at the position to a new level and was the greatest playmaker the Tanners had on defense Friday. Stepping up to make tackles on outside rushes, flying in to sack the QB on a blitz package, and finding himself in the vicinity of every deep ball Cordaro showed shades of his mentor Henry Hernandez.
Comparing his new role to last years Cordaro articulated “It’s a lot more responsibility but I just have to do my job and we wont have to worry about anything.”
“You're hoping kids get better year in and year out” said Bettencourt, who was critical of Cordaro in week 1. “Cam had a great person to watch, for him to watch Henry Hernandez and learn from Henry…we were shocked last week that he didn't take those things with him. And this week I think he showed the coaches…I did learn a lot last year and let me show you what I learned”
The Peabody defense relied on aggressive safety play a year ago and that’s what Cordaro brought to the table. Better yet, the whole team showed a greater tendency to go make plays rather than wait for them to arrive.
Particularly impressive was Cam’s battle with 6’2” Somerville WR Shaq Joseph who caught an early deep ball over the top of Villani. Cordaro, standing well under 6 feet tall, later elevated on a key third down play in the third to deflect a deep bomb to Joseph.
Meanwhile back on offense the Doug Santos show was on full display with his gaps finally opened. D’Amato targeted Evan Thompson on both the second and third drive to push Peabody into the red zone. Santos capped off the second with a 10 yard screen up the left side to score.
On the third drive a ridiculous pin-ball rush off 5 defenders took Peabody to the one yard line where Doug pushed Peabody in a play later. His energy wore at Somerville and at the half the score stood 20-0.
As always, Doug pressed hard on his line all week and gave credit where it was due; “They stayed with their block, they drove their feet and opened up the holes. I just did what I could when I got to the second level…Heredia, Pence, Gutierrez, Smith, and Goggin hell of a job. I give all the credit to them.”
As in the first, the second half would be all Peabody. Cordaro started things off with a huge deflection down field on 4th before Santos scorched up the middle through a ton of traffic on his way to a 37 yard touchdown that again showed the advancements in the team’s line play.
Somerville didn't even have time to think on their next drive before Cordaro made the play of the night, a sensational undercut interception on a comeback route by Joseph. Just a few plays later Doug was bursting to the right of the line for a 16 yard touchdown to make it 35-0 in the 3rd where it would stand.
“Coach was telling me to watch 7, he was the best receiver on their team” Cordaro commented the play. “He kept looking and I saw him look and throw. I just undercut him, I knew John had him over the top and I just said I’m picking this ball.”
The job was done with an overwhelming crowd presence rocking the house while the starters exited. D’Amato then went to the sideline to greet all his fellow starters in a great moment.
“It was big. It built confidence for everyone. The line was feeling it, everybody was pumped up” D’Amato stated before adding “it was nerve wracking but it was amazing” on playing in front of such an overwhelming home crowd presence for the first time.
Part of being able to establish a successful program involves players being able to take on new roles on a year by year basis. Already we’ve seen Cordaro double his responsibilities, D’Amato go from JV to varsity starter in one year, and a totally new offensive line begin to gain some cohesion being together for just over one month.
From coaching down, things won’t fall into place as seamlessly as they did a year ago, but Friday’s win showed that the Tanners are beginning to form an early identity. It also once again displayed that if the Tanners can provide Santos with any amount of spacing he’s going to make the plays that drive them.
Beverly comes to play on a turf next week, a new addition to the schedule that comes with the expectations now held to them as a program. The early part of 2015 will continue to consist of trying different kinds of play-calling, preparation plans, and personnel combinations that will eventually give the team that unique identity.
“We have young kids who are still feeling butterflies and getting used to being a starter” Bettencourt said on new players’ confidence levels after the win. “Now that we have some guys that I think feel comfortable in that role, you'll see some results against a good Beverly team.”
It was the heart and camaraderie of the 2014 team that made them special, the way the new Tanners bounced back from Wellesley shows that maybe some of it has lingered on the jerseys those seniors handed down.
Harder tests stand ahead, specifically Beverly and Marblehead, but getting the first win out of the way will provide some closure to the Tanners that with mistakes will come progress every week to make them better as the season rolls forward.