On first appearance, Gloucester High is fielding two football teams: a first-half squad and a different one in the second half.
The Fishermen experiment a bit in the first half, analyze their issues during the break, and then come out flying in the second half with a different scheme and attitude.
“The first half is more seeing what we can do and what we can’t do,” said senior back Jordan Pallazola , who scored three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter, in Gloucester’s 28-13 win over Beverly in the Division 3 Northeast playoffs Friday night.
“And then in the second half, we bring them what we have and shut them down.”
Gloucester led, 7-0, at the half, but clearly needed to make adjustments.
“We came out with a game plan that we were going to try to get to the outside on them and it worked right off the bat,” said coach Tony Zerilli.
“But they came back and countered, so we started attacking up the middle and started running a little more off tackle.”
With that small halftime adjustment, the Fishermen tore open the game behind Pallazola.
The second-half surges have defined Gloucester (6-2), which after capturing a Super Bowl title in 2010, was 2-9 and 4-7 in back-to-back seasons. The Fishermen also like their digs: They are 5-0 on their new turf field.
“I think the big turnaround is directly related to the senior leadership we have on this team,” said Zerilli, in his third season as head coach.
“No matter how much they’re down or how much the tide’s turned against them, they’re not going to quit, and it’s showed all season long when we get behind and turn things around in the second half.”
A number of those second-half blowouts have come via the Fishermen’s prolific ground attack, an aspect of the game that has become a tradition.
“There’s no secret about it. For the last 30 years, we’ve been a run-first offense, a ground-and-pound offense,” said the 34-year-old coach.
“We’ll throw the ball on you if we have the opportunity, but it’s a Wing T [formation]; it’s designed to wear you down.”
This season, Pallazola, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound bruiser, has been the player wearing down the opposition.
“Jordan’s a big solid kid, but he’s deceiving because he’s very fast as well,” said Zerilli of the Division 3 scoring leader (18 touchdowns, 115 points).
“He runs the ball hard, keeps his feet moving, and he can either run through you or run around you. He’s been the workhorse of our team all season offensively and defensively [at middle linebacker].”
At fullback, the Fishermen feature Jon Good, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound north-south runner who has missed significant playing time after suffering a concussion two weeks before the season began.
The two have played side by side for 10 years, and when they are healthy and active, the combination is lethal.
“All the teachers in the school, the people that watch the games, our coaches, all just say we’re a completely different team when me and Jordan are out there working together,” said Good, who also missed half of last season with a torn left labrum.
Added Pallazola: “When we’re together, I feel like we’re the most unstoppable we can be. He gets the blocks out for me, I get the blocks out for him, and we go.”
But in Saturday’s Division 3 Northeast quarterfinal at Tewksbury, the focus will be on Gloucester’s young, athletic defense.
Against Beverly, the Fishermen shut down Isaiah White, who, entering the game, was leading Division 3 in scoring.
“We keyed on him the whole game,” said Gloucester captain David Dimaio, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end.
“We called out where he was on the field, knew where he was all game, and just wrapped him up and took him down.”
That approach probably won’t work this week; unbeaten Tewksbury boasts multiple offensive weapons running out of a number of formations.
“I saw a very good Tewksbury team that’s got the whole package,” said Zerilli after scouting the Redmen’s 43-7 blowout of Somerville on Saturday .
“They can run the ball, throw the ball. . . . Defensively, we’re not only preparing for one team; we’re preparing for three or four teams, with all the formations they run.”
Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward said his squad will have its hands full.
“They have a very strong ground game that we [focused] on all week. We saw them play a couple times and we’re definitely going to have to have a good defensive effort to stop those guys. They can keep the ball and they can be physical for long drives, so it’s going to be a good battle.”
primed for battle
Dating back to 1878, Phillips Andover vs. Phillips Exeter is the oldest prep school rivalry in the country.
The two squads — a combined 13-1 this fall — square off on Saturday afternoon in what could be one of the best matchups in recent memory.
Andover (7-0) features a strong rushing attack (245 yards per game) led by senior back Ryder Stone, but head coach Leon Modeste said Exeter’s size will pose a threat.
“They’re the biggest team I’ve ever seen,” said Modeste, at the helm since 1987.
“They are big, they are strong, and they are tough, and that’s exactly how they play.”
Regardless of the statistics, the records, or the size, the game is driven by emotion more than any other factor.
“In this game, everything you did in the past doesn’t really matter because there’s an emotional swing to the game and that just wipes all that out. Whatever we have done, whatever they have done has some significance, but once this game begins, all that goes out the window.”
in Fenwick victory
The undefeated Bishop Fenwick football team absorbed a potentially devastating blow Friday night when star running back Rufus Rushins dislocated his elbow in a 33-12 Division 5 North quarterfinal win against archrival St. Mary’s.
On a downfield run, the 6-1, 225-pound back was tackled low, put his right hand down to brace his fall, and his elbow bent backward when he hit the ground.
The junior, who has accumulated more than 3,500 career rushing yards, had an MRI Monday, and as of that evening, the result was pending.
“We’ve got a lot of talented kids, we’ve got a great team, but he’s a difference maker,” said coach Dave Woods on the possibility of losing Rushins for an extended period of time.
But Woods remains optimistic. After Rushins left the game, the Crusaders outscored the Spartans, 20-0.
Running back Charlie Maistrellis, receiver Eric Razney , and quarterback Nick Bona stepped up, allowing Woods to remain optimistic in their quest for a Super Bowl title.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that are impact players,” said the 16th-year head coach.
“Again Rufus is a special kid, a special player, but we have a lot of other really good football players too, so it’s nice to have a little bit of depth.” Fenwick hosts Austin Prep in a semifinal Friday night.