Cancellations and postponements are bound to occur in any season played during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet coaches and athletic directors are using every tool in their arsenal to make sure their student-athletes get a game experience each week during the shortened Fall II football season.
On Wednesday, coaches from Winthrop and two-time defending Division 1 state champion St. John’s Prep got word that their season openers were off. Winthrop was scheduled to face Peabody, which had to go on pause due to a positive test, and Prep couldn’t play Malden Catholic since the Lancers scrimmaged Peabody the previous week.
So they started working the phones, emails, and took to Twitter to broadcast their availability. Prep coach Brian St. Pierre was thrilled when St. Mary’s of Lynn, a Division 7 program, volunteered to take the trip to Danvers for a non-conference tilt, even if it meant scrambling to adjust the game plan with only one day of practice before the game.
“We prepared for MC through Wednesday, and Thursday, told the kids, plot twist, we’re playing St. Mary’s,” said St. Pierre after Prep’s 26-7 win Friday night. “You go through an emotional rollercoaster. I’m happy for the kids they get to play. This year has been so hard on everyone. It’s not ideal circumstances, but hey, it’s ideal for what could’ve been.”
Winthrop coach Jonathan Cadigan told his players on Wednesday that they wouldn’t be able to face Peabody Friday night, but assured them that they would play or scrimmage an opponent.
Haverhill coach Tim O’Connor had been looking for an opponent all week since Lawrence had to cancel a Week 1 showdown with the Hillies. O’Connor wanted a scrimmage, and Winthrop wanted an official game, but they compromised with a game scrimmage Saturday morning at Winthrop’s Miller Field.
“We were really angry,” Winthrop senior quarterback Duke Doherty said about learning that the Peabody game was off. “But we trusted that coach would make something happen. The scrimmage was good, but we really wanted to play Peabody. Everyone’s fear this season is losing a game, we lost a week we don’t get back. It’s definitely a worry for most teams that if someone gets [COVID] from a team we played, and we have to get tested, it affects everyone.”
O’Connor wanted to run a scrimmage rather than a game because he said his goal is mostly to evaluate his players this spring ahead of the Fall 2021 season. Initially, his attempts to find an opponent for a March 13 scrimmage were unsuccessful. But it was actually Beverly athletic director Daniel Keefe who mentioned Winthrop was open because of Peabody’s cancellation.
So the 11th-year Haverhill coach decided to see what his players could do.
“Things are very fluid,” said O’Connor, noting that Haverhill tests weekly and a positive COVID-19 test could rule out any key player on Wednesday or Thursday before a game.
“We have to realize that at any moment you might not have certain players. As a program, we’re competing, but we’re truly treating this as spring ball. And I’m very open with coaches that I’m developing for the fall.”
St. Mary’s was looking for a game this week because its opener against Bishop Fenwick was cancelled. The Spartans were interested in scheduling a more competitive game against Billerica, a MVC Small program, which had broadcast a Week 1 opening throughout the preseason.
But to his chagrin, Billerica coach Duane Sigsburyhad to honor a commitment to scrimmage Cambridge after agreeing to an exhibition game on Monday last week. The Falcons started practice later because of school committee policies and weren’t eligible for a season opener this weekend.
“Ever since our schedule came out a month ago, we’ve been at it, looking for a real game,” said Sigsbury.
“Cambridge was unable to play a real game, and all of a sudden three other teams [St. Mary’s, St. John’s Prep, and Winthrop] pop up, but we couldn’t back out of our commitment. It wasn’t a good feeling, but at least we got to play somebody.”
North Quincy was able to secure a game after its opener against Scituate was cancelled. The Sailors didn’t have enough practice time to play, so the Raiders contacted Dennis-Yarmouth early in the week and were able to schedule a non-conference game, which they won, 30-0. Scituate ended up scrimmaging Falmouth on Saturday, while Marshfield adjusted with an intrasquad scrimmage after the Rams game against Hingham was postponed.
“Due to quarantine and not enough practices to play a game, we had to scrimmage Falmouth instead,” said Scituate AD Pete Umbrianna. “We are on track to open up at Hanover on Friday 3/19”
Marshfield coach Chris Arouca said “My first thought was about the seniors and how bad I felt for them losing a chance to play. We’re lucky to have seniors who lead by example. I think they took it better than I did.”
The dominos may continue to fall into Week 2, with Bishop Fenwick, Austin Prep, and Peabody still in pause until they can generate a certain number of negative test results throughout their respective rosters.
Fenwick coach and AD Dave Woods said his program has received all negative tests and should get the remaining close contacts out of quarantine by Wednesday, giving them three days to prepare to face Dracut March 20, an adjustment after their March 19 game against Austin Prep was called off.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, athletic departments simply have to be ready to adjust and roll with the punches.
“All year, we’ve experienced this in just about every sport,” said Woods. “We had to quarantine, or other teams did, but ADs in our league work great together to try to accommodate teams that are jammed up. Football is just a little more difficult because it’s only one game a week. You’re just going to have to roll with it, and this probably won’t be the last time.”
▪ The Cape & Islands League is already experiencing COVID-19 issues as the league prepares to kick off its season this weekend. Barnstable, Monomoy and Nauset each had to hit pause in recent days due to contact tracing.
Barnstable athletic director Scott Thomas confirmed Sunday that the pause will force the Red Raiders to miss their first two games — at Nauset on Saturday and at home against Dennis-Yarmouth on March 26; it’s unlikely either game will be rescheduled.
“With Fall II being a shortened schedule, it would be difficult to [reschedule],” said Thomas, adding that he expects Barnstable to resume practice on March 23. “We certainly don’t want to play two football games in a week, so it’s looking pretty unlikely.”
Nauset coach Bruce Strunk said the Warriors are aiming to return to practice March 22 ahead of their season opener, tentatively scheduled for noon March 27 in Falmouth. In the Lighthouse Division, Monomoy coach Larry Souza said the Sharks are hopeful they’ll return to practice Saturday and open the season a week from Monday against Martha’s Vineyard.
Monomoy and Martha’s Vineyard were originally set to meet Saturday afternoon at Monomoy.
▪ In Patriot League action, Pembroke’s Stephen Aborn and Plymouth South’s Darren Fruzzetti earned their first wins as head coaches with their respective teams. “The kids played hard and were resilient when trailing and rallying in a tremendous fourth-quarter comeback,” Aborn said.
▪ Liam Davis, a sophomore corner, had two interceptions, including one for a pick-six, in Plymouth South’s 34-13 road win vs. Hanover on Friday. Davis took over the same position his older brother, Cillian, – who now plays at St. Anselm College – excelled at for the Panthers.
▪ Sandwich 14, Martha’s Vineyard 0 — Junior Patrick Morin provided all of the offensive output for the host Blue Knights, rushing for a 6-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 85-yard score in the fourth quarter of the Cape & Islands League contest on Sunday afternoon.
Correspondents Brad Joyal and Trevor Hass also contributed to this story.