To put it bluntly, the Chelmsford football team has no business starting 2-0.
The Lions were confident they could surprise, despite going 2-5 during the Fall II slate and not posting a winning record since 2013. But injuries and COVID protocols began piling up, threatening to derail their dreams of a bounce-back season.
By the time they were preparing for a Week 2 matchup at Lexington, sophomore starting quarterback Kyle Wilder was out. So was his backup. And the third-string QB.
On Tuesday, coach George Peterson decided to convert junior tight end Dan Craig, who played quarterback two years ago for the Lions’ freshman team but hadn’t taken a snap since then.
After just three days of reps, Craig came out and threw for 145 yards and two touchdowns, adding 165 yards and three scores on the ground in a 35-20 win. After the game, the Lions realized the carryover value they drew from a difficult Fall II campaign.
“We now have a ton of experience up and down our roster that is creating a lot of competition to play and a lot of depth,” Peterson said.
The Lions were young, starting more than a half-dozen sophomores last season. Wilder practiced with the varsity as a freshman, as did this year’s starting running back, Kai Linton, a sophomore who earned some varsity snaps. The coaching staff knew there was talent returning, but would it translate into wins?
“We knew it was coming,” Peterson said. “We were kind of thinking we would be a sleeper team that would surprise some teams because we knew we had so many guys back with experience. As of right now, we feel pretty good about where we’re at.”
That can be said of numerous teams that are off to 2-0 starts after struggling in the shortened Fall II season. There are currently 24 teams off to 2-0 starts in Eastern Mass. that finished with a losing record in the spring, including five that went winless: Pentucket, Cathedral, Hanover, Plymouth North and Norton.
Cathedral was 0-5 in the spring, but this fall the Panthers have already equaled their win total from the last three seasons combined (2-22), aided by a temporary exit from the Catholic Central League, instead playing an independent slate while building the program back up.
“We’re excited about this year,” coach Derrick Beasley said. “We’re going to try to keep the ball rolling and keep trying to upset some people.”
Beasley, a fourth-round pick by the Patriots in 1987, said that being in the second year of a co-op with Matignon and Cristo Rey has helped increase participation numbers from around 20 to 43 this season.
“The kids came out, but they don’t come out unless other kids talk about it,” Beasley said. “We made conditioning fun, they wanted to be out and that number turned into a football number.”
Norton coach Jim Artz, whose Lancers were 0-3 in Fall II, agreed that a strong offseason strength and conditioning program was vital for a quick turnaround.
“The ability to actually work out as a team in the weight room and have a normal preseason was a huge factor,” he said. “Last spring, we were never able to have weight training or conditioning or anything until we started practice.”
For teams in ultra-competitive leagues, a fast start might be attributed to the return of nonconference games.
“We play in a really tough league [Patriot] and we’re playing nonleague games now,” said Plymouth North coach Chris Whidden, whose team went 0-5 in Fall II and has beaten Falmouth and Dennis-Yarmouth this season. “We’re playing opponents we selected based on who we are.”
While some coaches admitted to being pleasantly surprised by their fast starts, others expected to see significant improvement. Hanover went 0-4 in Fall II, but quarterback Michael Landolfi is back after being ruled ineligible for the Fall II season. He’s surrounded by a talented junior class that helped the Hawks win the Northeast 7-v-7 New England championship this summer.
“After the summer we felt we could bounce back,” said coach Chris Landolfi, the quarterback’s father. “I knew we could be really good. We’re getting there.”
Dartmouth, which finished fourth out of five teams in the Southeast Conference last season and hasn’t posted a winning record in five years, is suddenly the only 2-0 team in a league in which every other team is 0-2. Coach Rick White attributed the Indians’ strong start — shutouts of Bishop Stang and Greater New Bedford — to a snowball effect from their final Fall II game, a 22-20 win over East Bridgewater.
“We’re picking up where we left off,” he said. “That [win] sent everyone into the short offseason on a high note.”
▪ Mansfield topped North Attleborough, 31-29, in double overtime in the first meeting between the Hockomock League crossover rivals since 2014. Trevor Foley caught two touchdowns and the winning 2-point conversion off a pass from Conner Zukowski, extending Mansfield’s state-best win streak to 18 games . . . Marblehead extended its win streak to 10 games with a blowout win at Lynn Classical, Blue Hills topped Essex Tech to earn its ninth straight win, and Lincoln-Sudbury shut out Melrose to win its ninth straight.
▪ Newburyport junior Jack Hadden broke a 54-year-old school record with a 95-yard touchdown run Friday, besting Eddie O’Bara’s 93-yard TD from 1967.
Correspondent Nate Weitzer contributed to this story.