BEVERLY, Mass. -– When describing his team's brand of football Haverhill coach Tim O'Connor said it succinctly: nail-biters, gray hairs, and heart attacks.
His Hillies almost caused a few, as it needed to block a field goal on the final play to escape Hurd Stadium with a 21-19 win over Beverly.
“In the past, people played Haverhill to get that win,” O'Connor said. “We're not that team anymore. It's a changed program; it's a changed atmosphere.”
With five seconds left the Panthers lined up for a 45 yard field goal, but a swarm of Hillies blew past the Beverly line and barely let the kick get in the air. The loss was Beverly's first since losing 13-12 to Marblehead in Nov. 2011.
Sophomore Ian Kessel, a transfer from St. John's Prep, stole the show in his debut at the lead tailback for the Hillies. Kessel touched the ball 33 times, racked up 148 yards, and scored all three Haverhill touchdowns. Kessel ground out yardage, only rushing for 10 yards or more four times.
“Ian is a special kid who has a lot of potential,” O'Connor said. “He had a great day and we're going to count on him a lot. Hopefully he'll learn to hit the hole a little harder and instead of having 140 yards he'll have 240 yards.”
Beverly never led, but always kept the game close. Brendan Flaherty and Kenny Pierce are in the past but the trio of seniors Isaiah White and Joey Kozlowski and sophomore Matt Madden were ready to pick up the slack.
White led the Panthers in all-purpose yards with 161 yards (78 rushing, 83 receiving). White had the play of the game, reeling in a 64-yard touchdown reception from Bryan Flaherty.
Madden scored his first two varsity touchdowns en route to a team-high 108 yards rushing. Kozlowski rushed for 28 yards.
“We got some good running backs,” Beverly coach Dan Bauer said. “Those guys have had good role models over the years and it's their time to shine. I think they played pretty well.”
After playing golf last fall Haverhill quarterback Shane Finn stepped into his new role and played up to the moment. Finn went 11-27 and 124 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS TROUBLES
Beverly outgained the Hillies 332-276, but hurt their own cause on special teams. A pair of muffed punts led to extended Hillie possessions, and a poor snap on a punt in the first quarter led to Haverhill's first touchdown.
Bauer said that he was proud of his team's resiliency despite making so many mistakes.
“ It's the first game and when you make that many mistakes you have no business being in the game against a good club, and Haverhill's a good club,” Bauer said. “That shows the character of our kids because we didn't give in. We had a chance to win it at the end. We made too many mistakes to really get any drives together, but I'm not down on my guys at all.”
MAGUIRE SHINES ON DEFENSE
Versatility is a dying trait in the era of sport, and positional, specialization, but a player like Haverhill's Tommy Maguire harkens back to a different time. Maguire played four different defensive positions and seemed to be involved in nearly every tackle.
“He's just a special kid,” O'Connor said of Maguire. “I can put him everywhere. He's my defensive playmaker.”