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Apr. 29—A football season like no other finished up last Friday night with Gloucester and Danvers trading in their Thanksgiving Day rivalry for a late April meeting.

The Fall 2 season, which was implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic and because football was not cleared to play by state health officials in the fall, featured a shortened seven-game slate. It did not, however, lack drama.

Both Gloucester and Manchester Essex put together some highlight reel plays and memorable moments this fall. Here’s a look at what both teams brought to the table and what future holds.

GLOUCESTER (3-4)

Highlights: The Fishermen certainly showed the improvements that most were hoping to see this season. Gloucester tripled its 2019 win total, moving from just one win to three, and scored more points in seven games this year than it did in 11 games in 2019.

Head coach Dan O’Connor gained his footing in his second season and the team looks like it has bought into his system going forward. O’Connor was quick to credit this year’s senior class for the improvements made and setting up the underclassmen for what is expected in the future.

The Fishermen were led by a standout sophomore class as Frank DeSisto led the team in rushing with over 400 yards in just four games (he missed the final three with an injury). Tight end Jayden DelTorchio was a matchup nightmare at tight end and defensive end while Caleb DeCoste was a consistent two-way standout at fullback and middle linebacker and Bryan Swain was one of the team’s bright spots on the offensive line.

Gloucester’s best win was a season opening, 28-14 victory over Saugus at Newell Stadium. The Fishermen played tough defense and turned it into offense as five turnovers led to several short fields, which they turned into points. The team followed it up with wins over Salem and Tech Boston for a 3-0 start.

Lowlights: While Gloucester certainly showed some big time improvements in every facet of the game, it still has a long way to go to catch up to the NEC’s elite and the NEC North Division.

Against the NEC South, the Fishermen were highly competitive and a touchdown away from splitting the conference crown. Gloucester was 2-1 with its one loss coming by seven points to Winthrop (27-20) in a game that could have gone either way.

Against the NEC North, however, Gloucester was 0-3 and was outscored by Beverly, Peabody and Danvers by a combined score of 123-21. As injuries started to mount at the end of the season, Gloucester struggled to get going offensively, scoring 41 points over the final four games compared to 94 over the first three.

The Future: Coach O’Connor has a very solid core of players returning in the fall. The four aforementioned sophomores will be back in the fold while junior Aidan Cornetta returns to both backfields after establishing himself as a rushing and receiving threat this season as he was second on the team in total offense. Junior captain Kolby Bolcome will be back in the fold after injuries kept him out this Fall 2. The Fishermen also saw a slew of freshman get their first varsity action, which will help in the fall.

The biggest key for Gloucester moving forward, however, is numbers. Football can be a numbers game as it takes the most players to form a team, and Gloucester’s lack of numbers have been a big factor in the last two seasons.

Injuries pile up for every team, it’s the nature of the sport, and with 35-40 kids in the program one injury to a key player makes a bigger impact on the team. We saw that at the end of the season when the Fishermen were unrecognizable over the final two weeks of the season with regular starters out on both sides of the ball.

In a matter of ten years Gloucester High School has gone from middle of the road in terms of school size to the fourth smallest school in the NEC in front of only Winthrop, Saugus and Swampscott. That has been a factor in the participation numbers. But to be a consistent playoff contender each year in this current system, depth is needed, and the program will need more numbers to find that depth.

MANCHESTER ESSEX (1-5)

Highlights: The Hornets got to cut their teeth in the Cape Ann League this Fall 2, and there were some lumps as the smallest school in the league. But the players got the chance to compete against high quality competition each week.

Manchester Essex was led by its passing game duo of senior quarterback Will Levendusky and junior receiver A.J. Pallazola, both first team All Cape Ann League selections. With a young offensive line, the Hornets struggled to run consistently so most of their offense came from the arm of Levendusky, who threw for 493 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Pallazola was his favorite target as the junior could run a wide variety of routes and make big plays. He led the Hornets in total offense with just under 400 yards combined receiving and rushing.

The Hornets could also get physical when needed, even against teams with a big physical size advantage.

The highlight of the season came in a Week 2 win at Triton, where Levendusky hit Sam Rice for a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown with just over three minutes to play.

Lowlights: A young team playing in a tough league inevitably took their lumps this season. The Hornets particularly struggled on offense as they scored five times in six games.

A young offensive line made it tough to open up the offense as the run game was stymied by bigger and more experienced defensive front.

The Hornets played in the CAL from 2011-18, opting for an independent schedule in 2019. The Hornets went 8-2 playing the independent schedule and went 12-32 in Cape Ann League action. Fortunately, the Commonwealth Conference Small awaits the program, a conference filled with teams that match up much better with Manchester Essex from year-to-year including Thanksgiving rival Georgetown.

The Future: The future looks bright for head coach Jeff Hutton and company. The CAC is a much better fit for the program. Let’s be honest, the Hornets probably have a winning record this Fall 2 if they played a CAC schedule and those growing pains would not have been as painful against teams with similar numbers.

Manchester Essex competed in the CAC prior to 2011, and as a member of the conference it went to the Super Bowl four times, winning twice in 1999 and 2008. Look for the Hornets to be competitive with every team in the conference year in and year out.

The team also has some talented players returning. Pallazola was already one of the more dynamic players on the North Shore this season and will continue to be in the fall. Brennan Twombly, a sophomore, looks like he can jump in and handle the starting quarterback role in the fall.

That young offensive line will now be an experienced offensive line in the fall, look for them to be a big strength of the team moving forward.

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