The Winthrop Vikings season got off to a somewhat rocky start last Friday, as they dropped their season opener to Danvers, in front of their home crowd, 18-8.
The loss was even more disheartening because the Vikings had led Danvers by the score of 8-0 for most of the game, but faltered late in the fourth quarter allowing the Falcons to score 18 unanswered points in the final seven minutes of the ballgame.
“I do think the tam reacted a little bit to it being a full game,” said head coach Sean Driscoll, referring to the pre-season slate where the team played less than complete four quarter games.
The Vikings also suffered from the loss of senior fullback Mitchell Paulson, who left game in the second quarter with leg cramps and was not able to return.
“Losing Mitchell really changed our game plan and the way we run the ball and set up our protections and that affected us also,” added Driscoll.
The game started 68 minutes late, because game officials had not been assigned to the game by the league and other officials had to be called to the field on an emergency basis.
Winthrop got off to a good start once officials arrived, as they took the opening drive all the way to the end zone on a 14 play scoring drive, capped by a one-yard quarterback sneak by senior quarterback James Barker.
Unfortunately, that would be the high point of the game for the Vikings offensively, as the team found it difficult to move the ball for the rest of the evening.
“We have a young team and sometimes with a young team, when they accomplish something they tend to sit back and think they’re all set,” said Driscoll. “That’s something we’re going to have to guard against going forward.”
Another problem for the Vikings offense was dropped passes, as Barker delivered the ball well but the passes just weren’t caught by his receivers. The ineffectiveness of the passing game resulted in six straight three and out possessions during the middle of the game and consistently put the defense on the field.
“I think Jimmy (Barker) came out throwing the ball really well, he just didn’t get the help he needed,” said Driscoll. “I think we counted seen dropped balls and it wasn’t just one player, but the entire unit just had one of those nights.”
Meanwhile, as the offense struggled the defense stepped up and kept Danvers out of the end zone for three and a half quarters before the players ran out of steam.
“The turning point came when (Danvers) intercepted the ball with about seven minutes to go and returned it for a score,” explained Drsicoll. “The scored the two-point conversion and tied the score and then we went back out on offense and turned the ball over again.”
On the ensuing Falcons’ drive, the visitors had to settle for a field goal, but it was good enough for an 11-8 lead. Winthrop got the ball back again but couldn’t move the ball against a newly rejuvenated Danvers defense and turned the ball over on downs.
With two minutes to play the Falcons offense sealed the win on a five-yard touchdown run for the final score.
“They beat us up a little bit in the first quarter, but there was good news in the way (Barker) played on defense, and I think there were enough positives early in the game that there is room to build on,” said Driscoll.
The Vikings also lost some of their interior line stability for a few weeks, when junior guard and defensive lineman suffered a high ankle sprain following the second series of the game. Driscoll said that Gallo is likely to miss “a few weeks” but should be back before season’s end.
“He (Gallo) started all last year as a sophomore for us, so we’re going to miss his experience and leadership for a few weeks, but fortunately the injury doesn’t appear too serious,” he said.
Next up for the Vikings is another non-league contest, as they host former rival Swampscott at Miller Field on Friday night.
“This is another real big test for us, we are playing, I think, the best team on the North Shore by far,” said Driscoll. “And, they’re going to be out for blood, because we upset them at their place last year, so I’m sure they’re going to come down here with revenge on their minds.”
The Swampscott Big Blue are led by senior quarterback Michael Walsh, who has already committed to play at Brown University next year.
“We’ve already had a good week of practice this week, and put the Danvers game behind us,” said Driscoll. “I think the guys get what its going to take to win now, and that is a complete game effort. I think we’re going to be a better team on Friday, than we were last week.”