Dan Guttenplan Sports Editor
Newburyport Daily News
---- — AMESBURY — Matt Talbot never considered that the Amesbury football team might have its fourth losing season in a row this fall.
Too much talent on the roster. Too many experienced players to lead the way. Too much history between a group of Amesbury seniors who have been playing together since their youth football days with the Amesbury Jets.
But a losing record is what the Indians had after three weeks this season, fresh off a lopsided 21-7 loss to North Reading. The Indians had blown a 27-12 lead against Lynnfield the previous week, and the momentum of the two losses threatened to submarine the season.
“We knew we should have won both games,” Talbot said. “It made us hungrier. We thought we were going to be a good team this year. We won both preseason games and our opener against Manchester Essex. Those two losses showed us we have to be more humble. We’ve got to work. It doesn’t happen just because you expect it to happen.”
The team’s collective reaction to the North Reading loss may serve as a turning point to the season. The Indians (3-2) have since posted victories over Hamilton-Wenham, the defending Cape Ann League Division 4 champion, and Ipswich. Talbot has been the catalyst in both wins, combining to complete 13 of 19 passes for 203 yards and five touchdowns. The dual-threat has also contributed with his legs, turning 21 rushing attempts into 137 yards and another score.
“Matt has done a great job embracing the offense,” Amesbury coach Thom Connors said. “It’s a lot different than what we did last year. Fundamentally, a lot of things are the same, but there’s a lot more emphasis on his decision-making.”
Talbot earned the starting quarterback job during preseason of his junior year, and for much of last year, he orchestrated a standard wing-T offense. Talbot’s primary responsibility was to take the snap, turn around and hand the ball to a tailback or halfback.
This year, Connors made the transition to the pistol wing-T offense. As the quarterback, Talbot is given the freedom to freelance within the offensive system, at times making decisions within a play as to whether he’ll hand off to a tailback, keep the ball himself or pass it to a receiver.
The learning curve has been evident through the first five games. Late in the game against North Reading, Connors decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 with his team trailing 14-0. He called a waggle, meaning Talbot rolled to his right with the option to pick up the yard with his legs or pass it to the a receiver rolling with him on the same side of the field. Talbot attempted to force the ball into a tight space, and the ball fell incomplete. On the sideline, Connors told Talbot he should have picked up the first down with his legs.
Talbot executed the same play to perfection three times last week against Ipswich, each play going for a touchdown.
“We coach it as a quarterback run play,” Connors said. “If you don’t think you can get the yardage, then you throw. I think, particularly against North Reading, Matt wasn’t attacking the line that well. We came back and went to work on that. The last two weeks, he’s been coming around the corner looking to run.”
Amesbury will look to run its winning streak to three games tomorrow when it faces off with Georgetown (1-4). Amesbury’s pursuit of its first CAL title since 2008 won’t begin until next week, when all local teams begin their league schedules.
Last year, Amesbury stumbled during league play with losses in each of its last four games. This year, Connors feels the team is in better hands now that his quarterback has 16 games of experience at the position.
“Athletically, Matt’s always had the tools to be our quarterback,” Connors said. “Basically, he’s matured as a player. He has a better understanding of the game, a better understanding of his teammates. That’s what seniors are supposed to do. That’s what he’s done. He takes responsibility for what he does and what he doesn’t do.”