By Bob Albright CORRESPONDENT
Newburyport Daily News
---- — SAUGUS — A feisty Saugus football team dominated the play clock, but Amesbury came up with all the big plays Saturday at sunny Stackpole Field, and that proved to be more than enough as the Indians stayed unbeaten in NEC/CAL Tier 3 play with a solid 29-19 win.
The win kept the surging Indians (3-0, 7-2) on top of the league with just two more regular season games to go, while a deceptively good Saugus team fell to 0-4 and 4-5 on the season.
“I think they are as tough as anyone in the league,” said Amesbury head coach Thom Connors after watching the Sachems run nearly twice as many plays from the line of scrimmage (54-to-29) as the Indians.
“I’ve watched them several times and the thing about them is that they don’t give up. They will go down a touchdown and they come right back. I take my hat off to them, they are relentless.”
The difference on this day, however, was that Saugus simply didn’t have a troika of explosive playmakers like Matt Talbot, Ben Cullen and Devlin Gobeil. Talbot, the dynamic Amesbury quarterback, rushed for 114 yards and two scores on just 11 carries and also passed the 1,000-yard plateau in passing yardage as he connected with the athletic, 6-foot-3 Gobeil four times for 70 yards, including a scintillating one-handed grab in the first quarter. Cullen? The junior speedster took all the air out of Saugus’ answering score in the first quarter by taking the ensuing kick 85 yards up the Sachem sidelines to pay dirt.
“That’s a very good team, but we think we are too,” said Saugus coach Mike Broderick. “(Talbot) is a good player and their kids were moving today. Their line is pretty fast — faster than we thought — so they were able to seal us in and get out to the perimeter. They’re good and No. 12 (Gobeil) is one of the best receivers we have faced all year.”
Leading 22-13 late in the third quarter, Amesbury seemed primed to put the game away as it drove to the Saugus 11 only to see Saugus cornerback Dante DelTorto jump a slant route in the end zone and return the ball all the way to the Saugus 43. Playing on senior day, all the momentum seemed to be with the team in red, but the Indian defense answered the bell — and loudly.
A thunderous sack by Jake Taylor followed by a tackle for a loss by Alex Mercier ended the drive and turned the ball back over to Talbot and the Indians on their own 33 with seven minutes to play.
“We talked about at halftime where we wanted to get to a situation and do some ball control and we were able to do that,” said Connors of his team’s ensuing and final drive. “We have been throwing the ball quite a bit, but we knew at that point we had to rely on the run game and Matt Talbot made some great decisions back there.”
Perhaps Connors’ best decision on this day was to call his senior QB’s name five times on the drive and Talbot responded with runs of 6, 22, 11, 8 and, finally, 1 yard as he swept around left end to effectively ice the game at 29-13 with 3:33 left to play.
“He’s a tough kid, and he’s mentally tough,” said Connors of his versatile signal caller, who shook off the third quarter interception like a pro.
“I get on him hard, but he recovers and we have a great relationship. You make a mistake like that, you get chewed out, and you have to come back and play and that’s just the type of kid he is — he can’t get rattled, and he doesn’t.”
Saugus would answer one final time on Sachem quarterback C.J. Randolph’s third TD plunge of the day, but could get no closer as Indian linebacker Perry Mroz delivered the loudest hit of the game to stuff the ensuing two-point rush and Talbot recovered the onside kick.
Amesbury got on the board first as Talbot darted 47 yards down the Saugus sidelines just three minutes into the game. Mroz would follow Cullen’s kickoff return with a 15-yard score to make it 22-7, but Saugus capitalized on a short field after an Amesbury turnover to keep it a game at the half at 22-13.
The Indians head back to the river for their final two, starting in West Newbury next Saturday against the always-tough Sachems (2-1, 5-4), before closing things out on Turkey Day against the Clippers.
“I’ve seen them a couple times already and they are tough,” said Connors of Pentucket, which lost a tight one to Newburyport Friday. “This league that we are in is a meat grinder every week. We know that we have a tall order ahead of us.”