DANVERS — The ball felt comfortable in Danvers running back Matt McCarthy’s hands even as he started to feel numb in the fourth quarter, far more comfortable than the horde of would-be Gloucester tacklers draped across his back.
“He’s just dragging people down the field and refused to give up,” Danvers coach Ryan Nolan said. “He’s a hard-nosed, tough kid.”
Tough, and warm-blooded.
McCarthy fought through record-low temperatures, a fierce, biting wind, and a physical Gloucester defense to gain 211 all-purpose yards and lead the Falcons to a 20-0 Thanksgiving Day victory over the rival Fishermen on J. Ellison Morse Field at Dr. Deering Stadium.
“We don’t feel cold,” McCarthy quipped. “All week, we knew what we had to do. Last year (a 40-28 Gloucester win) was the most heartbreaking thing in the world and we wanted revenge, and we were thinking about this day for the past 364 days. Glad to have the trophy back at home.”
McCarthy ran for 132 yards on 18 carries, caught five balls for 59 yards and a touchdown, and added a 20-yard kick return.
“He’s a phenomenal talent, a phenomenal athlete,” Gloucester coach Tony Zirilli said. “He’s a great kid, and that’s the key here, right? He’s a good kid, he’s a good athlete, he’s a good running back, and he’s going to succeed.”
Fellow senior Brendan Treacy was 7-of-10 passing for 66 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 36 yards and a score. Almany Vargas caught Treacy’s other TD from five yards out.
And while the senior got it done on offense, the Danvers defense was spectacular, holding Gloucester’s vaunted rushing attack to just 60 total yards. Jan Pena Ortiz led the way for the Fishermen with 47 yards on 20 carries, but it was clear the Gloucester front was having a hard time clearing a path.
“We couldn’t get anything rolling there,” Zirilli said. “They out-physicaled us. That’s Thanksgiving football. It’s not about Xs and Os, it’s not about trick plays, it’s about being a physical team, and they were the more physical team today.”
After stuffing Gloucester on its opening drive, Danvers scored on just four plays, capped by a Treacy-to-McCarthy 13-yard strike.
On a short field one possession later, the Falcons struck again, this time on a Treacy-to-Vargas connection from five yards out. Maximilian Leete drilled both extra points to put Danvers on top 14-0 at the half. The Fishermen’s best drive of the opening half ended on a failed fourth down at the Danvers 34.
Treacy scored from a yard out to cap a clock-chewing 11-play, 65-yard drive to open the second half for Danvers. Gloucester spent the next 9:54 moving the ball and reached the Falcons’ 11 before again stalling on fourth down.
The Falcons never gave the ball back after that, killing the final 7:14 with an 88-yard drive to the Gloucester 1 before kneeling out the clock. McCarthy did most of the damage on that drive, too.
“Anyone who watches probably thinks I’m a jerk because we’re running him out there at safety and trying to get him lined up and he’s so worn out that he’s all over the place,” Nolan said. “He’s a hard worker and an emotional leader for this team.”
“I just love this game, this is the greatest game ever created,” McCarthy said. “And all my boys, every single person on the field, to the sideline, to the starting quarterback, I am so proud to walk with them, and they give me motivation every single day.”