Back when coach Mark Bettencourt played for Peabody, everything was different.
Bettencourt quarterbacked a 1990 Super Bowl champion team that beat Everett, 6-0, during the season in a Greater Boston League clash.
Everett was always the game Bettencourt and his teammates looked forward to. In the past decade, though, that rivalry turned sour when Peabody left the GBL for the Northeastern Conference after the 2006 season. Everett has surged to the pinnacle of Massachusetts high school football while Peabody has struggled.
“We’re at the beginning of the climb, whereas Everett’s in the midst of their dynasty,” Bettencourt said.
The fourth-seeded Tanners take on the top-seeded Crimson Tide Friday at 7 p.m. with a trip to the Division 1 North final at stake.
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A win wouldn’t catapult the Tanners back to glory, but it would make Peabody a relevant team once again.
“It’s very easy for us to motivate these kids to be that team,” Bettencourt said. “The team that turned the corner and brought back what was missing the last decade.”
Peabody finished 2012 winless and won just three games last season. The Tanners are 7-1 now, coming off a thrilling 42-38 win over Lexington in the quarterfinals.
Junior running back Doug Santos racked up 255 yards and six touchdowns in that game, boosting his season total to 25 TDs.
After the game, as always, Santos approached Bettencourt. “What did I do wrong here? How can I make myself better here,” he’ll ask. Santos skips through touchdowns when watching film, zeroing in on short gains or losses.
“How do you tell a kid who just ran for 250 yards and four touchdowns he did something wrong?” Bettencourt said. “He wants to know.”
Bettencourt said Santos often disappears for two hours Saturday afternoons. When he’s disappointed with his performance the night before, he runs hills for an extra hour.
He’s a dreamer, Bettencourt said. He visualizes himself being successful, and works to ensure he is.
“Sometimes I feel like not as many people want to be as good as they say they do,” Santos said. “I’m different.”
That’s what this Peabody team hopes it can be — different.
Bettencourt’s objective is to silence the Crimson Tide’s playmakers, though he knows that won’t be easy.
“If you look at the scope, you look at the stats, you look at the numbers, it’s David vs. Goliath,” Bettencourt said. “There’s no easy way of putting that.”
Despite the situation at hand, Bettencourt refuses to view his team as a Cinderella. That’s not Peabody football, he says. But if you look at the recent relevance of Everett, St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic, Peabody lags far behind.
That’s why, for Bettencourt and his staff, this game carries extra meaning. When he, as an alumnus, watched assistant coaches Steve Lomasney and Jimmy Festa play against Everett, he felt as if he was on the field with them.
Now this year’s team embraces the task of putting Peabody back on the map — of guiding a program searching for success in the right direction.
It’s only one game, but it carries so much more meaning for Peabody.
“You come out and you make your own history. You make your own story,” Bettencourt said.
“This is something, if we can win this game, that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, like we remember those games for the rest of our lives.”
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In the last weekend of NEPSAC's regular season, Brooks and Lawrence Academy square off Saturday in a battle of 6-1 teams with postseason hopes . . . The oldest prep school rivalry in the country, Phillips Exeter vs. Phillips Andover, continues in Andover Saturday in the 134th meeting . . . St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic play for a trip to the Division 1 North final, one of many state sectional semifinal games.