It was not the way the playoffs were supposed to go for the 2022 Marblehead High School football team, the defending Division 3 Super Bowl champs (7-2, eighth seed).
Leading 20-7 over host Milton (9-0, top seed) in a Division 3 quarterfinal round game Friday night, Nov. 11, the Magicians went cold in the second half, while the Wildcats, coached by longtime Swampscott coach Steve Dembowski, put 17 more points on the scoreboard to eliminate Marblehead, 24-20.
“It’s really eating me up right now,” coach Jim Rudloff said. “That was a winnable game, but we didn’t win it. That’s not to take anything away from Steve (Dembowski) and his team, but we should have won that game, and the reason we lost it was on us.”
Marblehead was whistled for over 80 yards in penalties in the second half alone, and it is never a recipe for success when the yellow flags are flying against a team in a tight ballgame.
“The number of things we did, including the penalties to hurt ourselves, is really heartbreaking. We really, really, really gave that game away today,” Rudloff added. “We lined up offsides, we held, we jumped offsides, we had a false start, we had offensive holding, defensive holding. It seems like we did everything we could to hurt ourselves.”
Marblehead jumped ahead 7-0 on a touchdown by Eddie Johns and a Greg Motorny extra point. But the Wildcats knotted things up at 7-7 on a touchdown by Jack Finnegan.
Connor Cronin then swiped a Wildcat pass to set up the second rushing touchdown by Johns, followed by another Motorny boot.
Marblehead’s third score was a result of a quarterback Miles O’Neill 52-yard aerial to Zander Danforth. It put the visitors up 20-7 at halftime, and seemingly in control of another game. But unfortunately, that was all the offense the Magicians could muster.
The Wildcats added the winning points on another Finnegan rushing touchdown with 8:54 left in the fourth quarter.
“The thing that really hurts is that we should be going to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if we’d have won the Super Bowl, but we should have won this game tonight. It’s on us, and it’s everybody – coaches, and players – we just didn’t get it done,” Rudloff said. “It’s even more frustrating, because we addressed certain things all week long with the kids in practice like jumping offsides and holding, and then we went out and held and jumped offsides.
“Let me say it again, I’m not taking anything away from Milton, they’re a great team, but we were the reason we lost that game,” he added.
Captain Nick Whitaker thinks his teammates played hard throughout the game, but penalties really helped derail them.
“Everybody fought really hard, but we struggled with penalties. The effort remained there, and I’m proud of our guys because of that,” Whitaker said.