Marblehead High football coach Jim Rudloff kept on saying during his young team’s four-game losing streak to start the season to wait until the Northeastern Conference divisional schedule kicks in. The veteran Magicians coach knew what he was talking about, because since the slow start they have rattled off three straight wins, and as a result they are in the Division 4 playoffs as the 14th seed after their latest win last Friday night at home against Danvers, 17-7.
They had to wait until Sunday, however, for the final proclamation by theMassachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and, according to the Division 4 bracket, are scheduled to play at Middleborough (6-2, third seed) in a Sweet 16 game Friday night, starting at 7 p.m.
The Magicians (3-4) were ranked 18th in the Division 4 power rankings with a 2-4 record going into the Danvers game. Danvers at 5-2 was fourth in Division 5. They moved down one spot to fifth after their loss to Marblehead, who needed that requisite third win to stay in the playoff hunt as one of the Top 16 teams in their division. Playing three Division 2 schools certainly didn’t hurt their chances to jump from 18 to 14 in just a couple of days.
“We certainly didn’t want to wait to start playing well, but the reality was that we had to play three Division 2 teams, before getting into (conference) play. This win against Danvers gave ourselves a chance at a playoff berth,” said Rudloff after Friday night’s game.
Rudloff labeled that win over Danvers as “a team win.”
“I really do feel like it was a team win, and I’d hate to name anyone as a top performer on both offense and defense, because so many kids played well,” he said. “But I’d point out that Greg Motorny, our kicker and punter, had an excellent game.”
The coach also mentioned that Jake Scogland, who had a sack and an interception on defense, and offensive lineman Javery Monegro, making his first varsity start, also played well.
Senior linebacker Cam Waldman, and sophomores Owen Dulac (strong safety) and Julius Galante (cornerback) were also singled out by Rudloff for having “strong games when called upon.”
The Magicians needed everybody in this “extremely physical game,” according to Rudloff. “We had a lot of players come out on both sides of the ball, who just needed either a play or a series off,” he added.
“But having kids on the sidelines ready to go in and play at a moment’s notice was a good step forward for us.”
The Marblehead offense scored two first half touchdowns to lead at halftime, 14-0. They were held to just a field goal in the second half, but thanks to the defense nothing else was needed.
Halfway through the first quarter, junior quarterback Colt Wales hooked up with senior captain Andy Palmer for a 20-yard touchdown on fourth down. The scoring play completed a 61-yard drive on just six plays.
Wales and the Magicians then put what turned out to be a dagger in the side of Danvers late in the first half, when the junior signal caller located senior Brooks Keefe down the sidelines, and Keefe did the rest knocking down Danvers defenders enroute to a 45=yard touchdown. Sure-footed Motorny followed with his second extra point of the game to give his teammates that needed insurance touchdown at the break.
After Danvers had two second half drives deep in Marblehead territory halted by the defense, they finally got on the board early in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Travis Voisine scampered the final 15 yards for six points. The extra point was good to trim the deficit in half, 14-7.
Motorny then got three of those points back with a 28-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game, once again.
When he was in there, Wales was credited with seven completions for 119 yards. Sophomore Finn Gallup had three completions for 14 yards. Palmer caught three passes for 46 yards. Besides his touchdown reception, Keefe rushed for 15 yards. Wales ran for 32 yards on five carries. Chris DeWitt had one carry, but it was a huge gain for 32 yards.
Danvers star senior running back Owen Gasinowski was held to 63 yards on 20 carries. Voisine completed 12 passes for 57 yards.
“We essentially turned up our focus during the bye week,” said Rudloff. “We wanted to improve our defense. We tackled everyday in practice for those two weeks. It was very physical out there, and I think it really paid off in this game against Danvers. The players did a phenomenal job in executing what they were asked to do. We were able to create turnovers, which put our offense into a position to succeed.
“Offensively, we still can’t seem to consistently execute mistake-free football,” added Rudloff. “You hate to make excuses, but even with that extra week we seem to keep having kids go in an hour after practice each day with different ailments and maladies. Hopefully now that we are in the playoffs, we can get the same group of coaches and players on the field for a week and see what happens.”
The top 16 teams in Division 4 are as follows: Duxbury (6-1), Holliston (5-3), Middleborough (6-2), Tewksbury Memorial (5-3), Norwood (6-2), Grafton (6-2), Scituate (5-3), Somerset Berkley Regional (6-2), Westwood (6-2), Wayland (6-2), South High Community (6-2), Burlington (5-3), Canton (5-3), Marblehead (3-4), Ashland (4-4) and Bedford (5-3).