Coach Jim Rudloff’s football Magicians (4-5) defeated Middleboro, the Division 4 third seed, on Nov. 3, 21-12 to move on to last Friday night’s Elite 8 contest against host Grafton (8-2, sixth seed), who was able to shut down South High in its Sweet 16 encounter, 21-0.
However, despite a hard-fought effort, the visitors saw their four-game winning streak come to an end after the Gators scored 10 unanswered second half points to win the Elite 8 game, 17-6.
The Gators, who lost to Duxbury, 42-7 in last year’s Division 4 Super Bowl game, knew right away that they were in for a battle against the Magicians, leading by just one at halftime, 7-6.
With 2:19 left in the first quarter, junior Finn Gilmore scored his first of two touchdowns in the game from one yard out. Freshman Ryan Davis then nailed the extra point, his first of five points in this close contest.
But with 9:33 left in the second quarter, the Magicians trimmed the deficit to one on a 10-yard
touchdown pass from junior quarterback Colt Wales to senior captain Andy Palmer. The Marblehead tandem hooked up five other times in that drive that started in the final two minutes of the opening stanza.
With 37.7 seconds left in the first half, the Marblehead special teams in punting formation recovered a fumble on its own 46. But the offense couldn’t take advantage of the opportunistic possession, and as a result went into the halftime break still trailing by one, 7-6.
“I thought the defense played extremely well,” said Rudloff. “There were only two or three real mistakes they made the entire night. Grafton is a good team, and they were going to get some yards. I think our boys did a good job stopping them.”
Grafton’s first possession of the second half ended with a fumble recovery by the defense on its own 29.
Sophomore quarterback Finn Gallup then scooted five yards to the 24. Brooks Keefe picked up another four yards, but on fourth and one Grafton took over possession on the 20 after an incomplete pass.
Wasting no time, Gilmore took the ball on the first play from scrimmage, and rambled 80 yards to account for his second score of the game to widen the gap to eight points.
Junior Owen Belanger set up his team’s final points of the game after running a punt back 35 yards to the Marblehead 14. The defense once again did its job to keep Grafton out of the endzone, before Davis sealed the victory for all intents and purposes with an 18-yard field goal. There was only 1:24 left in the third quarter at the time of his successful boot.
Gallup completed two passes before the end of the period to Palmer for 11 yards, followed by a six-yard aerial to Crew Monaco to the team’s own 33. Gallup then hooked up with Ryan Commoss for a 14-yard completion to the 47 to begin the fourth quarter. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty stalled the drive. Frustrations boiled over at that point after the Magicians were flagged for six penalties to the home team’s one.
“We lost, because we couldn’t score points,” said Rudloff. “It was not because of the refs. We were given opportunities, and did not seize upon them. But certainly, the referees also had an interesting game.”
With 4:10 left in the game, Marblehead had another chance to engineer a drive. Wales completed two passes, before a pass interference penalty on Grafton brought the ball down to the Gators 46. The junior signal caller then completed two more passes to get it down to the 20. But an inopportune holding penalty pushed them back, but Wales refused to give up, scrambling 14 yards to the 10 that set up a field goal try by Greg Motorny, but his boot was blocked by Grafton, which effectively ended any hopes of a Marblehead comeback with just 1:10 left on the clock. The University of New Hampshire-bound kicker missed an earlier field goal in the first quarter, followed by his extra point that went wide left, certainly rare moments for this sure-footed Magician.
“Greg (Motorny) has been really good for us all year long. He just had a tough night,” said Rudloff.
The Marblehead boys will now take a few days to console each other, while wondering what could have been, before getting ready for Thanksgiving Day rival Swampscott, knowing a victory will secure the Northeastern Conference (NEC) Dunn Division title.
“We won’t have any letdown from this loss, because our next game is on Thanksgiving against
Swampscott, and that game always gets our guys’ attention,” said Rudloff. “We can secure the NEC Dunn Division title with a win, and that’s our goal.”