Gridiron Magicians Geared Up For Big Blue: “We Have Something To Prove”
By Dwight Robson, Marblehead Beacon Contributor
As the football teams of Marblehead and Swampscott High Schools have been preparing to play each other tomorrow for the 111th time on Thanksgiving Day (and 119th time overall), fans of both squads could only wish that both the pre-game hype and the competition on the field might match that of last year’s clash.
A year ago, this hyper-competitive rivalry featured two unbeaten teams, both headed to Gillette Stadium to play in the Super Bowls for their respective divisions. But before each could play for a state championship trophy, they played an instant classic that will be remembered in both communities for decades.
The game featured two scores within the last minute of play, including the Big Blue tying the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 45 seconds on the clock. That proved to be plenty of time for Marblehead’s high-octane offense, as the Magicians—led by senior quarterback Josh Robertson—quickly advanced the ball into position for a game-winning 36-yard field goal by Eli Feingold as time expired. A little more than a week later, Marblehead achieved a perfect season and both teams were Super Bowl champions.
On paper, 8-2 Marblehead enters this year’s game a clear favorite to win and extend their winning streak over the 3-7 Big Blue to 10 games. The two teams played three common opponents this season: Beverly, Danvers, and Masconomet Regional. The Magicians dominated all three contests, outscoring their opponents 96-14. Swampscott dropped all three, including a 35-7 drubbing at Danvers.
After both teams lost in the playoffs to the top-ranked team in their divisions, this year’s Turkey Day clash is each squad’s Super Bowl and the final game for their seniors. Marblehead Head Coach James Rudloff is taking nothing for granted.
“I think we have something to prove to ourselves,” Rudloff told Marblehead Beacon. “We are disappointed in how we performed in the playoffs. We can, however, end the season on a good note with a win. I think ideally the players would like to prove that we can be dominant on offense for four quarters. Swampscott has struggled this year but should not be taken lightly. If we continue to play the way we finished the game against Milton, we could lose by 20. I am confident these seniors will not let that happen.”
Rudloff, as he has for much of the season, emphasized the importance of his team cleaning up its mental mistakes. Penalties—including pre-snap infractions—were a big factor in Marblehead’s playoff loss to Milton, and post-game the Magicians’ veteran coach made his frustration and disappointment evident to his players.
Addressing a question about whether he coaches his team hard in an effort to sharpen the players’ focus and elevate their overall level of preparation and execution, Rudloff didn’t take issue with that characterization of his coaching style.
“I do think that we ask a lot from the players,” he said. “But, they get all that back and more from the game, the town, the school, and the staff. I think it’s a fair trade.”
Given the success of the program under Rudloff’s leadership, his players and most across Marblehead undoubtedly agree with his assessment. But, just as excellent leaders do, Rudloff also holds himself and his coaching staff accountable for the team’s performance.
“Mental mistakes have hurt us all season,” Rudloff said. “If it is the same players making the same mistakes over and over then that is on the coaching staff. We need to either put someone else out there who will not repeat those mistakes, coach those mistakes out of our practices, or we need to get new jobs.”
Fans of the team can take comfort that Rudloff intends to remain at the helm of Marblehead football. “I absolutely plan on staying,” he told Marblehead Beacon.
But tonight Rudloff and his gridiron Magicians are solely focused on one thing: beating the Big Blue and returning home for Thanksgiving dinner winners in a game that will easily attract the biggest crowd of the season. For the winning team, even the Brussels sprouts will undoubtedly taste better.
Kickoff is at Piper Field at 10:00 a.m.