Highlighted by 99-Yard Touchdown, Magicians Dominate in 35-0 Playoff Win
By Dwight Robson, Marblehead Beacon Contributor
The Marblehead High School Magicians started fast and finished strong in their playoff opener Friday night at Piper Field, dominating the ninth-ranked Panthers of Whitman-Hanson Regional High School 35-0.
Marblehead’s gridiron Magicians, the defending Division Three Super Bowl Champions, are ranked number eight of the 16 teams in this year’s tournament. They sent a strong message to the rest of the field that the Magicians will be a tough out as they look to return to Gillette Stadium to play for another state championship.
Post-game, Marblehead head coach Jim Rudloff spoke with Marblehead Beacon, praising his players’ preparation. “The thing I’m happy about is what happened [tonight] is the result of a great week of practice,” he said. “We haven’t had that all year. This was the first time where it felt like everyone understood their job. The kids were flying around all week in practice; we had great lifts; when the kids ran, they ran hard…all of that translated on the field.”
Rudloff’s squad, now 7-1 on the season, gave the Panthers the first opportunity to score after winning the coin toss and deferring the choice to receive until the second-half kickoff. After picking up a first down and advancing the ball to their own 40-yard line, Whitman-Hanson faced a fourth down with four yards to go. Likely sensing that his team would need to put several touchdowns on the board to beat the Magicians, Panthers coach Zack Botelho rolled the dice and called for a fake punt. Marblehead’s punt-return unit wasn’t fooled, however, with Chris DeWitt bringing down Trevor Googins of Whitman-Hanson for a five-yard loss.
Marblehead senior quarterback Miles Oneill wasted no time getting his team into the end zone, dropping a perfect throw into the arms of Zander Danforth for a 35-yard touchdown. After junior kicker Greg Motorny kicked the ball through the uprights, Marblehead had a 7-0 lead at the 7:51 mark of the first quarter.
Marblehead’s Sam Annese ended the Panthers’ second drive when he stuffed Whitman-Hanson’s Evan Casey for a one-yard loss on third and five, forcing a punt that gave Marblehead the ball back at its own 20-yard line. Propelled by strong runs from Eddie Johns, a dynamic screen pass and scamper by Connor Cronin, and a scramble and run by Oneill that picked up 16 yards, the Magicians methodically moved the ball to Whitman-Hanson’s 15-yard line. On the next play, senior Johns looked like he would be tackled for a loss before he spun away from a Panther defender and sprinted into the end zone. After the reliable Motorny kicked another extra point, Marblehead led 14-0 with just under a minute to play in the first quarter.
Whitman-Hanson’s offense established some rhythm on its third possession, advancing the ball 50 yards to Marblehead’s 25-yard line before the Magicians’ defense pushed the Panthers in reverse. On fourth and 15 from the 30-yard line, Panther QB Camden Burrows was pressured and threw incomplete. A penalty on Whitman-Hanson for unsportsmanlike conduct resulted in Marblehead taking possession of the ball near mid-field.
Marblehead looked to be headed for another quick score when Cronin took a pitch from Oneill and ran all the way inside the Whitman-Hanson 10-yard, but a flag on Marblehead for a personal foul negated the play and pushed the ball back inside the Magicians’ 30-yard line—a difference of more than 60 yards in field position. Faced with second down and 27 yards to go, Oneill threw to Cronin on successive plays to move the chains. The Magicians were knocking on the door again after Danforth caught a screen pass and impressively carried the ball to the Panthers’ 22-yard line. A flag on Whitman-Hanson gave Marblehead a first down at the 11-yard line. Three plays later, Johns scored his second touchdown of the contest from two yards out and, after the extra point was tacked on, the Magicians led 21-0.
Motorny made sure it would be difficult for Whitman-Hanson’s offense to finish the first half strong by kicking the ball into their end zone for a touchback. Taking possession at their own 20-yard line with 44.9 seconds to play, the Panthers quickly advanced the ball to the Magicians’ 35-yard line with time for one more play. Burrows’ desperation heave to the end zone was broken up by Marblehead’s Crew Monaco as the first half expired.
After a Marblehead punt to open the second half, Whitman-Hanson looked to get back in the game on first and 10 at the Magicians’ 32-yard line. However, the Magicians regained possession of the ball on a play that exemplified great team defense. Under heavy pressure, Burrows threw to the end zone, with Marblehead’s Brooks Keefe making a terrific play to tip the ball to teammate Baxter Jennings for an interception. In what looked to be a tough break for Marblehead, Baxter was ruled down at the Magicians’ one-yard line.
Standing in his own end zone, Oneill took a shotgun snap and threw a quick pass to DeWitt at the five-yard line. The junior receiver broke a tackle at the 10, sprinted into the open field and outran three Panther defenders for a 99-yard touchdown. The explosive play left little doubt that the Magicians would advance into the next round of the playoffs, as they went up by four touchdowns with just over five minutes remaining in the thirdquarter.
After the game, DeWitt credited one of his teammates for helping him complete what was easily the play of the game—if not the season. “Ryan Commoss made a great block,” DeWitt told Marblehead Beacon. “I saw guys coming into my periphery. I just did what I could…just tried to keep moving my feet and it worked out.”
Marblehead tacked on a fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter. After sophomore running back Bernardo Banis demonstrated his tremendous strength on successive plays that required four Panther defenders to wrestle him to the ground, Cronin received a short pass from Oneill and patiently set up his blocks before running untouched into the end zone to put Marblehead up 35-0.
Whitman-Hanson's last attempt to get on the scoreboard was foiled when Monaco intercepted a pass at midfield.
With the win, Marblehead advances to play the top-ranked Milton Wildcats next Friday night at Milton. “They’re the number one,” said Coach Rudloff of the formidable opponent. “We know that we’re up against it [and] they have players that can do things we haven’t seen this year. They have a quarterback who can be as dangerous with his legs as with his arm. …We have a lot of work [ahead of us].”
DeWitt believes his team can continue to improve even this late into the season. “We all know that this is not as good as we can be,” he said. “Defense and offense needs to be on point. We’ve got to prepare well. We know how we can play.”
Coach Rudloff didn’t disagree, emphasizing that coaches and players need to continue to work together to “clean up” some of the seemingly small mistakes that so often make the difference in a playoff game. “We can be a better team moving forward.”
Kick-off next Friday is slated for 5:00 p.m. at Milton High School’s Brooks Field.
Editor's Note: And earlier version of this article had the time that had originally been scheduled for the game against Milton.