MARBLEHEAD — Magical, mystical, miraculous.
They all apply to what transpired on the Piper Field gridiron last night as Salem and Marblehead staged an instant classic in a contest that shook up the North Shore football landscape.
The host Magicians, having rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half, scored what they thought would be the decisive touchdown with just 2:32 to play. But a resilient Salem team, showing incredible resolve and will, drove downfield and scored again with 52.9 seconds remaining, then went for two points and connected as Christian Dunston hit Ben Kapnis in the right corner of the end zone for a remarkable 35-34 upset win.
Marblehead (7-1), which was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten, almost pulled out a miracle of its own. Moving downfield quickly with smart, quick passes from captain Ian Magg, the Magicians called time out with the ball on the Salem 14-yard line and six seconds to play. But the ensuing 31-yard field goal attempt sailed just barely wide left, and the Salem players burst off their sideline in jubilation.
“We had lost three close games in a row coming into this game that we shouldn’t have. So when we fell behind (28-27, then 34-27) in the fourth quarter, I just said, ‘Not tonight. It’s not happening again tonight’,” said the 17-year-old Kapnis.
“We’ve been great friends and playing together since the second grade,” added Dunston, his fellow Salem captain, “and when I threw that (2-point pass), I thought maybe I messed up. But my brother was right there to make the catch. It’s the greatest feeling to win the way we did.”
On a night where there were more ups and downs for both teams than a schooner in a seastorm, Salem (4-4) shot out to a 21-7 halftime lead and expanded it to 27-7 in the third quarter before the host Magicians came roaring back, scoring four unanswered touchdowns, including three in the final quarter. The last of those four scores, a terrific 38-yard run up the gut by Maag (124 yards on 15 carries) on a zone read, gave Marblehead a seven-point cushion (34-27) with just 2:32 to go.