The Salem News
---- — Moving the Chains
Ian Maag hadn’t given up hope — but he wasn’t exactly a believer, either.
On a better day, Maag may have been poised to carve up the defense staring across the line at him. But the simple reality was that Maag had not been on top of his game when he led the Marblehead High football team back onto the field for the final 38 seconds against Danvers last Friday night, just moments after falling behind by three points.
A game-winning drive was in order, but that was asking a lot from a quarterback who up to that point had completed 4 of 14 passes for 63 yards and three interceptions. Those were not typical Maag-like numbers.
But the senior captain proved his mettle by orchestrating a game-winning drive that can only be described as miraculous.
After throwing interceptions on his previous two throws, Maag completed five consecutive passes, including a hook-and-lateral play on the game’s final play for a touchdown that kept the Magicians in the hunt for a Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League Tier 2 title.
“You gotta have a short memory,” Maag said. “We got off to a good start with a short completion, and they started adding up until we got into their territory. Then we got lucky on the final play.”
The focus of the final drive — like any final football drive — was to simultaneously manage the clock and move the ball to get in position for a final play.
Maag made sure Marblehead was able to do both.
From his own 18-yard line, he hit Brian Daly on a short out, then connected with Jeremy Gillis for an 11-yard pickup. Another quick 3-yard hit to Daly made it 2nd-and-7 from the Marblehead 36.
Maag went to Daly again, this time down the middle for a big 18-yard play that set Marblehead up in Danvers territory with six seconds left. Marblehead burned its final timeout and drew up the game-winning play.
“I’m not going to lie; we called a hook-and-ladder with 6.8 seconds and I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot,’” Maag said. “Did I think we would score? I don’t know ... but it ended up working out for us.”
Possibly adding to the disbelief of the situation was what Marblehead had just witnessed the Danvers offense do to them.
The Falcons ran an excellent two-minute offense of its own, traveling 83 yards in six plays, and needing less than a minute to do it. Sophomore quarterback Nick Andreas completed four passes — all to Jake Cawlina — to put Danvers on top. Cawlina slipped behind the Marblehead defense on a 2nd-and-2 play and Andreas lofted a long pass down the left sideline that put the visitors on top, 25-22.
“It kind of stinks because we backed them up for a 4th-and-10 or something, and then they hit an out pattern to get the first down and stop the clock. We were thinking, ‘Not again,’” said Maag, whose team lost its only game the week before to Salem on a final minute scoring drive. “They hit that huge ball over the top, but we had to really stay positive and couldn’t lose spirit.
“You gotta believe and keep the faith.”
Like Maag and his Danvers counterpart Andreas showed, leading late scoring drives takes more than just faith. The quarterback must be calm, confident and prepared.
Nick Bona has been Bishop Fenwick’s Swiss Army Knife this fall, a do-it-all performer for the Crusaders who excels on offense, defense and on special teams as the kicker.
But it’s not too difficult to figure out where Bona is needed most.
He’s filled up the offensive stat sheet for Fenwick so far as one of the team’s top receivers, with 18 catches for 235 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also run for 82 yards and a score this year. And when senior quarterback Fran Hannon missed time early this season, Bona was the player who filled in under center. He completed 8 of 15 passes for 88 yards and a pair of scores during that time.
Still, if there is one side of the ball that Fenwick coach Dave Woods absolutely has to have Bona on the field for, it’s defense.
To put it into context, during Fenwick’s season-opening game against Northeast Regional when Bona was filling in at QB, he started cramping up before halftime. Knowing that Bona wouldn’t be able to play both ways in the second half, Woods elected to plug in freshman Matt Renzulli at quarterback just to keep Bona on the field for defense.
Bona, a junior, is a 5-foot-7, 160-pound safety who delivers 6-foot, 215-pound hits.
The records Woods keeps only go back to 1999, but it’s safe to assume Bona will be among the program’s all-time leading tacklers when he graduates in 2014.
So far through nine games, Bona has 135 tackles which averages out to 15 tackles per game. At that pace, Bona will finish the season with 165 tackles.
To put that in perspective, since 1999 the top two single-season tacklers that have played for Woods were Mike Blanchard in 2003 and Josh Takis in 2001. Both were linebackers and both played 12 games. Blanchard recorded 139 tackles and Takis finished with 131. Bona is on pace to obliterate those numbers in one fewer game.
Bona has also contributed two interceptions, one fumble recovery and two sacks.
Three of Pingree’s five seniors started for the Highlanders in their freshman year, and a slight chance remains that that trio will play in four bowl games in their careers.
The Highlanders aren’t in control of their own destiny, but a win over Dexter Southfield tonight, plus some help in a few other games, and the team could be going bowling once again.
Of course, win or lose it’s been an amazing four-year run for Nick Antenucci, Jerome Cappadona and Hank Martin.
As it stands now, that trio has piled up a 30-5 record with two Evergreen League Championships and wins in two of the three playoff bowl games they played in. Pingree defeated Brooks in the Clark/Francis Bowl their freshman season, then topped Rivers in the Norm Walker Bowl to cap their sophomore year. Last season, the Highlanders fell to Rye Country Day by a point (27-26) in the Dan Rorke Bowl.
“As freshmen, they were fortunate to be underneath some upperclassmen that were talented and found some success,” Pingree (6-2) coach Chris Powers said. “They learned from them when they got on campus and bought into it. They became outstanding leaders themselves.”
Powers believes Cappadona, Antenucci and Martin will each be playing in college next year. Powers expects Antenucci, a hard-hitting linebacker, to be playing Division 1 somewhere, although he will likely be moving to strong safety.
Cappadona is an athlete who excels as Pingree’s quarterback and a corner back. He projects as a defensive back in college while Martin is an undersized center who relies on excellent technique.
Jake Gilbert (DL/OL) and Hossam Hamdan (LB) are Pingree’s other seniors. Gilbert and Hamdan didn’t contribute as freshmen, but they have made their own imprints in the program over the past couple seasons. They, too, could continue their careers at the next level.
One final Pingree note: the Highlanders’ single-season touchdown record could be reset tonight when Pingree hosts Dexter Southfield at Bishop Fenwick’s Donaldson Field. Kenny Adinkra recorded 17 touchdowns last year, but junior speedster Johnny Spears is currently sitting at 16.
Moving the Chains is a column on North Shore high school football that runs each Friday during the fall season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at email@example.com, at 978-338-2648, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.