By Phil Stacey Sports editor
The Salem News
---- — MARBLEHEAD — They are off to the best start in the 104-year history of the school’s football program — yet no one is talking about them.
And that’s perfectly fine, according to the Marblehead Magicians.
“We’ve been telling our kids that being 6-0 really means nothing, that we haven’t played anyone of consequence in the grand scheme of things,” said head coach Jim Rudloff. “That’s not to say we haven’t faced some very good teams; we have. But the bottom line is, right now we’re 0-0 and the real season is just beginning.”
The ‘real’ season Rudloff refers to is Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League Tier 2 play, a five-game sprint for the championship that begins this Friday. For the Magicians, it means welcoming a Gloucester team into Piper Field (7 p.m.) that is much more dangerous than its 1-5 record to date would suggest.
“We have to treat this game as if we’re facing the same Gloucester team that won those state titles (in recent years),” said Rudloff. “If we treat them any other way, we’ll be in trouble.”
Since Marblehead began playing varsity football in 1909, there isn’t a single squad that has ever won its first six games in any given season. They’ve had some terrific teams, to be sure — the Magicians were unbeaten in both 1922 (9-0-4) and 1942 (9-0-2), but had scoreless ties in Week 4 against Peabody and Week 5 against Gloucester, respectively.
So how is this year’s MHS edition, a team with just 10 seniors, is smaller size-wise than every team they’ve faced and which relies heavily on contributions from sophomores and juniors, living in such rarefied gridiron air?
“I don’t think it’s just one thing,” said Rudloff. “Not a lot was expected from these guys, especially the senior class. They’ve worked just as hard as previous classes, but never said boo; they just did the work the coaches and staff asked them to do and have been part of winning teams (i.e., several players were members of Marblehead’s 2010 state hockey champions) at the school.
“A lot of our young guys have played varsity sports since their freshman year in lacrosse, hockey and basketball, and somewhere along the way that’s rubbed off on this team.”
So has team-wide unselfishness, particularly among the seniors when it comes to playing time. Tenth graders Spencer Craig (outside linebacker), Will Millett (OLB/tight end), Brooks Tyrrell (running back/defensive back) and Derek Dumais (nose tackle) all start for the Magicians, and Rudloff said he’s heard nary a complaint from any player, upperclassman or not, about playing time. In fact, he said, the seniors have come to him several times this fall asking for him to play the younger guys more.
Tyrrell, for instance, is the team’s leading rusher with 327 yards and five TDs. Senior captain Ian Maag is close behind (291 yards, 2 TDs) running out of the quarterback position, while fellow captain Zac Cuzner (232 yards, team-high 6 TDs) gives the Magicians three terrific options out of the backfield.
Maag is also completing 67 percent of his passes (58 of 86) for 764 yards and six TDs. He’s spreading the wealth, too, hitting junior Jeremy Gillis (18 catches for 241 yards, TD), Brian Daly (13-180, 2 TDs), Dylan Cressy (9-150, TD), Nick Perry (3-66, TD) and Millett (3-37, TD) for scores.
Maag, said Rudloff, clearly could be putting up much gaudier numbers both running and throwing the ball if the coaching staff so chose to build the offense around him; he’s that talented. But feeling the Magicians were better served running a balanced offense this season, the signal-caller has never once asked to have his number called more often, happy knowing that the more touches his teammates get, the more difficult they’ll be for opponents to stop.
Captains Kyle McCormack and Ty Bates are stalwarts in the offensive line that open holes and hold their blocks long enough for the offense to — pardon the pun — work their magic.
Rudloff, whose team has allowed a shade over 10 points per game, proudly points to the fact that there isn’t a single player who regularly plays a skill position on offense for his team that hasn’t scored so far in 2012.
Gloucester, said Rudloff, reminds him a lot of his own squad in that they’re thin on seniors, but have younger kids who have responded to playing at the varsity level quickly.
“I see a huge difference from a year ago with what Tony (Zerilli, the head coach) has done with the program in terms of discipline and how they run things. Everything is much tighter, crisper and more concise,” said Rudloff of the Fishermen. “Tony’s really putting his mark on things. You can’t help but look at their last two games (a 2-point loss to Masconomet and another 2-point setback vs. Lynn Classical, the latter coming in OT) to know they’re physical, tough and a very formidable opponent.”
If the season’s first half-contests have taught Marblehead anything, it’s that the team can win football games in a myriad of ways. They’ve already emerged victorious in a double overtime game (23-20 over Newburyport), a game decided on the final play (21-20 over St. Mary’s Lynn), an outing decided by a field goal (vs. Newburyport), wins during the daytime, others during the evening, even a pair of shutout wins against Division 1 opponents (Western Mass. foe Minnechaug, as well as Malden Catholic last weekend) where they scored a combined 74 points.
“For obvious reasons, you have to be happy,” Rudloff said of his team’s unbeaten start. “But everyone knows the way our league works; it doesn’t really mean much until you get into the conference games. “It’s a five-game run for the title right now.”