Moving the Chains
---- — “Marblehead should also be in the mix.”
Those were the seven words devoted to the Magicians in my preseason football playoff predictions in mid-August.
Three months later, not only is Marblehead in the mix, the Magicians are one of two teams left standing in Division 3 Northeast. They play top-seeded and undefeated Tewksbury on Saturday (1:30 p.m.) for the right to play on against the Division 3 Northwest winner next week.
For the record, this scribe’s preseason final pick was Beverly vs. Masconomet. I had a feeling Tewskbury would be good, but wasn’t sure how they’d survive playing up in the rugged Merrimack Valley Conference, which over the last 3-4 years evolved into one of the best in the state.
Another program that’s evolved the last 3-4 years is Marblehead. The Magicians have become the team you simply can’t ignore on the North Shore.
First, let’s take a look at their obstacle, the Redmen. They’re 9-0 and they’ve spent most of the season pounding the opposition. They only allowed more than two TDs in the regular season in a game against D2 North finalist Lincoln-Sudbury (Tewskbury won, 27-21) and in a 42-21 win over Dracut.
Things tightened up a bit last week, when the Redmen held on to beat Gloucester, 28-25 in the sectional semi-finals. James Sullivan ran for over 100 yards and scored four TDs for Tewskbury (three rushing, one receiving) in the win, but Tewksbury is a deep, athletic team.
The Redman have some pedigree, having been to the playoffs last year and falling in the Super Bowl in 2011. They’re on the hunt for their first Super Bowl title since 1996.
Marblehead is searching for its first ever Super Bowl title, and in the four and a half seasons since coach Jim Rudloff took over, they’ve become a team that’s more than capable of getting there.
Since the start of 2008, Marblehead is tied with Beverly and Gloucester for the most total wins by an NEC team with 39. The Magicians have won in a variety of ways: with a mobile QB like Hayes Richardson, with a workhorse running back like Will Quigley and now it seems they have both in halfback Brooks Tyrrell and QB Matt Millett.
The Magicians have always had great linebackers under Rudloff, as Evan Comeau gave way to Matt Evans and now the bruising tacklers that are Ben Anderson and Liam Gillis.
How can they win this weekend? They’ll need to be careful on both sides of the football, by forcing turnovers and not giving it away on their side. Jeremy Gillis has been a ball-hawk this year with a half-dozen interceptions, and Spencer Craig and Dylan Cressy both came up with huge turnovers last week in the playoff win over Masco.
On offense, Marblehead will give Tewksbury a variety of concerns. Last week, Masco took away Millet’s ability to run by collapsing the pocket in a hurry. The Chieftains were also great in coverage, allowing no receptions for lead pass catcher Brian Daly.
Marblehead still found a way to produce, thanks to Tyrrell, who carried 29 times for 260 yards and three touchdowns. That’s what makes the Magician offense so difficult to contain: If the defense takes away one aspect, another can step up and do damage. So, if the run-stuffers from Tewksbury bottle up Tyrrell, Marblehead’s advanced passing game could compensate, or the option with the shifty Millett could come into play.
“They’re good, they beat these guys (Gloucester) and they’ve beaten a lot of good teams. They have a really good running back, quarterback’s very good too, they have 3 or 4 receivers that can beat you and a line that’s like the line we just saw, pretty talented big guys that are going to outsize our guys up front and can move,” Tewksbury coach Brian Alyward said after the playoff win over the Fishermen.
“It’s going to be a dog fight.”
The Magician defense has been flying under the radar because of the offense, but they have plenty of playmakers including defensive end Will Millett, one of the hidden gems of last week’s win. They’ve only allowed 14 total points in the playoffs, however, and they’ve only allowed more than two TDs twice this season.
The winner of tomorrow’s game will face either Woburn or Melrose next week as the Middlesex League foes play for the Northwest crown. The winner of the Northeast/Northwest game advances to the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, where they’ll face the Southeast/Southwest. The Final Four in D3 South are Plymouth North and Plymouth South in the east and Oliver Ames and Stoughton in the west.
No matter who’s left standing, though, Marblehead football fans are happier than even to be “in the mix.”
Beverly senior Isaiah White is quickly putting together one of the best seasons a running back has ever had while wearing orange. With 1,433 yards and two games to go, he’s in very realistic striking distance of Greg Pierce’s single season Panthers rushing record of 1,648.
Even more impressive is White’s yards per carry, which is 9.55. His 150 carries rank in the middle of the pack in the area, yet he’s second in rushing only to Tyrrell, who has some 70 more carries.
As White closes in on a record, let’s look at some of the other single-season rushing records in the area.
The highest single season mark belongs to (who else?) Bishop Fenwick’s Bobby Tarr, who ran for 2,544 yards as a senior. St. John’s Prep’s single season mark is next as Tyler Coppola ran for 2,182 in 2010. North Shore Tech also had a 2,000-yard rusher that year in Jesse Wilkins (2,063).
Hamilton-Wenham’s Trevor Lyons ran for 1,408 yards in 2011 for his team’s record. Those are among the more recent marks while one of the longest standing is Ipswich’s Bernie Addell, who ran for a Tiger record 1,544 yards in 1977.
Masconomet’s record is Tim Gale’s 1,557 from his junior season while Salem’s belongs to Matt Horgan as his 1,701 yard campaign in 1999.
Peabody’s single-season record belongs to Frank Candela. “The Flash” ran for 1,784 yards in 1996.
A coach once told me that one of the best ways to measure the performance of a QB is by looking at yards-per-attempt. Would you believe that Pingree’s Griffin Beal is averaging a ridiculous 12.5 yards per attempt? That means the Highlanders get at least a first down, on average, every time they drop back to pass (not including sacks, which were few and far between for the Blue-and-Green).
To put how good that is in perspective, consider that excellent passers like Marblehead’s Millett and Fenwick’s Nick Bona average about 8.5 yards per attempt. Anything over 6-7 is considered efficient, and 12 is simply eye-popping.
Speaking of passing, it’s hard to believe that there are already seven 1,000 yard passers on the North Shore. Last year, the area had six 1,000-yard QBs with just three the year before in 2011. This year’s seven ties the high-water mark of seven from the 2009 season, and there could be even more.
Peabody’s Mike Raymond had thrown for 909 yards and is on pace to become the Tanners’ first 1,000-yard passer since Dave Feld in 1997. Raymond has done so primarily by throwing to his tight ends, Andrew McLaughlin (who has a touchdown in three of the last four games) and Tanner Moquin. Raymond has become accurate on the run as he’s matured this season, proving that you can still throw on bootlegs and can produce passing yardage without going to an all-out spread.
Danvers’ Nick Andreas also had a shot at getting to 1,000 yards at 746. He threw for 200 in a win last week, so if the Falcons continue to air it out in the last two games the milestone is attainable. The same holds for Masco’s Troy Bunker (778 yards), who has some big play weapons in Corey Tines and Harry Cwik.
As many as ten 1,000 yard passers on the North Shore? Ten years ago it would’ve seemed impossible, yet it could happen and it seems that if it doesn’t happen this year it’s not that far fetched for the future.
Moving the Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears in The Salem News every Friday during the fall season. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.