MARBLEHEAD — Faced with a situation that hasn't happened often on their home turf at Piper Field over the last six seasons — namely, a close ballgame entering the fourth quarter — the Marblehead Magicians turned to their best player to push them over the hump.
Tim Cronin promptly delivered, performing the way a three-year starter out of the backfield and team captain is expected to do.
Cronin had scoring runs of 12 and 70 yards just 73 seconds apart early in the final period Friday night, allowing the Magicians to knock off a resilient Beverly squad, 21-13.
In picking up their 27th straight regular season home win (dating back to 2012), Marblehead got 174 yards rushing on 26 carries from Cronin. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound tailback took a toss left, hurdled a Beverly tackler at the 5-yard line and hit paydirt for the go-ahead score, then raced 70 yards up the right sideline on his team's next offensive play — getting a huge block from lineman James Maniaci — turning what had been a tie game into a two-score advantage.
Beverly didn't pack it in at that point; they responded with their most sustained drive of the evening, an 11-play, 71-yard march that saw Duncan Moreland crash into the end zone from three yards out with 4:10 remaining. But the Magicians got the ensuing onsides kick, held Beverly on downs after going three-and-out themselves, then took three kneeldowns to run out the clock.
"There was a big change in momentum from halftime, figuring out what we did wrong," said the 17-year-old Cronin. "We definitely didn't fix everything, but we fixed enough."
A big part of that was slowing down Beverly junior Jaichaun Stanton-Jones, one of the fastest sprinters in the state. He had gashed the Marblehead defense for 109 yards on a dozen first half carries, including a 54-yard scoring jaunt in the first quarter. Over the final two quarters, however, the Magicians kept him from breaking it to the outside and forced him between the tackles, limiting the speedy back to just 16 yards over the final 24 minutes.
"No. 2 (Stanton-Jones), that kid is really fast," said Cronin, after his team improved to 4-0. "He was breaking it to the outside, which we haven't seen a crazy amount of. Once we figured that out, it was easier (to slow down)."
Sophomore quarterback Josh Robertson completed 11-of-17 passes for 151 yards, completing passes to seven different receivers. One of those was an audible at the line of scrimmage in which he found senior tight end A.J. Russo over the middle, resulting in a 36-yard touchdown pass. The first of Eli Feingold's three extra points tied the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter.
"It's a play we put in this week," said Marblehead head coach Jim Rudloff. "It's just a variation of something else we do that we added a wrinkle to. A.J. saw open space and went to it; the way the play is drawn up, he would've gone another 3-4 yards and tried to freeze the safety and try to cut across him. So Josh and AJ both made a really nice adjustment, because Josh threw early where the space was."
An undermanned Beverly squad, missing its top tailback (Marje Mulumba), its No. 2 backfield option and kicker (Joey Loreti) and its best linebacker and team captain (Braeden Pratt), among others, to injury, still had its chances to push Marblehead against the ropes and take the lead on several occasions. But each time they were rebuffed.
A fumble on the game's second play, recovered by the Panthers' Joe Kotwicki on the Marblehead 24-yard line, saw the visitors reach the 16 before turning it over on downs. Later in the first quarter, a 57-yard touchdown run by Stanton-Jones was called back due to a block-in-the-back penalty; the Panthers (2-2) also drove to the Marblehead 8-yard line in the second quarter, but lost four yards on 3rd-and-5, then watched a fourth down pass attempt fall incomplete.
"We had some good drives, and defensively in the first half we played very tough," said head coach Andrew Morency, whose team will look to snap its two-game losing streak next Friday on the road at winless Gloucester (0-4).
"But their kid, Cronin, he's a very tough runner. He broke some tackles in that second half that really hurt us."
Junior J.T. Monahan fell on a fumble for the hosts and senior defensive back Will Twadell picked off a pass. Captain Declan Rudloff and fellow seniors Ryan Grohe and Brendan Rowe were among those who helped open the holes for Cronin to zip through.
For Beverly, junior defensive back Owen Keve had a pair of interceptions, with Jonus Pavia coming up with a third quarter sack while sophomore Xavier Copeland and Kotwicki both recovering fumbles.
"Even with our injuries, we came here expecting to win. We have a lot of football left and have to find a way to get back to winning," said Morency. "It's a must-win game next week."