MELROSE — It was a cavalcade of mistakes.
That was how Marblehead football head coach Jim Rudloff could best sum up his team's performance Friday on a cold night at Green Memorial Field, dropping a 26-14 loss to host Melrose in the Division 4 North playoff semifinals.
Wrong defensive alignments, on-field miscommunication, momentary lapses in thought and the like all caught up to the Magicians, who couldn't sustain an early lead in dropping a postseason game to the Raiders on the road for the second time in three seasons.
"Tonight on one play someone had the coverage wrong; on another play, someone thought they saw the wrong signal from the sidelines. There were a lot of mental errors tonight," said Rudloff.
"But some of the things that happened tonight, those mistakes aren't things you can correct unless you put an earpiece into a kid's headset and tell them what to do. If one kid is going to hurt 60 players who worked hard all week (due to a bad decision), it's inexcusable."
Senior captain Tim Cronin ran for 101 yards on 24 carries and both of his team's scores on this very chilly evening, and sophomore quarterback Josh Robertson threw for 126 yards, hooking up with senior wideout Ryan Freiberger six times for 48 yards. But finding sustained success offensively wasn't something the Magicians (now 6-3) could do.
A fumble on fourth down when they were in Melrose territory killed an early drive, and an interception turned into a Red Raiders touchdown on the very next play. There were other times where Marblehead didn't lose the ball, but the lack of communication caused them to react slowly and/or lose yardage in situations it didn't necessarily need to.
"We talked (postgame) about making sure we're reflective on the way home and over the weekend, and how these (mistakes) are all controllable things," Rudloff recounted.
"Melrose is a great team that took great advantage of the mistakes we made, but this was a very beatable Melrose team that we played tonight. We just executed poorly ... it's disappointing."
Elusive and strong-armed Melrose quarterback Brendan Funnell hit on 9-of-14 pass attempts for 159 yards and two scores. Twice he went over the top to burn the Marblehead secondary, once on the above-mentioned 39-yard scoring toss to captain Sean Herbert (following the Red Raiders' interception) that tied the game at 7-7; the junior signal caller also found tight end Matt Dussault all alone behind the defense for a 29-yard TD strike and a 20-7 third quarter lead.
"We're primary a run-oreinted team, but we were able to throw the ball a little bit tonight in some key situations," said Tim Morris, whose top seeded Red Raiders remained unbeaten at 9-0. "I think they were very geared up to stop our run, so that opened up the pass for us a little bit."
"We were caught out of position on one of them, and then the exact same mistake happened on the next one when they ran the exact same play," said Rudloff.
Cronin's second touchdown, a 3-yard run up the gut (his first was a 9-yarder in the first quarter), sliced his team's deficit to 20-14 following Eli Feingold's point after kick. But after being bottled up most of the evening, Melrose captain Chris Cusolito got untracked on the second and third plays of the fourth quarter, running for 17 and 35 yards, respectively, the second of those finding the end zone with 10:52 to play.
"They very much keyed on Coos, which didn't completely eliminate him during the game ... but he had limited success on some of those carries," said Morris. "But our play action pass finally opened things up for him."
Playing without two of its captains in injured lineman Delcan Rudloff and wideout Sean McCarthy, the elder Rudloff admitted that their senior leadership was missing on this night.
Tight end A.J. Russo caught a pair of passes for the Magicians for 36 yards, as did shifty junior Mark Paquette, good for 28 yards.