D3 State Final: Dartmouth 26, Melrose 21

Courtesy Phil Garceau

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Dartmouth’s Chris Martin is listed at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds on the Indians roster. To say his size is way out of proportion to his accomplishments would appear to be an understatement.

But don’t tell that to Melrose.

“All” Martin did against the Red Raiders was sliced through their defense 34 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns as Dartmouth captured its second consecutive Division 3 Super Bowl on Saturday by beating Melrose, 26-21.

“He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” said Dartmouth coach Rick White. “Pound for pound he’s like a boxer. He just hangs in and hangs in and all of a sudden he explodes on you.

“He had a great night tonight.”

In retrospect, Martin had a great season.

After the final whistle sounded, Martin concluded his senior year with 1,693 yards on 293 carries (a 5.8-yard average) and 28 touchdowns which was one shy of the school record set by Jordan Todman in 2007. Martin had his own take on the reason for his success despite his diminutive size.

You’ve got to have heart: “I’m not the biggest guy out there but this game is all about heart,” said Martin. “If you have heart, anyone can get the job done and win games.”

When Melrose (12-1) built a 14-6 lead late in the third quarter, it appeared Dartmouth (11-2) might not be able to win the biggest game of its season.

“We were very concerned because we were not playing our brand of football,” said White. “You can’t give up those chances in the red zone like we did.

“We didn’t punch them in early and we thought that was going to come back and bite us. But we had a good talk at halftime. We said ‘Hey, there aren’t any adjustments to be made. We just need to play our game. It’s going to come down to who wants it more.’

“They were able to pull it together in the second half,” continued White. “I’m proud of these kids because they could have packed it in. But they hung together and pulled out an unbelievable second half.”

Dartmouth’s inability to score in the red zone was evident when, on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the second play of the second quarter, Martin was stopped cold for no gain which enabled Melrose to remain within 6-0.

The Indians scored on the game’s first series when Martin reeled off a 35-yard touchdown run. But Melrose eked out a 7-6 halftime lead when quarterback Julian Nyland connected with Mike Pedrini on a 6-yard pass (with 28 seconds left) and Mike Cusolito kicked the PAT.

Melrose stunned Dartmouth when coach Tim Morris reached deep into his playbook late in the third quarter. The Red Raiders were on their 13 when Nyland pitched the ball to Pedrini. While Dartmouth focused on Pedrini, Nyland sprinted down field and caught an 87-yard touchdown bomb that produced a 14-6 lead.

Dartmouth then commenced its comeback when quarterback Cole Jacobsen connected with Martin for a 63-yard gain and then drilled a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jack Sullivan with 2:25 left in the quarter.

Foley steps up: What transpired next arguably could have been considered the game’s key play because, on the ensuing kickoff, Matt Foley tackled Pedrini who fumbled and Foley smothered the ball on Melrose’s 15.

Four plays later, Martin wedged into the end zone from the 1 for a 20-14 lead.

“That was the play of the game,” said White. “We get the ball back and go down and punch it in and that was the difference in the game. It was unbelievable.”

Martin echoed White’s sentiments.

“That’s a game-changer,” said Martin. “A game’s won as a team and not just (by) one player. Special teams, offense and defense we all came together.

“That special team’s play was a game-changer.”

Jacobsen and Martin teamed up to make Foley’s play even more relevant. First, Jacobsen sprinted 66 yards to the Melrose 5 and then Martin bulled into the end zone from the 1 for a 26-14 lead with 4:39 left.

Melrose mounted one last charge when it covered 74 yards in 12 plays with Nyland flinging a 12-yard touchdown pass to Steve Abbott.

But Matt Craig recovered the obligatory onside kick and Dartmouth ran out the clock.

“For the coaches there’s a lot of pressure winning it a second time,” said White in response to a question. “There have been a lot of sleepless nights. I’m not going to lie to you.

“But my hat’s off to Melrose. They’re the best football team we’ve played all year. They’re so physical and such a good team. Tim Morris is a great coach and we have a lot of respect for them. We knew it was going to be a brawl and it certainly was.”