For Dartmouth's Martin, the ending's doubly sweet

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dartmouth running back Chris Martin took the handoff out of a pistol formation and broke through the middle of the offensive line.

Sensing an opening on the perimeter, he bounced to the left and took it all the way into the end zone for the 36-yard touchdown. Four plays Saturday’s Division 3 state championship against Melrose, the senior showed why he has been a focal point of the Indians offense all season.

“That was my game plan: to score and get on top quick,” he said. “I knew they had a good defense and they were a good team, so to get on the board fast was good.”

He was crucial in the 26-21 victory, grinding out 142 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He added 63 receiving yards on a third quarter screen pass that advanced the ball just outside the red zone. It set up the only non-Martin Indian touchdown of the game, a 17-yard rollout pass from Cole Jacobson to Jack Sullivan.

“Pound for pound, he’s the toughest guy I’ve ever coached,” said Dartmouth coach Richard White. “He’s 155 pounds soaking wet, but he’s like a heavyweight boxer, he just refuses to go down until the game is over. I said I need a first down, I need a touchdown, and his eyes were wide and he just said, ‘Coach, give me the ball and I’ll get it done for you.’ He delivers every time.”

Martin came into the game needing four touchdowns to tie Jordan Todman’s school touchdown record of 29. Todman, a 2008 Dartmouth High graduate, played college football at the University of Connecticut before being drafted into the NFL in 2011.

Martin ended the game with just three scores, giving him 28 total on the season, but still left forever his mark on the coaching staff and the Dartmouth football program as a whole.

He even has something on Todman: two state championship rings.

“It’s amazing,” said White. “He looks up to Jordan so much and he’s just a special child. He’s as tough as steel and he’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever coached. He has no ego. There’s no air about him. He just shows up every day and he goes to work and the bigger the game, the bigger he plays.”

He wouldn’t have minded etching his name in school history alongside a current NFL running back, but he is just fine with the two state championships, especially in back-to-back years.

“Obviously it doesn’t matter when we’ve won two state championships,” said Martin of not tying the touchdown record. “I would’ve liked to get that extra touchdown, but I’m just happy we’re celebrating the win with all my brothers.”

It is possible he could have had that extra touchdown Saturday, but everyone will be left wondering what might have been.

Early in the second quarter, the Indians were trying to put the finishing touches on a 14-play drive. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the Melrose 1-yard line, the White decided to try his luck. His team had moved the ball against Red Raiders in the opening quarter and was already ahead by 6 points.

Martin was stuffed on the goal line carry, turning the ball over on downs, coming up one yard short of history.

“We didn't finish when we got down in the red zone, it was very disappointing,” said White. “Melrose stiffened up and they stuffed us and we missed a field goal. It’s very uncharacteristic of our guys and I told them at halftime, it was quiet, I said, ’Hey, we’re in the ballgame. It’s a dogfight. We’ve got to do something. There’s no adjustments football-wise that we have to make. We’ve got to execute and play our game in the second half. Whoever wants it more is going to win this game.’”

The other team had a pretty good running back as well. Mike Pedrini was named the Middlesex League Most Valuable Player this season because of his multi-dimensional offensive production. At times, he lined up in the backfield, as a slot receivers, and as a pseudo-quarterback for the Red Raiders.

Dartmouth found a way to stymie the junior running back on the ground (10 carries, 24 yards), but he still found other ways to hurt them.

Late in the second quarter, he sprinted right after the snap and received a short pass from Julian Nyland. He was popped by a defender and lost control of the ball. The play was ruled an incomplete pass, but the Red Raiders ran the same play on the very next down and this time Pedrini it for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, after Dartmouth punted the ball away on fourth down, he got a chance to show off his arm. From the Melrose 13-yard line, he lined up behind center, took the snap and rolled right. Selling the idea he was going to run, he pulled the ball down, causing the defense to roll to the ball. This allowed Nyland, the usual quarterback, to get open behind the defense and spring open down the right sideline. Pedrini threw the ball up and Nyland hauled it in for the 87-yard touchdown.

“What a great athlete,” said White. “He can hurt you so many ways. You saw him at quarterback. He did exactly what we thought he was going to do against us. We just tried to contain him and not let him get behind us in the secondary. Definitely one of the best backs we’ve played all year.”

In games like Saturday’s featuring two teams with an especially talented skill position like running back, it is easy to look at the matchup and say one beat the other, as though that was the only two people that mattered in the game. In this case, neither running back “won.” Martin and the rest of the Indians won the state championship, but Pedrini certainly made his mark. As a junior, he has another opportunity to win a state championship of his own.

Saturday is an indication he and the rest of the Melrose team might not have far to go to run to reach their goal.