Marblehead uses strong second half to down No. 24 Danvers 30-23

DANVERS, Mass. – When these conference rivals faced off last September, Matt Andreas stepped into an unfamiliar role as quarterback and managed to carry Danvers to a 29-23 upset at Marblehead.

Two months later, the Falcons upended the Magicians on their home turf yet again, this time, without the services of first-string quarterback Dean Borders or their all-around weapon in Andreas.

So it goes without saying that Marblehead’s 30-23 win at Danvers felt a little bit sweeter than your usual Week 3 win.

“It ruined my whole summer,” Marblehead head coach Jim Rudloff jested about losing to Danvers in the playoffs last season.

“It’s always a killer to lose at home, but I can understand how big that win was for [The Falcons]. I mean, they lost two quarterbacks and their best player [Andreas], so I appreciate their effort, but at the same time I think we all spent a lot of time looking forward to the next time we would get to play them.”

Despite their best efforts to contain him, Matt Andreas proceeded to burn the Magicians again with 99 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards in the first half. He even added a 34-yard pass to junior Tahg Coakley, as the Falcons captain accounted for 165 of his teams’ 192 scrimmage yards in a 14-14 ballgame.

Searching for answers in the locker room during intermission, Rudloff and his staff were pleased to see the players taking action.

“Walking off the field we were a little bit down, but I saw the seniors getting together and for the first time this year it seemed like they had made the decision that ‘this is our team and there’s nothing the coaches are going to do to make us win this game.’ I knew right then that things were going to change in the second half,” Rudloff said.

Marblehead’s coaches made some key adjustments with their defensive alignment, but the players on the field executed the new scheme to perfection, holding Andreas to just 10 rushing yards on seven carries over the final two quarters.

The Magicians (3-0) forced consecutive three-and-outs before the special teams unit came up with arguably the biggest play of the game.

With four and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter, senior defensive back Justin Faia broke through the Falcons punt protection and blocked the kick outright, allowing teammate Sam Frontero to scoop up the loose ball and return it for a 35-yard touchdown.

Andreas was twice stuffed at the line of scrimmage as the Falcons looked to run the ball on their next possession, and the ensuing punt attempt went awry due to a botched snap, leading to safety.

Showing no mercy for a hobbling foe, Marblehead leaned on their workhorse running back Jaason Lopez (18 carries, 84 rushing yards, TD) to move deep into Danvers territory before quarterback Drew Gally hit fellow senior Harry Craig on a beautiful pitch and catch to put the visitors up 30-14.

While the offense and special teams capitalized with 16 points in just over four minutes, the Magicians’ defensive adjustments were clearly the key.

“We switched our defensive front at halftime,” Rudloff explained. “In the first half, we left our middle linebackers unprotected because we’d seen [The Falcons] cut back so much that we thought they wouldn’t get to the second level, but they were able to do a good job with that and the counters were killing us, so we switched to an under front.”

Danvers responded in turn by inserting Dean Borders for injured starting quarterback Justin Mullaney, opening up their offense and utilizing some trickery to move the ball down the field.

On fourth-and-long, the Falcons called for a double reverse pass, and wide receiver Matt Reidy hit senior captain Kieran Moriarty for a key conversion that set up a short touchdown run by Borders.

The Falcons (2-1) nearly recovered a squib kick and forced Marblehead to punt just over a minute to play, but were unable to move the ball 80 yards for a game-tying score in an absolute downpour.

“That’s a great coaching staff and [Danvers head coach] Shawn [Theriault] does a great job. This game could’ve gone either way,” Rudloff said in praise of his rival. “I told Andreas after the game that he’s the best player I’ve ever coached against. In my tenure, he’s probably carried the ball against Marblehead over 300 times and he’s had success almost every single time.”