FOXBORO, Mass. – After Tyler DeMattio punched in his third touchdown of the night to bring North Attleboro from 14 points down to tie the game at 28-28 in the fourth quarter of Thursday afternoon’s Div. 3 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, it looked like North’s nearly two-decade wait for a state title could be coming to an end.
The momentum was with the Rocketeers when the kickoff return was stuffed at the 14. Three plays later, on third and long, Marblehead’s big-play offense struck again. Josh Robertson his Connor Cronin on a quick slant and the junior took it to the house.
The 83-yard score, Cronin’s third touchdown reception of the game, turned out to be the winner, as Marblehead’s explosive attack proved too much for North Attleboro to handle in a 35-28 win. It was the first state title for the Magicians, who finished 12-0 and extended their win streak to 20 games.
“We just had trouble matching up with all their skill athletes,” admitted North coach Don Johnson. “Just didn’t do enough to get enough stops on defense. I think they had good athletes who made us miss.”
When asked about Cronin in particular, Johnson said, “He’s awesome. We had seen that on film. I was very concerned about our ability to matchup with their guys in the slot. They’re just great playmakers.”
Marblehead showed off its multiple weapons on its first drive. The Magicians marched inside the North 10. Robertson (14-of-18, 290 yards) connected with Cronin (10 catches, 263 yards) for 25 to the 14. Two plays later, the Magicians had third and one at the five but Nathan Shultz twice made good reads at the corner to knock down passes and force a turnover on downs.
North got out to the 34 but then a punt went out of bounds at the 45, giving the Magicians a short field. Marblehead marched to the North four, but DeMattio sacked Robertson after a bad snap to force third and long and Daniel O’Brien made a good read on a swing pass to force a field goal attempt. An offsides call made it fourth and four at the seven and Marblehead decided to go for it, with Robertson hitting Cronin for their first score.
The Rocketeers answered right back with an impressive 11-play, 75-yard drive. A big screen pass from freshman Chase Frisoli (10-of-18, 144 yards) to Tyler Bannon converted on third and long. Frisoli then hit Aidan Conrad in the flat for 11 and had a play action pass to Bannon for 15. Inside the 20, North went back to the ground game and DeMattio punched it in from six yards.
Frisoli continued his strong start to the game when he hung in the pocket under pressure to hit Jack Munley for 16 yards into Marblehead territory and dropped a pass into Shultz for 33 down to the seven. Two plays later, DeMattio got into the end zone again, his second, this time from four yards, to take the lead with just 42 seconds left in the half.
The game turned on Marblehead’s next possession. A Kaiden Leary sack forced third and long, but Cronin was able to get behind the coverage, pulled in the pass from Robertson at the North 30 and then beat a pair of defenders to the goal line, tying the game with five seconds on the clock.
Momentum carried through halftime. Liam McIlroy picked off Frisoli on North’s first series and on the first play Robertson hit George Percy on a 20-yard screen for the go-ahead score. North then went three-and-out and James Galante’s punt return set the Magicians up at the North 21. Two plays later, Robertson’s eight-yard keeper made it 28-14.
Three touchdowns in just 4:02 had turned a game that North looked on the verge of breaking open into a solid Marblehead lead.
“I thought that whole little middle switch there when they scored right at the end of the first half and then when we didn’t convert on offense at the start of the second half,” Johnson said. “I thought that’s when the game started to turn in their favor.”
The Rocketeers needed a response and got one with a methodical, 14-play drive. It started back at the North 11, but Frisoli bounced back from his interception to hit Munley for 15 yards to convert third and three. North then put the ball in the hands of Bannon (18 carries, 92 yards) and DeMattio (24 carries, 105 yards). Bannon would cap off the impressive series with a six-yard score.
North finally got a stop on the other side of the ball. After a 30-yard pass to Cronin put the ball at the North 45, DeMattio made a nice tackle in the open field to stuff a screen for a loss of one and Greg Berthiaume sacked Robertson for a loss of four. On fourth and 10, Robertson hit Cronin for 14 yards but Bannon stripped him and Wells recovered.
On fourth and seven with just under eight minutes to go, North elected to go for it. Wells ran a great post corner route and Frisoli tossed a strike for 20 yards out near midfield. North then pounded the ball with its two running back, eating clock and yards. Bannon’s hard run made it first and goal at the three and DeMattio found the end zone on the next play.
DeMattio had at least three touchdowns in all four of the playoff games, finishing the postseason with 15. The strategy of moving him to running back this year and partnering him with Bannon in the backfield paid off for the Rocketeers.
Johnson said of DeMattio, “That’s what we were hoping for. We knew that we would need him, if we were going to get to this point. We probably just needed a few more guys around him.”
He added, “We’ve had that character all year, so I wasn’t surprised that we were able to come back like that. My only concern was scoring too early and giving the ball back to them.”
The comeback was short-lived. Less than a minute later, Cronin broke free for another long touchdown and Marblehead was back in front. Fittingly, it was Cronin who sealed the win, intercepting Frisoli on fourth and long to close out a remarkable Super Bowl performance.
“It’s just what we’ve been doing all year,” said Demattio. “It obviously didn’t go our way today and there are no excuses for that. We played well. We proved to everyone that we should be here.
“We gave it everything we had. Everyone left it out there on the field, that’s all that matters.”