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Football playoff preview: Marblehead at Milton

Here we go. The Magicians travel to Milton High School to take on the undefeated, and No. 1 seeded Wildcats in the Division 3 State Tournament quarterfinals on Friday. Both teams are rolling in with 3+ touchdown victories in the round of 16 and will square off to earn a spot in the state semifinals. While Marblehead seems to have been underseeded in this tournament, Milton looks like they might have been overseeded. Only time will tell and Marblehead will certainly be up to the task, but will it be enough to take down an 8-0 Milton team and end its perfect season? 

On paper, if the Magicians were to win, it would be considered an upset, but I don’t see it that way. Eight vs nine matchups are generally supposed to be close contests in tournaments, but Marblehead just routed Whtman-Hanson in the first round in what was its best showing this season. The Magicians put up 35 points and picked up their first shutout of the season. 

Whitman Hanson was clearly outmatched, but a 35-0 victory will boost any team’s confidence no matter who the opponent was. Perhaps what was most exciting about the win is that Miles O’Neill and the offense were able to get back to the explosive plays we have all gotten used to seeing. 

O’Neill threw for three touchdowns, including a 99 yard score to Chris DeWitt that was the longest in school history. He later threw for a 35 yard touchdown to Zander Danforth. After seeing game results over the past few weeks, especially after the bye, you could see the offense continue to build, and it all came together in the first round. 

Milton’s defense has been suffocating to say the least however. The Wildcats are giving up an average of 11.8 points per game through eight games this year. In five of those games, the teams failed to score more than a touchdown. The offense has put up points, but it seems that defense is the identity of this team.

Offensively, Milton seems to thrive off of its defensive performances because it allows them to get back onto the field quickly and score. The Wildcats have scored a whopping 294 points this season, which comes out to almost 37 points per game. 

Even with playing an extremely potent Peabody offense earlier in the season, this is the biggest challenge that the defense has faced, and most likely will face the rest of the way. The offense is heating up for the Magicians, but the defense will have to hold the Wildcats to under 4 touchdowns scored if they hope to advance. 

That number seems easily attainable, especially with the way this defense has remained strong all season, but this offense is extremely explosive. The Magicians might need to pull a turnover or two out of their hats during the game, which is always possible with this group. 

Now every great team has its weaknesses, but I could be grasping at straws here. Milton’s last four victories (including playoffs) have been against teams .500 or worse. In the first round against a now 4-5 Minnechaug team, the Wildcats won by 25, but also gave up 21, the second most points allowed by Milton this season. Whether those points were in garbage time or not, it shows that every team is vulnerable in some capacity, and I believe that Milton might just be a bit more vulnerable than Marblehead, which will be the difference maker. 

The Magicians will need to score first if they are to succeed. At the very least, they need to keep it a one possession game if they fall behind. The defense is more than capable of getting timely stops, but it will need the whole crew of O’Neill, Cronin, Johns, etc. to do its thing on the other side of the ball. 

While I don’t expect it to be a complete shootout because these defenses are just too good, I think there will be some points scored. Whoever gets to 28 points first will win the game, but not by much.

It’s Marblehead’s biggest challenge yet, but it’s the state quarterfinals so it should be that way. Yet, Coach Jim Rudloff has the team on the rise at the right time and I like Marblehead to roll into Milton and deny the Wildcats of knocking off the defending champions. They are not done yet, and the top seed goes down in the upset.

Final score prediction: Marblehead 28, Milton 21