Saturday, October 8, 2016

Postgame Blog: Grafton Wins Defensive Slugfest Against Northbridge

By Connor Evans (@RonnocEvans)

This week’s SuiteSports game of the week was a real nail-biter. The Indians and Rams battled down to the final play. In the end, Grafton would end up the victor of this 7-0 defensive contest.


Talk about a fun one. Many people love to see shootouts, but let me tell you, there’s something really special about seeing a game where teams have to work their butts off for points. After last year’s 40-point blowout in favor of Northbridge, a game ending 7-0 was a refreshing shift.

What we saw this week from Northbridge was something we haven’t seen any other team do against Grafton this year. The Rams were actually highly successful in quieting the Indians’ offense. Sure, Ifeatu Melifonwu would rack up plenty of yards on the evening, but they actually kept him and the rest of Grafton out of the end zone for 3 quarters.

They also forced Grafton to attempt a 4th down conversion 7 times (3 successful, 4 failed)! You do the math. Melifonwu was averaging more than 10 yards per carry going into this game, yet somehow the Indians were forced to make tough decisions on late downs. On top of that, Grafton didn’t dare attempt to pass against a strong Northbridge secondary.

As for Grafton, we saw proof that their defense is at least as elite than their offense. All season, Grafton has blown out opponents, easily topping the 20-point mark. It was clear going into this game, Northbridge wasn’t going to let Grafton go off on the scoreboard.

Even so, we expected they would need to reach the end zone more than once in order to win this game. Well, Grafton’s defense showed us what they’re capable of tonight. They held a dynamic Northbridge offense scoreless. They disrupted drives. They forced turnovers. They repeatedly recorded sacks.

Across the board, Grafton locked down the entire game (with the exception of an impressive final series of plays from the Rams).



This is a strong team. The defense was stout. I can’t think of many teams in the state that could keep Ifeatu Melifonwu from getting on the board. Nor can I call to mind the last time I saw a team make two back-to-back 4-down-stands within 10 yards of their own end zone.

Offensively, the team is clearly loaded with talent. John Marzec throws a beautiful ball. As long as he has guys as athletic as Zachary Roberts down the field, this team will keep performing. What beat Northbridge today were some untimely turnovers and some 3rd down trouble. Too often the Rams found themselves in 3rd and long, and allowed a sack or incomplete a pass. The key to this may be the passing game.

Marzec was hitting his targets with his throws for just about the entire game. A few drops and bobbles hurt his completion percentage, but if they stick with him, he can really spread the field. This opens up the box a little to let the run game be more effective. And of course, effective running on first down means you have leeway to take some shots on second and third down. This team will do just fine down the stretch if they clean up those few miscues that may have tipped the scales against them this past evening.


This was a monumental win for this year’s Grafton team. The message from the first four weeks was more or less “Grafton can drop three or four touchdowns on you in a hurry.” Today we learned “Grafton doesn’t need to drop three or four touchdowns to win the game.” That’s critical to a team that wants to make it far.

The performance against Northbridge showed just how good an offense your defense can be. Grafton consistently got the ball back in great field position, benefitted from a pair of interceptions, and kept the Rams defense on their heels, as it seemed like every time they came off, Grafton would force a three-and-out to send them right back on. It’s exhausting to play an opponent that does this to you.

I asked Grafton senior captain, Jack Fontana what this win over Northbridge meant to the team: “It’s incredible,” he said “We’ve never beat Northbridge before.” (Grafton has beat Northbridge in the past but not during any current player’s career). “They’re such a great team to play against. After we lost to them 40-0 last year, it felt like we did nothing. It didn’t even feel like we played a game… But this! This was a game. This means everything to us.”

Coach McMahon would echo his captain’s words soon after: “It’s a big win. A big win for us. Every win is big, but this one has a little more emphasis on it. Their team is tremendously talented. We gritted it out, made plays when we had to. It was a real team effort. When we needed big plays, the offense came through. But no doubt, they have a very difficult defense to score on.”

Of course, the biggest play of the game would be the lone touchdown scored by Jon Harrington, who had a strong series of big runs on a drive halfway through the third, ending with a 5-yard punch into the end zone. After the game, Jon gave it to us plain and simple.

“The line blocked, it was great," Harrington said. "They opened a hole and I just went for it. It’s thanks to them. They execute, I do what I gotta do, and we win.”

Harrington has developed into one of the more exciting runners in Central Mass. Although Grafton devotes many of its snaps to matchup nightmare Ifeatu Melifonwu, it’s evident that when Harrington touches the ball we’re looking at a classic, physical running back. Hopefully we continue to see him get touches like he did tonight.

The Final Minutes

To not recap the final few minutes of this game would be a crime.

We saw the best of both teams when it came right down to it.

On fourth and goal, up 7-0 from inside the Rams 5, Grafton pitched the ball to Ifeatu Melifonwu, who would run right for no gain. The Rams would take over with 2:35 to play.

On the ensuing possession, Jack Fontana of Grafton intercepted a pass to give the Indians the ball on the Northbridge 11-yard line. After 3 downs of runs taking Grafton closer and closer to the end zone, they were just short heading into fourth down.

Many at this point were surprised to see Grafton not attempt a field goal to make it a two-score game with just under two minutes left.

Coach McMahon explained the decision perfectly: “I love our kicker. But you have to remember what goes into a kick. There’s lot more than just the kick. There’s the snap, the hold, the blocking. We’re playing a big, physical team like Northbridge, so we felt our best option was to give it to the guys who consistently had picked up 3 or 4 yards on every play. Hats off to Northbridge for making great plays down there. We didn’t convert, but we got to see what we were made of.”

Northbridge’s admirable goal line stands did ultimately provide them with one last opportunity to tie the game up. With 30 seconds left, John Marzec took the snap in his own end zone, ducked a rusher coming right up the middle, scrambled to his side and UNLOADED down the field for a 60-yard completion to wide receiver Zachary Roberts.

He would take one more shot at the end zone that would fall incomplete before his final pass attempt— a jump ball in the end zone- was knocked away by Grafton’s Melifonwu.

It was a thrilling end, and you could feel the emotion from both sides when the final whistle blew. Grafton was euphoric as they stormed the field, and Northbridge silently swallowed the realization of the comeback that almost was. After all though, we witnessed a great game by two fantastic teams, both of which we could still be watching when playoffs roll around.

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