Saturday, November 19, 2016

Falmouth Edges Marlboro for Super Bowl Berth

By Jason Siegel

LEOMINSTER, Mass.- The Falmouth Clippers used the running and passing attack on offense to prevail over the Marlborough Panthers in the Division 2A South-Central state semifinals, 27-20, at Doyle Field in Leominster on Saturday afternoon.

Falmouth (11-0) has advanced to the Division 2A state Super Bowl on December 3rd at Gillette Stadium, where they will play Marblehead.

“I’m just proud of this group of kids,” Falmouth head coach Derek Almeida said after the game. “They were loyal to me from the get-go. This senior class, they worked (hard) from day one, when they were sophomores. They worked as hard as they could.”

“(Going to Gillette) means the world,” Falmouth quarterback and senior captain Nick Couhig added. “Our coach is doing a great job. I’ve known a lot of these guys since freshman year. We have sixteen seniors, and this was the goal.”

The unbeaten, Cape-Cod-based Clippers struck first. On third-and-three, standout running back and senior captain Michael LaFrange raced to the left sideline, turned the corner, and was in the end zone celebrating 21 yards later. Colby Murphy’s kick made the Marlborough (8-3) deficit 7-0 with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter.

Led by senior running back Owen Cappadona, Marlborough responded by marching down the field. Cappadona rattled off a 22-yard run on third-and-12 to keep the drive alive.

Cappadona continued carrying the ball and his team. He fought for four yards on 4th-and-2, and then danced his way down to the Falmouth two-yard line, making sharp cuts and breaking tackles in the process.

Quarterback Evan Schmidlein snuck it in from two yards out on the next play, with the help of a push from his offensive line. Jacob Dionne’s extra point went wide right, allowing Falmouth to maintain a 7-6 lead.

While the Clippers managed to hang onto their lead, they could not hang on to the football. On the ensuing kickoff, Marlborough recovered a Falmouth fumble at the Clipper’s 31-yard line.

The Panthers made Falmouth pay for their miscue. Senior captain Lucas Goulet gained 15 yards on a run to the right side. Goulet gave Marlborough their first lead of the game with a two-yard touchdown run up the middle. Dionne’s extra point kick sailed through the uprights, making Marlborough’s lead 13-7 with 6:07 remaining in the second period.

Trailing for the first time all season, Falmouth made sure that their deficit did not last long. LaFrange returned the ensuing kickoff to the Falmouth 44-yard line. Two plays later, sophomore Trevor Nunes ran down the right sideline, picking up 39 yards and setting the Clippers up with 1st-and-10 at the Marlborough 12-yard line.

After a 9-yard run by LaFrange, junior running back Gates Kelliher scored on a 3-yard run up the middle. Murphy’s PAT gave Falmouth a 14-13 lead with 4:49 remaining in the second quarter.

“I don’t think our kids lost their confidence at all (when they were trailing), so nothing really changed,” Coach Almeida said. “We just kept plugging away, and we were able to stay with it and make some plays.”

“It just shows our resiliency and our toughness,” Couhig added.

After forcing a Marlborough three-and-out, Falmouth went to the ground game, resulting, ironically, in a high-flying offense.

Couhig ran down the right sideline for 19 yards. Two plays later, LaFrange went to the left side and gained 30 yards. Couhig capped off the drive for the Clippers with a 17-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jean Vasquez. Murphy could not convert the extra point, and the Clippers held onto a 20-13 lead heading into halftime.

After a Marlborough punt on their first second-half possession, Falmouth found itself with a first down at their own eight-yard line. After picking up ten yards on three plays, Falmouth was flagged for holding, which sent them back to their own 9-yard line.

Falmouth did not fret, however. With one-on-one coverage, Vasquez raced down the left sideline and got a step on his defender near midfield. Couhig’s pass hit Vasquez in stride, and he raced down the field, untouched en route to the end zone.

“(Vasquez) is just too fast, and he just got right by (his defender),” Couhig said of his 91-yard touchdown pass to Vasquez. “(Vasquez) has so much speed, and so much athleticism,” Couhig added.

Murphy converted the extra point kick, giving the Clippers a 27-13 lead with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter.

Despite being up by two scores, Coach Almeida knew that the game was not over.

“We got up two scores, but I never felt comfortable. Their kids kept playing, and our kids kept playing,” Coach Almeida said.

After forcing a three-and-out, Falmouth looked for their offense to continue moving the ball down the field. The Clippers were driving as the fourth quarter began, but the Panthers defense stepped up, as Cappadona recovered a Falmouth fumble at the Marlborough 17-yard line on the first play of the fourth period.

Just four plays later, however, Falmouth forced another Panther punt.

Looking to run out the clock, the Clippers went back to running the ball. Falmouth moved methodically down the field, but the drive stalled after a 15-yard, personal foul penalty on Falmouth made a 2nd-and-5 play a much less manageable 2nd-and-22.

Down two scores in the fourth quarter in a playoff game, Marlborough put the ball in the hands of their quarterback, and Schmidlein delivered.

The drive began with a 15-yard completion to captain Connor McCabe. On third-and-3 from the Falmouth 45-yard line, Schmidlein completed a 42-yard pass to Dionne, setting the Panthers up with 1st-and-goal on the Falmouth 5-yard line.

Three plays later, Cappadona scored on a 1-yard run. Dionne extra point made the Marlborough deficit 27-20 with 2:27 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers clung to their lead and the football. After being stuffed by the motivated Marlborough defensive line on two consecutive plays, a run up the middle by Kelliher gave Falmouth a first down, clinching a spot in the state Super Bowl for the Clippers.

The Panthers should be very proud of the way they played. Falmouth’s average margin of victory coming into this game was 27.8 points. The Panthers held their own for much of the game, stayed within striking distance, and never gave up until the clock showed zeroes.

Coach Almeida was very complimentary of his opposition.

“That’s a tough team over there. Those kids kept fighting,” Almeida said of the Panthers.

Marlborough will look to end their successful season on a high note in their annual Thanksgiving game against Hudson.

The Clippers will come into Gillette Stadium on December 3rd with confidence. They are undefeated, and can score by keeping the ball on the ground or throwing it through the air. Their defense contained Owen Cappadona, and for much of the game, they did not allow Marlborough’s offense to find a rhythm.

Coach Almeida will want his team to avoid turnovers, and they will use their annual Thanksgiving day game against Barnstable to prepare for the Super Bowl, where they hope to come out on top and celebrate the culmination to a magical season.

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