Sunday, November 5, 2017

St. Peter-Marian Downs Upstart Blackstone-Millville in D6 Central

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

WORCESTER -Three seconds.

That was all it took for St. Peter-Marian to revitalize itself and take control as the Guardians successfully managed to sneak past a very good Blackstone-Millville Regional squad, 28-14, during Saturday's Division 6 Central semifinal.

Down a point in the closing seconds of the first half, the No. 2 Guardians erupted for a pair of touchdowns within that three second frame to snatch a two score lead and, for all intents and purposes, derail the Chargers' first attempt at postseason play.

It all started with SPM senior quarterback Dan Malm completing a 48 yard touchdown strike to Matt Dumphy, in double coverage no less, to give the Guardians a 14-7 lead. Then, following an onside kick that was recovered by SPM freshman Ray Dewar, the Guardians got the ball on the BMR 49. A roughing the passer call against the Chargers advanced SPM to the 34 with one second showing. Malm, a senior, took a three step drop and lofted a Hail Mary pass in the direction of Dumphy.

The senior then managed to out-leap a pair of BMR defenders for the catch in the back of the end zone, sending SPM into the break on top 21-7.

"The resiliency of our kids to come back like they did really impressed me," said first-year Guardians head coach Justin McKay. "On those two touchdowns to end the half, Matt makes an unbelievable catch and Dan makes an unbelievable throw. Then the awareness by our kids to come up with the ball on that onside kick, and then score off of it, is just a huge credit to these kids and the effort they have put in. Everyone on this team stayed engaged in this game all throughout."

The Guardians (7-2) will face top-seeded Littleton (9-0) on Saturday in the D6 Central final, at a site and time still to be determined. The third-seeded Chargers, who in just their sixth year of existence as a program, and making their first trip to the playoffs, drop to 5-4.

SPM amassed 297 yards off offense, while BMR finished with 223. Malm completed 9 of 12 passes for 159 yards. Dumphy rushed for 67 yards.

"We didn't play our best game offensively today," Malm said. "We still need to straighten a few things out. But today, we got some big plays, especially at the end of the first half. I have a lot of trust in Matt and I try to throw him the ball anytime I can. Those two touchdowns were definitely the turning point in this game."

In spite of their early baptism, the Chargers proved more than capable on the big stage. BMR gave SPM its share of fits throughout the opening half and beyond.

Following a scoreless opening quarter, the Guardians finally broke the standstill midway through the second. Driving 69 yards, Malm capped it off with a 5 yard run into the end zone for a 6-0 lead after the PAT attempt failed. However, thanks to little luck by the special teams, the Chargers were able to respond. Forced to punt from their own 40, BMR recovered a fumble to regain possession on the SPM 23.

Some big runs by Corey Pollinger (64 yards) and Sam Parker (42) eventually led to junior quarterback Robbie Siefring (83 yards on 15 carries) darting in for a 2 yard score. Siefring added the PAT to give the Chargers a 7-6 lead with 25 seconds to go before halftime.

That is when everything changed. On SPM's ensuing possession, Malm ran for 12 yards before connecting with Dumphy for go-ahead TD. The onside kick, which the Chargers did expect, resulted in another pitch and catch from Malm to Dumphy making it a two score contest.

"We knew this team would be one of the better opponents we have faced all year," said Chargers head coach Josh Euglow. "We held our own with them. We had those mishaps at the end of the first half, and without those happening, who knows what would have happened in this game."

Trying to absorb the shock of seeing itself now trailing by 14 points in a blink of an eye, it would have been understandable for BMR to begin the second half less than inspired and a bit dazed. But after forcing a turnover on downs on SPM's first possession of the third, the Chargers managed to engineer a well-executed 20-play drive which ended with Siefring bullying across the goal line from a yard out, cutting the deficit to 21-14 with 7:50 remaining to be played.

"We kept at it in the third quarter," Euglow said. "We were able to fight back and make it a game. There was no quit in any of our kids today. We fought every single play. We got into the playoffs by playing together as a team and sticking together as a team."

After forcing the Guardians to another quick four-and-out, BMR had a chance to square things. Facing fourth-and-6 on the SPM 41, Siefring (3 of 8 for 31 yards) lofted a deep pass to Isaac Casey, who had slipped past the double coverage. However, Casey let the ball slide through his hands, just inside the 5, which gave the ball back to the Guardians.

"We definitely made some big stops when we had too," said Dumphy, who also plays defensive back. "We still know that we have a lot of work to do in preparing for Littleton next week."

With under three minutes to go, SPM was not content to sit on its seven point lead. Moving the ball swiftly, a 12-yard Dumphy catch was followed up by Cam Williams' 13-yard jaunt. Sitting on the BMR 9, Williams completed the drive with a bull rush into the end zone, with 1:57 showing, giving the Guardians back their two touchdown lead and sealing the triumph in the process.

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