Marblehead coach Jim Rudloff didn’t necessarily expect to be in the position he’s in coming up on Thursday’s clash against rival Swampscott. After a rash of injuries early in the season left his team looking to replace some key players, he didn’t have his sights set on a fourth consecutive NEC title, a 9-1 record, or coming within a win of the Division 4 North title.
“It was an unexpected season for us, first because we did not expect to repeat as NEC champs, let alone have a chance to win the North sectionals,” Rudloff said, “and second, because of all of our early season injuries. So we feel fortunate for the way things played out.”
They played out pretty well. The Magicians, coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2016, went undefeated all the way until the North final against Melrose, who was also 9-0. Something had to give, and the Magicians came out on the wrong side of a close 28-20 game.
It wasn’t always easy for Marblehead this season; injuries forced Rudloff and his staff to get creative and look to different players to step up and lead the way. That lack of consistency would spell trouble for many teams, but Marblehead made it work week after week.
“It’s been a long season,” said Rudloff. “We spent the the year re-inventing ourselves each week with different personnel. We never really were able to turn the corner in certain areas, but still have Thanksgiving to see if we can.”
Things are a little different heading into this year’s Thanksgiving Day showdown than they were last year for Marblehead. Despite preparing for a Super Bowl last season, the Magicians still played all of their starters, and were rewarded with a 27-6 win at Blocksidge Field. This time, it comes back home to Piper Field, where Marblehead sailed to a 51-0 win over Swampscott two seasons ago.
But Swampscott is not the same team. Year after year, the Big Blue has been moving in the right direction, and they finished as one of the best teams in the league this season.
“I think it is great for both programs to have two playoff teams going into Thanksgiving,” Rudloff said. “Both teams have always been able to get excited for this game but I’m sure that Swampscott is excited to play us this year with what many feel is a better team.”
After the last couple of years, when Marblehead was able to jump out to commanding leads on Thanksgiving, Rudloff is hoping his team won’t take its rival lightly.
“As a coach, you always have to worry about whether or not your team “gets” the message,” he said. “This year is no different. This Swampscott team is every bit as good as we are and in some areas probably better. If we practice without that great deal of respect for them, then we will probably have a long unhappy Thanksgiving.”
Thursday will be a sendoff for a senior group that has seen extraordinary success in the program. Its resume includes four NEC titles, four playoff appearances, two North final appearances and one Super Bowl appearance.
“They have left a strong legacy for the underclassmen to follow,” Rudloff said.
Marblehead and Swampscott will kick off Thursday at 10 at Piper Field.