WILMINGTON – After losing to Wakefield in Week 7 which eliminated Wilmington from making its first playoff appearance since the 2017 season, the Wildcats hosted Saugus this past Friday night in the first of three non-qualifying playoff games.
These types of games sometimes have been tough to get that extra motivation from players and teams, and that showed as the 'Cats did not play well throughout the four quarters. However, two touchdown passes, and a stingy defense in the final minute of the game was enough for the Wildcats to hang on for a 14-8 victory.
The win pushes the 'Cats to 3-5 on the season as the hope is two more non-playoff victories would give them a .500 record heading into Thanksgiving. Saugus fell to 1-7.
"Not our best game at all," said Wilmington head coach Craig Turner. "Actually I thought we played really poorly. We were kind of lackadaisical and thought we were never in trouble and the next thing you know it's a 14-8 game and they had the ball.
“Defense did just enough in the second half to get by. We certainly are going to need to be much better in the next couple of weeks. I'm happy for the kids though. We'll take a win anyway we can get one."
Over the last handful of games, Turner has gone with a two-quarterback system with senior Christian Robarge and freshman Joe McCauley. In this game he shifted Robarge back to the wide receiver spot, and McCauley took ever snap.
In the first half, McCauley connected on several long passes, including a 10-yard completion to Robarge, coming on a big fourth-and-seven play. That capped off a 13-play, 80-yard drive, which included a deep 36-yard competition to Gavin Erickson, as well as seven rushing plays for a combined 33 yards from senior Bailey Smith. A handful of those successful runs came on the blocks by sophomore tackle Jake Chirichiello.
"Jake was phenomenal," said Turner. "He's going to be a very good player. For a kid his size, he really moves ball and he's a kid who has only played a year-and-a-half of football. He really loves it and he buys into it. We are excited that he's on our side as we think he's going to be a really good player.
“He's a great kid, too. I think he may have said five words all season. We call him the 'Rocketman' because when he is pulling, we wonder where does this speed come from? He just explodes. He's just really athletic for a big kid."
Robarge's touchdown, along with the first of two PAT kicks by junior Stephen Smolinsky, gave the 'Cats a 7-0 halftime lead.
Wilmington opened the third quarter with the ball on its own 35. On second down, McCauley connected with Joao Germano for a 14-yard completion and two plays later Smith ran the ball for 9 yards, followed by a gain of four, putting the ball on the Sachems' 41.
Three plays later from the 29, McCauley sent a quick pass out to his left to Erickson, who made a nice inside spin move to get away from the cornerback and he went in for the score making it 14-0 with 8:00 left in the third.
At that point McCauley was 6-for-10 for 135 yards before ending 8-for-15 for 155 yards with two TD passes and one interception.
"There's always going to be some good and some struggles whenever you play a young kid like that, but I think he is really coming on," said Turner. "That touchdown pass to Robarge down there, Joe came off his initial read and went back and the same thing on the touchdown to Erickson, came off the first read and went back there. Joe is really making progress and he's going to be a heck of a player."
Saugus came right back and out together a quick 7-play scoring drive with QB Christian Correia converting on a 1-yard keeper play. On the conversion kick, Wilmington was off-sides so Saugus elected to go for two and Correia ran it in again, making it a 14-8 game with 4:51 left in the third.
Both teams exchanged punts, then Correia intercepted a McCauley pass and returned it to Wilmington's 41 but a 15-yard illegal block in the penalty brought it back to the Saugus 44. Three plays later, Correia was sacked by the combination of Dean Nally and Pat McAndrew on third down forcing another punt.
Wilmington returned the favor, and Saugus had the ball on its on 20 with 2:20 to go. Three running plays of a combined 33 yards moved the ball into Wildcats' territory.
Four plays later Correia connected on a short pass moving the chains to the Wilmington 29. Facing third-and-two with 35 seconds to go, Saugus got the first down on a running play, before spiking the ball to stop the clock. Correia then threw two incomplete passes to end the game, the second on nice coverage from sophomore Marcello Misuraca.
"Throughout the season, Bailey Smith and Christian Robarge have been making the majority of our plays and tonight we had a lot of underclassmen make them," saud Turner. "Those younger kids are good players.
“I thought Marcello Misuraca had a great game on defense. He had been playing great at cornerback and we know that he's a linebacker (but we had void to fill at cornerback). Tonight we put him at linebacker and he had a great game. He made a number of big plays for us on defense."
FISHERMEN UP NEXT
Wilmington will travel to face Gloucester (1-7) on Friday night beginning at 6:00 pm. Last year the Fishmermen won the Division 4 North Sectional Championship before losing to Nashoba Regional in the Eastern Mass Championship game.
A year later, under a new head coach Dan O’Connor, who was with the program in 2009-11 before leaving to become the defensive coordinator at KIPP Academy, took over an extremely young team.
Before last week’s 28-27 win over Boston Latin, Gloucester had been outscored 292-14 this year playing arguably the toughest schedule around with six of their seven opponents in the playoffs, including Revere, Marblehead, Lynn English, Beverly, Lynn Classical and Swampscott, while Peabody (a Division 2 team) did not qualify.
This past weekend the Fishermen came through with their first win of the season over Boston Latin. The Wolfpack scored a late touchdown and elected to go for two but were stopped by the Gloucester defense.
Offensively, the team is led by quarterback Sam Ciolino, running backs Frank DeSisto and Toby Campbell, tight end Ben Rosales, who is also one of the team’s top defensive players at middle linebacker.