Winner takes all in tomorrow’s rematch at Gillette

Published in the December 4, 2015 edition

FOR THE second straight year the Melrose Red Raider football team will play in Super Bowl Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Melrose is set to play Dartmouth at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon.

FOR THE second straight year the Melrose Red Raider football team will play in Super Bowl Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Melrose is set to play Dartmouth at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon.



MELROSE — After two consecutive trips to Foxboro, is it any wonder the 2015 Melrose Red Raider football team feels at home at Gillette Stadium?

On the eve of their second straight Div. 3 Super Bowl appearance this Saturday, members of the Melrose Red Raider football team returned to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 1 for the MIAA Championship Breakfast & Media Day held at the new Optum Field Lounge at Gillette Stadium.

For coach Tim Morris’ squad, an event like this is something they could get used to. They joined 11 other Super Bowl-bound teams in Massachusetts who made themselves available to the press at New England’s football cathedral. On hand was former Patriot Andre Tippitt, who spoke to captains and coaches during the Championship Breakfast.

Melrose and Dartmouth are set for a rematch in the Div. 3 State Final at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 5 at Gillette Stadium. Dartmouth edged Melrose last season in the Super Bowl, 14-7 at this very stadium, so needless to say revenge is at stake. A coin flip proceeded the media session, which Dartmouth won, giving the Indians home team rights on Saturday.

Getting back to Gillette was a Herculean achievement for Melrose, who settled on that goal during a long bus ride home from Foxboro last December. It’s something they held on to and nourished during the many hours of offseason training in the weight room. Unlike last season, however, they don’t appear a bit awestruck to be in Foxboro. They are approaching the game with a cool, workman-like mentality.

On Tuesday, Melrose was represented by their senior tri-captains: Cameron Hickey, Jaret Botelho and Brian Mercer. The three have been a deadly trio on defense this season, wreaking havoc on quarterbacks in 12 straight games. They spoke about earning the twice-in-a-lifetime chance to earn a Super Bowl crown for their hometown.

“Right when the clock expired last season we knew we would do whatever it takes to get back here,” said Cameron Hickey. “Being here means the world to the team.”

The Raiders will be practicing rain or shine this week, prepping for a tough Dartmouth team, which includes premiere running back Chris Martin, who Melrose was forced to contend with at last year’s Bowl. In order to reverse the outcome, Melrose will have to dig deep and readjust.

Melrose’s Jaret Botelho spoke about how to prevail this year. “I think we could plan and prep a little better this year than last, since we have played against them already,” he said.

This year, Melrose has the advantage record-wise, coming into the game undefeated at 12-0 (Dartmouth is 10-2). Being undefeated perhaps gives Melrose a bit more street cred. It’s not something Dartmouth coach Richard White takes lightly. “They [Melrose] are definitely a run first team, with powerful strong kids. Like last year we are similar teams – play similar style, not real flashy. We’re going grind it out on offense, play the pass game when we can. Melrose doesn’t give up the big play – they’re big tacklers and they got three tough guys on offense. They’ll get down the field if you fall asleep on them.”

Certainly it benefits Melrose that they know their opponent this time around. It’s fairly safe to say there will be few surprises. Said Melrose senior captain Brian Mercer, “We’re just going to do our job on defense. They’re a good team, one of the best we’ve played and we are looking forward to facing them.”

Managing Chris Martin will be a primary goal, according to coach Tim Morris. “He’s one of the best backs in the state. It will be important to limit his yardage.”

But Melrose is stacked with a three-headed offensive beast in backs Mike Pedrini and Jay Tyler and quarterback Julian Nyland. While Dartmouth has a well-respected defense, it only takes one breakout move from any Raider to alter a game. “All year long someone has made a key play, you never know when that deciding play of the game will be. We just have to be consistent, “ said Morris.

Dartmouth’s White feels the two teams are pretty even. “We’re mirror images of ourselves and that’s probably why we are back facing each other.”

A win by the Red Raiders would be a first-ever for Melrose, who last won a major football title half a century ago, before Super Bowls were even around. They’ve come close in the past – excruciatingly close – and have seen broken hearts in 1982, 1999 and 2014. Melrose fans know those wins and losses by heart and they don’t forget.

So what would a win mean to Coach Morris, now leading Melrose for 22 years? He says simply, “I’d be very, very happy for the kids, they’ve worked so hard. It would be tremendous.”

And yet, there is no sense of over-reflection in this Melrose team. No chasing ghosts. On Tuesday, Melrose wasn’t fielding questions about how it felt to finally get here, because this is no Cinderella team.

It’s a workhorse team. For undefeated Melrose, Saturday is just another chance to do what they’ve done all season: do their job, nose down, and grind out a win.