Freshman and sophomores contribute strongly to win
By Justin McAllister
It was one of the coldest Thanksgiving Days in history, just one degree, temperature-wise, from the all-time record as 15 degrees froze out Macdonald Stadium at kickoff.
Malden also set some sort of record by starting its youngest team – ever – in school history on Thanksgiving Day, with four freshmen and six sophomores on the field at kickoff. But you could not tell that by the action on the field as the Malden High School Golden Tornadoes heated up and battled visiting Medford nose-to-nose all morning, rallying to a 28-24 victory in the 131st meeting of the second-oldest high school rivalry in the nation’s history.
The back-and-forth game featured four score changes and went down to the very last play of the game, when one of the contest’s stars, Malden sophomore quarterback Justin Nortelus, purposely ran out of the end zone to hand Medford a safety on the very last play of the game as time ran out to seal the win. Malden also swarmed defensively, winning the turnover count 5-1 by recovering three Medford fumbles and recording two interceptions, a huge day.
With the win, Malden takes a 66-55-10 lead in the series, which began in 1889. It was also Malden’s fourth-straight victory in the series, its 10th win in the last 12 games.
For Malden, which had come into the game winless, it was the ultimate “Season Saver” victory, a victory the players and coaches had been working on for some time. Malden finished the season 1-9 overall while Medford concluded the year at 3-8.
“There’s no better way to finish the season than a victory on Thanksgiving Day over Medford,” said Malden coach Steve Freker, who played in the game as a former Tornado lineman and was coaching in his 19th holiday classic versus Medford, the first as head coach. “No doubt the turkey tastes a lot better with a victory!”
Plenty of standouts for Malden
Malden had plenty of standouts in the win, most notably junior captain Jerry Mervil, senior captains Raushad Moore and Tyler Martineau, sophomore quarterback Justin Nortelus. sophomore split end Matt Bessey and a bevy of freshmen, including starting linebacker Justin Desimone, quarterback JJ Costa, kicker Sammy Solzorano and starting linemen Davenche Sydney and Ivan Tao. Solzorano was the unofficial “Unsung Hero” as the ninth-grader avoided some heavy pressure to get off five punts without incident and also managed to keep Medford on the other side of the field with some nicely placed kickoffs.
Mervil, Malden’s leading scorer with nine touchdowns for the season, added two more to the list on Thanksgiving: one by air and the second on a 33-yard TD catch-and-run reception. He also played a strong game defensively at free safety.
Mervil has a sensational year
“[Mervil has] been our best player in many of our games, especially the second half of the season when we have been right there with a lot of our opponents and competing for wins,” coach Freker said. “He had another great game on Thanksgiving.”
Malden’s senior captains Moore and Martineau were solid on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. “Rashaud [Moore] and Tyler [Martineau] really stepped it up defensively on a day we really needed it.”
Nortelus played his best game, completing eight of 15 passes for 152 yards and two TD tosses, one each to Mervil and Bessey, who had three huge catches for 65 yards and the TD on the day. Nortelus also ran for a six-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the game-winning points, putting Malden ahead, 26-14, at the time.
Don’t forget about the freshmen. “We started four freshmen in this game and five sophomores. It was easily the youngest team that ever started for Malden in 131 years, no question,” coach Freker said, “and we used more freshmen in the course of the game; we needed every single one of them and they delivered.”
“Our youth was not out of desperation, either. These young freshmen and sophomores deserved to play, and I give credit to our coaching staff for preparing them for the most important game of the year,” coach Freker said. “No other game we play is even close to this one in importance, none of them.”
The game started wild and woolly and never let up. Malden turned the ball over on its very first play of the game on a bad snap and lost fumble, and Medford looked golden with a first-and-10 from Malden’s 21-yard line. Three plays later Medford returned the favor when junior Khali Hardmond intercepted a pass by Medford senior QB Keith Barrasso.
Malden proceeded to drive right down the field on a series of runs and passes, including two big catches by Bessey. Five plays later, just as the second quarter began, Mervil was in the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run and a 6-0 Malden lead. Nortelus hit freshman Jaiven Maurice with a conversion pass for an 8-0 lead.
That might have woken Medford up, and the Mustangs took the driver’s wheel for a good portion of the game with Barrasso, their sensational QB, leading the way. Barrasso, who led the game in the statistical categories with 230 yards rushing on just 17 carries and three TDs, scored the next two TDs on long runs of 56 yards and 33 yards.
Medford took full control in second
Medford seemed in full control, headed for another score with a first-and-10 at Malden’s 24-yard line with 3:21 left in the first half, when the turnover bug bit them again. This time it was a fumble recovery by Malden freshman starting linebacker Desimone, the first of two the ninth-grader hauled in on the day.
Nortelus came up big on the next play, a 51-yard pass completion to junior Ishmael Sylus, which gave Malden first-and-10 at Medford’s 17. Nortelus carried eight yards for a first-and-goal at the Medford 9 with 58 seconds left in the half.
Medford’s defense stiffened, and after a sack Malden faced fourth-and-goal from the Mustang 11. With 11 seconds left in the half, Nortelus found pay dirt, hitting Bessey on a slant pattern for an 11-yard TD to tie the game at 14-14. The conversion pass was no good and Malden had tied the game.
“That was such a key to the game. It was the first time all season we were not trailing at halftime, and it gave us such a boost and a lot of confidence,” coach Freker said.
Malden kept the momentum in the third quarter, and with three minutes left to go in the period, used another interception, this time by Sylus, to start another drive in Medford territory, this time at the Mustang 45. Another big catch by Bessey gave Malden a first down at the Medford 34. After a keeper by Nortelus to the Mustang 30, the soph QB then flipped a short pass to Mervil out of the backfield. Mervil weaved twice and then sprinted untouched from the Medford 20 for a 30-yard TD pass, and Malden took the lead for good at 20-14 with under a minute to go in the third quarter.
After the fourth Mustang turnover of the game, a fumble recovered by another Malden freshman, linebacker, Eli Beato, who played most of the second half and made a number of key tackles, the Tornado squad switched to clock-eating mode with 8:05 left in the game.
Costa and Nortelus led the way on key TD
“We changed our approach and got exactly what we were looking for when we put freshman J.J. Costa at QB and Justin (Nortelus) in the backfield,” Coach Freker said. “J.J. (Costa) has been outstanding all season for us at the varsity level when he’s been called upon and we really needed him in this game. His poise and performance really helped get us to the win by leading our last scoring drive.”
Malden went “beach attack” for the drive, with Nortelus, Mervil and Costa eating up ground yards. It was Nortelus punching it in from the six-yard line which gave Malden a mega-“insurance” TD with 4:44 to play as Malden shaved off nearly five minutes of clock time. Costa then hit Moore with a key conversion pass for a then-commanding 28-14 Malden lead.
“We knew it was not over, not with that kid [Barrasso] over there,” coach Freker said. “We knew we had to hold them on one of their last two possessions.”
Predictably, Medford went all-Barrasso, all the time, the rest of the way, since Malden – led by Desimone, Moore, seniors Sean Stout, Evan Heon and Martineau and sophomores Ralph Deus and Nick Cardoso – had stuffed everything else other than Barrasso’s running.
Barrasso scored his third TD of the game five plays later with 3:44 to play, and Malden went three-and-out as the Mustangs had one last shot.
Barrasso Right and Barrasso Left gave Medford a first-and-10 at Malden’s 17 with 1:42 left to play; however, disaster struck for Medford on the next play when Barrasso went down with a leg injury after a Jude Alphonse tackle and had to leave the game, not to return. Joel Disla replaced Barrasso, and disaster struck again for Medford, when two plays later, he fumbled the ball and it was recovered by the freshman Desimone, the defensive MVP of the game, with 51 left to play in the game.
Malden had forced Medford to burn its timeouts on the previous drive and was able to run the clock down to two seconds. Nortelus, on fourth down and seven from the Malden 9-yard line took the snap and ran out of the end zone for a safety, ending the game.
“Ironically, it was a similar score and a similar ending in last year’s game, but we chose to punt and it was nearly blocked,” coach Freker said. “No way are we doing that again. The safety was the best move.”
“We were really proud of our clock management in the second half; I think it was really the difference in the game,” coach Freker added, “plus our defense and all those turnovers. Our defensive coordinator, Mike Barbati, deserves a lot of credit for his game-planning as does offensive coordinator Steve Almquist, with a number of great play calls and, of course, our clock management.”
“It was our best game of the year at the best time; it was really great to send our seniors off with a win,” coach Freker said, “and it was great to see our younger players play so well and contribute so much. The future looks a lot brighter.”
Malden 28, Medford 24
Medford 0 14 0 10 24
Malden 0 14 6 8 28
Malden – Jerry Mervil 7-yard run (Maurice Jaiven pass from Justin Nortelus)
Medford – Keith Barrasso 56-yard run (rush failed)
Medford – Keith Barrasso 33-yard run (Kyle Pacheco pass from Keith Barrasso)
Malden – Matthew Bessey 11-yard pass from Justin Nortelus (pass failed)
Malden – Jerry Mervil 30-yard pass from Justin Nortelus (rush failed)
Malden – Justin Nortelus 6-yard run (Rashaud Moore pass from JJ Costa)
Medford – Keith Barrasso 4-yard run (Keith Barrasso run)
Medford – Safety (Malden quarterback ran out of the end zone.)