Tornados dropped first two games; team hit hard by key injuries
By Steve Freker
The timeline has been tough to look at and for third-year Head Coach Witche Exilhomme, unbearable to live through. Week One saw his Malden High varsity football squad get KOed by both the injury bug and a team it should have beaten handily in a 20-16 loss on the road to host Lynn Tech. Last week saw Hurricane Lee skip the Atlantic Ocean and hover over Green Stadium in Melrose when the Golden Tornado Squad traveled two miles and absorbed a 41-6 thrashing. The wheels fell off the wagon and the roof caved in all in the same night for Malden, which saw key players fall and get knocked out of the game like candlepins.
So what does Week Three hold for the now 0-2 Malden High squad? Malden does stay on the non-league slate with a game against Alvirne (N.H.) High School tonight (6:00 p.m. kickoff) but gets to taste “home cookin’” for the first time this season in the friendly confines of Macdonald Stadium. For Coach Exilhomme, it’s a “stay the course” game once again. He says that Malden must keep their collective heads up and battle the adversity.
“We are continuing to work very hard and we are planning on getting the win [Friday night],” Coach Exilhomme said Wednesday night. “These players put a lot of time and effort into the offseason and we are not going to let a couple of setbacks stop us.”
Setbacks have been numerous for Malden to date. In the season opening loss in Lynn, Malden went feast to famine in hurry when junior running back Kevin Exilhomme broke off the third play from scrimmage for a 38-yard touchdown to give Malden a quick 6-0 lead in its first possession. Celebration turned on a dime to desolation on the next series when Exilhomme carried on the first play and suddenly went down and did not get up. He had to leave the game and did not return – later diagnosed with a broken collarbone.
For the second straight season, Malden will be without its best player for an extended period due to injury. Mak Blaise-Coulanges ran for over 300 yards in just a game and half for Malden in his senior season, before getting knocked out for the rest of the schedule with a knee injury requiring surgery, in the fourth quarter of an eventual one-sided win. There is a bit more of a positive spin in Kevin Exilhomme’s case as he did not require surgery and could be eyeing an early November return, in the most optimistic forecast.
Even Exilhomme’s presence in the backfield was filling in for still another injury, with junior running back and co-captain Mateus Brito missing the final scrimmage as well as the first two games of the regular season with a shoulder injury.
Against Melrose, Malden was down to its third replacement running back when they moved slot receiver junior Davian McGuffie into the backfield against Melrose. The switch to the talented and athletic McGuffie paid immediate dividends, as McGuffie sliced and rambled through the Melrose defense for 43 yards on five carries in the first half. In the second quarter, it went up in smoke as McGuffie went down with a hip injury. He had to leave the game, and Malden was forced to play its 4th and 5th string running backs.
Meanwhile, Malden’s passing game was shaky at best. Junior quarterback Aidan Brett completed 4-of-13 passes (too many drops) for under 100 yards and one interception.
“We have had so many injuries in different places in our lineups. We just are not deep enough to try and keep replacing players,” Coach Exilhomme said. “I don’t think many high school teams can.”
Malden played giveaway in a 20-16 loss to Lynn Tech in the opener. The lone highlights were the Exilhomme touchdown run and when freshman quarterback Ryan Bowdridge was inserted into the game and, on his very first pass, hit Gabriel Vargas Cardoso in stride with a 32-yard touchdown pass – on his very first varsity pass of his career. That’s it.
Against Alvirne tonight, the coach said, Malden will stick with a balanced run-pass offense. Juniors Marcus Pierre and Zach Johnson will run out of the backfield, and quarterback Brett will be looking to connect with 6-5 senior co-captain Gabriel Vargas Cardoso and juniors Johnson Huynh and Nate Sullivan.
Mainstays for Malden so far despite the slow start have been senior two-way lineman and co-captain Jerell Calixte and junior linemen Earl Fevrier, Chris Rodriguez and Christian Cassion. Malden will also be looking for a strong game from senior safety Felix Junior Da Costa, who is the team’s returning leader in the defensive backfield. Da Costa had five interceptions a year ago. Linebacker and co-captain James Hyppolite, Malden’s top tackler as a sophomore and back for his third varsity season, was knocked out of the Melrose game along with three other starters, but he is expected back tonight.
“It has not been easy keeping it together but this is a committed group of players,” Coach Exilhomme said. “They know how to face adversity and they back each other up. We know there are winnable games ahead on our schedule and we are hoping [tonight] is one of them.”
TORNADO WARNINGS: After tonight’s game, Malden stays home next week for a Friday, September 29, game versus Somerville in its Greater Boston League (GBL) opener… Following that: Friday, October 6, at Lynn Classical; Thursday, October 12, at home vs. Lynn English; Friday, October 20, at home vs. Everett; Friday, October 27, at Revere… This year’s Thanksgiving Day game is on Thursday, November 23, at Medford, the first time Malden will travel to Hormel Stadium in Medford since Thanksgiving Day, 2019… Malden fell, 28-0, to Melrose in junior varsity football action this past Saturday. Freshman QB Ryan Bowdridge had 130 yards rushing, and sophomore safety Matthew Candelario Da Costa had 10 tackles.