Photo: Senior running back Rhaki Joseph gained 117 yards in Belmont’s upset victory against Milton.
The student section stormed onto the field after the post-game handshakes were completed to begin a raucous celebration for a Friday Night victory that was both well deserved and long awaited for the Belmont High Marauders.
There are those pundits who will roll their eyes hearing that a football team and its supporters had “gone crazy” after winning the first game of the season. There are an entire league and divisional schedules remaining in addition to the Thanksgiving Day game, they will say. “Don’t get ahead of yourselves!”
The experts can say that all they want, just not to a team and coaching staff that demonstrated on last Friday Night the potential to take on top-notch competition … and come away on top. And it happened in Belmont against an opponent in Milton High School seen by many observers as heading to an early-December Super Bowl appearance.
Three touchdown passes by junior QB Avery Arno in his first varsity start and a four-down defensive stance inside its own 10-yard line with less than a minute to play highlighted Belmont High School football’s exciting 31-28 victory over 19th-ranked ‘Cats in the season opener, Sept. 7. It was the first time a Marauder team defeated a top-20 team in … just about forever.
In a game which Belmont came from behind three times, the Marauders’ held its composure and took back momentum each time to score and take the lead, including for the final time with less than 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when Arno found WR Zach Hubbard in the end zone followed by an Avery (Aron) to Avery (Gartland) two-point conversion.
It was a big night for Arno (11-22 for 117 yards with a single pick) and the Marauders backfield. Senior running backs Rhaki Joseph (117 yards) and Kilian O’Connell (65 yards) allowed Belmont to vary its offense with the pass and on the ground. Joseph’s touchdown in the second half saw the back sidestep the first wave of defenders, rounded the corner and outsprint three Wildcats 26 yards to paydirt.
Receivers Hubbard (two TDs) and Jared Edwards (catching Aron’s first varsity pass for a 26-yard touchdown in the first four minutes) were able to stretch the Wildcat defensive backs almost at will.
And while he had an extra point and field goal attempt blocked, junior kicker Hampton Trout hit a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter that provided the margin of the victory.
It was the Marauder defense, much maligned over the years, that determined the game’s outcome with the defensive line and linebackers (coached by Chris Sywetz) holding Milton’s running offense in check by not surrendering a run of more than 15 yards. It was a game where the Marauders forced the Wildcats to convert third and fourth downs while forcing a lost fumble (recovered by sophomore FB/LB Ryan Santoro in an impressive debut) and a big-time fourth-quarter interception by junior veteran defensive back Justin Rocha which resulted in Belmont scoring the final touchdown.
But it would be the final four plays by Milton with 125 seconds remaining that demonstrated within Belmont’s defense a maturity and attitude found in winning programs. Milton’s highly touted quarterback and leader Luke McMenamin drove his team to the Belmont 10. The Marauder front seven bent a little but did not break on the first two running plays. On third down, quick pressure caused a fumble pushing back the ‘Cats to the 7.
Rather than kick a short field goal, the Milton coaching staff saw fit to gamble on fourth down against the Marauders. McMenamin felt he had a teammate open on the far left of the end zone but the presence of a Belmont defender caused a throw that was sailed out of bounds. Cue the students.
On Friday comes the test of feeding off success as the Marauders travel on the MassPike to take on the Framingham High Falcons, the second non-Middlesex League team will play in consecutive years. It was a tough loss at home, 20-14, for the Marauders, one filled with mistakes and missed opportunities.
But the Marauders are not thinking about the past. They have seen what the future can hold.