SALEM — It couldn’t have been as easy as they made it look.
Searching for their first Super Bowl berth in over two decades, the Salem High football team put on a clinic Friday night against Stoneham to officially punch their long-awaited ticket to Gillette Stadium.
On Football: Salem rides ‘Mystery Machine’ all the way to Super Bowl
This stat alone will tell you all you need to know about the Witches’ convincing 38-14 win: they ran zero plays from scrimmage in the first quarter, yet still led going into Quarter No. 2. In total, Salem took just 27 offensive snaps to Stoneham’s 67, but completely dominated all phases and made the most of their touches en route to the monumental Division 6 triumph.
“Definitely excitement right now,” said a smiling captain Devante Ozuna, who scored three times in the win and ripped off 230 yards from scrimmage. “All week going into this we knew what the Stoneham team was, we knew what it was gonna be like.
“This has obviously been our dream, but to actually be here … definitely just really exciting.”
Before Ozuna even got going, the Witches were off and running.
Junior captain Quinn Rocco Ryan took the game’s opening kickoff 89 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown and a swift lead. After Stoneham executed a nice scoring drive of its own, capped off by a 30-yard TD pass from Matthew Tran to Sam Sereda, Salem’s special teams were at it again.
Stoneham tried to kick it short to avoid danger, but speedy Albert Pujols was playing up, fielded the bouncing ball and raced 68 yards to the house for a 13-8 lead. The improbable and explosive start not only gave Salem some early momentum, but propelled them to a well-rounded and commanding evening on the turf.
“I didn’t have to call an offensive play in the first quarter,” Salem head coach Matt Bouchard said with a laugh. “So hats off to (assistant) coach (Cliff) Exhillhome and the special teams group. If we rewind to that first game we had a bunch of special teams problems, so hats off to that entire group. They did a really nice job tonight.”
Despite Salem’s dramatic start, Stoneham (6-5) stuck to its game plan and actually seized the lead. The Spartans drove 65 yards in 15 plays — 13 of which were runs — to find the end zone for a second time and a 14-13 advantage. Tran had the score, punching it in from three yards out.
From there, however, it was all Witches.
Senior fullback Shane Field scored on a 1-yard run, Salem forced a turnover on downs, and just before the half Ozuna executed the play of the game for a huge touchdown.
With just 51 seconds remaining until halftime, it appeared Salem may just take a knee and go into the break with an 11-point lead (25-14). Instead, Grimes tossed a quick screen to the left side and Ozuna hauled it in, made a couple quick moves and outran everybody for an 81-yard TD. His lateral speed and sheer burst on the go was on full display throughout the sprint to paydirt.
“Going into the half, you like to have a comfortable lead right there. We were only up I think 12 (11), points so we knew we needed one to get in,” said Ozuna. “That screen’s always wide open; it’s a good play for us.”
Salem increased its lead early in the third on another run from Ozuna, this time a physical, bruising carry to the outside from 16 yards out. Ozuna basically carried one defender on his hip for a good stretch before crossing the plane to supplant the scoring.
“That goes back to the weight room working with coach Greg,” added Ozuna. “He’s pushing us every day of the week, strength training every Monday and Wednesday, flexibility … it reflects stuff like that (run).”
Defensively, Salem was stout at the line of scrimmage and was able to limit any chunk gains from the run-heavy Spartans attack. Stoneham was able to get some extended drives going — like a 13-play series in the third stanza — but the Witches stood strong near the goal line to keep the ball out of the end zone.
Grimes, who finished 3-for-6 for 141 yards and 2 TDs on offense, was a beast on defense, too, as was Ozuna at Mike linebacker. Elias Vasquez controlled the line, Field made his usual impact on the edge, and the Salem secondary made it very difficult on Tran any time he dropped back to pass.
Additionally, Bouchard singled out the terrific play from both Logan Abboud and freshman Markius Carrasquillo. Both players were shuffled from their original defensive slots due to injuries, with Abboud sliding over from linebacker to D-tackle, and Carrasquillo earning his first start of the year at right guard.
Pujols and Rocco Ryan both had a hand in a key forced fumble in the second half, which Ozuna jumped on for the recovery, and Rocco Ryan also secured an interception in the end zone late in action to keep Stoneham off the board. That particular play was sheer will on Ryan’s part, as he wrestled the ball away from the intended receiver on the trick play half back pass.
It was the second consecutive dominant performance from Salem following last week’s 55-0 drubbing of Cardinal Spellman. Now they’ll await the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between No. 8 Fairhaven and No. 4 Hudson as they gear up for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999.
“We’re hungry,” added Ozuna. “This has been the youth team growing up that we all played with each other, so we know how to win and we’re just going to lock in from here.”
Salem 38, Stoneham 14
Division 6 state semifinal
at Manning Field, Lynn
SAL — Quinn Rocco Ryan 89 kickoff return (Corey Grimes kick)
ST — Sam Sereda 30 pass from Matthew Tran (Tran rush)
SAL — Albert Pujols 69 kickoff return (Kick fails)
ST — Tran 3 run (Rush fails)
SAL — Ozuna 53 pass from Grimes (Pass fails)
SAL — Shane Field 1 run (Kick fails)
SAL — Ozuna 81 pass from Grimes (Grimes kick)
SAL — Ozuna 16 run (Kick blocked)
RUSHING: Stoneham — Matthew Tran 12-63, Ben Bruno 15-55, Kevin Gilmartin 14-54, Dylan Posey 6-17, Logan Tran 4-11, Ty Baker 3-8, Ivan Kerrigan 1-2; Salem — Devante Ozuna 12-89, Corey Grimes 2-16, Shane Field 4-14, Quinn Rocco Ryan 3-3.
PASSING: Stoneham — Matthew Tran 6-11-80-1-0, Gilmartin 0-1-0-0-1; Salem — Grimes 3-6-141-2-0.
RECEIVING: Stoneham — Sereda 1-30, Tommy Ciulla 1-13, Gilmartin 1-10, Posey 1-10, Baker 1-9, Wyatt Rowmanowski 1-8; Salem— Ozuna 2-134, Rocco Ryan 1-7.