FOXBOROUGH — For Connor Cronin, it was two of the biggest plays of his life. For Marblehead, it’s the biggest win in program history — a long-awaited crowning moment.
At last, the Magicians are state champs — outpunching North Attleborough, 35-28, in a thrilling back-and-forth bout to capture the Division 3 crown at drizzly Gillette Stadium Thursday.
In a performance for the ages, the 6-foot-2-inch, 180-pound junior caught three touchdown passes — his 83-yard go-ahead touchdown with 3:22 left in the game putting the exclamation point on a jaw-dropping evening. He also struck for a 73-yard score just before halftime.
“The ball found me today, I had to make those plays,” said Cronin. “Spotlight was on us. It was truly amazing to go out there and have a performance like that. It’s crazy … I’m speechless right now.”
The junior finished with 10 catches for 263 yards. On defense, his interception with just under a minute and a half left in the game was the final dagger in the heart of its Hockomock opponents.
Cronin started the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown on a fade from Josh Robertson (14-of-18 passing, 290 yards, four touchdowns) on the first play of the second quarter to make it 7-0. But it was on the last offensive snap of the half that Cronin started to put his stamp on the game.
Following a 4-yard touchdown run from Tyler DeMattio that gave North Attleborough a 14-7 lead with 40 seconds left before the break — Cronin pulled a rabbit out his hat.
Splitting a double team in the slot, Cronin hauled in a deep ball from Robertson and broke multiple tackles as he stayed on his feet long enough to rumble into the end zone.
“Put the ball in my hands and I’m going to make something happen,” said Cronin. “I’m going to do everything I can to make people miss and that leads to touchdowns.”
“It seems like he does something incredible every game,” said Robertson. “He’s a talented kid, one of the most talented in Massachusetts. Just get the ball in his hands and watch him do the rest.”
That’s what the Magicians did in the fourth quarter in a tie game. On third and 7 from its 17-yard line, Marblehead got Cronin in space on a middle screen. Taking advantage of a blitz, Cronin broke a tackle in space and chugged for pay dirt.
“He’s awesome,” said North Attleborough coach Don Johnson. “We had seen that on film. I was very concerned about our ability to match up with their guys in the slot. They’re just great playmakers.”
Marblehead’s Liam McIlroy picked off North Attleborough freshman quarterback Chase Frisoli on the third play of the third quarter. Robertson then hit George Percy for a 20-yard touchdown s for a 14-point swing and 28-14 lead.
But the Red Rocketeers stormed back with back-to-back touchdowns runs from Tyler Bannon and DeMattio in the fourth quarter to tie it with 4:20 to play.
“They are a great team,” said Robertson. “They absolutely pounded the football. We could not stop their offense. But we answered each time.”
Marblehead finished the season with a state best 20-game winning streak dating to 2019. And for coach Jim Rudloff, the win erases the sour taste of Super Bowl losses in 2009 and 2016.
“I just gave him a big hug,” said Robertson of his head coach. “This is our last football game together. I have worked with him every day for the last three days. To end it like this is unreal. This was for him.”
Marblehead 35, North Attleborough 28
at Gillette Stadium
North Attleborough (8-4) 0 14 7 7 — 28
Marblehead (12-0) 0 14 14 7 — 35
M — Connor Cronin 7 pass from Joshua Robertson (Eli Feingold kick)
NA — Tyler DeMattio 5 run (Tyler DeMattio kick)
NA — Tyler DeMattio 4 run (Tyler DeMattio kick)
M — Connor Cronin 73 pass from Joshua Robertson (Eli Feingold kick)
M — George Percy 20 run (Eli Feingold kick)
M — Joshua Robertson 8 run ( kick)
NA — Tyler Bannon 5 run (Tyler DeMattio kick)
NA — Tyler DeMattio 3 run (Tyler DeMattio kick)
M — Connor Cronin 83 pass from Joshua Robertson (Eli Feingold kick)
RUSHING — M, George Percy 7-51, Connor Cronin 5-22, Joshua Robertson 10-(-17); NA, Tyler DeMattio 24-105, Tyler Bannon 18-92, Nathan Shultz 1-4, Chase Frisoli 3-0
PASSING — M, Joshua Robertson 14-18--290; NA, Chase Frisoli 10-18-2-144
RECEIVING — M, Connor Cronin 10-263, George Percy 3-28, Craig Michalowski 1-(-1); NA, Nathan Shultz 3-50, Jack Munley 2-31, Tyler DeMattio 2-29, Gavin Wells 2-23, Aidan Conrad 1-11