NATICK — Vinnie Holmes and Nick Marciano watched helplessly from the sidelines when the Mansfield High football team fell to King Philip in last year’s Division 2 South final.
Now fully healthy, those senior captains led a dominant second-half effort to pace the second-seeded Hornets to a 22-3 victory at top-seeded Natick in Friday’s D2 South final.
Mansfield (9-1) will look for its fourth Super Bowl championship since 2010 when it faces either Lincoln-Sudbury or North Andover on Dec. 6 at Gillette Stadium.
“I tore my ACL and had 11 months of rehab,” Marciano explained. “Just to be able to help my team again feels awesome. There’s nothing better.”
Both defenses held strong throughout a back-and-forth first half, with Mike DeBolt nailing three field goals to give the Hornets a 9-3 halftime lead.
With Holmes (who missed the end of last season with mononucleosis) and Marciano leading the way on both sides of the ball, Mansfield took control after the break.
Marciano (10 carries, 44 yards, 2 receptions, 22 yards) compiled 33 scrimmage yards and finished a 53-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Then the duo iced the game with a six-minute scoring drive, capped by an 11-yard touchdown run from Holmes (18 carries, 130 yards).
“It was the best feeling to have me and Nick punching in touchdowns at the end of the game,” said Holmes, the program’s all-time leader with more than 300 career tackles.
“It means the world to us, as a team, to be able to go to Gillette and play for a state title.”
Natick (9-1) lost star left tackle Jakobi Holiday to an apparent ankle injury early in the game and never got its vaunted running game on track. After running for 475 yards over Natick’s first two playoff wins, Jalyn Aponte was held to 19 yards on 11 carries.
Mansfield dominated time of possession and only allowed two first downs via penalty in an incredible defensive performance.
“The defense was lights out tonight,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding.
“There was a sense of frustration at halftime. But [after the break] everybody stepped up, got more physical, and it was like, ‘This is our game, we’re going to take it.’ ”
After falling in the sectional semifinals two years ago and losing a heartbreaker in the sectional final last year, Redding relishes the opportunity to show this group what it feels like to take the field at Gillette Stadium.
“We told them before the game,” said Redding. “You’ve been through a lot, but it’s all worth it when you get to walk down the ramp at Gillette Stadium and I’m glad they’ll have a chance to do that.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at email@example.com.