FOXBOROUGH — Replacing a player the caliber of Chris Cusolito was easier said than done for the Melrose football team in Saturday’s Division 4 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
Cusolito, who suffered a fractured fibula in the 41-7 North final win over Revere on Nov. 15, wasn’t quite ready to go against Plymouth South. The senior co-captain had 25 total touchdowns (20 rushing, three receiving and two kick returns) for the unbeaten Red Raiders in 2019, rushing for 1,034 yards on just 83 carries.
Melrose didn’t quite need to reinvent the wheel, but a shift from its primarily spread-based offense to a power-I scheme was a necessary change in its 28-13 win for the program’s second state title in the last three seasons.
“That was a tough defense we were playing,” Melrose coach Tim Morris said. “We had to do some things that we don’t normally do to get going. We got back into the old tight I, and ran the ball downhill. We love doing that, but you can’t do it too often. That was the thing that really helped us today.”
The results were outstanding for the Red Raiders, who rushed for 220 yards as a team on 41 attempts for a robust 5.4 yards per carry.
Melrose ran often out of jumbo formations with an extra lineman, using Mical and Micye Duntin, Frank Capaldo, Andrew Norton-Jefferson, and co-captain Jared Karelas. Quarterback Brendan Fennell, a junior who rushed for 609 yards in the regular season, led Melrose with 108 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown vs. South.
Matthew Hickey added 76 yards on 19 attempts and a touchdown as well, including a 1-yard score which put the finishing touches on an 11-play, 99-yard drive that gave the Red Raiders a 13-7 lead with 1:36 left in the first half.
“Chris is an amazing player, he’s done it for us all year,” Fennell said. “But we’ve got a great backfield. We’ve got one of the best offensive lines in the state and they really showed it tonight.”
Fennell said that Melrose would run out of the I-formation in practice at times just in case a situation such as this one arose, a contingency which proved wise for the final.
Karelas, who plays center, said that down blocks were the key to the game plan.
“The line worked as a group, opening up holes for the running backs,” Karelas said. “They did the rest of the work.”