FOXBOROUGH — When the Division 4 Super Bowl hung in the balance, Melrose senior captain William Pesce Jr. found the strength to prevail.
Playing in the memory of his father, William Pesce Sr., who died in January, Pesce Jr. had a second half to remember with a 14-yard touchdown reception, a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown, and an interception to seal a 28-13 victory Saturday at Gillette Stadium, lifting Melrose to its second state title in three years.
“We just come to play four quarters and we know the game is not going to be over early,” said Pesce, who also played a key role as a lead blocker.
“I’ve been playing for [my dad] all season long, and I know he’s up there watching. Winning the [state title] here [at Gillette], it’s the best. Nothing compares to this.”
Melrose (12-0) struck first with a 13-play, 62-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from junior quarterback Brendan Fennell (16 carries, 108 yards).
Making its second Super Bowl appearance in program history, Plymouth South (10-3) responded with a 72-yard scoring drive, Nick Siegelman bursting for a 19-yard touchdown to even the score.
A brilliant punt down to the 1-yard line could not slow down the Red Raiders, who used 11 rushing plays to go 99 yards, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Matt Hickey (19 carries, 76 yards), to take a 13-7 lead into halftime. With star running back Chris Cusolito (leg) out, the Red Raiders shifted their rushing attack, and still found ways to dominate behind an experienced offensive line.
“Hard work pays off,” said 26-year Melrose coach Tim Morris. “Because we don’t have huge guys. We have good athletes and they work hard. And for them to realize this goal, I’m just so happy for them.”
Siegelman (16 carries, 91 yards) once again led South back with a 37-yard burst and a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down to even the game, 13-13. But Melrose capitalized on great field position and a key pass interference call to set up a 14-yard touchdown pass from Fennel to Pesce late in the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, Melrose pulled away for good when Pesce collected a punt, spun past defenders near midfield, and blazed into the end zone to expand the lead to 28-13.
“[Pesce’s] been the heart and soul of our football team all year long,” said Morris. “He’s a tremendous kid with great work ethic. He just led the guys and inspired everybody.
“He’s been through a lot this year, and it brought tears to my eyes watching him return that [punt]. He’s had a great career for us, but this was certainly the icing on the cake.”
Melrose 28, Plymouth South 13
at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
Melrose (12-0) 7 6 8 7 — 28
Plymouth South (10-3) 0 7 6 0 — 13
M — Brendan Fennell 1 run (Zach Federico kick)
PS — Nick Siegelman 19 run (Tyler Doyle kick)
M — Matthew Hickey 1 run (kick failed)
PS — Nick Siegelman 1 run (kick failed)
M — William Pesce 14 pass from Brendan Fennell (Matthew Hickey run)
M — William Pesce 62 punt return (Zach Federico kick)
RUSHING — M, Brendan Fennell 16-108, Matthew Hickey 19-76, William Pesce 4-24, Sean Herbert 2-12; PS, Nick Siegelman 16-91, Hunter Dean 4-24, Cillian Davis 1-2
PASSING — M, Brendan Fennell 3-8-38; PS, Hunter Dean 7-16-1-67
RECEIVING — M, Brendan Maher 1-19, William Pesce 1-14, Sean Herbert 1-5; PS, Cillian Davis 3-35, Kevin Paul 2-17, Jack Condon 1-9, Nick Siegelman 1-6
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.