Big plays lead Magic past Tigers in season opener

The offense sputtered and the defense yielded yards, but both units (along with special teams) made plays when it mattered as Monti beat Princeton 20-6 Thursday night

The Magic football team graduated countless seniors, including a handful of studs, from last year’s conference championship team.
Yet, as some programs like to say, tradition doesn’t graduate.
And while much remains to be seen on whether the Magic will be able to maintain their newly regained and highly regarded tradition of winning, they got off to a good start last Thursday night, using a staple from last year’s team to get an opening 20-6 win at Princeton.
Last year’s Magic team wouldn’t always strike first, but they had an incredible knack for bouncing back, most often immediately after being struck. The 2013 Magic proved capable of the exact same feat Thursday night, when Princeton scored first, but Monticello scored the next 20 to start the season 1-0.
While the night ended with the Magic moving full speed ahead, it started with them moving in reverse.
They had the first opportunity on a warm late summer night, taking the kickoff and starting the first possession of the season near their own 20-yard line. But they lost yards on their three-play series, and after a big punt return, the Tigers started their first offensive possession at the Magic 30.
The Tigers quickly picked up a first down, before the Magic defense stiffened, forcing a third down for Princeton, with 12 yards to go.
The Tigers connected, finding a receiver down the seam, and he was able to hold on through a big hit from Sam Johnson, setting the home team up at the one-yard line. On the next play, Sam Archer punched it into the end zone.
After a failed extra point, it was 6-0, Tigers, just five minutes into the season.
Coach Jason Telecky said that while it obviously wasn’t the start the Magic wanted, they were prepared for it.
“We really put an emphasis that if something bad happens, we have to overcome,” said Telecky.They did, quickly.
After a miscommunication led to a minimal return on the opening kickoff, Johnson made sure he got an opportunity on the second one. The senior caught the kick and headed toward the right sideline. Along the way he passed a teammate, feigning a handoff. When Johnson tucked the ball back in and turned up field, he liked what he saw.
“Great blocking,” said Johnson. “I just looked up and saw green. The rest of the kickoff team did a great job on that.”
The All-State sprinter doesn’t need much green to go, and he had plenty. Seventy-six yards later, Johnson was galloping into the end zone, well ahead of anyone else.
The Magic had trailed for all of eight seconds. And following an extra point kick by Taylor Modaff, the Magic led, 7-6.
It wasn’t instantaneous, but Johnson’s big play would spark other big plays.

Jake Berthiaume looks for a receiver during first-half action in Princeton Thursday night. (Photos by Clay Sawatzke)

Jake Berthiaume looks for a receiver during first-half action in Princeton Thursday night. (Photos by Clay Sawatzke)

The Tigers drove down to the Magic 25-yard line on their next possession, but again found themselves in a third and long situation. This time, the Magic were ready.
The Tigers’ quarterback dropped back and had time to throw. He just didn’t have anyone to throw it to. He tried to connect with his receiver running a fade down the left sideline, but Magic cornerback Matt Grathwohl was running the route right in front of the receiver. Grathwohl reached up and reeled in the pass in the back of the end zone, securing the first Magic takeaway of the season and giving the offense the ball at the 20.
The Magic, however, couldn’t take advantage. Instead they went three and out on the two ensuing possessions.
Princeton would put together another drive, aided by a fake punt, that moved them to the Magic 30. But Monticello got two big short yardage stops, forcing a turnover on downs.
“Our philosophy is bend but don’t break,” said Telecky. “The only stat defensively that matters to us is that they have less points than we do.”
Taking over at their own 30, the Magic offense was jolted to life.
With the ground game bogged down, they went to the air. Jake Berthiaume dropped back and found Andrew Manning coming across the middle on a slant, Manning caught the pass and did the rest. The senior took off down field, finally getting tackled inside the 20-yard line, for a 54-yard completion.
Suddenly, the Magic looked lively.
“Our guys were pretty fired up,” said Telecky.
They continued the momentum. Nick Bomersine took a handoff and went 15 yards all the way down to the goal line. From there, the Magic turned to Jake Olson. The big senior back took a handoff and powered into the end zone, extending the visitor’s lead. After a failed extra point, it was a 13-6 Magic lead.
Both teams threatened once more in the first half, but a Magic fumble near the red zone ended their scoring opportunity, while Monticello clamped down on another Tigers drive in their territory to end the half. On a final desperation throw to the end zone, Isaiah Wills pulled down an interception, preserving the seven-point halftime lead.
In the third quarter, both teams continued to miss scoring opportunities. The Magic came up short after starting a possession at the Tigers 25, while Princeton drove all the way to the Magic 10-yard line, but were stopped short when Grathwohl broke up a fourth down pass.

Wide receiver Andrew Manning goes up high to bring down a big catch during the third quarter of Monticello's 20-6 victory.

Wide receiver Andrew Manning goes up high to bring down a big catch during the third quarter of Monticello’s 20-6 victory.

Late in the third, the Magic put together their first consistent drive of the game. It started with another big pass play. Berthiaume connected to Manning on a jump ball, moving the Magic into Tigers territory.
“The ground game is our bread and butter,” said Telecky. “But I really think [the passing game] is going to be the dynamic that will help push this team over the edge.”
After the big play, and as the fourth quarter started, they went back to their bread and butter. An 11-yard run from Olson moved them to the 17. From there, they worked their way inside the five. Finally, at the one-yard line, they turned to Johnson. The senior took the handoff, and seeing a pile of people in front of him, decided there was only one way to the end zone – through the air.
Johnson vaulted himself up in the air and over the mass of people, coming down across the goal line. The extra point would provide the final margin.
“There was no way he was getting in any other way,” said Telecky.
The Magic had one more touchdown, a 70-yard Jake Olson run, called back due to a holding penalty. But they were hardly threatened again, as the clock winded down on an imperfect, but equally important, win to start the year.
“As a group, we were pressing too much early,” said Telecky. “But even though we weren’t firing on all cylinders, we found a way to overcome that.”
The Magic will look for the same result, if not the same formula, as they host their first home game of the year this Friday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. as the Magic take on North Branch.

Stat leaders
Passing: Jake Berthiaume (5 for 8, 109 yards)
Rushing: Jake Olson (11 carries, 53 yards), Nick Bomersine (5, 30)
Receiving: Andrew Manning (3 catches, 97 yards), Matt Grathwohl (1, 12)
Defensive: Kodi Schroeder (15 tackles,  6 solo), Sam Johnson (10, 5), Tyler Mros (7 tackles, 2 sacks)

Contact Clay Sawatzke at clay.sawatzke@ecm-inc.com

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