SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. -- Matt Montalto is a lifelong resident of Yarmouth, but too young to remember the days before Paul Funk took over the Dennis-Yarmouth football program nearly 10 years ago. Funk, a proven assistant at Everett High, came down the Cape in 2001 to inherit a program that won just six games in the 1990's; a program so desolate it had been relegated to playing only junior varsity games.
But after a gutsy second half performance last night, a night that nobody on Station Avenue is soon going to forget, the legacies of both Funk and Montalto have come full circle. Montalto's stats through the air and ground, usually gaudy, took a hit. But so did Plymouth North's vaunted defensive front seven, as the dual-threat junior quarterback slashed the Eagles for a touchdown through the air and ground in the final 22 minutes to orchestrate a 14-7 comeback victory and clinch the Dolphins a share of their second Atlantic Coast League title in four seasons.
"He is as good a competitor, as a winner, as you'll ever find," Funk said of Montalto (181 all-purpose yards). "He's been a winner since he was seven. You always have a chance with him at the helm. His older brother was the same way, (Matt's) just an unbelievable person. I knew at halftime he was going to pick up, because he was banged up and bruised -- they're as physical team as you'll find -- but he just picked us up at halftime and said he was going to get it done. He put us on his shoulders."
Said junior wideout/defensive back Dylan Hodsdon, who caught Montalto's game-winning touchdown pass and then sealed it late with a pick, "Oh Matt, he's a warrior, man. He's awesome. He's the leader on the team, and he's just awesome. Gets banged up, and he keeps on going. Just awesome."
Unlike that 2007 season, though, when they went 10-1 but missed out on a Division 1A playoff berth by virtue of a head-to-head loss to Marshfield, this year's Dolphins (9-1) can claim the ACL's Division 2A playoff berth should North beat archrival Plymouth South (its final ACL opponent) on Thanksgiving. That would create a three-way tie between North, D-Y and Marshfield, the latter of whom beat D-Y earlier in the season but lost to North (both D-Y and Marshfield are finished with their ACL schedules). League tiebreaker rules give the playoff berth to the team that has gone the longest without a postseason appearance, which means the Dolphins -- who have never played past Thanksgiving in the Super Bowl era -- would move on.
"This is the biggest night since the 2007 season," said Montalto, whose brother Nick -- now his quarterbacks coach -- was under center on that '07 team. "It's the biggest game of the 2007 season, it's just as big for the school as it is for the community...It's the biggest thing I've ever been a part of. That's how much it means to me."
Early on, the Eagles (7-3) took control of the field and the clock with their trademark power sets and clock-eating drives on the ground. Behind bruising north-south running between the tackles by senior Matt Walsh (18 carries, 104 yards), the Eagles clawed all the way to the Dolphins' four before being stopped at the goal line on fourth down. Walsh took a toss right, and looked to have clearance, but a Hodsdon dive at his legs tripped him up at the two.
North quarterback Cody Merritt, playing over the top at free safety, avenged the turnover on downs on the ensuing drive when he jumped a slant route and picked off a Montalto dart over the middle, breaking for the right sideline and marching in for a 30-yard pick six. But that initial turnover on downs, however, may have come back to haunt them.
A Tommy Kennedy sack of Merritt on fourth down ended North's first drive of the second half, and gave the Dolphins a starting drive at midfield. On the second play of the drive, Montalto went to the right flat and found Hodsdon, who easily ripped through an armtackle and burst up the sideline before being pushed out some 28 yards later. Four plays later, Montalto finished the drive, flushing out of the pocket to his right and skimping over the near pylon for a 16-yard scamper.
The Eagles went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and Montalto burst loose around the outside again on the first play for 39 yards. Five plays later, he connected with his favorite target Hodsdon again, a slant over the shallow end zone from the left slot for an 11-yard touchdown reception and a 14-7 lead with 8:31 to go.
All three of North's drives over the final eight minutes came up fruitless, with the secondary picking off Merritt each time. The most crucial one came with 55 seconds left int he game, on second and 15, as Merritt rolled to his left with time and let a sideline fade rip. Hodsdon came over the top and pounced on the ball, underthrown with plenty of air under it, for the second of three fourth-quarter interceptions by the D-Y secondary.
"We knew we had to keep our heads up," Hodsdon said. "That's all we had to do is keep our heads up, and we kept to our assignments."
North head coach Dwayne Follette confessed fatigue may have played a factor in the Eagles' second-half defensive breakdowns.
"We've got alot of kids that play both ways," Follette said. "I think we got tired. We missed alot of tackles, and I think their speed just...we just should have finished that first drive. I thought that not finishing on that first drive really hurt us, because we could have had a nice lead, you know. We just made mistakes at the wrong time."
NO. 23 DENNIS-YARMOUTH 14, NO. 12 PLYMOUTH NORTH 7
PN 0 7 0 0 --- 7
DY 0 0 7 7 --- 14
P - Cody Merritt 30 interception return (Vinny Tavernelli kick) 3:01
D - Matt Montalto 16 run (John Terrio kick) 2:42
D - Dylan Hodsdon 11 pass from Montalto (Terrio kick) 8:31