TOWNSEND -- It was a tale of two halves for the North Middlesex Regional football squad.
After a tough start in all phases of the game, the Patriots did a 180 in the second half. The gap proved too big to overcome, however, as North Middlesex fell to Marlboro, 36-22, Friday at John E. Young Memorial Field.
"Marlboro did a great job and came out and out-hit us, outplayed us, and had a great first half," North Middlesex (1-2, 0-1 Mid-Wach B) head coach Sandy Ruggles said. "Yes, we responded well in the second half, but it's a four-period game and we didn't play four periods. It's disappointing because we can play better than we did tonight."
The second-half surge was apparent immediately, as the Patriots returned the opening kick to the Marlboro 32. After gaining one first down, the drive stalled, giving the ball back to the visitors.
The Panthers (1-2, 1-0 Mid-Wach B) marched 77 yards in seven plays, capped off by a Willy Cowdrey 9-yard plunge up the gut, making it 36-0. But that would be the final blemish of the day for the North Middlesex defense.
The Patriots responded after the Panther score by traversing 75 yards in 10 plays, including a 25-yard Tyler Zech off-tackle run to get the ball in Panther territory. Zech later converted a fourth-down power run of 11 yards.
Three plays after that, sophomore quarterback John Boutwell hooked up with Dylan Woods for a 14-yard gain down to the Marlboro 4-yard line. Senior Brandon Lambert powered his way for an off-tackle score on the next play, making it 36-6 with 1:22 left in the third.
The defense held Marlboro to only five plays on its next drive, and the offense went back to work. The drive started at the North Middlesex 21, but two big plays -- a 14-yard sweep by Lambert and a Boutwell-to-Ben Ferro 19-yard pass -- got the ball across midfield.
A 31-yard gain by Zech moved the ball to the Marlboro 10-yard line, and Zech found the end zone two plays later on a 3-yard off-tackle run. Joe Dolciotto added the 2-point conversion that made it 36-14 with 7:10 left in the game.
The Patriot defense gave up some ground on the next drive, but came up with a critical fourth-down stop at its own 13-yard line. On the following drive, North Middlesex backup quarterback Matt Wetherell broke a sweep to the outside, scampering from his own 18 to the end zone. Trey Callahan's 2-point run got North Middlesex within 14 with 25 seconds left.
The Patriots rushed for 216 yards in the second half, including 92 on nine carries by Zech. They also passed for 33 yards.
Marlboro impressed early and often in the first half. Tyjae Lenhardt took the opening kickoff down to the Patriot 12-yard line. Then Paul Goulet did the rest with the 12-yard score.
After the special teams faltered, the Patriots' defense gave up a big play. Halfback Jose Caquias delivered a 70-yard touchdown pass to Dillon Garvey that made it 14-0. Marlboro moved the ball efficiently on its next two drives as starting quarterback Mike Yates found paydirt on a 4-yard option and Caquias scored on a 10-yard reverse, making it a commanding 29-0 Panther halftime lead.
"We played well in the first half, both offensively and defensively," Marlboro head coach Sean Mahoney said. "We jumped out on them and our kids got confident. (North Middlesex) is a much better team than their first-half performance, but defensively we played very well."