UPDATE: This article has been updated to include information from a postgame interview with Shamrocks Offensive Coordinator Harrison Ingels.
MARLBOROUGH – The Marlborough Shamrocks came back to win their USFA National Championship game on Saturday night in Florida, beating the Brooklyn Seminoles by a score of 21-20.
The win put an exclamation point on a season that had already featured fireworks throughout this past summer and fall.
“This team is probably one of the best teams that I’ve ever been a part of,” Shamrocks defensive back Daeshaun Perkins told Bishop III Media before the game. “On and off the field, dudes are like family.”
Marlborough rumbled through the regular season, losing just one game on their way to a 35-21 victory over the Southern New England Admirals back in October in their league championship matchup.
They then traveled to Lake Brantley High School in Orlando for their shot at a national title this weekend.
Brooklyn seizes momentum after early Marlborough score
The Shamrocks opened the scoring in the first quarter when quarterback Blake Rice hit receiver Johnny Moores Jr. with a six-yard touchdown pass.
Brooklyn quickly answered, though, marching back down the field and punching in the two-point conversation for an 8-7 lead.
They then expanded their advantage with a touchdown early in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead.
Marlborough ended up pinned deep in their own end on their next drive. But the offense quickly dug out of that hole when a wide open Mitjon Celaj hauled in a massive reception to move the Shamrocks up to midfield.
Rice and Moores connected again on third down to push Marlborough inside the 13-yard line.
Rice was intercepted in the end zone, however, halting that drive without a score shortly after the two-minute warning.
A massive run just a few plays later set Brooklyn up deep in Shamrocks territory, allowing them to go up 20-7 before the end of the half on a touchdown pass to the back of the end zone.
Marlborough retakes lead
Marlborough Offensive Coordinator Harrison Ingels said in a phone call late Saturday night that he entered halftime frustrated about turnovers but happy with his team’s ability to gain yards on offense.
“We were moving the ball efficiently,” he said. “We just weren’t happy with having those two turnovers.”
So, the team pushed forward, looking to convert on offense while making adjustments on defense to slow Brooklyn’s highly mobile quarterback in particular.
“It changed the whole dynamic of the game,” Ingels said of those adjustments.
A key interception gave the Shamrocks possession with roughly 11:00 left in the third quarter.
Marlborough then got itself into position in the red-zone to set up running back Brett Anctil, who scrambled into open space along the sideline for the touchdown. That cut the Brooklyn lead to 20-14 with the extra point.
The teams traded possessions into the fourth quarter until a long pass over the middle of the field to Moores Jr. placed the Shamrocks back at the 13-yard line.
Zach Grasis then marched into the end zone to first tie the game and then give Marlborough the lead with the extra point.
A series of fumbles by both teams made for a hectic final few minutes. But the Shamrocks defense locked down, coming up with a stop on fourth down while backed up against their own end zone to give the ball back to their offense.
“It’s a fitting way to end the season with the defense doing what they did from day one,” Ingels said of those last minute heroics. “They held us down. They made some unbelievable adjustments.”
On offense, Ingels hailed the long list of players who also helped secure this win.
“We have guys that can contribute on any given play,” he said. “We have guys that could go to other teams and start. But they stay here and sacrifice to be a part of something bigger than offensive stats.”
Ranked highly among that list, he said, was Moores Jr., who racked up over 100 receiving yards in addition to his touchdown catch against Brooklyn.
“He was the guy tonight that helped us win a championship that we worked so hard for,” Ingels said. “The moment is never too big for him.”
Fans respond to win
Back in Massachusetts, a number of fans gathered at the Shamrocks’ beloved headquarters at the Prospector Bar & Grill on Saturday night.
There, decked out in team gear, with the Shamrocks’ past trophies standing in a case on the wall, those fans huddled around a smartphone blaring a livestream of the game.
They cheered on their team and celebrated their victory. Then, they turned to that trophy case and wondered where the new addition would fit.
The win indeed marks Marlborough’s second national title in two seasons since the Shamrocks reorganized in town for the 2019 season. Marlborough did not play in 2020 due to COVID-19.
A thousand miles from Marlborough, Ingels had a simple message for Shamrocks fans as Saturday turned to Sunday this weekend.
“Thank you Marlborough for all the continued support,” he said. “We can’t wait to chase after three in a row for you.”