For one half of its Division III playoff game against Dover last Saturday night, Poland played about as well as it possibly could.
The bottom-seeded Bulldogs were outplaying their higher-seeded counterparts in all phases of the game and held a 17-14 lead at halftime. Most pundits predicted that Poland would have a hard time containing Dover's duel-threat quarterback Mason Mamarella, but those were probably the same people who expected the Bulldogs to get bounced in the first round of the tournament too. Poland picked up two touchdowns in the first half on a Ross Gould 1-yard touchdown run and a Jake Wolfe 11-yard touchdown pass to Jon Markota. The Bulldogs also brought to the locker room a field goal by Connor McFadden to give them that three-point intermission advantage. Poland's opening half play put its head coach in a marvelous mood.
"We outplayed them for a half," said Mark Brungard to reporters after the game. "But you have to play four quarters."
True to the coach's words those final two periods were poisonous to Poland. Problem number one for the local kids was that they committed two turnovers in the final two periods to help set up Dover touchdowns. Problem number two was the Tornadoes' talented two-way quarterback. Although things were rather mild for Mamarella in the first half, he expanded all of the experts' credibility with his second half heroics. The sensational signal caller sent the Bulldogs home for the season with a spectacular second half in Dover's 35-17 victory.
Mamarella ran for 162 of his game-high 245 yards in the second half. He started the third quarter scoring on a 16-yard run and wouldn't stop until he almost singlehandedly put Poland out of the postseason. Mamarella ran for a 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, twisting and turning along the way like the Tornado mascot that represents his school. He also had two other runs of more than 50 yards that somehow didn't net touchdowns. Dover's dangerous quarterback also completed 10 of 17 passes for 184 yards including a 37-yard TD pass. Following the hard-to-take loss, coach Brungard admitted his team hadn't seen an offense or a quarterback as potent all season.
Brungard's own quarterback wasn't as magnificent as Mamarella was last Saturday, but he wasn't the reason Poland lost either. Wolfe went for 88 yards through the air and finished with 65 yards rushing. He had one touchdown throw. Gould would be good all night for Poland finishing with 121 yards on 26 carries and that one short touchdown plunge. Fortunately for the Bulldogs both of those offensive weapons as well as players such as Markota, Tyler Evan and Marlon Ramirez, who all played a significant role in Poland's offense last week, return in 2013.
"We have a nice nucleus back," said Brungard.
Despite the return of a bunch of capable Bulldogs, the loss to Dover signaled the end of the careers of some stalwart student athletes. Coach Brungard was saddened more for the pending graduation of his 24 seniors than ending the season last Saturday. Do-everything offensive weapon Anthony Marchionda made an impact against the Tornadoes in his last game with 54 yards receiving. All-world kicker McFadden made a 27-yard field goal in his final appearance and was an extraordinary threat his whole career. Other terrific twelfth-graders who surely will be missed from the Poland program will be names such as Pat Hiznay, Alex Hubbell, Anthony Kosec and Tad Duran. It's a group that helped the Bulldogs bring home eight wins this season, one improbable playoff victory over number one seed Marlington and consecutive tournament trips.
In fact, 2012 marked the sixth straight season in which the Bulldogs represented the area in the Division III post-season party. With so many undergraduates getting valuable field time this fall it seems plausible that playoff trip number seven in a row is in the offing for Poland in 2013.