Football seasons are precious commodities to high school players lucky enough to compete on the varsity level, as Marlboro senior quarterback Phil DeSantis found out the hard way last year. The signal caller missed several games due to injury in the 2016 campaign, with then-sophomore QB Sam Mongelli stepping up to fill the starter’s role in DeSantis’ absence. Now fully healthy, the senior showed off his explosive versatility in Marlboro’s season opener on Friday night, as the Dukes steamrolled James I. O’Neill 48-13 behind DeSantis’ three touchdown passes. “It’s my last year and I’m going to come out with a bang,” the quarterback said. “I’m playing as hard as I can, training with my teammates, and we’re going to make it a great year.”
The home opener at Dennis Burkett Field was a showcase for Marlboro’s deep collection of offensive playmakers, as seven different Dukes scored touchdowns en route to an easy victory over the Raiders. “I think that’s what makes us so dangerous, is that we have so many guys who every game can go out and do their thing,” senior running back Billy Williamson said. “Everybody gets the rest they need, so we’re coming at you every play.”
Marlboro (1-0) attacked O’Neill with a relentless running game all night, as Dukes junior back Eric Borchert (six carries for 42 yards rushing) put his squad up 7-0 with 2:03 remaining in the first quarter on a three-yard touchdown run. Throughout the evening, DeSantis, Mongelli and sophomore quarterback Christian Diorio all took snaps behind center, keeping the Raiders (0-1) off-guard. While Mongelli didn’t complete the only pass he threw, the junior quarterback racked up 77 yards rushing on nine carries, and gave Marlboro a 14-0 advantage when he plowed into the end zone on a seven-yard QB keeper with 9:28 to go in the second quarter. “We have a bunch of athletes, and these guys put in a lot of work when we practice, so it’s great,” senior wide receiver John Perugino said of the team’s three quarterbacks.
The Dukes kept the pressure on late in the first half, as Williamson cruised in for a six-yard score standing up to make it 21-0 Marlboro with 6:26 left in the second. “My wide receivers did a great job blocking out there,” Williamson said of the play. “John (Perugino) came outside and held his block, so I just cut off him.” O’Neill struck back when junior quarterback Luke Kilner (2-4, 85 yards passing, 1 TD) connected with senior receiver Larry Dunn on a 76-yard touchdown reception to cut the Marlboro lead to 21-7 at the 4:37 mark of the second quarter. The Raiders took advantage of a free play when the Dukes were whistled for a facemask penalty early in the down, and the broken play worked out fortuitously for O’Neill.
DeSantis took over from there, as he found Perugino in the back of the end zone for the game’s highlight reel play, as the receiver made a seemingly impossible leaping catch while getting his feet down within inches of the landing out of bounds. “It was a great read by the quarterback, he threw me a ball I could go up and get,” Perugino said. “He gave me a 50/50 shot and I caught it. It was a great play.” The 19-yard TD catch gave the Dukes a 28-7 lead with 2:14 remaining in the half, and stopped the Raiders brief surge of momentum in its tracks. “I just saw my receiver out there and I trusted him and I knew he could make the play,” DeSantis said. After Diorio recovered an onsides kick, DeSantis (6-12, 90 yards passing, 3 TDs) connected with junior wide receiver Zachary Bayon on a 12-yard touchdown reception to put the Dukes up 35-7 with 1:19 left in the half, as Marlboro pulled away for good.
DeSantis remained on fire in the second half, as he found junior receiver Muhammed Banks for a 22-yard score, as the wideout broke a tackle and zoomed into the end zone to put Marlboro up 41-7 with 8:43 to go in the third. DeSantis then became the seventh and final Duke to score a touchdown in the game, as he eluded defenders and sliced into the end zone for a 26-yard score to make it 48-7 Marlboro at the 4:12 mark of the third quarter. The senior quarterback tallied 92 yards rushing on 10 carries for the evening. “He looks pretty good,” Marlboro head coach Rich Ward said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons with Phil back healthy, so we’re just going to keep driving on.”
The senior quarterback has put his abbreviated 2016 season completely in the rearview mirror as he focuses on the new campaign. “I don’t even think about the past,” DeSantis said. The QB clearly wants to make the most out of his final season with the Dukes. “I’ve been working the whole offseason for this,” he said. “I’ve been working hard in the weight room, working hard with my team and encouraging my team. We did this together. I couldn’t do it without the line. It’s a group effort and I’m thankful for all of them.”
With the game well out of reach, O’Neill cut the lead to 48-13 on an 80-yard touchdown gallop from Dunn with 2:48 remaining in the game. The Marlboro defense was steadfast throughout the game, stifling the Raiders, with the exception being the two long touchdown plays Dunn was able to break off. “Our defense played phenomenal,” Perugino said. “The two touchdowns they had, and give credit to them, they were a broken play and a trick play. But overall our defense played well.”
All in all, the non-league game was an impressive opening statement for a Dukes team hungry to recapture the Section 9, Class B title. “I thought it was pretty good, but I think we need to play a little bit cleaner,” Ward said of the performance. “Especially in the first half, we had a couple of offside penalties, a couple kids jumped. I don’t think we finished as strong as we could, but overall I thought it was a pretty good performance for week one. Not where you want to be in week two though.”
Marlboro will now head to Highland for a local rivalry game on Sept. 8, and if the Dukes receive offensive production from as many sources as they did in the season opener (junior running back Ameer Williams added to the onslaught with 74 yards rushing on eight carries), Marlboro could be tough to beat this year no matter who the opponent is. “It’s a huge advantage, because our opponents can’t focus on any particular player,” Perugino said of the team’s countless weapons. “We have so many guys who can do so many things. Our offense is very hard to stop.”
By Ted Remsnyder