“I really feel bad for the guys. They fought hard,” a Marlboro fan said into his cellphone.
A few Dukes players hugged each other on the sideline in resignation and consolation.
“Only one team goes home happy, know what I mean?” said a Marlboro assistant coach, using matter-of-fact psychology to try to buck up lineman Clinton Howell.
Then the second half started.
The word “overwhelmed” is utterly inadequate to describe what Schalmont did to Marlboro in the first half of the Class B state semifinal football game at Dietz Stadium on Saturday.
The game spun out of control in the first quarter and somehow became exponentially more dizzying in the 40-point second quarter, as the undefeated Sabres scored again and again and again and …
It was 60-0 with a few minutes left in the first half.
Sixty. A six with a zero.
Given a scenario like this, a game can spiral off in several unwanted, ugly directions, but if one thing can be taken from Schalmont’s 66-0 victory — other than the Sabres’ sheer domination all season — it’s that teams can finish a blowout without resorting to cheap shots and poor sportsmanship.
You see this bad cocktail occasionally when there’s game clock to kill between one team that is discouraged and humiliated and another that smells an opportunity to yuk it up at someone else’s expense.
You can look at a score like 66-0 and wonder if the coaches lost track of their senses and ran up the score for reasons that range from trying to get an individual record for a star player to just downright petty vindictiveness toward a rival coach and program.
None of these things happened, not even remotely.
In fact, both teams continued to play tough football throughout the second half and finished the game in much the same way they started it, hitting each other hard, but helping each other up every once in a while, too.
The four captains from each team met with the refs at midfield before the start of the second half, and you got a little hint of how the conversation was going based on the handshakes.
“The ref said, this could’ve happened either way, and they [Marlboro] were alright with it, even though they were like, ‘Aw, wish it could’ve happened our way,’ ” said Schalmont quarterback/linebacker
Nick Gallo. “We were kind of playing around with them, and it’s great to see the sportsmanship. It was just the love of the game, and you’re having fun no matter what happens.”
As halftime assignments go, Marlboro head coach Rich Ward had the more difficult speech to deliver than did his Schalmont counterpart, Joe Whipple.
After all, Ward had just witnessed his proud team dismantled to such a degree that there was no logical way to convince anyone, even himself, that this was still a game.
So he didn’t waste any breath trying.
“You know what? Sometimes you just have to look across the way and say, they’re just playing better than us and they’re a better football team than us tonight,” Ward said. “Finish it out, play with class, play with pride and see if you can have some small goals, like getting a first down or two, then maybe getting a score.”
Anyway, an examination of Schalmont’s entire body of work this season shows that 66-0 isn’t all that unusual, even if it came against a previously undefeated team at the penultimate stage of the state championship tournament.
The Sabres have outscored opponents, 555-37, for an average score of 46-3. They have six shutouts.
Even a 60-0 first half, as outlandish as it sounds, wasn’t far from what has come to be expected from Schalmont.
Asked by a reporter from outside Section II if Whipple had experienced a half like that, he simply said yes, last week. Schalmont had a 54-0 halftime lead over Beekmantown in a regional game.
Typical of a coach, Whipple said he wasn’t comfortable against Marlboro until the fourth quarter.
“You never feel like it’s out of control,” he said. “Our kids are disciplined, so they got to the ball, kept doing the things we want them to do, getting the ball out, scooping and scoring.”
The discipline also showed itself in how the Sabres responded to the 60-0 lead.
Whipple said he barely had to say anything at halftime.
“It was very easy,” he said. “Our kids were not hooting and hollering, by any means. They know what kind of team Marlboro is and what a great athlete their quarterback is. You never know. That could’ve happened to us.
“It is hard for a high school kid to realize you’re up 60 points at halftime and to stay focused, but that wasn’t a problem.”
“The first thing they said was whoever opens their mouth, you’re not playing the first quarter [of the state final],” Gallo said. “And we knew for a fact that he wasn’t kidding. We feel like we have one of the most sportsmanlike teams in the state, and we’re going to keep it that way whether we’re up, 60-0, or down, 60-0.”
Whipple said he warned his team well before this game not to spout off or overreact during games, because they haven’t seen these teams and don’t know how much trash-talking and instigation might occur.
Perhaps understandably, “There were a couple chippy things, but everybody walked away,” he said. “Marlboro was very classy at the end and showed great sportsmanship, so you can tell that they have a really solid program.”
The coach put his second string in after scoring on the first possession of the second half, and the game ended when Schalmont ran the ball hard on fourth-and-one deep in Marlboro territory, then took a knee on first-and-goal as the clock ran out.
A field-goal attempt on fourth down would’ve been rubbing it in, whether they had made it or not; taking a knee on fourth-and-one and handing the ball over would’ve been condescending.
I wouldn’t have had a problem if Schalmont happened to score a touchdown on that fourth-down play, which would’ve gotten the score into the 70s. And I’m pretty sure that Marlboro wouldn’t have had a problem with it, either.