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Salyards’ late heroics stun Wilder, Warriors

Senior James Wilder (left) attempts to break loose from a series of tacklers on a third quarter kick-off return. Photo by Mike Flanagan.

By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

Medfield High School football traveled to Hopkinton on Saturday afternoon for their first away contest of the 2021 Fall II athletic season.

Coming off a 24-21 victory against Westwood on March 26, the Warriors (1-2) looked to climb above .500 for the first time this season with a win against the Hillers (1-2). On the second play of the game, senior quarterback and captain Ryan Murray hit senior wide out James Wilder on a play-action slant route over the middle. Wilder caught the ball, made a man miss and flew 70 yards untouched to the end zone to put Medfield up, 7-0, just 1:15 in.

Hopkinton leaned on the strong running of senior running back Cam Mulvaney on their opening possession, and he responded accordingly. Mulvaney led the Hillers down the field and capped off the eight-play drive with a five-yard touchdown run, tying the game at seven with 6:26 to play in the opening quarter. After Hopkinton's defense forced a Medfield three-and-out, Mulvaney again led the Hillers down the field before finishing off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run on a draw play up the middle, putting Hopkinton ahead, 14-7, with 3:53 to play in the quarter.

In need of a response, Medfield's offense got it through the air on a third-and-10. Murray dropped back and lofted up a perfect ball for senior wide out Ben Leonard, who corralled the pass and broke a tackle before taking it 80 yards down the far sideline for the tying touchdown.

QB Cole Salyards led Hopkinton back down the field on their next possession. With the Hillers knocking on the door looking to take back the lead, Medfield's defense rose up. After stuffing Mulvaney on consecutive goal line carries, Hopkinton went for it on fourth and goal from the two-yard line. On the fourth down play, Salyards scrambled out of the pocket to his left on a play-action and lofted up a ball to the back of the end zone that was knocked away by James Wilder as Medfield took over on downs. Following back-to-back first downs, Murray hit Wilder on a deep post to set Medfield's offense up inside the red zone. Junior running back TJ Casey capped off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run, giving Medfield back the lead at 21-14 with 9:46 remaining before halftime.

With Hopkinton threatening deep in Medfield territory late in the half, the Warriors again saw a big defensive stand, thanks to Casey. On a first-and-goal from the 10, Casey read the eyes of Salyards on a pass out into the flat. He jumped the route and intercepted the ball, returning it all the way down inside the Hopkinton 10-yard line to immediately set up a first-and-goal with under a minute remaining. Hopkinton's defense stood tall, however, stuffing consecutive rushes by Casey mixed around a holding penalty. Murray hit senior Nick Crofts to put the ball back inside the five-yard-line on third down, setting up a manageable fourth-and-goal. Murray would again go back to Crofts on fourth down on a slant over the middle, but the ball was batted away as Medfield turned it over on downs.

This missed opportunity for Medfield would later prove to be pivotal. Hopkinton took a knee from their own four and the game entered halftime with the Warriors on top, 21-14.

The Hillers received the second half kickoff and made quick work of a short field by handing the ball to Mulvaney on five consecutive plays. Mulvaney finished off the drive with a five-yard plunge to tie the game at 21 with 7:39 to play in the third. On the ensuing kick-off, the ball bounced off the hands of return-man Willston Destin and the play looked to be dead. Wilder came in, scooped the ball up and made a series of would-be tacklers miss before cutting outside and taking it distance to reclaim the lead for Medfield at 28-21 with 7:20 to play in the quarter.

With time winding down in the quarter, Mulvaney converted a huge third-and-17 on a draw play up the middle to keep Hopkinton's drive alive and set up a first-and-goal. On third down, Salyards scrambled out of the pocket to his left before firing a strike to Nick Lecesse in the back left corner of the end zone, tying the game at 28 at the end of three quarters.

The game remained tied until 3:48 to play, when Salyards led the Hillers down the field on a long sustained drive. On third-and-goal from the 12, Salyards improvised some offense with his legs on a broken play, scrambling out of the pocket and rushing into the left corner of the end zone to give Hopkinton back the lead at 35-28. Down to their last gasp on fourth-and-11 near midfield with 1:51 to play, the Warriors were given new life thanks to a pass interference call, setting up a first-and-10 from the Hopkinton 40. On the first play following the drive-extending penalty, Murray avoided pressure in the pocket and delivered a dime to Wilder, hitting his star wideout in stride as Wilder scampered into the end zone to get Medfield to within a point at 35-34 with 1:39 remaining. The Warriors opted to go for two instead of playing for the tie with a pitch out to the right to Wilder on the conversion attempt. Wilder made a pair of men miss before cutting outside and into the right corner of the end zone for the successful two-point try, giving Medfield a 36-35 lead.

Salyards put together the drive of the game on Hopkinton's ensuing possession, handing off the Mulvaney and Elias Perreira on consecutive plays to put the ball near midfield. Salyards then completed consecutive passes to Ethan Champlin, the latter being caught off a deflection to set up a first-and-goal from the three. On third and goal, Salyards replicated his previous touchdown, scrambling to his left and into the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead and game-winning touchdown with seven seconds to play. Medfield's Hail Mary attempt went incomplete and Hopkinton came out on top of this classic shootout of a game by a 42-36 final.

For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.

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