MERIDIAN – As star receiver Davis Thacker and others sat on the bench at the end of the first quarter, Malakai Martinez had a message for the red-hot Meridian offense.
“We’ve been known to start good and end bad,” Martinez said to his teammates. “We’re not ending bad tonight.'”
Unlike early-season games against Mountain View and Eagle, the seventh-ranked Warriors protected their lead Friday and pulled away late for a 47-28 opening-round Class 5A playoff victory over visiting No. 9 Madison. It’s Meridian’s first playoff win since capturing the 2007 state title.
“It’s been a process and a long time coming,” third-year coach John Zamberlin said. “These guys, I’m proud of them because they work extremely hard. … I’m happy for them, happy for the fans, for everybody.”
Meridian (7-3) nearly ended its playoff streak last year when it held a 28-21 halftime lead at Highland. The Rams scored the game’s final 21 points, handing the Warriors a seventh consecutive postseason loss.
Twelve months later, Meridian entered the locker room up 26-21 on Madison (6-4). This time, the Warriors finished the job.
“It almost felt like a repeat, and I was glad we could redeem ourselves, come out and show that we are a second-half team,” Martinez said.
The Warriors scored on the opening drive of the third quarter, but Madison answered with a touchdown of its own and forced the game’s first punt on the period’s final play. Trailing 33-28, Bobcats quarterback Ben Dredge was sacked by Holden Armstrong for a big loss on third down. Madison punted it back, and sophomore speedster Marco Del Rio finished the game off with a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Dredge, a tailback turned quarterback, passed for 255 yards, ran for 115 and accounted for all four Bobcats touchdowns (one passing, three rushing). Madison used a five-wide set on nearly every snap.
Zamberlin singled out offensive skill position players Martinez (155 yards passing, three total TDs), Kross Antonnacchi (16 carries, 97 yards, three total TDs), Quentin Riley (five catches, 72 yards), Thacker (six catches 74 yards) and Del Rio (nine carries, 112 yards) for their efforts.
“It’s a team game,” Zamberlin said. “Defensively this year we’ve done a lot of great things, and there have been times offensively where we’ve struggled. Tonight … the offense was clicking and playing well.”
The victory gives Meridian a rematch with Mountain View (9-0) in next week’s quarterfinals. The Southern Idaho Conference rivals met in Week 1 with the Mavericks earning a 14-13 come-from-behind win.
“They are undefeated right now, they’re riding high,” said Martinez, who suffered a shoulder injury in the loss and missed half of the regular season. “It’s going to be a great game.”
(Featured photo by Loren Orr Photography)