Escapes N. Reading, 27-26, hosts Marblehead in tonight’s North final 

Published in the November 10, 2017 edition

MIKE FENNELL (11) and Cam Rosie (7) celebrate Fennell’s second quarter touchdown reception during Melrose’s 27-26 playoff victory over N. Reading. Melrose hosts Marblehead tonight, Friday Nov. 10 at 7:00 p.m. in the D4N finals. (Donna Larsson photo)

By JENNIFER GENTILE

MELROSE—The #1 seeded Melrose Red Raider football prevailed in a heart-stopping thriller over #4 seed North Reading, 27-26, last Friday night in the Division 4 North Semifinals at Fred Green Field. Melrose defense came up big, with a down-to-buzzer 2-point conversion stop that thwarted  North Reading’s attempt at victory.

It was a gripping finish to a game that saw Melrose with a comfortable lead of 13 points in the third quarter. With twenty seconds left, North Reading’s Jake Bedell attempted to break through the middle for a two-point conversion but was met with a wall of Melrose defenders who denied him the end zone and handed back a 27-26 victory to Melrose, who now face their biggest challenge to date tonight: a clash with undefeated Marblehead in the Div. 4 North Final tonight at 7 p.m. The Magicians are Melrose’s top rival in Div. 4 North, but come in behind Melrose as a #2 seed. A trip to the Super Bowl remains two games away. The winner of tonight’s game will play the South champion next Friday at a neutral sight to battle for a trip to Gillette Stadium.

After the game, Melrose coach Tim Morris spoke of the stunning finale. “It was great. They battled, we battled. It was a good high school football game.”

After scoring a touchdown with 20 seconds left, North Reading was down 27-26 and posed with a decision: tie it up or go for two for the win. They chose the latter. After they came up empty, Melrose players whooped on the field and fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.  

Running back Isaac Seide was huge again for Melrose and rushed for over 120 yards with 3 touchdowns. It was also an impressive night for Melrose’s quarterbacks, Charlie Stanton and Jack Sullivan. Stanton threw for over 100 yards and went 5-8 in passing while Jack Sullivan connected on a touchdown pass to Mike Fennell that gave Melrose a key 14-7 advantage. On defense, Melrose’s Colin Kiernan and Kevin Peete were monstrous throughout the game on both sides of the ball, and came up with key tackles that helped limit the damage from Hornet running backs Mike Bedell (150 yards, 2 TDs) and Kyle Bythrow (155 yds,1 TD).

Melrose struck first, with Stanton connecting on a 40 yard pass and 12 yard pass to Mike Fennell to help set up Isaac Seide’s 14 yard touchdown run. North Reading scored on a touchdown by Mike Bedell, to make it a 7-7 game. Melrose scored on their next possession, a 8 play drive that culminated with a 35 yard touchdown throw by Jack Sullivan to Mike Fennell. A good kick by Mike Calvert made it a 14-7 game. The Hornets ate up much of the clock on their next drive, a 12 play drive that saw Melrose defense clamp down on the Hornets. Adam Caffey, Cam Rosie and Kevin Peete helped tackle and break up passes that forced North Reading to attempt a field goal as the first half expired. The field goal miss and it was Melrose’s game, 14-7 going into the half. When the third began, Melrose picked up where they left off, with Stanton rushing for yards and Colin Kiernan completing first downs. A 22 yard pass to Gabe Nyland helped set up a first and 10 on the Hornet 48. From there, Seide ran for his second touchdown of the night. Melrose took a 20-7 lead with 7:00 left in the third. But North Reading, and Kyle Bythrow, had upset in mind, and Bythrow helped march his team to the 17 yard line before charging into the end zone for a touchdown. The point after was no good – and would prove to be costly – as Melrose held on to a 20-13 lead. 

On Melrose’s next drive, the Red Raiders survived a scare: a fumble on their own 42, but Melrose defense, led by Kevin Peete and Isaac Seide, stopped the run game and forced the punt. The Red Raiders earned a decisive touchdown on their next possession, set up by a long rush by Kevin Peete, when Isaac Seide found the end zone once more, a 5 yard TD that was aided by a good point after by Mike Calvert, and Melrose was up 27-13 with 6:00 left in the game. 

North Reading’s next drive, Melrose might not have seen coming. Fans had to watch the Hornets pull off the seemingly impossible: North Reading scoring twice with less than 5:00 left in the game. Bythrow struck again, on a series of drives that resulted in his 5 yard scamper into the end zone that put the Hornets back in the game, 27-20. And then a well executed onside kick was recovered by North Reading on the Melrose 48. Despite some key tackles Kevin Peete and Adam Caffey, the Hornet’s Mike Mikula caught a TD pass in the closing seconds. With the game 27-26, North Reading was primed with a very capable kicker for an extra point, but decided it was time to go big or go home. Thanks to Melrose defenders, they went home. 

“We gave up a big drive they had and we couldn’t stop them,” said Morris. “When they scored that last one that was tough. But when we needed too, we made the stops.They have a lot of weapons,” Morris said.  Bythrow hadn’t played in a few weeks. They have the threat of passing the ball a little more with him.”

But for Morris, and the team, a win is a win. Especially in tournament time. “It’s nice to move on,” he said. “It’s nice to play in meaningful games in this tournament.”