Published in the November 25, 2016 edition.
By JIM SOUTHMAYD
WAKEFIELD — A piece of the pie is better than none at all.
The Wakefield Memorial High football team was forced to share the Middlesex League Freedom division championship with Melrose and Watertown after a disappointing 28-8 loss to Melrose in the 57th annual Thanksgiving Day Classic played before about 4,000 fans in attendance yesterday at Landrigan Field.
The Warriors finished up the league schedule with a 4-1 record as did Melrose and Watertown. The three M.L. Freedom division rivals were involved in a three-way tie for the top spot and will share the league banner.
The loss was a disheartening one for Wakefield, which wrapped up the 2016 season with a 5-6 overall record, as it had an opportunity to capture the title outright.
“This one is tough to take right now,” said Warrior head coach Steve Cummings. “We wanted to win this game for the seniors in their final game. When we look back at this season at the banquet, we have come a long way from last year. But this hurts right now. We felt we let one get away.”
The Warriors and Red Raiders were scoreless until Melrose took a 7-0 lead before halftime. Still, Wakefield was in the game and trailed 14-0 until Melrose returned a fumble 15 yards in the fourth quarter to extend its advantage to 21-0.
The Warriors got a touchdown and the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 21-8. But Melrose added one more quick tally to put the game away.
The difference maker in the contest was Melrose senior running back and two-time league MVP Mike Pedrini. Pedrini scored three of the four Red Raider touchdowns and was a force on offense.
Pedrini gained 144 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 58 yards, one which was momentum changing 40 yard reception which helped set up the game’s first score.
To cap off his fine day and three-year varsity career, Pedrini intercepted a pass and returned it 40 yards on the final play of the game.
“You want to compete against a player like Pedrini because he keeps you on your toes and challenges you,” said Cummings. “He’s a complete player. Tufts (University) is getting a special player. He earned it.”
The Warrior defense did a good job against Pedrini in the first half but the more carries the senior had, the more difficult it was for Wakefield to keep him bottled up. While his biggest run was his last with a 31 yard TD run, the senior was the workhorse for the Red Raiders.
“Mike has done a great job for us and he will be missed,” said Melrose head coach Tim Morris. “I thought our guys up front did a great job and our defense played a pretty good game. We did a great job on third downs against them. We also got the turnover which was big. We put some pressure on the quarterback and it doesn’t hurt when you do that. He’s a sophomore and he is going to be successful over the next couple of years.”
Sophomore QB Mike Lucey completed 20 of 34 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once at the end of the game but he also fumbled while being sacked and senior captain Collin Casey picked up the ball and returned it 15 yards for the third Red Raider TD of the game.
Senior captain Alex McKenna returned after missing two games due to appendicitis and he capped off his high school football career with eight receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown. McKenna also threw a pass which was completed for a two-point conversion.
McKenna also had three tackles and an interception on defense which he returned 19 yards. The senior also had three kickoff returns for 66 yards as he had a fine all around effort.
Unfortunately the fine efforts by Lucey, McKenna and several other seniors for the Warriors went for naught as Wakefield suffered its fifth straight loss to Melrose on Thanksgiving Day.
Melrose leads the longstanding rivalry, 59-41-6, which dates back to 1901. Yesterday’s game was the 106th meeting. The Warriors lead the Thanksgiving Day series, 29-25-3, which began in 1960.
Including regular season, playoffs and Thanksgiving, the Red Raiders have won seven in row over the Warriors. The last Wakefield win over Melrose was 17-14 overtime victory in September of 2013.
Wakefield won the coin flip and deferred to the second half which meant Melrose got the ball first. The Red Raiders went three and out and Wakefield began its first set of downs at their own 28. Wakefield moved the ball into Melrose territory and ran nine plays and picked up two first downs before punting.
Junior RB Ryan Fitzpatrick broke a 26 yard run. Also, senior WR Carmen Sorrentino caught a seven yard pass and McKenna had a 12 yard reception on a third down and 10 to move the chains. But after that the Warriors had a run and a pass for negative yardage and a holding penalty hurt as well. As a result, Wakefield was in long yardage and wound up punting the ball away.
Pedrini ripped off an 18 yard run but the Red Raiders didn’t get another first down as Pedrini was dropped for a yard loss by senior LB PJ Iannuzzi (13 tackles). Wakefield took over at its own 27 after the punt.
Fitzpatrick and Lucey each had three yard runs and Sorrentino caught a 12 yard pass over the middle for a first down. Lucey then gained four yards and Iannuzzi ran for five as the first quarter ended. On the first play of the second quarter, Iannuzzi gained two yards for a first down. But a false start penalty and a six yard loss on a sack resulted in Wakefield punting the ball away again.
Melrose started at its own 9 after the punt and didn’t pick up a first down as the Warriors started their next series at the Red Raider 48. Sorrentino caught a 16 yard pass on a third down and eight play to bring the ball down to the 30. But after a five yard run by Sorrentino, a yard loss by Iannuzzi, and a two yard gain by Sorrentino, Wakefield was faced with a fourth down and four situation from the Melrose 24. Lucey rolled out to his right looking downfield. But no one was open and he ran out of bounds for a three yard loss as Melrose took over at its own 27 with 2:05 left in the first half.
Senior QB Jack Mays, who completed six of 12 passes for 78 yards and one interception, found Pedrini over the middle with a 40 yard pass to bring the ball to the Wakefield 33 before being tackled by senior LB Joe Marinaccio (nine tackles). After a Pedrini lost a yard, Wakefield was penalized for pass interference which resulted in a first down at the 21. Pedrini gained 10 yards and then was dropped for a two yard loss. On a second down and 12 play from the 13, Pedrini broke though right tackle and scored from the right side just getting the ball over the goal line and inside the right pylon for the TD.
Mike Calvert added the extra point to give the Red Raiders a 7-0 lead with 33.5 seconds left in the second quarter.
Wakefield had one last chance in the remaining seconds to put points on the board. Starting at its own 48 after an 18 yard return by Leary, Lucey, after an incompletion, found McKenna with passes of 17 yards and 20 yards to move the ball down to the Melrose 15. On the final play of the half, Iannuzzi attempted a 33 yard field goal which was wide right.
“We had our opportunities to score in the first half,” said Cummings. “We had good field position the whole game and didn’t capitalize. We made too many mistakes and had too many penalties. If we can score a touchdown or two early, then it’s a different game and we put the pressure on them.”
Wakefield started the third quarter with great field position as Leary returned the kickoff 17 yards to the Melrose 48. But after a seven yard loss on first down, McKenna made a 13 yard reception to set up a third down and four. But after an incompletion, Wakefield lined up in punt formation at the Red Raider 42. The Warriors faked the kick and the punter, Leary, attempted a pass which was knocked down for an incompletion as Melrose took over.
The Red Raiders then sustained a 14 play scoring drive. Pedrini had runs of two, three, four, three, two, minus one, six and no yards. Junior Colin Kiernan caught passes of 10 yards and two yards, while Pedrini added an 18 yard reception. Mays also gained eight yards on a keeper and nearly lost the football as he fumbled but Casey recovered the loose football. On second down and goal from the 1, Pedrini plunged into the end zone.
Calvert added the PAT to give Melrose a 14-0 lead with 3:19 left in the third quarter.
McKenna returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards but Wakefield had back-to-back personal foul penalties which resulted in a three and out. Melrose took over at its own 36 and sustained a 12 play drive as it drove deep into Warrior territory. On a third down and 12 play from the Warrior 21, Mays’ pass to the end zone was intercepted by McKenna at the three and returned 19 yards where Wakefield took over.
But on the third play on the next Warrior possession, Lucey was sacked for a nine yard loss and was stripped of the football. Casey picked up the loose ball at the 15 and ran the ball into the end zone. Calvert added his third PAT of the day to give Melrose a 21-0 lead with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors didn’t quit, however, and marched down the field in six plays to ruin the shutout bid by Melrose. Starting at the 27, Wakefield went to the air exclusively with Sorrentino catching a 14 yard pass. After an incompletion, McKenna had receptions of 22 yards and 15 yards. After an incompletion, Lucey found McKenna with a low 22 yard pass just over the goal line in the middle of the field for the TD.
Wakefield lined up to kick the extra point and faked it as McKenna, the holder, found sophomore Dan Marinaccio with a pass for two points. Wakefield trailed 21-8 with 3:39 left.
The Warriors got a stop on Melrose and Fitzpatrick gained six yards on the punt return before an illegal block penalty pushed Wakefield back. Lucey was sacked on second down for an 11 yard loss. On fourth down and 21 from the Wakefield 14, McKenna caught a 17 yard pass, but Melrose took over on downs at the 31.
Pedrini broke his biggest run of the game with a 31 yard TD jaunt for his final score of the game. Calvert added the extra point to give Melrose a 28-8 lead with 1:48 left.
Wakefield’s final drive started at its own 37 after a 19 yard return by McKenna. The Warriors drove deep into Red Raider territory with catches of 12 yards by Leary, 11 by Joe Marinacco and nine yards by Leary. Fitzpatrick also had an eight yard reception and lateraled the ball back to Iannuzzi who added eight more yards. After a seven yard pass brought the ball down to the Melrose 7, Lucey had an incompletion and then was intercepted at the 5 yard line by Pedrini who had a return of 40 yards on the final play of the game.
“It’s nice to win a piece of the league championship,” said Morris. “Our seniors, Mike Pedrini, Steve Abbott, (Christian) McAree, (Antonio) DiFronzo, all of them got to win another league championship in their final game of their careers.”