THE HORNET defense was swarming in their 40-0 shutout over Apponequet on Friday night at NRHS. Pictured is Anthony Corvino (10), Sam Morelli (52), Anthony Pino (53) and Teddy Suny (88). (Adele Vittozzi Photo)
To meet Bishop Fenwick on Friday night at Manning Bowl
By DAN ZIMMERMAN
NORTH READING — The recurrent theme to North Reading football games throughout the regular season and into the current playoffs, was replicated last Thursday night when the No. 7 Apponequet Lakers paid a visit for the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinals.
The Hornets scored early and often, dispatching Apponequet with relative ease, 40-0 and for the second consecutive season, raised the MIAA Final Four banner.
While the offense assembled a 19-0 lead by halftime and cemented the contest with a trio of third quarter scores, it was the defense that took it to the hard-pressed Lakers, limiting forward progress to merely 107-yards in all.
“Like the last game with Dedham, it starts with the defensive line,” said North Reading Coach Ed Blum, who improved to 9-1 overall with the playoff win. “I thought they did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage, making tackles for losses and pursuing the ball.”
The Lakers came up empty-handed, for instance, after the Hornet defense withstood a 16-play series that consumed nearly the entire second quarter but was stopped in the red zone. Coming up with key tackles during the grueling drive was Anthony Pino, Anthony Corvino, and Sam Morelli, among others.
“Our defensive line is playing unbelievable,” said Morelli, who also made mention of teammates Owen Delano, Mateo Acuna, and Dylan Matthews. “I think it speaks to experience in our game plan. Our whole team worked throughout the off-season to get both mentally and physically ready and I think we’re clicking and playing awesome football.”
While the week before, it took a full minute to put points on the board, the Hornets only required 14-seconds to put their opponent in the rearview mirror. Senior QB Alex Carucci was 16-of-25 for 321-yards and a pair of TDs, including a 57-yarder to Will Batten to open the night’s festivities. Craig Rubino, in his defensive role, soon came up with a pick-6 from the 10-yard-line to extend the lead to 12-0.
Following the Lakers second quarter marathon, Carucci and company drove the ball 85-yards on 8 plays, all pass, culminating with a 30-yard TD toss to the elusive Brandon Eng who weaved in for a 19-0 Hornet advantage at the break.
Midway through the third frame, Carucci set forth on a QB-keeper, seeking 1-yard to extend a possession. 19-yards later, he was in for the score.
“We’ve been fortunate as coaches over the past two years because he has allowed us to demand a lot from him,” said Blum of his topnotch QB. “But we’re comfortable doing that because we know he’s capable. He makes the right reads, extends the play, and like that score, often makes the play.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Trailing 26-0 late in the third, Apponequet faked a punt on 4th-and-long, handing the Hornets a short field. Carucci and Rubino, one of the most dynamic partnerships in area football, combined for a 42-yarder to put it out of reach.
“Alex and I worked together all through the off-season, building chemistry,” said Rubino, who hauled in 9 passes for 146-yards. “He missed a couple throws early and I picked him up and I dropped a couple and he picked me up. But we have multiple weapons which takes some of the pressure off both of us.”
One of those weapons was Matt Guidebeck, who was not only a perfect 4-of-4 from the PAT stripe but added a late 35-yard TD reception to round out the scoring.
For the ninth time in 10 outings, the officials ran the fourth quarter clock unabated due to the score disparity. Once again, the reserves drew applause from the North Reading faithful as they successfully preserved the shutout.
Now standing in North Reading’s path to Gillette Stadium to vie for a State Championship is No. 6 Bishop Fenwick, which handed Maynard a 37-13 defeat. The game will be held at the Manning Bowl, Lynn, on Friday at 7 p.m.
“I told the kids that I thought this Division 5 tournament was better than it was last year,” said Blum. “I don’t care what the score says – I thought Apponequet was a really tough team. And looking at some of the other quarterfinal teams – just unbelievable matchups. You know the final four teams, DS, Shawsheen and Bishop Fenwick are going to be really good and we have to be ready for that.”