Published in the October 8, 2015 edition
By ANDREW MOUNTER
NORTH READING — Over the last couple years, North Reading High School Football Head Coach Jeff Wall and his team have gotten a more than a few monkeys off their backs in Wall’s 10 plus years as coach. The monkeys Wall and his team have jettisoned include victories over Amesbury and Hamilton-Wenham after suffering years of defeats at the hands of the Indians and Generals.
Last Friday night on the Arthur Kenney Athletic Field, Wall and his crew probably dumped the biggest monkey of them all, as the North Reading Hornets defeated the Masconomet Chieftains 14-–13, in a thrilling nail bitter, as the stout Hornet defense stuffed Masco running back Scott Foden, just short of the end zone on a two–point conversion attempt that would have put the Chieftains ahead, 15–14, with 17 seconds left.
For Coach Wall this was the biggest win of his coaching career. “Without a doubt this is our biggest win since I’ve been here,” said Coach Wall. “We’ve had big wins in the past and this definitely is the pinnacle for us. We told the team this game will gain us respect and let the rest of the Cape Ann League that we can play. The kids sensed how important it was as well. This is the first time we beat Masco in a long time, I’m just proud of them.”
Long time indeed, as this was the first victory the Hornets earned over the Chieftains since 1993, when the Green and Gold beat Masco 28-6.
The Chieftains received the ball first but went three and out on their first offensive drive, leading to a punt return touchdown by Hornet junior Matt McCarthy, going 75 yards for the score his second special teams return TD in as many weeks. Angelo Disanto kicked the extra point to give the home team a 7–0 lead just 2:37 into the game. After the game, McCarthy explained why his team is experiencing such success on special teams this season. “Coach sets up this wall in practice every week and it’s always there during games,” said McCarthy. “I just take the ball and I know where to go every single time because we call for a lane to open and it’s always open.”
The score would stay that way till 7:01 left in the second quarter, as Masco answered back with a touchdown of their own from senior running back Nick Tirrusa, plus a Jason Slattery point after touchdown that tied the game at 7 and would stay like that till halftime.
Defensively, the Hornets were at their best again, similar to the week before against Somerville, having to deal with a spread offense that could both throw and run the ball. It seemed every time Hornet junior defensive back John Merullo would be targeted by Masco quarterback Declan Judge, Merullo would come up with a big play, either swatting the ball down or making a huge hit on the receiver, so he could not make a play. Junior defensive lineman Bob O’Donnell also made some big hits on the line and got to Judge two times for sacks, helping the cause for the Green and Gold.
The score stayed 7-7 all the way till 1:49 left in the game as McCarthy again come up huge with a 34 yard TD run. Tack on the extra point by Disanto and North Reading had a 14-7 lead late in the game and looked like they were destined to win the ball game.
Not so fast, said the Masco offense, which ran a perfect 14 play, 59 yard drive that concluded with a touchdown from Judge to wide receiver Paul Baker, for a 11–yard touchdown to make it 14–13 game. Using the old football adage that if your team is on the road, you go for the win and not the tie at the end of the game, the Chieftains’ coaching staff decided to go for the two–point conversion and it backfired as running back Scott Foden tried to run up the middle. Foden was denied at the 1–yard line by a swarm of Hornets with just 17 seconds in the game to seal the 14–13 victory for North Reading.
North Reading is 4–0 for the first time since the undefeated regular season of 1979. They will try to keep their hopes alive of a league title Saturday afternoon on the road against 4–0 Pentucket Regional High School. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.