Hornets hang on in 61st Thanksgiving Classic

Published December 4, 2019


NORTH READING — The rain fell hard onto Arthur J. Kenney Field last Thursday morning when the 8-2 Lynnfield Pioneers battled the 7-3 North Reading Hornets for the 61st Thanksgiving clash. Following the conditions of last year’s Thanksgiving ice bowl, no one in the stands could complain about the elements.

OWEN BLACKER (55) helps Joe Contardo drag down North Reading’s Will O’Leary while Khad Connell (9) sheds a blocker. (Kerrianne Allain Photo)

The only similarity shared between last year’s 32-0 Hornet victory was the beginning. When North Reading got the ball first, they marched right down the field with ease.  It would only take them five plays before senior captain Jack Keller lunged over the goal line to put Lynnfield down early 7-0.

The next time the Pioneer defense stepped on the field they would tighten up.  At the Lynnfield 37 yard line, North Reading faced a 4th and 7 and elected to keep their offense on the field.  Junior quarterback Brian Heffernan looked to keep the drive alive but junior defensive back Austin Sutera had other intentions swatting the ball away from the intended receiver.

If there were any concerns about the rain slowing down the Pioneers high-powered offense, those questions would be put to bed early.  Late in the first quarter, Lynnfield finally began moving the ball through the air. On three third-down plays, senior captain quarterback Clayton Marengi (19-36, 319 yards, 2 touchdowns) moved the chains finding fellow senior captain John Lee (9 catches, 200 yards, 2 touchdowns), Blake Peters (4 catches, 41 yards), and Bakari Mitchell (4 catches, 61 yards).  After bringing the ball to the 1-yard line, junior running back David Capachietti (6 carries, 18 yards, 1 touchdown) punched it in to tie the game 7-7.

JOHN LEE ran wild against North Reading on Thanksgiving, collecting nine receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns. (Kerrianne Allain Photo)

The Hornets would immediately respond.  Following a 62-yard Greg Demetri run, North Reading was knocking on the door inside the 5 yard line. Lynnfield’s defense denied entry to the end zone on the first two plays, but Keller finally found his way in on 3rd and goal bringing the Hornets’ lead to 14-7.

North Reading took their one touchdown lead into the second half and looked to extend it on their first possession.  At the Pioneer 29 yard line on 3rd and 6, Heffernan found senior receiver Ryan Kavanaugh who turned it up field for a 25 yard pickup.  Given the situation and the weather, a touchdown here could potentially seal Lynnfield’s fate. The stingy Pioneer defense rose to the occasion, shutting the door on three consecutive plays.  On 4th and goal, Hornet head coach Ed Blum sent out his kicker to make it a two possession game. However, North Reading’s lead would remain at 7 after a swarm of Pioneer players blocked the attempted kick.

Following the huge momentum swing for Lynnfield, it was not long before the road team built on it. In fact, it would only take one play. On the very first snap following the block, Marengi faked a handoff then tossed it left to Lee. The senior captain made one miss, then another, and then another until 77 yards later Lee was celebrating in the back of the end zone with his teammates.

JOE CONTARDO (22) wrestles down Greg Demetri. Contardo and the defense stopped North Reading on two 4th-down attempts in the fourth quarter. (Kristine Marengi Photo)

On the next two Hornet possessions, North Reading put together drives going deep into Pioneer territory.  Despite the Lynnfield defense bending, they would not break. On 4th and 3 at the Pioneer 21 yard line, a North Reading run up the middle was stuffed by a gang of white jerseys. A 4th and 5 on the following series at the Lynnfield 16 yard line was also stifled when heavy pressure upfront forced an errant Heffernan pass.

“The defense gave us some awesome stops,” commented Pioneer head coach Pat Lamusta. “They battled through some very tough third and fourth-down situations.  I’m very proud of our defense especially since we had to move some kids around.  Kids like Joe Contardo and Khad Connell moved around and really stepped up.”

After the second consecutive fourth down stop, with a little more than eight minutes to go in the 4th quarter, Lynnfield’s offense returned to form.  Starting at their own 16 yard line, the Pioneers got the drive going with a 30 yard pass to Mitchell. On the next play, Marengi found Mitchell again who took it up the left side for a 10 yard gain, plus 15 yards following a late hit out of bounds.  Now inside the Hornets’ red zone, Marengi connected with John Lee over the middle who would barrel his way over the goal line for the go-ahead 19-14 Lynnfield lead.

To North Reading’s credit, the Hornets never gave up.  With seven minutes left in the game, North Reading’s offense methodically moved the ball down the field and converted on two critical 4th downs.  The second 4th down conversion came with 1:18 left in the 4th quarter where Heffernan found Keller down field for a 30 yard touchdown pass.

CLAYTON MARENGI threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns on Thanksgiving. The senior will graduate as the best QB in Lynnfield history as he broke program records in career passing yards (3,381), career passing touchdowns (39) and passing touchdowns in a single season (30). (Kerrianne Allain Photo)

The Pioneers now trailed by two points with only 1:07 left in their season.  Most teams would succumb to the pressure of the moment, but this Lynnfield offense had already been in this situation twice before.

Marengi got the drive started, converting a critical 3rd and 10 by finding John Lee for 14 yards.  The Pioneers converted another crucial 3rd and 10 when a Lynnfield receiver was mugged by a Hornet defensive back.  Following the pass interference call, with only 13 seconds left, Marengi connected again with Lee for 14 yards giving Lynnfield a chance.  From 35 yards out, coach Lamusta sent out his field goal unit for the last play of the game. The well-struck kick came just inches away from a Pioneer victory before the left post rejected the ball.

“Obviously I wish we got a few more plays in our favor but the kids fought,” claimed coach Lamusta.  “I just thought it was a great competitive football game on Thanksgiving Day.”

The Thanksgiving loss will certainly be a tough one to swallow for Lynnfield. It may sting for the time being, but history will certainly remember this Pioneer team for what they overcame.

After one of their worst seasons in 10 years, the 2019 Pioneers came roaring back.

Not only did Lynnfield flip their record from 3-8 to 8-3, they rewrote the record books. Junior Jack Ford broke the school record for most career receptions with 87 (with still another year to play). Senior captain John Lee returned a punt for a touchdown in three consecutive weeks which no Pioneer had ever done before. Lastly, senior captain Clayton Marengi broke the records for most career passing yards (3,381 passing yards), most career passing touchdowns (39 touchdowns), and most individual season passing touchdowns (30).

Perhaps no one is more proud of what this group has accomplished than the head coach.

“It started with the captains in the offseason since January,” said Lamusta. “It was a full eight months of solid commitment, so I thank the captains and the seniors for getting us back on track.”