THE MELROSE Red Raider football team fell to Wakefield 21-13 on Thanksgiving Day. (Dan Pawkowski photo)
Melrose falls to Warriors in second half, 21-13
By JENNIFER GENTILE
WAKEFIELD—It was bound to happen, eventually.
The Melrose Red Raider football team’s 11-game winning streak over Wakefield ended on Nov. 25 at the 61st Thanksgiving Classic at Landrigan Field in Wakefield. Melrose fell to the Warriors, 21-13, in what amounted to a comeback victory for the Warriors and their first Thanksgiving win over Melrose since 2011.
It was the two team’s 111th meeting in their century-long series. Melrose now leads the All-Time series 62-42-7 but Wakefield leads on Thanksgiving 32-26-3.
On Thursday, in front of a jam-packed crowd at Landrigan Field, Wakefield overcame a 13-7 halftime deficit to snag the trophy out of Melrose’s hands for the first time in 8 years, despite Wakefield battling a host of injuries and Melrose pulling off an admirable 3rd quarter goal-line stand at the Warrior 1-yard line. But it was a fateful, fourth-quarter pick six by Wakefield senior Jack Berinato that gave Wakefield a lead they’d never surrender and ultimately handed Melrose the rare loss.
While the Red Raiders had a very solid first half, the momentum switch came fast and furious in the second when Warrior defense held Melrose to just two first down conversions.
Wakefield senior captain Leo Yardumian (18 carries, 103 yards, 1 TD) and junior Nathan Delgado (16 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD) did most of the work for Wakefield while their junior QB Javin Willis (10 carries, 72 yards) got the job done. Melrose quarterback Trevor Botto had an overall solid day behind with the ball, rushing for over 100 yards, while senior captain Shea Fogarty had one rushing touchdown.
Melrose was first on the board with a 13-play drive to open the game behind the work of Liam Maher who had gains of 24 and 7 yards, and Red Raider quarterback Trevor Botto, who ran on a series of keepers and connected with Liam Maher and Rob Colozzo to help bring the ball to the Melrose 15. From there, senior captain Shea Fogarty scored on a 15-yard touchdown run to give Melrose a 7-0 lead after a good kick by senior Zach Federico. Wakefield would start their drive on their own 21 and would face hard tackles from Melrose’s JD LaBarbera and Braden Marceau-Olayinka and a crushing tackle from senior Jamie Haggerty. But Wakefield’s Delgado would launch a ground campaign at the start of the second that would culminate in his 7- yard touchdown that tied it up, 7-7.
Melrose senior captain quarterback Botto was fleet-footed in Melrose’s next drive as he ran for gains of 35 yards and 12 yards that helped Melrose get into striking zone. From there, he handed the efforts to Melrose standout kicker Zach Federico who nailed a 22-yard field goal kick to give Melrose a 10-7 edge with 5:00 left to halftime. Melrose defense did the job from there, forcing the Wakefield punt and then after, a series of Botto runs and a completion to receiver Brady Pitcher moved the ball down field. Melrose set up the senior Federico once more and he hit an even larger shot, an impressive 33-yard field goal that gave Melrose a 13-7 advantage at the break.
The tide turned in the second half despite a rather brilliant goal line stand on the 1 yard line by Melrose. The Red Raiders prevented the Warrior touchdown on a 4th and goal threat on the 1, but during the ensuing possession Melrose suffered a safety on 2nd down via dropped snap. Wakefield was back on board with two extra points, keeping Melrose ahead by just over a field goal, 13-9. Unfortunately, Melrose wouldn’t score in the second half and would have their hands full with Warriors, despite a solid pick-off by Melrose’s Fogarty on a toss from Warrior quarterback Willis.
Wakefield forced Melrose to punt after a hard sack by Chris Amyouny with nine minutes left in the game. Wakefield’s Yardumian scored with a 1-yard touchdown to give the Warriors their first lead of the game, 15-13 (failed two point attempt). Melrose had plenty of time to score by either touchdown or off the foot of skilled kicker Federico as they attempted to get within range. But with a 4th & 3 scenario, on their own 34 with just 2:50 left, the Red Raiders came up short when Botto threw into the hands of Jack Benidato who returned a 42 pick six that finished Melrose off, 21-13.
While disappointed to hand the trophy back after so many years, Melrose head coach Tim Morris saw things he liked defensively from the Red Raiders. “We obviously missed some opportunities, particularly in the second half. We had lots of chances to close the door. But we had some good moments on defense and we managed the clock well. We just lost some momentum and didn’t convert drives when we needed to.”
He tipped his cap to senior Zach Federico, whose two field goals kept Melrose ahead going into halftime. “Zach is a kid who spent his career as a kicker and this season he’s done everything for us, playing both sides of the ball. He was just really big for us this season.”
Departing this season are the senior Federico and capt. Shea Fogarty, capt. Trevor Botto, capt. Justin Camelio, Jamie Haggerty, Rob Colozzo, Kojee Khang, Rowan Smith, Pat Lucien, Luke Maher, Brady Pitcher, Liam Maher and Thomas Foley.
One silver lining this season was the experience gained by several underclassmen, which will no doubt bode well for Melrose when they return in 2022. They not only got valuable playing time but faced tough opponents in a super-challenging schedule this fall. Says Morris, “It’s very rare for us to play as many sophomores and juniors as we did this season. It’s unusual, but also puts us a fairly good position next season. They gained experience and that will help us down the road.”
Another silver lining are the excellent seasons of Melrose’s junior varsity and freshmen football teams, suggesting that the future is bright for Red Raider Nation.