109th meeting between rivals at home on Nov. 28

Published November 22, 2019

By JENNIFER GENTILE

MELROSE—If it’s November, then it is football time between the Melrose Red Raiders and the Wakefield Warriors, two historical rivals who face each other for the 109th meeting this Thanksgiving in a rivalry that dates back to 1901. The 60th Melrose-Wakefield Thanksgiving Classic takes place next Thursday, Nov. 28 at Melrose’s Fred Green Field at 10:15 a.m. 

While the Super Bowl-bound Red Raiders await the Big Show, they must battle a revived Warrior team on Turkey Day. And will Melrose play their starters? Let’s just say Coach Tim Morris always has, and it’s always worked out. 

“We play to win football,” confirms Morris on Thanksgiving game preparation. “That’s how you play and it’s how we roll. Some years, we’ve played on a Saturday, then four days later on Thanksgiving and then go right to the Super Bowl, so you’re squeezing many games in. Right now, we actually have an extra week this year to let our guys heal up.”

The Red Raiders lead the series against Wakefield 61-41-6 and has topped the Warriors in six straight holiday contests. Melrose will look forward to extending that. And though Melrose fans are thinking Super Bowl (with good reason) the Red Raiders must focus on beating Wakefield if they want to take complete control of the Middlesex Freedom League—which they’ve already secured a claim to. Stoneham finished their season 4-1 in the Freedom League (Melrose was their only loss). A Warrior win would improve Wakefield to 4-1 in the league and a Melrose loss would finish their record 4-1 as well. Let’s just say Melrose wants complete control of the league. 

THE 2019 Div. North Champion MHS football team: front row left, Head Coach Tim Morris, Alex Brincheiro, Jesse Gardner, Brendan Maher, Mical Duntin, capt. William Pesce, capt. Jared Karelas, capt. Chris Cusolito, capt. Sean Herbert, Chris Allen, Eric Pimental, Micye Duntin, Tyrell Liles, Coach Jim Kent. 2nd row: Coach Trevor Rudolph, Ryan Maher, Tony DiFruscio, Jake Petitpas, Lian Whelan, Gavin Crowley, Frank Capaldo, Brendan Fennell, Matt Hickey, Andy George, Jake Rowe, Andrew Norton Jefferson, Joe Whitley, Coach Arthur Irsyk. 3rd row: Coach Paul Capaldo, Donald “DJ” Darwin, Mark Aylward, Charles Taggerty, Justin Camelio, Brady Pitcher, Jamie Haggert, Mike Overlan, Jack Parella, Matt Dussault, Coach Spencer Walsh, coach Wayne Randolph. 4th row: Coach John Babula, Ryan McClintock, Shea Fogarty, Trevor Botto, Liam Maher, Kojee Khang, Rob Colozzo, Zach Federico, Luke Maher, Pat Lucian, Stefan Mackowski, Coach Mike Sasso, Coach Matt Montani. (Terry Bleiler photo)

Last year, Melrose beat the Warriors, 34-13, on the road at Landrigan Field and now they will host a 6-4 Warrior team who is coming off two straight wins over North Reading and Dracut. Wakefield’s record might not be spotless, but they have proven to be a team capable of surprises against brutally tough competition.They took care of Freedom rivals this year with victories over Wilmington, Watertown and Burlington and they also beat ML Large Belmont. Their victory over North Reading last week is certainly an indication that they are playing on high octane. So while Melrose certainly has the edge going in, don’t expect Wakefield to roll over and play dead. 

Leading the Warriors in QB duties is Joe Alden, though earlier quarterback efforts this season came from Wesley Pierre. Their best weapon is sophomore running back Aidan Sweeney, who scored 5 touchdowns over Dracut last week and another 5 against North Reading for a total of 21 on the season. Melrose will zero in on Sweeney but could also find wide receiver Wesley Pierre, running back Tucker Stickman and fullback/linebacker Dan Hurley tricky. Hurley is also a lights-out kicker so expect Wakefield to utilize options during the game. 

Overall, Wakefield coach John Rafferty, now in his second year, has helped turn around a Warrior team whose record now represents their best since 2012. Says Morris, “I’ve known Rafferty forever, I’ve coached with him here. No question, his coaching Wakefield was going to improve the program. Overall, it makes the league better.” 

As to what to expect on the field? “As always, Wakefield is big up front, and they run a power offense,” says Morris. “Obviously, their #22 [Sweeney] is quite strong. Wakefield is putting things together right now and playing good football. They had some quality wins over some tough competition.”

But Melrose has already made it clear they are loaded with weapons. Chris Cusolito leads the division with 25 touchdowns this season and quarterback Brendan Fennell gets better each game, throwing for over 300 yards in his last two games. Even if they target Cusolito that only opens up Fennell, Jack Hickey and Billy Pesce on a running game. Wakefield will have to contend with a loaded defense in the form of Billy Pesce, Mical and Micye Duntin, Jared Karelas, playmaker king Sean Herbert, great receivers in Matt Dussault and Brendan Maher and a game-changing Charlie Haggerty, who makes life miserable for rival quarterbacks. 

What is clear that these two neighbors are playing peak football and will leave it all on the field on Thanksgiving Day. Expect a competitive and enjoyable match between two longtime rivals starting at 10:15 at Fred Green Field.