Low numbers catch up to Wakefield in second half
Published in the November 23, 2018 edition
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — Anybody else quadruple check their turkeys in the oven just to get a blast of heat yesterday morning? Even if you didn’t, I bet you were happy the 59th annual Wakefield-Melrose Thanksgiving game was Wednesday night.
That’s a consensus that may have required a split-second of the cold on Thursday to come to, because make no mistake, it was freezing at Landrigan Field on Wednesday night.
That didn’t stop the fans, and had no effect on the players from giving it all they had to create that same Thanksgiving atmosphere.
(I know, easy for me to say up in the press box where it felt like a warm bowl of stuffing).
On the field, an exciting and productive first half for the home team finally gave way to a bigger, deeper program in the second, as Melrose left town with a 34-13 win; their seventh straight Turkey Day victory.
Wakefield head coach John Rafferty, while hesitantly agreeing that the difference in available players (less than 30 for Wakefield and about 50 for Melrose) finally wore down the home team, was far more interested in talking about the pride he felt in the ones who gave it their all during his first Thanksgiving as a head coach at his alma mater.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” said Rafferty. “They played really well in the first half. They were going after it. I’m just really proud of them.”
That strong first half included what was perhaps the most impressive drive of the season for the Warriors on the opening possession of the game. The drive went 11 plays and 66 yards in 4:24, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown run from senior captain Danny Marinaccio.
Back for just his third game of the season, Marinaccio accounted for 33 yards on the drive.
The Warriors also got a big boost from junior Wesley Pierre, playing in his first game of the season. Pierre picked up 12 huge yards on a 3rd-and-6 from the Melrose 41 to keep the drive alive.
After Melrose drove the ball well on their first possession, Wakefield had a chance to hold them on 4th-and-4 from the six, but Melrose sophomore quarterback Brendan Fennell got to the edge on a reverse for a 6-yard score. Since Wakefield’s point after was blocked, the PAT for Melrose resulted in a 7-6 lead with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
“The first series we had a chance to hold them on downs and they popped a reverse,” said Rafferty. “That was a big play that got them going.”
Wakefield went three-and-out on their next two possessions and although the defense forced Melrose to punt once, the Red Raiders found their flow on a 74-yard touchdown drive in the middle of the second quarter. A rumbling, third-down run from junior Billy Pesce for 23 yards to the Wakefield 34 kept the drive alive. Although Melrose had a balanced attack all night, Pesce (8 rushes for 93 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions for 59 yards) was the go-to guy whenever they really needed to move the chains.
Junior Andrew Calvert converted on a 3-yard halfback draw to give the visitors a 13-6 lead after the extra point by Kemar Bynoe went wide.
With 4:28 left in the first half, Wakefield needed something to get the home fans back into it.
It didn’t take long.
A wacky, wobbling ensuing kickoff from Melrose took a couple of bounces and was scooped up with a head of steam by Marinaccio at the 20-yard line. The captain cut and weaved at a blistering pace towards the left sideline and cruised past a screaming Red Sea student section 80 yards to the house.
Landrigan shook off the icicles and came alive. The game was tied at 13 after a successful extra point from sophomore Danny Hurley.
Of course, that still left about four minutes for a clicking Red Raider offense to go to work before halftime.
A 35-yard pass on their first play of the drive from Melrose’s starting running back, captain Kevin Peete stunned the Warriors. It was the only pass attempt of the night by Peete, a former quarterback, who connected with junior Sean Herbert.
The Red Raiders got a key conversion on 3rd-and-10 from the Wakefield 31 after a 13-yard keeper by Fennell (9 rushes, 69 yards; 10/14 passing, 120 yards, 1 TD).
Calvert scored from six yards out for his second touchdown of the game, making it 20-13 with just 27 seconds left in the first half.
“It was tough giving up the one at the end of the first half, it really was,” said Rafferty. “That was tough to overcome.”
The second half, and specifically the third quarter, was when the polarizing depth became evident.
Overall time of possession wasn’t that glaring (25:17 for Melrose, 18:43 for Wakefield), but the third quarter (Melrose: 8:17, Wakefield: 2:43) was a different story as the Red Raiders dominated the ball. The score differential was only 7-0 in the third, but the fifth touchdown for the visitors occurred just 19 seconds into the fourth quarter, completing a long drive started in the third.
Meanwhile, Wakefield’s tiring offense, comprised of mostly the same Warriors who were battling on defense, couldn’t get a first down in that third.
It seemed that, before the frozen fans could wipe the frost from their eyes to blink, Melrose was up 34-13 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“I guess at that time, the bigger, stronger program took its toll on a program that is still trying to find its legs,” said Rafferty.
Wakefield’s defense continued to battle in the fourth after the Warriors punted on their first possession of the frame. Wakefield got some solid play on the line by juniors Anthony DeVito, Taaj Andrews, Dan LaMonica and Liam Cosgrove and nice tackling all game from senior Derek Dimascio and Marinaccio.
Surprisingly when considering the cold, there were no turnovers by either team, but it still felt like Wakefield’s offense didn’t have enough chances to get going on their six drives. The second best possession of the night for the Warriors was the last of the game, thanks in large part to a 28-yard pass and catch from captain Mike Lucey to Dimascio. The time expired on the drive and the season for both teams as a truly unique, Wednesday night Thanksgiving game came to a close.
Wakefield was always going to be the underdog, but Rafferty was proud of the team and specifically the seniors for competing in true Wakefield fashion.
“I’m really happy for them that they got the opportunity,” said Rafferty. “Danny (Marinaccio) coming back from injury and along with the other seniors, to have this Thanksgiving game. They played really hard and were accountable to each other and I’m happy they were able to be a part of it.”
In many ways, it was a difficult season for the seniors who knew their primary goal was two-fold as, in addition to trying to win, they set out to help Rafferty and the coaching staff build the program up for future success. That was a day-in, day-out process, primarily in practice, to help the younger Warriors understand what it takes to win. In that sense, Marinaccio, Lucey, Dimascio, Tommy Mottl, Lorenzo Bell, Owen Slattery, Nolan O’Callahan and Nick Lamberti will be remembered as the class that put the tradition of the Wakefield program on their shoulders in the hopes that the following Warriors can bring it back to the top. It’s not unlike when Dimascio rotates in at nose tackle and dives into a gap. He won’t get the glory, but the path is cleared. That’s Wakefield football. Rafferty hopes the underclassmen can fill those gaps next year.
“Theres a lot of work to do, but that being said, coming out here for Thanksgiving on the last game of the year, in a lot of ways I think Wakefield football had a pretty good accounting of themselves. Hopefully the younger guys feel that, see that and hopefully that makes them want to keep it going.”