JASON BERRY takes off for a touchdown in North Reading’s game against Winthrop while David Tran (left) and Zach Demetri (54) open a hole. Berry combined this rushing TD with 243 passing yards and 2 TD through the air. (Eric Evans Photo)



WINTHROP — After a football season of ups and downs, North Reading had hoped to wrap up the MIAA Consolation bracket with a pair of wins. The Hornets convincingly defeated Bishop Fenwick in the first round but were unable to replicate the effort a week later in Winthrop, falling 39-22.

Over the past two years, the North Reading winning formula has featured up-tempo opening drives that, more often than not, would result in points and set respective opponents back on their heels. And in Winthrop on Thursday night, the Hornets did exactly that, as QB Jason Berry found Brandon Eng for a 22-yarder to move in front just minutes into the game. But Winthrop had an answer, chalking up three first half rushing TDs to gain separation.

“That’s a tough offense to stop,” said North Reading Coach Ed Blum, of his opponent. “They have a physical offensive line and a number of hard runners including their No. 20.”

Blum was referring to Winthrop tailback Nick Cappuccio, who racked up 185-yards on 14 carries along with back-to-back TDs. His first score, from the 13-yard-line, tied the game at 7, and his second, from the 11, put the Vikings ahead 14-7 midway through the first quarter. Sidekick George Galuris added a 2-yarder to cement the Vikings halftime lead, 20-7.

Punting the ball proved problematic for North Reading, partly due to a stiff wind buffeting from the nearby Atlantic and across Miller Field. All three of the Winthrop first half scores were launched from short fields, from the North Reading 49, 33, and 45, respectively. The shorthanded Hornets defense was stout but unable to match the red zone stops of a week earlier at Fenwick.

“I give our kids a lot credit,” said Blum, who fell to 5-4 overall with one remaining. “We have a lot going against us right now, health, injuries, and a lack of numbers. It’s difficult to keep lining up but they play with such heart. Tonight, they competed.”

The Hornet hardships intensified after the break when Cappuccio broke for a 68-yard romp. The points were taken off the board on a holding infraction but on the very next play, Galuris followed his teammate’s trail for a 78-yard TD and a Winthrop 26-7 lead.

With 4:57 left in the third, North Reading cut into the deficit when Gavin Brady pulled down one of Berry’s trademark slants and somehow wrestled free of a sure-tackle to polish off the 30-yard TD play. But no sooner had the Hornets’ sideline finished celebrating, Cappuccio was again off to the races for a 64-yarder, his third of the night, restoring the Vikings three-score lead.

In early fourth quarter action, Anthony Ricca recovered a Galuris fumble. North Reading marched 61-yards on a half-dozen plays to reach the Winthrop 5. Lining up with an empty backfield, the Vikings turned their attention to the four receivers while Berry ran it in untouched. Berry also combined with Otto Indelicato for a successful 2-point conversion.

Berry was an impressive 27 of 36 for 243-yards and a pair of TDS. Brandon Eng caught 11 for 123-yards, Brady hauled in 5 for 58-yards, and DuPriest contributed with 3 for 13.

Winthrop piled on, adding a rushing TD in the waning moments.

“The score tonight doesn’t reflect it but the fight in these kids was fun to watch,” said Blum. “Obviously, you want a few more games to go your way but the kids have competed in every single game this year and we never truly felt out of any loss. Now we have a week-and-a-half to Thanksgiving and a chance to get healthy. We’ll see how that works out for us.”

In the traditional holiday meeting, North Reading will travel to face archrival Lynnfield, which was recently eliminated from the MIAA Division 6 Tournament by Hudson, 28-13.