IPSWICH — After outscoring opponents by a wide 115-29 margin in the first three contests of the season, one had to wonder if the undefeated North Reading Hornets had finally met their match when Ipswich scored on the first play of Friday night’s pivotal Cape Ann League football clash.
All doubt was removed, however, when the Hornets turned the tables on their host, countering with six points on the initial play of their first possession. From there, it was all North Reading, with a TD tally on each of the next four series en route to a convincing 41-13 win.
For the third time in four outings, the Hornets have amassed 20 or more first quarter points due, in part, to a quick strike offense and special teams mastery.
“You have to give credit to the kids for the continuing success,” said North Reading head coach Ed Blum, who remains undefeated at 4-0, 2-0 in the CAL. “Obviously, we’ve been focusing on all three phases of football but I agree the play of our special teams has been huge early on.”
Blum was referring to the five special teams scores thus far this season, including a 45-yard Craig Rubino kickoff return at the outset of the second quarter that effectively put the game out of reach of Ipswich at 27-6. Rubino, who had a touchdown reception in each of the first two games, added a pair of TD catches to lead the Hornets to their second CAL win.
“We were very fortunate to have him return to North Reading and be part of this,” said Blum of his electrifying junior tailback who transferred from St. John’s. “He’s another one that put in the hard work in the weight room and football-IQ wise, he’s very good and very coachable.”
On a cool, still night, the winless Ipswich Tigers found themselves quickly ahead when, on the first play from scrimmage, tailback Henry Wright exploited a gaping hole on the left side of the line and sprinted 71-yards. Not to be outdone, North Reading QB Alex Carucci found Ryan McCullough, who wrestled the ball away from the cornerback and raced 59-yards for the equalizer. Both squads missed the PAT, knotting the score at 6-6 with only 28-seconds played.
On the second series, Carucci (7-of-12 for 224-yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) went to work in earnest, hitting Will Batten and then Rubino for a pair, including a 25-yard, go-ahead strike. Carucci rushed for a 2-point conversion. The Hornet defense forced a rapid three-and-out, handing the ball back to Carucci who made quick work of it, flaring a 27-yard TD to John Jennings. With 1:16 left in the first frame, North Reading had assumed a 21-6 lead and would not look back.
“Defensively, that was not the way we wanted to start the game,” said Blum. “I think that early Ipswich touchdown was a little bit of a wakeup call. But they learned from it and quickly got better.”
With a TD reception to his credit, Rubino added more points in the second quarter with a 45-yard kickoff return. And later, he tacked on a 62-yard reception, capped with a dive across the goal line, putting his team in front, 34-6.
“I have to give credit to the offensive line for their blocking,” said a humble Rubino, who has proven to be a dangerous dual-threat as both a tailback and a receiver. “The blocking allowed Alex to get the ball out quickly and we made the plays. Ipswich blitzed a lot but we were prepared for that.”
While the high-powered North Reading offense racked up points, the defense was unyielding. Through three quarters of football, the shorthanded Tigers crossed the midfield stripe only twice and in both instances, were unable to mount a threat. They would eventually score a late TD against Hornet reserves but not before Carucci linked up with Aldo Vittozzi for an 18-yard score.
Late in the game, McCullough was sidelined with a shoulder injury which is obviously concerning. But Blum agrees that the Hornets are well-stocked with offensive weapons and the emergence of Rubino is a huge plus.
“McCullough is a little banged up and hopefully, we can give him some time to rest,” said the coach. “He’s a great leader, he’s respectful and he buys into everything. But we’re trying to be unpredictable on offense and make our opponents play us sideline to sideline. Like you said, it has to be a different guy stepping up in each game. So far, it’s working.”
North Reading will travel to face Triton (1-2) on Friday at 7 p.m.