By DAN ZIMMERMAN
BYFIELD — As the North Reading Hornets arrive at mid-season, armed with an unblemished 5-0 mark and a bundle of remarkable achievements, it’s difficult to fathom that this program has room for improvement. But after Friday night’s 48-7 dismantling of Triton Regional, the mindset is that the record has reset and the road ahead promises to be more demanding.
“It’s not enough yet,” replied senior wide receiver John Jennings, when asked how the team felt about their success to this juncture. “We came out tonight after one of our best weeks of practice and I think that’s what led to this great game tonight. But we have goals still to reach. After a brief celebration, we’re back to 0-0.”
North Reading has now outscored opponents by a margin of 204-49 due, in part, to the efforts of dynamic athletes like Ryan McCullough, who was sidelined with a shoulder a week earlier but returned no worse for wear and put up a 56-yard TD reception in the opening minutes against Triton.
The Hornets second possession also resulted in points as QB Alex Carucci rifled a 3-yarder to Devin Tran who put his team in front, 12-0, following a pair of failed 2-point conversion tries.
As the first quarter came to a close on a cool, crisp night in Newbury, Will Batten finished off yet another brief series, racing 49-yards for a 19-0 North Reading lead. The promising sophomore tailback slipped through a breach in the line and was gone, untouched by a defender.
“I need to give all the credit to our coaching staff and of course, the offensive line,” said Batten, who added a 46-yard TD in the third and now has a half-dozen scores on the season. “They were making big holes to run through all night.”
Leading by three scores in the second frame, Carucci made it five with back-to-back TD throws to Jennings, who was literally given a free pass by the Triton secondary. With 10:13 left in the half, Jennings hauled in a short lateral and turned downfield, shaking off ineffective hand tackles for 70-yards and the score. On the next series, Carucci combined with Jennings for a 57-yarder and a 32-0 Hornet lead.
“On a number of throws tonight, I needed a lot of time in the pocket and the offensive line did an unbelievable job,” said Carucci, who completed 8-of-10 for 274-yards and four TDs. “Contrary to popular belief, I am a little bit of a mobile quarterback but I don’t have to run very often this year because the pocket is consistently solid.”
“Credit to the offensive line for giving Carucci all that time to throw,” agreed North Reading head coach Ed Blum, who is now 3-0 in the Cape Ann League. “As far as his effort, he just keeps getting better. He is a student of the game, has a great football IQ, and does the job making his reads. As a first-year starter, he’s very mature but also humble.”
While the Hornets were well on their way to another win by halftime, Triton was running in quicksand. The Vikings ground game, facing an inspired defense led by Anthony Pino, Sam Morelli, and especially, Teddy Suny, compiled a paltry 59-yards on 19 tries. Senior QB Max Ciaramitaro connected on 9 attempts but most of his throws were hurried and for short yardage. Save for a late TD against reserves, Triton’s best forward progress on 8 possessions reached no further than the North Reading 45.
In all but two possessions, North Reading came away with points in some form or another. With seconds remaining before the intermission, for instance, Blum and his staff signaled for a Matt Guidebeck field goal try. The junior placekicker, who had earlier been inconsistent with PATs, booted a 40-yarder with room to spare. The Hornets, it seemed, could do no wrong.
North Reading tacked on a pair of rushing TDs in the third to assume a 48-0 lead. Craig Rubino polished off a 9-play, 63-yard series with a 3-yarder and Batten was in for his second of the night, from the 46, with seconds left in the quarter.
While the officials wound the clock for the final frame, Triton snapped the game-long shutout with a 34-yard TD rush from Jayden Torres.
“I would say this was our best week of practice,” said Blum. “The kids did it the right way and I’m pleased that the execution showed up on Friday night. Certainly, some of the guys you mentioned – McCullough, Jennings, Rubino, Batten – they’re players who other guys look to for leadership. And guys like Devin Tran and Aldo Vittozzi came up with important catches. But obviously, there are a few little things we have to clean up. Amesbury beat us up last year and represents a new set of challenges. We need to be prepared to face adversity.”
North Reading travels to face 3-1 Amesbury on Friday at 6:30 p.m.