Last-second Pioneer field goal hits the post

Published December 5, 2019


NORTH READING — The typical high school regulation upright stands 30 feet in height and 23 feet across. The post itself is measured at just four inches in width. But for the Lynnfield Pioneers, that narrow, yellow post ultimately spelled doom for their Thanksgiving Day hopes.

Trailing 21-19 with five seconds remaining, Lynnfield deployed place-kicker Blake Peters to attempt a game-winning, 35-yard field goal. The snap was good, the ball setup was clean, and Peters, with a stiff wind at his back, got plenty of leg into it.

For the host North Reading Hornets, all that remained was the hope that something would go wrong. Their collective wish was answered when the ball hit the left upright and caromed harmlessly back to the field. In a humorous term often coined by NFL sportscasters for this football rarity, the million-dollar sound they heard, just prior to erupting in a joyous celebration, was “doink.”

THE CLASS OF 2020 celebrates a wild Thanksgiving Day victory in their last game in Green and Gold. The seniors on the team were Matt Luciano, Ryan Kavanaugh, Aidan Carucci, Cam Randazzo, Jimmy Currier, John Cuddy, Matt Conley, Gerry Callagy, Jack Keller, Greg Demetri, Giovanni Colucciello, Sean McCullough, Brendan Downer, Eric Benecke, Michael Luker, Nick Tormey, Steven Kane, Jordan Madden, Nick McGovern, Michael Duquette, Jack Rich and Jordan Zimmerman.  (John Friberg Photo)

“This game often comes down to a matter of inches and luckily, that ball fell the right way and hit the turf,” said an elated North Reading coach Ed Blum, moments after the dramatic 21-19 photo-finish over his archrival. “For the 23 seniors on this team, that will be a lasting memory for them.”

Twenty-three seniors, certainly, but more so for the one who wears jersey No. 23. When his teammates needed him most, Jack Keller rose to the occasion and turned in a career performance with three TD’s, including the game-winner with a minute left.

“Thanksgiving – the last game of the season, the last game of our career for most of us,” said Keller, whose go-ahead TD reception was later televised on the FOX25 Thanksgiving football recap. “We went out there and did everything we could and left it all on the field. It wasn’t a pretty game but we came out of it with a W.”

Keller staked the Hornets to an early lead, polishing off the opening possession after Lynnfield deferred to the second half. Greg Demetri wasted little time advancing the offense into scoring position with a 55-yard rush to the Pioneer 5. Several snaps later, just 2:04 into the game, Keller punched it in from the 3.

“Early on, Greg was setting the tone for us,” said Blum. “He had a number of physical runs and some big gains. He was following his blocks and when he hit the hole, he exploded. He gave us his all and we appreciate that.”

Lynnfield answered early in the second quarter with a 1-yard plunge from tailback David Capachietti to cap a 12-play, 63-yard series that save for the finish, featured all passing.

In the early minutes, soaking showers made throwing the ball a risky proposition. When the rain let up, Pioneer QB Clayton Marengi began to sling it, connecting on 7 of 11 attempts to four different receivers.

THE HORNET defense was swarming all morning during their Turkey Day victory over Lynnfield. (John Friberg Photo)

North Reading was soon back in front, however, after the crafty Demetri delivered a riveting 62-yard rush into the red zone. With 6:00 minutes remaining in the half, Keller was across with his second of the morning, from the 1. Robert “Mr. Automatic” Tammaro booted the PAT to front the Hornets, 14-7.

While the North Reading offense was making a statement, the defense derailed a number of Lynnfield scoring threats. Late in the half, for instance, the Pioneers reached the 14 on the capable arm of Marengi but on a 4th-and-8 toss to Capachietti, the Hornets yielded only seven yards and took the ball back on downs.

Later, with less than a minute left, Nick Tormey sacked the elusive Marengi for a substantial loss, breaking up a promising series.

North Reading squandered an insurance opportunity early in the second half. Starting from their own 45, the Hornets marched rapidly into the red zone and at one point, stood on the 1-yard-line with a 2nd-and-goal. Demetri added a 22-yard rush but was hurt on the play and didn’t return to action. Later in the series, QB Brian Heffernan found Ryan Kavanaugh for 26, most of it run after the catch. But Lynnfield weathered the storm, denying further advance. North Reading turned to Tammaro for a 22-yard field goal try but the kick was a low, line drive blocked at the line by Joseph Contardo.

On the very next play, Marengi lit up the Hornet secondary, heaving a 77-yard TD bomb to John Lee. Preview of coming attractions, perhaps, but place-kicker Peters was wide left on the PAT, leaving the Pioneers in arrears, 14-13.

BRIAN HEFFERNAN follows through on his game-winning TD pass on 4th and 4 from the 29-yard line to senior Jack Keller with one minute left against Lynnfield. (John Friberg Photo)

Moving to the fourth quarter, the Hornets were recipients of a short punt, landing on the Pioneer 34 but were unable to capitalize, gaining the 16-yard-line before faltering.

The assumption on the North Reading sideline was that there was little harm done in this instance. The Hornet defense would work a little more magic and take the ball back, likely with decent field position. Marengi had other plans. His first two throws, slants to Bakari Mitchell were good for 30 and 22-yards. An untimely 15-yard penalty was levied against the Hornets for a late hit, placing Lynnfield on the North Reading 17. Marengi wasted no time, rifling a 17-yard TD to Lee. The rangy QB failed to connect on a 2-point try but it mattered little to the Pioneers who had captured their first lead, 19-14.

“Their quarterback is an outstanding player,” said Blum. “When they went to their passing game, they had kids who could make plays and you saw that. It kept them in it. Obviously, I would have liked our kids to execute a little better but we made some key fourth down plays and did enough to win.”

Quiet for most of the game, Heffernan went to work with 7:40 left. He was flawless on the time-consuming series, completing five including four to Kavanaugh. Keller rushed twice but a yardage setback suddenly had the Hornets facing 4th-and-4. With 1:07 left, Blum signaled for his final timeout to talk it over. The weight of the entire stadium on his shoulders, Heffernan took the snap, dropped back, looked left, but threw to his right, finding Keller unguarded. With the game on the line, Lynnfield had blown coverage, allowing one of the best receivers in the league to score untouched.

LYNNFIELD’s last-second 35-yard field goal attempt hit the left post of the upright, allowing the Hornets to hold on to a two-point 21-19 victory on Thanksgiving Day. (Kerrianne Allain Photo)

“Our coaches work hard to put us in the best position possible to win games,” said Keller. “With many of those fourth down plays, we go in there confident we’re going to execute and get the yards we need to extend drives. Today, it went our way.”

In a one-minute drill, Marengi was off-target for a half-dozen throws but effective enough to put the Pioneers in range for a field goal try. The Lynnfield coaching staff certainly couldn’t be faulted for entrusting Peters. All the factors, including the prevailing wind conditions, were in his favor. But the winds of good fortune were standing with the Hornets as the left upright stood tall to save the day.

“I’m proud of the kids,” said Blum who, along with his second straight Thanksgiving win, claimed a share of the Cape Ann League title. “Since the end of last season, they worked hard in the offseason. They earned it all. An 8-3 finish, a CAL title, and a Thanksgiving win. We appreciate their efforts and I’m really happy for the seniors.”