Travel to Burlington next week in consolation round

Published November 7, 2019


NORTH READING — Coming off the first defeat of the season, a discouraging 28-0 blanking dished out by Pentucket in the regular season finale, the hope was that the North Reading Hornets could shake it off in time for the MIAA Division 4 North quarterfinals on Friday night.

Unfortunately, No. 4 North Reading was eliminated from the playoffs, suffering a 27-7 defeat at the hands of a visiting No. 5 Marblehead club. Despite a valiant defensive effort, the Hornets couldn’t slow tailback Tim Cronin, who helped stake his team to a 21-0 halftime advantage. Cronin rang up a rushing score on the Magician’s initial series and then hauled in a TD throw from QB Joshua Robertson midway through the second quarter.

With three games remaining on the docket, North Reading is now 6-2 overall and will next travel to face the Red Devils of Burlington, who will likely seek to take out their collective frustrations on the Hornets after Melrose dealt them a 48-9 tournament quarterfinal drubbing.

GREG DEMETRI makes a great catch on a throw from Brian Heffernan in the D4N quarterfinals against Marblehead on Friday night. (John Friberg Photo)

“Typically, the way things are done, Burlington is lined up to host the next game,” said North Reading head coach Ed Blum. “We’re both in the losing bracket and some of the matchups are determined geographically. I think it will be a good game and an opportunity for us to get back on track.”

Marblehead came into North Reading the underdog on paper, having lost two straight down the stretch, but certainly didn’t look the part of a struggling football team. The Hornets got the ball first and pieced together a promising drive, starting with a 15-yard Will O’Leary rush into Magician territory. Greg Demetri and Jack Keller contributed with decent gains to reach the 28. A bad snap and a 6-yard setback proved temporary as Brian Heffernan hit Demetri for a fresh set of downs and a red zone visit. The Hornets came up empty, however, when a pair of penalties and a QB sack ended the threat.

The North Reading series consumed half of the first quarter. Marblehead effectively used the other half, marching 76-yards on 14-plays to reach the Hornet 6-yard-line. Cronin polished if off on the first play of the second quarter to claim a 7-0 lead.

Despite the disparate final score, the North Reading defensive feat was praiseworthy. Much like the week before, when they frustrated Pentucket on three red zone trips, the Hornets stonewalled the Magician’s second drive, stopping them cold on the 18. The ensuing possession proved ill-fated as a Heffernan throw was tipped and picked by Cameron Janock on the North Reading 7. Several plays later, QB Joshua Robertson capitalized on the takeaway, finding Cronin to forge ahead, 14-0.

“I agree our defense has played really well throughout the year and it showed up tonight,” said Blum. “But we put ourselves in a bind with field position and turnovers. A couple of things didn’t go our way. That deflected interception was tough.”

SEAN McCULLOUGH (51) carries the ball on a trick play while senior Giovanni Colucciello (50) blocks. (John Friberg Photo)

The other costly giveaway occurred with seconds left in the half when a wayward punt was inadvertently touched by a Hornet return man and recovered by Janock. QB Robertson later made good on it, running it in himself from the 12 for a 21-0 Marblehead lead at the break. Thoughts of a second half Hornet rally, while still alive, were rapidly fading.

“Again, it’s unfortunate that we gave them short field positions to work with but you try to respond in those situations,” said Blum.

Marblehead made it four unanswered scores when Robertson found favorite receiver AJ Russo from the 23-yard-line with 2:59 left in the third.

The Hornets refused to hang their heads. Playing inspired football, despite the deficit, was Ryan Kavanaugh. On one series in particular, the senior wide receiver hauled in a 22-yard reception, fighting off a defender who tried to rip the ball from his grasp. Kavanaugh also rushed twice for a dozen yards each. Under the circumstances, it was an impressive achievement.

Often overshadowed in the grand scheme of high school football is the punter, earning little notice until something goes awry. Senior Jimmy Currier consistently put his best foot forward, literally, in the game against Marblehead and many others before it. Currier represents one of the few aspects of the team that seldom worry coach Blum and his staff.

Small victory, perhaps, but North Reading snapped the shutout midway through the fourth quarter on a Heffernan to Matt Luciano 19-yard linkup.

“Sometimes, that scoreboard doesn’t go your way,” said Blum. “But again, they were fighting and battling and it was a gutsy effort. I thought our guys played their hearts out and that’s all we could ask of them.”