THE HORNETS are 2021 CAL Kinney Division champions. North Reading moved to 7-1 and sent Hamilton-Wenham to 6-2 with a 42-18 victory on Friday night at NRHS. The No. 1 seed Hornets host No. 16 Fairhaven (6-2) in a Div. 5 state tournament first round game this Friday night at 6 p.m. (Adele Vittozzi Photo)
By DAN ZIMMERMAN
NORTH READING — Advanced-billed as one of the more compelling football games to take place this season, Friday night’s meeting between a pair of 6-1 Cape Ann League programs, North Reading and Hamilton-Wenham, promised to set the tone for the postseason ahead.
If that’s the case, the Hornets served notice to potential playoff opponents. On the strength of 30 first-half points, including yet another single-play stunner at the outset, North Reading convincingly defeated visiting Hamilton-Wenham, 42-18, and in doing so, claimed the CAL Kinney (large schools) title, as well as earned a top seed for the upcoming MIAA Division 5 playoffs.
Leading the Hornets was highly-regarded Alex Carucci who not only threw for a trio of TDs, but also ran one himself. The 8-yard TD rush, midway through the first half, established a three-score lead and all but put the game out of Hamilton-Wenham’s reach.
“Alex is a great athlete,” said North Reading head coach Ed Blum of his dynamic junior quarterback, who compiled 195 yards on 8-of-14 passing. “Certainly, we try to focus on some of the other guys and let him lead our offense and feed playmakers but he’s a playmaker in his own right. For what he’s achieving in his junior year, typically there will be growing pains and he’ll face adversity but at the same time, his football IQ, his competitiveness and his leadership, has been awesome.”
Hamilton-Wenham, which had outscored opponents by a wide 176-75 margin, were dealt their worst defeat, partly due to the efforts of Carucci and wide receiver John Jennings, who combined for an 80-yarder on the first offensive snap of the night.
With Matt Guidebeck sidelined, Blum and staff resorted to two-point tries as opposed to deploying an untested placekicker. Carucci went back to Jennings for the conversion and an 8-0 North Reading lead.
Hamilton-Wenham answered without delay, marching 63-yards on eight plays with a 1-yard TD plunge from Chris Domoracki. The Generals trailed 8-6 after a failed PAT.
Week after week, North Reading has successfully executed game plans that sought to score early and often, building insurmountable leads. This game was certainly no exception as Will Batten capped a 71-yard, six-play series with a 2-yard lean, followed by yet another 2-point toss to Jennings from Carucci. Key plays on the brief possession included back-to-back 30-yard Carucci throws to Ryan McGuire and Craig Rubino. Still in the first quarter, the Hornets had assumed full control and led, 16-6.
“We knew we would have to start out aggressively if we wanted to take this game,” said Carucci, when asked about the Hornets’ prolific first quarter. “We knew they were a good team and it would be a battle, so we took an aggressive approach.”
North Reading was soon ahead 24-6 when Carucci, unable to find a target, took off from the 8-yard-line and finished with a head-long dive inside the pylon. Two weeks ago, he mentioned that his receiving corps was so talented, he seldom found the need to run. In this instance, he proved capable.
“They spread out our receivers, they know who we like to throw to, and they game-planned us well,” said Carucci. “So I had to use my legs to help our team. That was a great play called by coach and I just had to make a decision to check it off or run the ball.”
The Hornets added insurance as the half came to a close, climbing into a 30-6 lead when Carucci flared a 25-yard TD pass to Rubino who, despite close coverage, hauled it in with a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab.
Partly out of frustration, the Generals began to pound the ball when play resumed after the break, repeatedly sending Domoracki straight ahead into the heart of the defensive line. It was punishing running but paid dividends as the burly tailback marched 60 yards to the North Reading 10 on 10 straight carries. The promising drive was extinguished, however, on a QB fumble which was recovered by Aldo Vittozzi.
The game in hand, both defenses relaxed in the fourth quarter. Generals QB John Ertel scrambled for about a mile before heading downfield to complete a 31-yard TD marathon. North Reading offset the late score with a Rubino 5-yard TD reception. The alternating scoring pattern continued when Ertel found wideout William Moroney from the 41, followed immediately with a Batten 68-yard TD sprint to wrap up a frenzied 4-minute span.
“Hamilton-Wenham is a well-coached team and they were able to control the pace of the third quarter,” said Blum. “But I was proud of our guys for responding and taking back control of the game. Credit to our coaching staff in terms of game-planning and exposing weaknesses in a tough opponent. And, of course, credit to our players who are improving week-after-week. You never quite know in the playoffs but for now, we’re happy to have taken care of business in the regular season.”
No. 1 North Reading (7-1) will host No. 16 Fairhaven (6-2) in the MIAA Division 5 opening round on Friday at 6 p.m.
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