SOPHOMORE WILL BATTEN had four rushing touchdowns in North Reading’s first round 56-21 victory over Fairhaven on Friday night at NRHS. (Adele Vittozzi Photo)
Host No. 9 Norton in quarterfinals on Saturday at 5 p.m.
By DAN ZIMMMERMAN
NORTH READING — Over the last two months, as North Reading crushed one opponent after another, scoring more than 40 points in six-of-eight regular season outings, one had to wonder if the Hornets were in for a rude awakening once the playoffs commenced on Friday night.
There were several busloads of dejected Fairhaven High School players and fans embarking on a two-hour ride home after the game that proved otherwise.
Top-seeded North Reading roughed up the No. 16 Blue Devils, 56-21, to claim the MIAA Division 5 opening round and advance to face No. 9 Norton in the quarterfinals.
“Every game we play, I’m more and more impressed with this group,” said North Reading head coach Ed Blum, who improved to 8-1 with the playoff win. “Their focus, their energy and their execution were again, exceptional. And tonight, we couldn’t really ask for a better start to a game.”
Blum was referring to a first quarter that featured QB Alex Carucci punching one in from the 3-yard-line to polish off the opening possession and tailback Will Batten following suit on the second series, from the 33. Batten, as it turned out, would go on to add three more rushing TDs to lead the offensive deluge.
“Credit to Will Batten and his patience on some of those runs,” said Blum of his sophomore phenom, who compiled 264-yards on 21 carries. “I am really pleased with the running game tonight. For young guys coming up to the high school level, they have to learn to trust and follow their blocks. Batten is getting better with his patience, making good cuts and using his speed to make big gains.”
Near the end of the first frame, the clubs traded turnovers. Fairhaven QB Peter Joseph was picked off on his first attempt, by Craig Rubino. But several plays later, after Batten advanced the takeaway into the red zone, Carucci lost the handle on the exchange. The cohesive defensive unit, including linemen Owen Delano, Anthony Pino and Teddy Suny, were tenacious and negated the fumble, forcing a third straight Blue Devils punt.
Carucci redeemed himself without delay, cashing in on a short field and finding John Jennings from the 9 for a 20-0 lead.
North Reading soon added points when Aidan Smith downed Joseph in the end zone for a safety. And after the ensuing free kick, the Hornets quickly covered 47-yards on six plays, wrapped up with a Batten 13-yarder to move ahead, 29-0.
The Hornet defense was uncharacteristically flatfooted at the tail end of the second quarter when Fairhaven finally snapped the shutout with tailback Cadence Chase’s 14-yarder. A missed PAT left the Blue Devils in arrears, 29-6.
North Reading offset the late score, however, adding a Batten 15-yard TD with seconds left in the half. The key play of the brief series was Carucci zipping one to Ryan McCullough for 42-yards.
“It was good to see Ryan contributing,” said Blum of his senior wideout, who is on the mend from an earlier shoulder injury. “He is an inspiration to the team and adds extra confidence when he’s on the field.”
North Reading put it away after the intermission, driving 47-yards on three plays, culminating with Carucci’s second of the night, from the 27. The crafty junior QB, who was a conservative 7-of-12 for 157-yards, put a charge in the jubilant spectators by hurdling high over a defender who went low for a tackle.
A week earlier, with placekicker Matt Guidebeck sidelined, the Hornets found success with two-point conversions. Guidebeck returned and excelled on kickoffs and PATs, missing only one in eight tries.
“It’s good to have Matt back,” said Blum. “It’s a field position battle, in terms of kickoffs and punts, and of course, PATs. All that adds up in the end and Matt certainly changes the dynamic of our special teams.”
All but one of the second half possessions featured points-scored. After Carucci made it 43-6, Fairhaven’s Chase broke one for 58-yards, Batten countered with his fourth, from the 38, Rubino added a 1-yarder, and finally, Joseph connected with Colby Correia for a 22-yarder against Hornet reserves.
For the fourth time in nine games, the officials wound the fourth quarter clock because of the disparity.
“As we continue toward next week, we know we’re going to face adversity and we’ll have to respond,” said Blum. “Tonight, we’ll certainly enjoy this win but they know we’ll have to get back to work tomorrow to refocus on our next opponent.”
Number 1 North Reading will host No. 9 Norton in the Div. 5 quarterfinals this Saturday, Nov. 13 at 5 p.m.
Mobile tickets can be purchased online at the following link: gofan.co/app/events/446623?schoolId=MA14674