Heffernan connects with Keller for game-winning touchdown

Published October 10, 2019


NORTH READING — If there were any doubters in high school football circles who failed to agree that the North Reading Hornets were the genuine article, their skepticism was likely silenced on Friday night when Masconomet came in for a mid-season skirmish.

In a nail-biter, not decided until the final moments, North Reading claimed a dramatic 21-14 victory to remain undefeated at 5-0. Once again, the Hornets pulled out all the stops in the second half, this time stunning the Masconomet Chieftans, who suffered their second defeat to fall to 2-2.

JACK KELLER pulls down the game-winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against Masco. (John Friberg Photo)

Knotted at 14-apiece, the Hornets took possession on their own 38-yard-line with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Running back Greg Demetri advanced the ball to midfield on three carries. Jack Keller added another 15-yard rush to the Masconomet 35. But then the drive stalled with a Brian Heffernan incompletion and a holding penalty.

Facing a 3rd-and-20 at the 44, Heffernan dropped back and released, putting some air under a deep, arching throw intended for Keller, who was laboring to shake off a double team. Timing his leap to perfection, Keller went up and pulled down the throw. The defenders, meanwhile, both fell to the turf and watched helplessly as Keller turned and ran in the game-winner.

“We’ve had a couple of close games over the last two weeks but the kids are finding a way,” said North Reading coach Ed Blum, alluding to a similar winning scenario the week before over Newburyport. “That’s expected when league play gets underway. But they’re finding a way to win. Sometimes, the difference is one or two more plays than the other team.”

Prescient words, indeed. In the case of the win over Masconomet, it was three plays that ultimately put this one to rest. Along with Keller’s TD catch and run, Brayden Scribner came up with another clutch pickoff, ending a Chieftan last chance drive. And Keller was back in the final seconds, needing 8-yards for a first down but rushing 28-yards to extend the final possession and burn the clock.

ROBERT TAMMARO picks up a sack against Masco. Tammaro, aka “Mr. Automatic,” also continued his strong kicking by knocking through both of NR’s point-afters. (John Friberg Photo)

“Keller is a team-first guy,” said Blum. “He’s always looking out for his teammates. In that last game in Newburyport, after it had ended, he was more concerned with one of his injured teammates than himself.”

At first glance, the Masconomet offensive line was visually intimidating. Simply put, many of these athletes were huge. Several towered over their defensive counterparts. But speed and agility often trumps size. Time and again, Hornet tacklers sifted through the line, hunted down ball carriers, and drilled them for negative yardage.

“Their strength was certainly their size,” said Blum of his opponent. “Our strength is our quickness and we tried to utilize that today. Again, they’re a well-coached team and they’re getting better so we knew we had to bring our best game today.”

Bringing his best game was Will O’Leary, who carried 14 times for 55-yards, including a 5-yard TD on North Reading’s opening series. The brief scoring drive started on the Masconomet 49 after a short kick. Heffernan’s first throw was on target, to Ryan Kavanaugh for 17-yards. After a Demetri rush, Heffernan found Matt Luciano for 10-yards and a red zone visit. From there, it was all O’Leary, shredding the defense four times before reaching paydirt. Robert Tammaro added a PAT for a 7-0 North Reading lead just 1:33 into the game.

THE HORNET student section, rocking pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, had plenty to celebrate following NR’s 14-7 win over Masco to improve to 5-0 on the season. (John Friberg Photo)

Masconomet answered late in the first quarter on a 24-yard TD toss from QB Marshall Lastes to Jack Corcoran. Charlie Stark’s kick, however, was a miss, leaving the visitors trailing 7-6.

Heffernan looked no worse for wear after missing the previous game with a shoulder. Answering the Chieftan’s score, the junior QB came out firing at the start of the second quarter and added his 11th of the season with a 34-yarder to Kavanaugh. Mr. automatic – Tammaro – made it 14-6.

Masconomet briefly quieted the North Reading faithful, many dressed in some form of pink costume in honor of breast cancer month, with a long third quarter scoring drive, capped with a Lastes 1-yard keeper. The Chieftans tied it at 14-14 with a successful two-point conversion.

The teams traded punts early in the final frame until Heffernan, who now has 12 TD’s to his credit, combined with Keller to ensure a North Reading win.

“I saw the call come from the sidelines and I knew something big was coming my way,” said Keller, who now has five TDs. “I knew we needed it in a close game – tie game, actually – saw the ball in the air and went up and got it like I’m taught. Masconomet is such a great team and it felt good to beat them.”

Heading into a bye, North Reading has two weeks to prepare for a visit from the 1-2 Triton Vikings.