Heffernan throws 9th touchdown in just two games
Published September 19, 2019
By DAN ZIMMERMAN
ANDOVER — Despite stiff competition from a pair of non-conference opponents, the North Reading football team claimed back-to-back wins during the first two weeks of the season and is off to an impressive start.
After dismantling Northeast Metro Tech in the opener, 42-14, North Reading traveled to Andover Friday to take on the Greater Lawrence Reggies and came away with a convincing 35-20 win to improve to 2-0.
Facing Greater Lawrence matinee-style, starting in the late afternoon due to mosquitoes and the growing Triple-E threat, the Hornets rendered most of their offensive damage in the second half, reeling off 20-points to outpace a stubborn Greater Lawrence squad and put it away. It has become evident, in just two games, that this North Reading group doesn’t panic and is capable of scoring in bunches.
“There are times when we execute the game plan really well and others when we just have to clean up,” said North Reading coach Ed Blum. “We stepped up and made plays when we had to and it’s a credit to the offense, defense, and special teams.”
It was a dramatic special teams play that turned the tide for the Hornets midway through the third quarter, moments after QB Shamil Diaz electrified the Greater Lawrence spectators with an 18-yard TD rush, reducing his team’s deficit to 15-12. The Reggie’s sideline was still buzzing about Diaz when North Reading’s Jack Keller gathered the ensuing kickoff, started the trek upfield, and quickly found a seam to daylight and an 88-yard TD return.
“That was a huge kickoff return from Jack,” said Blum of his senior wide receiver, whose brilliant return later proved to be the game-winner. “It was the response we needed to the touchdown they had just scored.”
“We work on it quite a bit at practice,” said Keller, when asked to describe the game changer. “Our opponents don’t focus as much on special teams as we do so we were prepared. I knew my blocks were going to be there so I trusted my blockers and just took off.”
Following a scoreless first quarter, Greater Lowell threatened early in the second soon after Anthony Alves picked-off QB Brian Heffernan. Diaz, who rushed his team to a win over Wakefield in their season-opener, was also adept from the pocket and found receiver Chris Tineo twice to reach the red zone. But the offensive-minded Hornets can also play defense and refused to yield, forcing a 24-yard field goal try. That, too, failed, as Kevin Matul sliced the kick wide right.
North Reading made quick work of the next possession, capping a brief series with a Heffernan to Greg Demetri 45-yard TD. Clearly, the Greater Lawrence secondary was guilty of blown assignments, as Demetri was left uncovered in the flat. The Hornets added the 2-point conversion as place-kicker Robert Tammaro set up for the PAT but instead, tossed to Keller for an 8-0 lead.
With 1:08 left in the half, Greater Lawrence closed the gap with a 24-yard rushing TD from workhorse Maleek Dejesus. Shaken up on a keeper, Diaz was forced to sit out a play. The Reggies resorted to a direct snap to Dejesus who did the rest, shredding would-be tacklers for the score. Greater Lawrence missed the 2-point try and trailed 8-6.
With less than a minute remaining before the break, the Hornets could have taken their lead to a safe corner of the field and discussed second half adjustments. Instead, Blum and his staff sought insurance and launched their two-minute offense. Heffernan, who was 14-24-1 for 217-yards, took aim, rifling time-preserving sideline throws to Matt Luciano, Aidan Carucci, and Keller to gain the 6-yard line with :11 seconds left. A Greater Lawrence pass interference infraction handed the Hornets a fresh set of downs but time was an issue. After a pair of misses, Heffernan finally connected with Luciano (6 receptions, 44-yards) with no time left.
“Our coaching staff just puts us in a really good position to win games,” said a humble Heffernan, who has amassed nine TD throws in just a pair of games. “We have a lot of good athletes who can make plays. We focus on executing.”
The teams traded scores late in the third, including Keller’s kickoff return which put the Hornets in front 22-12.
With 10:07 remaining, Diaz stunned the Hornets with a 49-yard TD throw to Alvin Torres. Dejesus rushed for a 2-pointer to draw to within a score, 22-20. But North Reading would have the final say. Heffernan capitalized on yet another secondary snafu, finding Keller alone for a 56-yard score. And on the next series, he hit Ryan Kavanaugh for a 40-yarder. Tammaro suffered his first PAT miss but it mattered little because the Hornets were comfortably in front, 35-20.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s home or away,” said Blum who next hosts Hamilton-Wenham Regional in the Hornet’s first home game. “What matters most is that we keep working hard, as a group. We need to keep building and getting better.”