GAVIN BRADY reeled in 12 catches for 105 yards and 2 TD’s in NR’s 24-14 road victory over Bishop Fenwick last week. (Eric Evans Photo)

 

 

Update post publication:
North Reading falls to Winthrop 39-22 (Nov. 9)

 

Published November 9, 2023

By DAN ZIMMERMAN

PEABODY — Warning flags were up all over North Reading nation as the Hornets prepared to take on Bishop Fenwick in last Friday night’s MIAA non-playoff consolation football game.

In the Division 5 semifinals last November, North Reading snuffed out Bishop Fenwick’s playoff hopes on a clutch Matt Guidebeck 39-yard field goal. The Hornets ultimately returned to Gillette Stadium to claim a first-ever Championship crown. This year, Fenwick was suspended from potential postseason contention by the MIAA for eligibility rules violations. This was a Crusaders football program, some noted, with an axe to grind.

But bitterness, as it turns out, does not win football games.

On the strength of a balanced, well-executed game plan and a pair of second half red zone stops, North Reading prevailed over their host, 24-14. It was an action-packed crowd pleaser with several lead changes and a number of dramatic plays.

“We have an unbreakable mindset,” said North Reading Coach Ed Blum, referring to the age-old ‘bend, but don’t break’ sports philosophy. “Teams are going to move the ball on you, especially running teams like Fenwick. But what’s most important is how you respond to that. The kids did a great job responding.”

Junior Andrew Taylor, the newest addition to the North Reading cache of emerging stars, was instrumental on defense, picking off a QB Brayden Clifford toss and running it back 52-yards to set up what later proved to be the game-winning score. On a late series, Taylor also took down potent tailback Luke Connolly in the backfield, forcing a Fenwick field goal try which was subsequently missed.

“Last Saturday morning, after our loss to Newburyport, we talked as a group,” said Taylor. “We had to become Family. Teammates were reminding each other what we had to do and what our responsibilities were. We were ready to battle it out with these guys again.”

The combatants traded matching long possessions in the first quarter, each coming up with a score. North Reading opened with a 10-play, 80-yard series, capped with an Otto Indelicato 31-yarder. The Crusaders returned fire with a Clifford keeper from the 19.

Midway through the second frame, CJ Villarroel put the Hornets in front, 10-7, with a 27-yard field goal. Fenwick was soon back on top, however, claiming a 14-10 lead on a Clifford 1-yard lean.

The Hornets surged ahead, 17-14, seconds before the break, as QB Jason Berry found Gavin Brady from the 3, capitalizing on Taylor’s takeaway. Berry threw 17 of 26 for 165-yards and three scores while Gavin, his top receiver on the night, hauled in a dozen for 105-yards and a pair of TDs.

Armed with a short field after a punt, Fenwick threatened, reaching the red zone on steady doses of Connolly. The drive was curbed on a 4th-down incomplete, one of only four Crusader pass attempts.

“In the red zone, everything tightened up a bit and we were playing faster, said Blum, who improved to 5-3 overall with a pair of games remaining. “We were able to string together a few good defensive plays and hold them.”

Ryan Labb recovered a wayward punt, booted by the Crusaders special teams group. Berry and Brady soon capitalized on the turnover, combining for a 3-yard insurance score as the fourth quarter got underway.

As the North Reading cheerleaders chanted “Otto-Matic,” stalwart all-purpose back Otto Indelicato was handed the task of burning the remaining clock.

“A couple guys went down with injuries tonight and we had to make adjustments,” said Blum. “We sent out players who hadn’t seen many reps throughout the week. But credit to our coaching staff for providing great communication. They showed the kids how to get better and it worked. The kids played all 48 minutes tonight and it was a heck-of-a win.”

North Reading moves to the next phase of the consolation postseason and will travel Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. to face the 5-4 Winthrop Vikings.