Published September 26, 2019


NORTH READING — After the EEE threat forced school officials to reschedule the first two contests of the football season for afternoon kickoffs, the North Reading Hornets held their first home game under the lights in front of a boisterous crowd.

Friday night’s bout with Hamilton-Wenham yielded a third straight win for the undefeated Hornets, as they outlasted the winless Generals, 41-15.

WILL O’LEARY (3) follows great blocking by Sean McCullough (51) for a nice gain. O’Leary scored three touchdowns on 92 rushing yards to help lead the Hornets to a 41-15 win. (John Friberg Photo)

North Reading enjoyed balanced scoring throughout, putting a 20-spot on the scoreboard in the first half and duplicating that tally after the break.

A pattern has emerged with this group that bodes well for the remainder of the season. The North Reading coaching staff has been very proficient at making adjustments and the athletes, to their credit, have been equally adept at executing the transitions.

The Hamilton-Wenham defense, for instance, fielded a relatively effective secondary and neutralized QB Brian Heffernan’s typical targets. In response, the Hornets resorted to what proved to be a potent running game led by Will O’Leary, who rushed for a trio of scores.

SENIOR Gerry Callagy hits the H-W QB as he releases the ball. (John Friberg Photo)

“We have some smart kids who listen to the feedback and take what the other team is doing and learn from it,” said North Reading coach Ed Blum. “We’re a well-conditioned team and we’re able to play a full 48 minutes and finish a game.”

Of course, it’s also a plus when the opposition is struggling to hang on to the ball. Hamilton-Wenham suffered the frustration of a half-dozen turnovers, including three that ultimately led to North Reading points.

At the outset, for example, the Hornets went three-and-out with the opening possession and punted away but got the ball right back when John Jennings recovered a muffed punt. Heffernan and company quickly advanced into the red zone and the junior QB finished with a textbook 6-yard slant to his favorite receiver, Matt Luciano (6 catches, 55-yards). The score remained 6-0 after a failed 2-point try but marked Heffernan’s 10th TD throw of the young season.

THE HORNET student section was rocking for the football team’s home-opener on Friday night. (John Friberg Photo)

Hornet linebacker Jack Donahue sacked Hamilton-Wenham QB Ian Coffey for a substantial loss, icing a threat as the first quarter wrapped up. North Reading took possession and marched 72-yards on 10-plays to make it 13-0. O’Leary, who split rushing duties with Greg Demetri, capped the series with a 10-yarder.

Just when it looked like the Generals were doomed offensively, Coffey pulled off a desperation Hail Mary throw. Facing a 4th-and-21 and under pressure, the senior QB heaved the ball 59-yards downfield. Emerging from a crowd of green and white jerseys was Ryan Monahan with a stunning reception that halved the deficit, 13-7.

But just as they’ve done several times before, the Hornets answered quickly. On the next series, the Demetri-O’Leary tandem combined to place their team back in the driver’s seat, on the General 5-yard line. There was one rush, in particular, that was rather impressive. O’Leary took the handoff and ran into the teeth of the line, as he often did. Eight or nine defensive linemen converged but the powerful tailback literally carried them on his back for several hard-fought yards. O’Leary would soon put the Hornets in front, 20-7, with his second of the night.

“I think we’re a very versatile team,” said the humble tailback, who amassed 92-yards on 12 carries. “We have a one-two punch with me and Greg Demetri and we’re capable of pounding the ball when we need to. We also work really hard at our conditioning and I think it has paid off.”

An ugly turnover sequence took place as the second half got underway. Neither team seemed to want the ball. Coffey fumbled on a keeper, Heffernan threw a pick, and Coffey fumbled again, handing the ball back on the North Reading 1. O’Leary was dealt the daunting task of trying to run out of the end zone but was promptly taken down, resulting in a safety. Hamilton-Wenham also converted on a short field after the free kick, closing the gap to 20-15 on Coffey’s 8-yard TD rush.

If the turn of events concerned the North Reading sideline, it was short-lived. Like he did the week before when he torched Greater Lawrence for an 88-yard kickoff return, Jack Keller added an 80-yarder to his resume, putting the Hornets in front for good, 27-15, with 1:24 left in the third.

O’Leary notched the football version of a hat trick with a 5-yarder several plays after Brayden Scribner picked Coffey and ran it back 58-yards to the Hamilton-Wenham 11.

With 8:24 left in the game, Demetri (16 carries, 142-yards) got in on the scoring with a 3-yarder. Robert Tammaro, a perfect five-for-five for PATs, wrapped it up for the Hornets.

“Credit to Hamilton-Wenham for giving us a great game tonight – they always have an excellent game plan,” said Blum, who next travels to face a 2-1 Newburyport club on Friday night. “There’s obviously plenty of things we can do to get better but you have to like the passion and heart of these kids.”