By DAN ZIMMERMAN
HAMILTON– Last Saturday afternoon, the North Reading Hornets put the finishing touches on their sensational 7-1 regular season with an entirely one-sided 54-16 defeat of the 2-win Hamilton-Wenham Generals.
The Hornets struck pay dirt on 7-of-8 first half possessions, scoring at will over the ground, through the air, and particularly, on special teams. In fact, the scoring deluge was entirely rendered before the intermission. Hornet reserves were deployed early in the third as the officials ran the clock unabated for two full quarters.
The Hornets coaching staff, led by Ed Blum, has deftly guided this topnotch football program to peak performance just in time for the commencement of the MIAA playoff season.
“This game allowed us to refine a few things and try out others as we prepare for the next season,” said Blum, who has reached this stage at 7-1 for the second straight year and will now prepare his squad for the post-season.
Hamilton-Wenham is one of the few remaining schools in the region that has a natural grass football field and no lights. The North Reading players seemed to enjoy the change of scenery. On the initial series the Hornets executed a flawless hurry-up offense. Senior QB Alex Carucci hit receivers Will Batten and Ryan McGuire back-to-back, crossing into Hamilton-Wenham territory and soon, it was Batten, polishing it off from the 8 for his first of three rushing TDs.
Batten’s second was a 4-yarder, two snaps after Ryan Labb blocked a punt, setting up his team on the Generals’ 6-yard-line. On the earlier score, the 2-point conversion failed but following the second TD, Carucci found Craig Rubino to balance the tally at 14-0.
Midway through the first quarter, Carucci and Brandon Eng combined from the 12 to make it 21-0 and moments later, McGuire entertained the North Reading faithful with a 60-yard punt return for a 27-0 lead.
“We trust in a lot of these guys,” said Blum. “Not only McGuire and Eng, but others. There were a lot of different guys stepping up and making plays today. This is an awesome group to coach and we’re very fortunate.”
While the explosive offense was garnering the lion’s share of attention, the reliable North Reading defense was hard at work preventing forward progress. Hamilton-Wenham was held to 159-yards in all and most of that total was amassed during the second half, facing reserves. In the first half, 6-of-8 Generals’ possessions were brief three-and-outs.
Sometimes overlooked but always appreciated was Matt Guidebeck, who added 4 touchbacks to his kicking resume, as well as a deep 50-yard punt and booting 3-for-3 from the PAT stripe.
As the first quarter wrapped up, Batten struck for his third of the day, from the 10.
“I couldn’t ask for a better offensive line,” said a humble Batten, who scored on three of his six carries. “They’re all great players and it’s amazing what they can do.”
Also notching a trio of scores was McGuire, who tacked on a 55-yard punt return to make it 40-0 with 4:43 left in the half and less than a minute later, hauled in a 28-yarder from Carucci to convert a Mateo Acuna pickoff of beleaguered Generals’ QB Henry Stinson.
“I can’t really say it was all about me because the blocking ahead was perfect,” said McGuire. “I didn’t even have to make a cut – I was able to walk right in.”
Earlier in the season, as North Reading was routinely scoring in bunches, a respectful Blum made it a point not to exceed the half-century mark and embarrass struggling opponents. But facing Hamilton-Wenham, there was an incidental TD added at the end of the half when Eng recovered a Stinson fumble at the 31 and had clear sailing to the end zone.
The Generals, on their senior day, picked up a 2-yard James Day TD rush against the North Reading reserves and later added a 4-yarder from Caden Schrock, both followed by successful 2-point conversions.
In the MIAA Division 5 bracket released Monday, No. 2-seed North Reading drew No. 15 Dedham in the Round of 16. The Marauders, a team that competes in the Tri-Valley League and wrapped up their regular season at 4-4, will visit the Hornets on Friday at 6 p.m.