Published in the December 2, 2015 edition
McHugh, Balestrieri, McCarthy lead the way in 2nd straight turkey day win
By TOM CONDARDO
NORTH READING — Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also effective in winning football games. The Lynnfield Pioneers demonstrated that on an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving morning, unleashing a multi-faceted offense, stifling defense, and opportunistic specials teams to overpower the one-dimensional North Reading Hornets, 28–10, at Arthur J. Kenney Field.
The Pioneers (8–3) had success both in the running and passing game, and head coach Neal Weidman emptied his magic bag with a number of trick plays.
The defense was able to contain the Hornets’ main weapon – outstanding running back Matt McCarthy – and once that option was shut down, North Reading (8-3) really had no Plan B. The result was a dominating second–half that stretched a 14–10 halftime edge into a surprisingly comfortable victory.
“That might have been our best game of the year,” Weidman said of the 57th annual Thanksgiving Day game between the rival teams. “It was probably the most quality opponent we’ve beaten. It was Thanksgiving and their last chance to play together. Some of them know this is the last time they’re ever going to play football and you want to play as hard as you can.”
Even first half
The first half lived up to its billing as a tough battle between two evenly matched teams. Both teams scored on two of their three first–half possessions, but the Pioneers pulled away with a nearly perfect third period to put the game out of reach.
The Pioneers opened the game with a 12–play drive featuring captain Drew McCarthy, who picked up 33 of the 68–yard TD march. He finished with 104 yards on 17 carries.
Jake McHugh powered in from the three to break the scoring ice. Captain Drew Balestrieri, playing perhaps his best offensive game of the year, plowed in for the two-point conversion on a designed fake extra point try to make it 8–0.
McHugh was five for six, passing for 75 yards and ran for 38 yards and two touchdowns.
“For a kid that didn’t play (football) until he was a sophomore, he had a pretty good year,” Weidman said of his senior quarterback. “He had 15 touchdowns passing with only a couple of interceptions and ran for three more touchdowns.”
Balestrieri carried 13 times, one short of his total coming into the game, picking up 47 yards and a TD in addition to his two–pointer.
“We used the jumbo package to get a first down and had some good success with it. (Balestrieri) was running hard and were picking up yards, so we went back to it.”
The Hornets answered the Pioneers’ opening salvo with a numbing 16–play, 80–yard drive that ate up nine minutes of clock, bridging the first and second quarters. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Bythrow knifed in from the three for the score and Angelo DiSantis added the point after TD to cut the Lynnfield lead to 8–7.
The Pioneers had the drive stopped on the third play of the possession when captain Cam DeGeorge threw down John Merullo for a seven yard loss on third down, but a face mask penalty kept the drive alive.
The Hornets immediately got another break when the Pioneers fumbled on the first play of their next possession and North Reading’s Brian Cotter recovered on the Lynnfield 14–yard line.
The Pioneer defense stiffened and on third and four from the eight, Alex Soden nailed McCarthy for a six–yard loss. That forced the Hornets to settle for a 32–yard DiSantis field goal to give them a 10–8 lead with 4:46 left in the half.
The Pioneers took the lead back for good on an eight–play, 68–yard drive with McHugh sprinting in from the 19 for the score. McHugh hit Balestrieri with an 11–yard pass on fourth and two to keep the drive going. Balestrieri’s rush for two was short and the Pioneers led 14–10.
Pioneers control second half
The dominating third quarter sealed the deal for the Pioneers. After an onside kick attempt that just missed converting, the Pioneers forced a three and out and senior Pat Garrity sliced through a gap in the Hornet line to block the punt.
The Pioneers took over on the North Reading 13 and on fourth and goal, Balestrieri blasted in from the one. Dan Bronshvayg banged through the extra point and the Pioneers led 21–10.
After holding the Hornets again, the Pioneers iced this one with a quick 60–yard drive capped by a 28–yard halfback option pass from Soden to captain CJ Finn. Bronshvayg nailed the PAT to end the scoring at 28–10.
The punishing Pioneer defense smothered the Hornets in the third quarter, holding them to five net yards on 13 plays. Overall, the Hornets’ high scoring attack was held to 123 yards, only 30 in the second half. Lynnfield ate up the clock with an eight–minute drive to open the fourth quarter that sewed up the win.
“It was a great year,” summed up Weidman. “We had a bunch of great kids. I’m very proud of the senior class. I’m glad they finished as strong as they did. You never want to send them off with a bad feeling, so I’m just happy for them.”