By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE — Once again, Melrose Red Raider football will fight for the Div. 3 North title and for Super Bowl privileges when they travel to Cawley Stadium in Lowell this Saturday, Nov. 22 to take on Tewksbury in state semifinals for a 4:15 p.m. game.
Both teams enter the contest at 8-2 and as East and West Champs of the Div. 3 North. The winner will go to the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 6 where they will face either Walpole or Dartmouth. Tickets for Saturday’s game will be $10 for adults and $7 for students and senior citizens.
What to expect:
Melrose: The Raiders have quieted doubters after stunning both undefeated Woburn and Concord-Carlisle the last two weeks and have landed (finally) on Top 20 lists. That might make the overlooked Raiders more hungry for victory than their rivals. On the field, when Melrose’s running game and air attack is working they are difficult to beat. Red Raider seniors have boatloads of playoff experience and likely recall the disappointment of Tewksbury ending their 2013 Superbowl dreams. Melrose lineman such as Alex Slabacheski, Jesse Gauvain, Mike Doucette, Chris Devir, Ryan Feeney and Cameron Hickey, among others, had their best efforts of the year in with their winning goal line stand against Woburn. They will be counted on to stifle a tough Tewksbury running game. Melrose quarterback Jake Karelas made the seamless transition into quarterback and is approaching 20 touchdown passes for the season. Jack Hickey, Mike Pedrini and Brian McLaughlin are a tough trio to stop on offense. Melrose forces turnovers a lot (normally 3-4 a game) and it’s almost guaranteed they will on Saturday. But the real secret weapon Melrose has all season is their special teams, who’ve been make or break all year for Melrose.
Tewksbury: The current Div. 3 Superbowl champs will be the most aggressive team Melrose has faced all year. Players on both sides of the football will get banged up before the final whistle. Since their shocking loss against Haverhill, the Redmen have been on a tear, taking down Marblehead and Masconomet in easy order to get to the final. Their lineman Ethan Eloi, Tom Casey and Andrew Nguyen will test Karelas, though Tewksbury lost most of their senior line last year along with standouts Kevin Dick and Eddie Matuvo. Their real weapon is their potent, All-Scholastic, running back James Sullivan. When Sullivan is not on attack the Raiders will need to contain a tough James Hirtle. One wildcard that might work against Tewksbury is their new junior quarterback Brett Morris, who replaced last year’s All Scholastic standout senior John Alyward. The newcomer doesn’t throw much so expect the Redmen to run the ball, a lot. When they do attempt to throw, don’t be shocked to see it intercepted by Melrose playmakers Zack Mercer, Will Caffey or Christian Pizzotti, not to mention Hickey or McLaughlin.
Is 8-2 Tewksbury the real deal? Of course. But not as strong as last year, when they had so many elements they simply couldn’t lose.
Bottom line: If Melrose shuts down this running game, they earn the trip to Super Bowl.