Win over C-C brings Melrose 1 win away from Superbowl; Tewksbury rematch Sat.
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE — It’s deja vu all over again for the 2014 D3 Northwest Champion Melrose High School Red Raider football team. Melrose retained its sectional title on Friday, Nov 14 by beating Concord Carlisle 28-20 on the road at the D3 Northwest finals for Melrose’s second upset in a row. In a repeat of 2013, Tim Morris’ Red Raiders are set to take on Tewksbury High this Saturday afternoon in the state semifinals at Cawley Field in Lowell. The winner of this game punches their ticket to Gillette Stadium for Superbowl on Dec. 6.
Are the stakes high? Of course. But they have been all season for the 8-2 Red Raider team, who’ve defied odds in a year when they made zero Top 20 lists. By beating two undefeated, higher seeded teams the last two weeks in Woburn and Concord-Carlisle, Melrose has positioned themselves as a dark horse in an elite category of high school teams.
On Friday, Melrose outplayed the Patriots thanks to senior captain Jack Hickey, who was a warrior on offense and defense. Number 34 rushed for over 100 yards with two touchdowns, including a blocked punt he returned for a touchdown. Teammate Mike Pedrini, a sophomore, had the game of his year after running for over 200 yards including a touchdown and 72 yard kickoff return.
“Jack was just our workhorse,” said Melrose head coach Tim Morris after the game. “He made huge athletic plays like the blocked punt. He came up big for us.”
The Patriots were on the board first after a touchdown by Kejuan Farquharson which gave Concord Carlisle a lead of 6-0. But Raider quarterback Jake Karelas responded immediately by connecting with Melrose’s Brian McLaughlin on a 15-yard touchdown throw and Mike Cusolito’s extra point gave Melrose the 7-6 lead.
The Red Raiders’ special teams unit was particularly strong with game-changing plays like Hickey’s blocked punt and the 80 yard punt return by Mike Pedrini, who ran for over a colossal 200 yards.
“Pedrini has come up big all year for us, that’s what he does,” said Morris. “His kickoff return was huge, so was all of our special teams work. I was really proud of our inside linebackers the last few games, Ryan Feeney and the work of Christian Pizzotti and Will Caffey.”
The difference between the two teams during the arctic night was composure and Concord Carlisle seemed to lack it, turning the ball over five times into the hands of Melrose’s senior captain Chris Devir, Christian Pizzotti, Alex Slabacheski, Brian McLaughlin and Will Caffey. Forcing turnovers is now an art form for Melrose and Jack Hickey was proof of that when he blocked a Concord Carlisle punt and returned it into the Patriot end zone to give Melrose a 14-6 lead. Kejuan Farquharson would score again on a long sprint and a successful to point conversion tied it up 14-14 going into halftime. But Melrose let loose in the third thanks to Pedrini’s kickoff return. The sophomore escaped the clutches of Patriot defenders and tore left down field for what looked to be an easy touchdown before pulled down at the 2 yard line. From there, Hickey trotted in and Melrose was up 21-14 thanks to a good PAT by Mike Cusolito. As Melrose quarterback Jake Karelas directed the Raiders toward victory, Pedrini worked his magic again with another 70+ yard run that allowed Hickey to score again up the middle, giving Melrose a large 28-14 lead they wouldn’t lose.
The Patriots fought back for one touchdown in waning minutes of the fourth quarter when Patriot quarterback Austin Hoey connected with Jack Barrett on a touchdown pass, which narrowed the gap at 28-20. The Patriots were successful with an onside kick and recovered midfield but were shut down by Melrose defense. The result was the Red Raiders’ second straight D3 North West crown and an appearance in Div. 3 State Semifinals.
While the idea of Melrose beating two favored, undefeated teams like #2 seed Woburn and #1 seed Concord Carlisle seemed (to some) a long shot, all that matters to coach Morris is that the Raiders are among the last men standing.
“We don’t look at records. We focus on performance and right now we are preparing to keep playing meaningful games, one after another,” says Morris.
It’s the perfect chance to exact revenge on the Redmen, a highly touted team who handed Melrose their exit papers in the Div. 3 North finals last season and went on to win the Superbowl one game later. Because of last year’s meeting, the Raiders have a better idea of what they’re up against. Morris is nothing but respectful of their talent. “They’ve got some good skilled players, obviously [James] Sullivan is their toughest player. They’re a well coached team with good defense.”
Saturday’s game will be a familiar experience for fans: Same title game, same opponents, same host field; but one thing that isn’t familiar is new Redmen quarterback, junior Brett Morris, who hasn’t experienced Melrose yet and seldom throws the ball. There is reason to believe the Redmen will primarily run the ball, and do it well. But after a nearly flawless season, the Red Raiders are more than ready to exact revenge against the team who denied them a trip to Gillette in 2013.
Comments Morris, “We’ll be ready. We’re looking to play our best game every time we step on the field.”
Kickoff at Cawley Stadium is at 4:15 p.m.