WMHS lets 14-0 lead slip away in 55th annual classic

SENIOR QB Anthony Cecere runs down the right sideline as Melrose’s Zack Mercer (#24) is the closest player in pursuit. Cecere was Wakefield’s leading rusher with 54 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. (Donna Larsson Photo)

SENIOR QB Anthony Cecere runs down the right sideline as Melrose’s Zack Mercer (#24) is the closest player in pursuit. Cecere was Wakefield’s leading rusher with 54 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. (Donna Larsson Photo)


WAKEFIELD — Even though the 55th annual Thanksgiving Day classic between the Wakefield Memorial High football and Melrose High football teams was played a day later, the contest still had a Thanksgiving Day feel to it.

For one, about 3,000 fans were in attendance Friday at Landrigan Field. The second thing is that the contest wound up being another thriller in the rivalry as Melrose scored two second half touchdowns to edge the Warriors by a 15-14 score.

Wakefield finished the season with a 5-6 overall record, while the Red Raiders increased their record to 10-2 on the season. Melrose will now get ready to play Dartmouth in the Div. 3 Super Bowl which will be held on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

The Red Raiders also swept the Warriors for the season as they played each other three times. Wakefield was edged, 17-15, in the regular season meeting in September. The Warriors were then blanked, 24-0, in the Div. 3 Northwest quarterfinals in October and then were edged by a point in the annual Thanksgiving meeting in November.

Melrose leads the longstanding rivalry, 56-41-6, with Friday’s game having been the 103rd meeting between the schools. The rivalry dates back to 1901. Wakefield, however, leads the Thanksgiving Day 29-23-3, which dates back to 1960.

The Warriors are also 18-6-1 against Melrose over the past 21 years but have lost four in a row dating back to Thanksgiving last year. Three out of those four contests were played at Green Field. Also, Wakefield has lost three in a row on Thanksgiving and hasn’t posted a November victory against the Red Raiders since they prevailed by a 3-0 score in 2011, the last time the Warriors played in a Super Bowl.

Even though Wakefield worked to clear out the field on Thanksgiving, the overnight snowfall on Thursday and icing up of the snow resulted in the conditions at Landrigan Field being less than ideal even on Friday afternoon.

The Warriors jumped out in front on the opening kickoff which was returned 85 yards by junior Tighe Beck. Wakefield added a second touchdown in the second quarter to take at 14-0 lead at halftime. But Melrose showed why it is playing in the Super Bowl as it rallied in the second half with a pair of scores including the game-winner and two-point conversion coming with 3:17 left in the game.

“We played our best game of the year,” said Warrior Head Coach Mike Boyages, who retired from coaching at the end of the game it was announced (see related story). “I thought we had them. We came out and returned the opening kickoff. But give Melrose credit, they came back and made the plays when they had to. Even though we lost, I thought we played our best game of the year.”

The Warriors had a two touchdown lead and were in the game until the end despite the Red Raiders having a big advantage in yards. Melrose had 273 yards of total offense (177 rushing, 96 passing) while Wakefield gained 118 total yards (79 rushing, 39 passing).

Senior QB Anthony Cecere led the way offensively as he rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. Through the air, Cecere completed four of 10 passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. He was also intercepted once which came on Wakefield’s final possession.

Sophomore RB Mike Pedrini led the Red Raider attack as he gained 94 yards on nine carries. Pedrini also had one reception which was a touchdown of 11 yards.

Also senior QB Jake Karelas completed nine of 19 passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to Pedrini, Karelas found senior WR Colby Andrews with a 24 yard TD pass which wound up being the game-winning score. Andrews had three catches for 49 yards.

“We’ve been doing that all year. We do not get flustered no matter what the score is,” said Melrose head coach Tim Morris. “We were able to make the plays when we had to. The conditions definitely affected what we did with our play calling. It took away from some of the things we like to run.”

Defensively, Wakefield was led by Beck and Kane who each had seven tackles. Zach Kane, a junior, was next with six stops.

Wakefield received the opening kickoff and made the most of it as Beck caught the ball at his own 15 yard line and took it back down the middle eluding a couple of Red Raiders on the way to the end zone.

The extra point attempt was blocked as the Warriors led 6-0 with 9:46 left in the first quarter.

The Red Raiders answered with a drive deep into Wakefield territory. Melrose started at its own 36 and picked up three first downs on the way.

Senior RB Brian McLaughlin had a seven yard gain before senior RB Jack Hickey was dropped for a two yard loss. Karelas then found Andrews with a 15 yard pass to pick up a first down. Hickey then ripped off back-to-back runs of 11 yards for a first down at the Wakefield 22. Hickey gained a yard on first down, Karelas fired an incompletion on second down and Karelas gained three yards on third down to set up a fourth down and six play. Karelas found seniior WR Chris Pizzotti with a four yard pass as Wakefield took over on downs.

The Warriors went three and out and punted the ball away as Melrose took at its own 48. Again, Melrose marched into Wakefield territory only to turn the ball over on downs.

Pedrini gained eight yards and senior RB Zack Mercer gained three for a first down. After an incompletion, Hickey gained three yards. Two more incompletions and Wakefield took over its own 38 with 1:53 left in the first quarter.

The Warriors sustained an eight play drive to score their second touchdown of the game.

Cecere gained 17 yards on first down and then Zach Kane had runs of five yards and zero yards as the first quarter ended and the second quarter began. On a third down and five from the Melrose 40, the Red Raiders jumped offside which gave Wakefield a first down. Cecere then gained four yards and Kane ran for 11 yards to set up a first down and goal from the Melrose 10.

Kane lost three yards on first down and then he gained four yards on second down setting up a third down and goal from the 9. Cecere called in own number and took the ball into the end zone off left tackle.

Senior TE Dylan Brady caught the two-point conversion pass as Wakefield took a 14-0 lead with 7:04 left in the second quarter.

Melrose again drove the ball into Wakefield territory on its next series of downs. Karelas ran for three yards and then found senior WR Will Caffey with a five yard pass. Hickey was stopped after a yard gain which resulted in fourth down and one from the Melrose 49. Wakefield was penalized for roughing the kicker which resulted in Melrose getting a first down at the Warrior 36.

Karelas had an incompletion on first down and Hickey lost a yard on second down. Two incompletions later and Wakefield took over at its own 37.

Wakefield went three and out and the Red Raiders picked up one first down on their final possession of the first half on a 15 yard run by Pedrini. As a result, the Warriors held a 14-0 advantage at the break.

The Red Raiders got the ball to start the third quarter and held onto the ball for the majority of the frame. Melrose sustained a 14 play drive which resulted in it getting on the scoreboard.

Starting at their own 34, Hickey gained five yards and one yard. After a false start penalty pushed Melrose back five yards, Karelas found Pizzotti with a 12 yard pass and a first down. Hickey gained three yards and then Karelas hit Andrews with a 10 yard pass to move the chains once again.

McLaughlin had runs of three yard and two yards. On third down and five, Karelas found Pizzotti with a six yard pass to move the chains. After a Karelas incompletion, Hickey had consecutive runs of seven yards to set up a first down at the Wakefield 15. Hickey was stopped for no gain and McLaughlin gained four yards setting up a third down and six from the Wakefield 11. Karelas found Pedrini in the left corner of the end zone for the TD.

Mike Cusolito added the extra point to cut the lead to 14-7 with 2:55 left in the third quarter.

Wakefield begin its first possession of the second half at its own 23 with 2:49 left in the third quarter. Cecere had runs of five yards and one yard. On third down, Brady caught a 15 yard pass for the first down. Melrose was also assessed a personal foul penalty which resulted in a first down at the Melrose 39.

Kane lost two yards on first down as the third quarter ended and the fourth quarter began. Cecere missed Beck on second down a pass down the field which could’ve resulted in a TD. Cecere then hit Kane with a six yard pass to set up a fourth down and six from the Melrose 35. Wakefield lined up in punt formation and faked the kick as Cecere’s pass to Brady was too high as the Red Raiders took over at their own 35 with 9:14 left in regulation.

Melrose sustained a 10 play drive which resulted in its second TD of the contest.

Hickey gained a yard before Pedrini had runs of nine, five and six yards to bring the ball down to the Warrior 44. Mercer gained four yards, Karelas ran for two yards and Mercer gained two yards setting up a fourth down and two play from Wakefield 36. Hickey barreled ahead for three yards and a first down.

Karelas found Mercer with a nine yard pass. On second down and one from the Wakefield 24, Melrose went to a play action pass and Karelas found Andrews in the end zone to make the score, 14-13, with 3:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.

At that point, Melrose opted to go for the two-point conversion and the possible win instead of playing for overtime. Pedrini took the direct snap and ran the ball in to give the Red Raiders a 15-14 lead.

“We didn’t want to play overtime,” said Morris, who played his starters the whole way and sprinkled subs in quite frequently as well. “Our desire was to go for two and either win it or lose it right there.”

The Warriors got the ball back with one last chance to win the game. Wakefield began the drive at its own 33 and picked up three first downs as it sustained an eight play drive.

Kane gained five yards on first down and Cecere gained seven yards to pick up the first down. Senior WR Chris Calnan caught a 10 yard pass for a first down at the Melrose 45. Cecere then was stopped for no gain and ran for three yards. Brady caught an eight yard pass for a first down at the Melrose 34. After an incompletion, Cecere’s pass down the right sideline was high and it was intercepted by Mercer at the Melrose 20 and returned five yards.

From there, Melrose ran out the final 54 seconds of the game to emerge with the one point triumph.