7th straight win over Wakefield a fitting finale for Melrose, seniors

Published in the December 2, 2016 edition

THE MELROSE Red Raider football team were once again victorious on Thanksgiving day with a 28-8 win over rival Wakefield. (Donna Larsson photo) 

THE MELROSE Red Raider football team were once again victorious on Thanksgiving day with a 28-8 win over rival Wakefield. (Donna Larsson photo)


MELROSE — For current members of the Melrose High Red Raider football team, hoisting the Raider-Warrior Thanksgiving Day Trophy has become a rite of passage. For a group of seniors leaving, it’s all they’ve ever known.

The team’s 2016 seniors, with two appearances at Gillette Stadium in their pocket, ended their high school careers on Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 24 in one of the best ways possible: beating Wakefield.

This group earns the distinction of never letting the trophy out of their grip at Melrose High, who earned their 7th straight victory over Wakefield Warriors, 28-8, on Nov. 24 at Landrigan Field in Wakefield. It was a fitting finale for Melrose (8-3 overall, 4-1 league), who earned their third straight league title; a shared one with Watertown and Wakefield (5-6) all with identical 4-1 league records. While Wakefield and Watertown already secured their share going into the 107th meeting, Melrose needed to win Thursday to secure it. For Melrose coach Tim Morris it was mission accomplished.

“It’s nice to win a piece of the league championship,” says Morris. “I thought our guys up front played well. Didn’t let them convert on third downs. They have a talented quarterback, had some good drives but we were able to force the turnovers.”

Melrose now leads the overall rivalry, dating back to 1901, 59-41-6. The Warriors last beat Melrose in overtime on Thanksgiving Day in 2013, 17-14. Since then, Melrose has played several playoff games against the Warriors, on top of the holiday classic, and have beaten them seven straight times.

Much of the work on Thursday came courtesy of senior captain Mike Pedrini (144 yards on 29 carries, 3TDs) which was no surprise to fans who witnessed #5 finish his historic high school career with 28 touchdowns this season and and 61 career ones at MHS.

“We know coming in that Wakefield was a good defensive team and hard nosed,” said Pedrini after the game. “So we had to weather the storm, make big plays when we had to, and never stop. And we did. And this class [seniors] has never lost to Wakefield.”

Pedrini, back-to-back league MVP, also ends his season as the division’s leading scorer and a shoo-in for post season All Scholastic/All State honors. In coach Morris’ near-30 year career at MHS, he has yet to see a player deliver numbers such as Pedrini’s. So if the running back hasn’t broken all-time school records, he has certainly smashed modern ones. Either way, he will be incredibly tough to replace.

But he’s only one player and on Thursday he was aided by some strong work from fellow seniors, including senior captain Collin Casey, who returned a fumble for a 15 yard touchdown, Pat Whelan and Antonio DiFronzo on tackling and Mike Calvert who went 4-4 in PATs. Melrose also had a solid game from senior QB Jack Mays (6-12, 78 yards, including a 40 yard haul to Pedrini.)

Wakefield, meanwhile, brought to the field a tough duo in quarterback Mike Lucey and receiver Alex McKenna. The sophomore Lucey in particular was strong, going 20-34 for 234 yards in passing. Warrior defense also managed to limit Pedrini in Melrose’s first few possessions and kept Melrose scoreless until less than a minute before halftime when Pedrini found the end zone on a 13 yard touchdown, set up by a big 40 yard pass by Mays. On Wakefield’s next possession, Lucey drove the Warriors to the 15 yard line and, with one play left before the half, attempted a field goal that went wide right. Melrose entered halftime with a 7-0 lead.

Melrose kicker Mike Calvert saw his brother Tom (MHS 2016) attempt the halftime time field goal kick, a sponsored event that would have earned the lucky ticket winner $10,000. It was an impressive effort from the former Red Raider but fell just low. (The last – and only – winner of that contest was Wakefield’s Anthony Fabiano in 2010.)

In the opening of the third, Wakefield faked a punt on the Melrose 42. The punter Pat Leary attempted a pass that was knocked down incomplete and Melrose took over possession. Melrose killed the clock on a series of drives by Pedrini and Mays connected with Colin Kiernan twice to bring the ball into the red zone. From there it was once again Pedrini, a 1 yard scamper TD and Melrose took a larger lead of 14-0 with 3:19 left in the third.

Wakefield’s McKenna sparked Wakefield on their next possession, returning a kick off for 38 yards but the Warriors were called on back-to-back personal fouls to stunted the effort and Wakefield was forced to punt. Mays connected with Steven Abbot and Colin Kiernan while Pedrini took a series of carries that brought Melrose to the Warrior 20. But McKenna picked off a Mays pass and the Warriors took possession of the ball.

Wakefield would fall victim to fortune just after receiving it. Their QB Lucey had the ball stripped and it was recovered by Melrose senior captain Collin Casey, who ran the ball into the end zone for a 21-0 lead with just 5:18 left in the game, effectively taking the Warriors out of the contest. Wakefield managed to get on the board before the end of the game with a sharp pass from Lucey to McKenna in the end zone and a two point conversion that made it a 21-8 game with just over three minutes left.

Pedrini scored his final high school touchdown on the next possession, a 31 yard end run to give Melrose a permanent edge of 28-8. Wakefield fought back one last time, marching to the 5-yard line with just seconds left in the game.

The final play of the game seemed rather fitting: an interception into the arms of Pedrini, who took off for 40 yards for the Warrior end zone with no time on the clock until (finally) brought down by a Warrior.

Melrose, at 8-3, ends another successful season, especially for their senior glass, many of whom had back-to-back Super Bowl trips at Gillette Stadium. In terms of high school careers, that feat is a rare one.

“Our seniors, Mike Pedrini, Collin, Steve Abbott, [Christian] McAfee, [Antonio] DiFronzo are some of the most successful kids to ever come through the program. And all of them got to win another league championship in their final game of their careers,” says their coach. “It’s been a great run with those guys and we will miss them.”

Pedrini echoes that sentiment. “Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to play on this stage on Thanksgiving during senior year. It was a storybook ending. Wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Graduating this year are: senior captains and league All Stars Steve Abbott, Collin Casey and Mike Pedrini; along with Luke Karelas, Josh Roderick, Cameron DiBiccari, Connor Crovo, Pat Whelan, Jake Yezerski, Scott Raia, all star Antonio DiFronzo, Nick Anderson and Christian McAree.