Wakefield looks to spoil a Melrose perfect season

THE WARRIOR FOOTBALL SENIORS have accomplished great things for the gridiron program and will take the field for the final time against Melrose on Thanksgiving Day. In the front row from left to right are Pat Redmond, Jack Shannon, Brendan Coughlin, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Devin O’Brien, Alex Joly, Marc Biennestin and Henry Stikeman. Second row: Charlie Senior, Steve Calandra, Bobby Keegan, Patrick Bertini, Bobby Young, Dan Cataldo, Steve Mercurio and Andrew Miller. Third row: Pat Tannian, Tyler Ford, Mike Melito, Cole Gregson, Evan McMaster, Jake Dennen, Kendall Hiltpold and Brendan Marshall. (Donna Larsson File Photo)

Published in the November 22, 2017 edition.


MELROSE — It’s a legitimate question for many high school football fans across the state. Will Melrose rest their starters on Thanksgiving against Wakefield? I suppose if you aren’t familiar with the rivalry it makes sense. Melrose clinched a State Championship appearance on Saturday with a 22-8 victory over Hopkinton in the State semifinals. In the grand scheme of things, wouldn’t the Red Raiders want to rest their starters to get ready for the Super Bowl?

“Wakefield-Melrose is the Super Bowl,” said Wakefield Memorial High School Athletic Director Brendan Kent. “This game is bigger than the Super Bowl, league championship or any other kind of title game you can think of. This is ‘The Game.’”

Kent would know. He hasn’t missed a Wakefield-Melrose Thanksgiving game since he was born. His father, Jim, was the head coach at UMass Boston before joining Tim Morris’s Melrose High School staff in the early 90’s. Kent and his brothers grew up in Melrose around the program, starting as the waterboys and eventually playing for the Red Raiders in high school. Brendan came back after college, and coached for eight years in Melrose before coming to WMHS as the Athletic Director, which means he has a specialized view of both football communities.

“When I was coaching in Melrose, people would ask how is the team going to do, and the next question was always ‘are you going to beat Wakefield?’ In Wakefield it has been the same thing: ‘Are you going to beat Melrose?’” said Kent. “Both schools have a mutual respect for each other and for the tradition of this game on Thanksgiving. It’s just very unique.”

While the truth is that both teams look forward to The Game all year, the Warriors (4-6) have been especially zeroed in on Melrose since Marblehead knocked them out of the playoffs, 28-14, in the Division 4 North quarterfinals. Melrose would end up beating Marblehead, 28-20 in the D4N Finals, setting up their State semifinal matchup against Hopkinton. The Red Raiders are 11-0 and looking to keep their perfect season going before heading to Gillette Stadium next weekend. As it turns out, Wakefield isn’t concerned about the perfect record as much as they are about just playing their game.

“I’ve got nothing but confidence in this group right now,” said Wakefield head coach Steve Cummings. “The kids are excited, the staff is excited, it’s going to be a great day. We just have to make sure we bring our A game. I told our guys if we play as well as we are capable of we can beat anybody in the state; we just need to go prove it.”

“We’re not afraid of them,” said senior co-captain Devin O’Brien. “It’s an internal thing. We can’t say ‘oh man they are 11-0, and going to the Super Bowl.’ We know what we have here and if we want to show up and play like we know we can, we can beat anybody.”

The Warriors are led by O’Brien and an offensive line that has showed in certain games that they can control the line of scrimmage and the game from start to finish. The other four seniors on the line are Patrick Bertini, Charlie Senior, Dan Cataldo and Pat Redmond. Those five combined with excellent lead blocking from players like Bobby Young, Derek DiMascio and co-captain Alex Joly pave the way for excellent running backs like co-captain Ryan Fitzpatrick and junior Danny Marinaccio.

“We feel really confident in our front five guys and whenever Line 1 is together we like to control the line of scrimmage and just have our backs follow us,” said O’Brien.

That running game is what led the Warriors to wins against Winchester, Burlington, Watertown and Gloucester. Wakefield has had a tough schedule against the likes of Division 6 champion Stoneham, Woburn, Reading and Wayland, but despite the losses, the Warriors are confident and perhaps most importantly, healthy (despite the season-ending injury of senior defensive back Marc Biennestin in Week 4).

“We’re ready to go. Everyone’s hungry right now, we just want the W,” said Joly.

The Warriors have lost five straight Thanksgiving Day games to Melrose, something that the current Warriors are very aware of.

“We’re not thinking about their undefeated season,” said co-captain Brendan Coughlin. “We just care about ending the streak that they have been on for the last couple of years.”

As they try to accomplish that, Wakefield knows that they will have an entire town behind them as they look to get back in the win column in what should be yet another exciting game in an electric environment at Fred Green Field. 

“It’s not like this everywhere,” said Cummings of this rivalry. “I’m hoping these kids understand how lucky they are to be a part of it.”

The odds are that most of the Warriors understand completely what this game means to everyone who has ever put on a Wakefield jersey. After all, if you grew up in either one of these two towns, you know it’s all about beating Melrose in The Game. Just ask a senior what it a win would mean to them.

 “Everything,” said Fitzpatrick. “This game is more meaningful than anything else. A win would be big for the seniors, for the staff, everyone.”

Trust me, by saying ‘everyone,’ Fitzpatrick and the Warriors mean it.