Published in the November 23, 2016 edition

CAL CHAMPIONS. The 2016 NRHS football team displays their first place plaque after winning the Cape Ann League championship for the first time since 1980. Every member on the team, coaches included, was soaked to the skin but jubilant. (Transcript File Photo By Bob Turosz)

CAL CHAMPIONS. The 2016 NRHS football team displays their first place plaque after winning the Cape Ann League championship for the first time since 1980. Every member on the team, coaches included, was soaked to the skin but jubilant. (Transcript File Photo By Bob Turosz)


NORTH READING – Coming to the end of what has arguably been their most successful season since 1980, the North Reading Hornets bring their 8-2 record into Thursday’s 58th annual Thanksgiving Day showdown with their arch-rivals, the 6-3 Lynnfield Pioneers.

The 2016 Hornets are already co-champions of the Cape Ann League’s Kinney (Large School) Division and came within one win of punching their ticket to the MIAA Division 2A Super Bowl Game in Gillette Stadium on Dec. 3.

Unfortunately, it was not to be as the Hornets fell to a talented and explosive Marblehead team on Nov. 11, for only their second loss of the season. If the Hornets are looking to ease the pain of missing their trip to Foxboro, beating Lynnfield in the climactic game of the season, they need look no further than the Pioneers.

Week 1

Hornets 21, Ipswich 13

North Reading opened the season at home against the Ipswich Tigers and quickly established their dominance in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. The scoring didn’t start until midway through the second quarter when senior running back Matt McCarthy found the end zone on an 86 yard punt return for North Reading’s first score of the year.

McCarthy showed his fantastic junior year in 2015 was not a flash in the pan as he rushed for 157 years on 20 carries that night. The Hornets increased their lead to 14-0 early in the third quarter when McCarthy scored again from the 3 yard line, which was set up by the prior play, a 46-yard dash through the Tiger defense.

After Ipswich managed to get on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter thanks to a fumble recovery near the end zone and then again on a 67 yard Hail Mary pass to squeak to within one point of a tie, 14-13.

But North Reading went right back to work on the next drive and put the game away thanks to five rushes of 10 yards or more by McCarthy and fellow senior John Merullo, capped by a 22 yard run into the end zone by McCarthy to give the Hornets their opening night victory.

Week 2

Hornets 21, Generals 12

North Reading traveled to South Hamilton and beat the Hamilton-Wenham Generals, 21-12 for the third consecutive year. From the very first play it was obvious this was going to be a special game as defensive lineman Michael Quaratiello picked up a H-W fumble and took it 52 yards into the end zone. The Generals answered when they got the ball back and it was soon a 7-6 game, advantage, North Reading.

Late in the third quarter things started to gel for the Hornets who put together a five play, 47 yard drive that culminated with McCarthy crossing the goal line from one yard out, set up by a 19 yard run by quarterback Kyle Bythrow.

The Hornets increased their lead to 21-6 when McCarthy scored from a yard out on a crucial fourth down play. The Generals scored once more to narrow the gap and tried an onside kick at the end but the Hornets were ready for them and then just took a knee to complete the victory.

Week 3

Hornets 41, Somerville 22

North Reading secured its third straight victory by flattening the visiting Somerville Highlanders, 41-22, at Arthur Kenney Field.

North Reading scored early and often in this one, led once again by McCarthy who rushed for 176 yards on 10 carries and a significant contribution from QB Bythrow on the ground, who pounded out 75 yards on five carries.

Somerville, which gave North Reading a real run for its money in 2015 when the Hornets visited Dilboy Field, could not contain the Hornet running game, led by McCarthy. “We expect great things from him but it helps he has a great line and a great athlete for his fullback in John Merullo, both of whom make great blocks for him,” said Head Coach Jeff Wall.

Week 4

Masco 21, Hornets 6

The high flying Hornets fell to earth a bit the next week when they traveled to Boxford to play “the University of Masco” and suffered their first loss of the season, 21-6.

Masco controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the contest and although it would be fair to say the game was closer than the score indicated, it was, overall, a clear Masco victory.

The Chieftains led, 21-0 at halftime but the Hornets came out strong in the second half, holding their opponents scoreless the rest of the way and fought back to get on the scoreboard with 8:47 left on an impressive drive that ended with a Bythrow pass to senior captain and fullback Merullo.

After the game Coach Wall had these words to say about his players: “I thought we gave it everything we had and the loss wasn’t due to lack of effort, the kids played their hearts out.”

Week 5

Hornets 42, Pentucket 20

Back at home against the Pentucket Sachems, the Hornets improved to 4-1 by seizing control of a 14-14 tie game in the second half.

The two teams battled back and forth well into the fourth quarter. The game looked like it was going to be tied, 21-21 with 6:35 left in regulation and plenty of folks thought it would be won by whichever team had the ball last.

But a Pentucket extra point attempt sailed wide right, making it a 21-20 North Reading advantage. The Hornets then went on to score 21 unanswered points before time expired to make the score 42-20, but the final score didn’t tell the whole story.

North Reading scored its last three touchdowns on a 29 yard run by McCarthy, a 10 yard strike from Bythrow to Jake Bedell and another McCarthy touchdown, this one from 37 yards out, set up by a turnover forced by senior Bob Donohue.

Week 6

Hornets 41, Triton 13

Nobody likes a party crasher. But if Triton Regional was looking to dedicate their new $3.5 million turf field stadium complex with a football victory, they should have scheduled any other team in the Cape Ann League except North Reading.

The Hornets blew out the Vikings, 41-13 and sent much of the opening night crowd home early as they led, 20-7 at the half. The Hornet offensive line dominated the Viking defensive line all night and thanks to that, the Hornets would rush for over 300 yards with McCarthy alone running for 204 on 18 carries while Bythrow added 90 yards on eight tries.

Week 7

Hornets beat Clippers, win CAL championship

Hornets are not supposed to be amphibious or aquatic insects capable of living under water. That’s why entomological history was been made at the Arthur Kenney field in week seven of the season when North Reading defeated Newburyport, 20-6, in a game played under monsoon-like conditions.

With the win, North Reading secured a least a tie for the championship of the CAL’s Kinney (Large School Division) for the first time since 1980 and sending the Green and Gold into the MIAA Division 2A North playoffs as the second seed.

The Hornets overcame a tough Newburyport team and the elements – heavy winds and driving rain – to nearly shut out the Clippers. Despite the horrible weather, McCarthy ran for 198 yards on 27 carries while the Hornet defense held the Clippers to 161 yards all night on offense.

Week 8

Hornets 35, Bedford 0

The Bedford Buccaneers traveled to North Reading for the opening round of the MIAA playoffs and probably hope they never have to come here again as North Reading put together a complete game effort, making the Buccaneers walk the plank, 35-0.

The Hornet defense matched the offense in terms of intensity and excellence as they pitched their first shutout of the season at a perfect time. Bedford couldn’t get anything going all night thanks to the likes of Bob O’Donnell, Mike Quaratiello, Bob Donahue, John Merullo, Ryan Edison, Matt McCarthy and Tommy McHugh.

Week 9

Hornets 35, Danvers 14

North Reading continued its deepest-ever run into the new MIAA play-off system with a ground-and-pound win over the Danvers Falcons at Arthur Kenney Field.

The two teams were tied, 14-14 at half time but North Reading seized control of the game in the second half, scoring 21 unanswered points while grounding the Falcon offense.

McCarthy, O’Donnell, Quaratiello, Merullo, Conley, Michael DiStasio and Nick Del Isolla all made big plays to keep the Falcons grounded. McCarthy (two) and Bythrow all scored in the second half and Merullo added a 2-point conversion on a great run to the left to close out the scoring.

Week 10

Marblehead 28, Hornets 7

North Reading’s hopes for their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1980 ended on the frozen, wind whipped field of Marblehead High School on Veterans’ Day as they were defeated by the Marblehead Magicians, 28-7.

Seriously folks, game conditions felt more like December than early November as many fans left at halftime because of the cold. Still, the conditions can’t be blamed for North Reading’s first loss in six weeks as as turnovers were key in the Hornet loss.

Marblehead controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game and North Reading committed some untimely and uncharacteristic turnovers to hurt their own cause. The Hornets finally found the end zone in the fourth quarter on a McCarthy run.

“I think early on in the game we didn’t capitalize when we needed to and I think they just built up so much momentum that it got to be too much for us,” said Coach Wall after the game.

North Reading will be looking to get past its disappointment Thursday morning when they take on the Pioneers in Lynnfield. Game time is 10:30 a.m., and as they say, throw the records out the window, these kids are coming to play.