By TYM BROWN
WAKEFIELD — On a brisk morning in Wakefield, the Warriors played their archrival Melrose for the 63rd time on Thanksgiving. The final score reflected the records of both teams heading into this game as Wakefield narrowly escaped with a 7-3 win, their third consecutive Turkey Day victory.
This defensive showdown came down to the final play of the game with sophomore Myles Sanchez the hero, making a game-winning interception on 4th-and-goal from the 5-yard line, completing a goal-line stand that started 1st-and-goal from the 10 with 1:49 left.
In total, the Wakefield defense forced five turnovers and only gave up 3 points.
Those 3 points came from a field goal on Melrose’s first drive. An excellent kick return by senior Paul Nault set up the visitors on the Wakefield 40-yard line to start the drive. The Melrose offense inched towards the end zone steadily, but an excellent defensive stand at the 5-yard line by the Warriors forced a field goal. Senior quarterback and kicker Connor Brophy converted the boot from 30 yards out to take the lead for Melrose.
Wakefield’s first drive almost exactly replicated their rival’s as senior captain Steven Woish took an excellent kick return to midfield. The Warrior offense then drove deep into Melrose territory, but were stood up at the 8-yard line, only moving backwards from there. This set up a 31-yard field goal for senior captain Mark Letchford. With the wind against him, the boot was pushed left of the uprights and left the Warriors scoreless in the first quarter.
After a punt from both teams, Melrose started their third drive at their own 21-yard line. On the second play, a high snap slipped out of the hands of Connor Brophy and the loose pigskin was quickly recovered by junior defensive lineman Jackson Fitzpatrick. The Wakefield defense was ecstatic as they set up the offense just 20 yards from the end zone for their next drive.
On the sixth play of the drive, Woish took a sweeping handoff to the right, cut up-field and bounced off a defender to punch in a 3-yard touchdown. An important extra point from Letchford was true to make the score 7-3 with four minutes left in the second quarter.
“It was fantastic, finally getting in the end zone again,” said Woish after the close of his high school football career. “It’s been a rough year, but good to get in the end zone my last game.”
Melrose quickly moved across midfield on their next drive with a 19-yard connection from Brophy to sophomore wideout Tyler Garipay. Just three plays later, Melrose daringly took a risk on 4th-and-1. Brophy attempted a sneak up the middle, but senior captain Joe LaMonica stepped up to stuff the quarterback, forcing a turnover on downs.
“This is it – for some of our seniors there’s never a chance to put on these pads again,” said LaMonica after leaving everything on the field in his final high school game.
The first half ended with momentum in Wakefield’s favor, as they led 7-3 and were set to receive the kickoff in the third quarter.
To start the second half, Sanchez led the Wakefield offense across midfield with 31 rushing yards on the drive. Melrose stood the Warriors up though, forcing a 4th and 7 on the 39-yard line. The Warriors took a chance of their own on this play, losing three yards on a screen to Sanchez and turning the ball over on downs.
On the following drive, Brophy took a 17-yard run to the Wakefield 28-yard line as the Melrose offense just started to find its rhythm. The very next play, Brophy unexpectedly took a snap off his facemask as a pile ensued on the football. Coming out of the pile with the ball was junior defensive lineman Matt Beaver as the Wakefield-dominant crowd roared in excitement.
The Warrior offense would once again stall out, turning the ball over on downs at the Melrose 28-yard line. Melrose steadily marched into Wakefield territory again after junior receiver Nicholas Hitchman broke out a huge play. Hitchman caught a short pass from Brophy, but turned it into much more as he bounced off two Wakefield defenders and spun through another for a 25-yard gain. This put the visitors just 18 yards out from the end zone, the closest they had been since the first drive of the game.
The Warrior defense then turned up the intensity, allowing Melrose to move just one yard on the next three plays. On 4th-and-9, Brophy looked to pass as his team desperately needed a big play. The senior was flushed out of the pocket and forced to scramble with no one open downfield. Beaver forced the quarterback out of bounds after barely gaining a yard, sealing another Wakefield defensive stand.
A three-and-out from Wakefield’s offense and solid punt from Letchford gave Melrose the ball back with five minutes left in the game on their own 31-yard line. A 13-yard run from junior Maximilian Lanciani with a 15-yard facemask penalty tagged along started the drive with a bang. Time drained off the clock while Melrose ran the ball as a 10-yard end around for Hitchman brought his team to the Wakefield 22-yard line. Brophy then connected with junior receiver Marco Albanese for 12 yards, setting up 1st-and-goal for Melrose with 1:49 left in the game.
A 3-yard run from Brophy and 4-yard run from senior captain Ben Cassavoy brought up third down on the 4-yard line. Albanese swept to the left on this play and was tripped up by Sanchez, losing a yard as Letchford came in to finish the tackle. This set up the final play of the game, 4th-and-goal from the 5-yard line with no option but to score a touchdown to win. Brophy rolled to his right, being closely followed by Fitzpatrick, Letchford and senior Bryce Vaughan. The Melrose QB let go the final pass of his career, attempting to float one to his classmate Cassavoy, but the route was undercut by a leaping Sanchez who reeled in the game-winning interception in the end zone.
“It came down to one play and we made the stand. We showed our mental toughness, our physical toughness and we came up big,” said LaMonica about that final play.
“It was a stressful situation,” head coach John Rafferty added about the game’s conclusion. “The kids didn’t back down, they didn’t give up, they held firm. My hat’s off to them.”
The Warriors’ head coach went on to say, “This is their championship game and they came out on top. They’re champs today.”
This game truly was the best win of the year for Wakefield and certainly one that members of this team will remember for a long time.
The third straight Thanksgiving Day win for Wakefield was also the 43rd win overall in the history of the rivalry in the 113th meeting between the two. The Warriors ended the year on a three-game winning streak to plant their record at 8-3 for the year. Despite dealing with numerous injuries, this Wakefield team put together a great follow-up year to the Division 3 state championship in 2022.
This program will certainly miss an impactful 2024 senior class in next year’s campaign, but the talent that will remain on the team is sure to impress next season.
Wakefield vs. Melrose Box Score
1st 2nd 3rd 4th T
Melrose 3 0 0 0 3
Wakefield 0 7 0 0 7
Melrose — Connor Brophy 30-yard field goal
Wakefield — Steven Woish 3-yard run (Mark Letchford PAT)
Myles Sanchez — 29 carries, 116 yards
Steven Woish — 7 carries, 28 yards, 1TD
Jaden Fullerton — 7 carries, 19 yards
Matt Beaver — 3 carries, 8 yards
Matt Beaver — 3-for-8, 10 yards
Declan O’Callahan — 1 catch, 8 yards
Steven Woish — 1 catch, 5 yards
Myles Sanchez — 1 catch, -3 yards
Myles Sanchez — TFL, INT
Jackson Fitzpatrick — TFL, Fumble recovery
Matt Beaver — Fumble recovery
Steven Woish — TFL
Declan O’Callahan — TFL