Published in the September 30, 2019 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
STONEHAM — Sticking with a reigning Super Bowl champion on the road should count for something.
Sure, the Warriors didn’t travel all that way to Stoneham to feel good about a loss. They wanted to win; and for much longer than the 10-minute bus ride took, Wakefield looked like they could.
In the end, the Spartans provided a valuable lesson in fighting for a first half lead (20-10), and finishing strong in the second half on their way to a 28-10 victory.
“In some regards we did a good job, we just weren’t consistent enough,” said Wakefield head coach John Rafferty. “They (Stoneham) had a couple of big plays that really changed the game.”
The initial big play came on the very first drive as Deshawn Chase found the edge on a pitch and took off for a 31-yard score.
Staring down a 7-0 deficit with more people still waiting in the ticket line than in the stands, the Warriors didn’t flinch.
Instead, they went 80 yards in five plays and just 45 seconds.
Senior QB Wesley Pierre took an option 20 yards on their third play from scrimmage. Then he hit sophomore RB Aidan Sweeney for 8 yards on a stab route up the middle. With plenty of energy from the Warrior sideline, the big offensive line led by captain tackle Liam Cosgrove and senior guard Jake Sowyrda and featuring young but improving players like sophomore Daniel Rosenberg and freshmen Phillip D’Alleva and Ian Dixon, exploded off their stances and opened up a hole for Sweeney who broke through for a 49-yard touchdown run.
The sophomore, back for his first game since exiting the season-opener on Sept. 6 in the second quarter, got a couple of happy welcome back high-fives from the Warrior sideline.
It was exactly the response Wakefield needed, and more proof they have turned a corner.
Before you can stick with a great team for a full 48 minutes, you have to do it for the first five.
“I was really happy with that first series,” said Rafferty. “Our offensive production was great in the first half.”
The Warriors forced a punt on the next drive but a costly fumble at midfield gave the ball back to the Spartans who converted on a Chris Dragone 10-yard touchdown.
Wakefield countered again with a 52-yard drive that led to a 26-yard Dan Hurley field goal, but they lost Pierre in the process. A tough hit on the sideline after a 25-yard scramble kept Pierre out of the game. He battled back and re-entered for one defensive series in the second quarter, but would eventually be ruled out for the rest of the night.
On 4th-and-5 from their own 45, Stoneham’s Jake Bruno advanced 21 yards on a fake punt and the strong Spartan running game, operating without star player Chase who was also injured in this game, still struck when senior Seth Russell (11 carries 84 yards) scored from 16 yards out to make it 20-10 at the half.
“Losing Wesley really hurt our production on both sides of the ball,” said Rafferty.
Aside from his 61 rushing yards in the first quarter alone, Pierre was perhaps missed even more in the secondary.
After a fantastic Hurley punt that put the Spartans on their own 1-yard line early in the third quarter, it was the passing game that sparked the Spartans to a 99-yard touchdown drive. Quarterback Victor Fernandes connected for 31 yards with Jared Grossholz on second down, bringing Stoneham from the 3 to the 34. Receiver Michael Picciuto later made the play of the game with a one-handed snag for 28 yards that brought it down to the Wakefield 25. The Warrior defense battled and eventually forced a 4th-and-8 from the 23, but Fernandes again took advantage of an inexperienced secondary, finding Dragone in the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown pass.
“Defensively, we loaded up to defend the run – you have to against those guys,” said Rafferty. “As a result, and especially without Wes in at safety, the passing game really hurt us.”
By the time that Stoneham drive – just the second series of the second half – was over, there was 2:51 left in the third and a 28-10 lead for the home team.
Wakefield had a hard time finding any more offensive production in the 4th quarter, save for another big run by Sweeney, this time for 45 yards down the right sideline. Sweeney rushed 15 times for 123 yards.
The defense earned plenty of respect in shutting down the Spartans in the final frame. Senior Taaj Andrews made a couple of great plays from his defensive tackle spot, stuffing runs.
Stikeman was solid all day, leading the team in tackles with five, often stringing out runs with his speed and finishing plays.
Hurley got a sack on a 4th-and-7 that gave Wakefield the ball back with seven minutes left.
Cosgrove had a great game all-around, with Rafferty even saying he noticed the Spartans often running to the opposite side of the strong defensive end’s position.
Altogether there was progress. It’s not the best feeling in the world, but it’s important.
“The defensive line overall did a great job,” said Rafferty. “The kids had terrific energy and they hung in there and battled. There are a lot of positives to take, but overall it was a big game for us so coming out on the short end is hard.
“We talked (after the game) about what it’s like to play a tough game in the Middlesex League and the effort it takes. I thought that effort was there, it just wasn’t enough.”
Wakefield (1-2) will now shift their attention to another tough league opponent in Burlington (3-0). The Red Devils will host the Warriors this Friday at 7 p.m.