Warriors fall to Melrose in season finale

Apr 22, 2021 by

Published in the April 22, 2021 edition.

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

MELROSE — The Wakefield High football team concluded their season on Saturday at Fred Green Field in Melrose. The Warriors were shut out 35-0 as Melrose (5-0) went on to earn at least a share of the Middlesex League’s Freedom Division title which will be their own if they beat Stoneham (3-1) tomorrow night. 

Wakefield concluded their season with a record of 1-4. 

It was the first meeting between the two teams since Thanksgiving 2019, also played at Fred Green. 

Wakefield’s sophomore quarterback Javin Willis was extremely accurate, completing 11 of his 15 attempts for 73 yards. Wakefield’s ground game was led by senior captain Tucker Stikeman who rushed for 56 of Wakefield’s 70 rushing yards. 

Keeping up with Melrose is no easy task, for multiple reasons. The Red Raiders, who won their 11th consecutive game against Wakefield and their 19th straight game dating back to the 2018 season, feature a quick-strike offense combined with an equal parts opportunistic and dominant defense. All of these traits were on display Saturday.

The Red Raiders had 411 yards from scrimmage led by senior QB Brendan Fennell who completed 6 of 12 passes for 152 yards and two TD’s. His favorite target was fellow senior Charlie Haggerty who had five catches for 141 yards and two scores. Senior Matt Hickey rushed for 135 yards and three TD’s to lead the ground game.

The Warriors had a great start to the 110th meeting between the two rivals. Sophomore Nathan Delgado had a strong tackle on the opening kickoff and the Warrior front seven held Jake Rowe to two short carries leading to a 3rd-and-3 that went for an incomplete pass, forcing a punt. 

Wakefield’s opening drive went for 51 yards on 13 plays, taking up eight minutes. Willis was 5-for-5 on the opening drive accounting for 46 yards. His favorite target was senior Eric Keefe (4 catches for 18 yards), an All-Star on the soccer team who got a chance to try football this year. Keefe, looking like an experienced slot receiver, had three catches on the drive, two of which resulted in Warrior first downs. His third came on 3rd-and-7 from the Melrose 30 yard line. Keefe caught it, made two defenders miss and got out of bounds at the sticks for an 8-yard gain. 

Senior captain Danny Hurley (3 catches for 21 yards) had what appeared to be the longest catch of the drive when he skied for an 11-yard catch to get the ball into Red Raider territory, until senior Paul Holman – a basketball standout who like Keefe, was playing in the last game of his first football season – caught a Willis bullet on a slant for a 14 yard gain on 3rd-and-16 from the 28. That brought the ball to the 14 yard line, well within range of Hurley’s strong leg, but head coach John Rafferty opted to go for it on 4th-and-2 with an attempted run up the middle which the Red Raiders were ready to stuff for no gain and a turnover on downs. 

Melrose capitalized on that momentum with a 7-play, 86-yard scoring drive capped off by Hickey’s first TD run from 4-yards out. 

Wakefield would go three-and-out on their next two drives while Melrose would score touchdowns on their next two, making it 21-0 in a blink with four minutes left in the first half. 

The Red Raiders’ second TD was a 49-yard bomb from Fennell to Haggerty up the seam, a catch the receiver made through a pass interference penalty. 

Their third score was a nearly identical play, just a little shorter as Fennell found Haggerty running right up the middle again for six from 30 yards out. 

Wakefield got a first down on their next drive thanks again to the accuracy of Willis who connected with junior Jack Berinato (3 catches for 20 yards) for a 9-yard gain. A Warrior penalty later resulted on a loss of downs leading to 3rd-and-13 when Willis found Hurley for a 9-yard reception but the Warriors punted on 4th-and-4 from their own 44 with 1:45 to play in the first half. 

No matter how far Hurley booted his punt, the Red Raiders would threaten to score, which they did in short order, a 14-yard Hickey run on 3rd-and-13 bringing it out to Melrose’s own 45 with 31 seconds left. Fennell and Haggerty linked up yet again for 34 yards to the Wakefield 21 and calling a timeout with 22 seconds left, forcing the Warrior D to buckle down. Hurley knocked down Fennell’s next pass attempt at the line and after another incomplete, Fennell was stripped by sophomore Ian Dixon with junior Luke Ickes also pressuring on 3rd down. Senior Kevin O’Neil recovered it for the Warriors to end the first half, 21-0 Melrose.

Wakefield went three-and-out on the first drive of the 3rd quarter leading to a booming, 48-yard punt from Hurley. 

Stikeman and Dixon made a great play on the ensuing 1st down, bringing Hickey down for a 4-yard loss, but Melrose gave it right back to their bruising back who earned 10 yards on 2nd down. Rowe followed with 10 yards of his own. Dixon and Kaiden Johnson combined for a sack of Fennell on 2nd-and-7 but a face mask penalty resulted in a 1st down which Hickey later turned into 26 yards on two carries. Hickey finished the drive with a 6-yard TD run to make it 28-0 with 4:33 left in the 3rd.

The Red Raiders got the ball right back on the Wakefield 22 after a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Hickey rumbled in from 13 yards out on 4th-and-1 to make it 35-0. 

The Warriors got one more great play from a senior newcomer playing in his first rivalry game when linebacker Luke Hopkins dragged down Liam Maher for no gain on 3rd-and-5, getting the offense back on the field, but the Warriors continued to struggle moving the ball. 

Wakefield showed plenty of character on the last few drives, first with senior cornerback Mykease Driggers fighting through a rib injury, one of the most painful in football, to help the defense come up with one more stop. Luke Ickes continued his strong play on the defensive line, bringing down a Melrose runner for a 4-yard loss. Finally, Stikeman sent a message to the underclassmen on the team, taking the rock on three straight carries to end the game, gaining a combined 25 hard-earned yards, each carry making nearly every Melrose defender get in on the play just to bring him down.

It was the only game during this strange, shortened, spring season that didn’t come down to the wire for Wakefield who said goodbye to a group of seniors – Hurley, Stikeman, Driggers, O’Neil, Louis Sandonato, Keefe, Hopkins and Holman – who fought through more than any other class to give everything they had to the Wakefield football program. 

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