Drop 27-8 game against undefeated Red Raiders
Published in the November 27, 2015 edition.
By PAUL BUCKLEY
MELROSE — Last year Landrigan Field had to be shoveled. This year it was 50 degrees with bright sunshine at Fred Green Memorial Field for the 56th annual Thanksgiving Day Classic between the Wakefield Memorial High and Melrose High football teams.
Last year Wakefield scored first on a dramatic 85 yard return of the opening kickoff by Tighe Beck. This year Wakefield scored last on a dramatic 70 yard touchdown catch and run by Beck off a pass from quarterback Ned Buckley.
Last year the game was nip and tuck, with Super Bowl-bound Melrose pulling out a 15-14 win in the game’s waning moments. This year, however, Melrose never looked back after scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions in a 27-8 triumph over the Warriors
The Red Raiders (12-0) will go on to the Div. 3 Super Bowl on Dec. 5 with an unblemished record for a rematch with Dartmouth, while Wakefield finished the year with a 3-8 record.
Melrose leads the longstanding rivalry, 58-41-6, with yesterday’s game being the 105th meeting between the schools. The rivalry dates back to 1901. Wakefield, however, leads the Thanksgiving Day 29-24-3, which dates back to 1960.
The Warriors have lost four Thanksgiving Day games in a row and haven’t posted a November victory against the Red Raiders since they prevailed by a 3-0 score in 2011, the last time the Warriors played in a Super Bowl. Including regular season, playoffs and Thanksgiving, Melrose currently has a six game win streak over Wakefield. Wakefield’s last victory was a 17-14 overtime victory in September 2013.
Wakefield’s defense, led by senior linebackers Zack Kane and Evan Gourville, was impressive in the second half, forcing Melrose into four three-and-outs and allowing only one touchdown. However, the first half Warrior “D” gave up plays of 29, 79 and 41 yards that led directly to three Red Raider touchdowns.
“They caught us a couple of times in some misalignments and took advantage each time,” said Head Coach Steve Cummings who was running the Wakefield sideline for the first time in this storied rivalry.
At times the Wakefield offense was able to patiently move the ball in small doses between the 35 yard lines but could not get into the red zone all day, scoring its only touchdown on a long pass late in the game.
Beck, a senior, took the opening kickoff 19 yards to the Wakefield 32 yard line to set up the Warriors first possession. Buckley, a senior, gained four yards on a designed keeper up the middle and Beck then followed with five more yards on a jet sweep toward the far sideline to set up third-and-1. But Melrose senior lineman Alex Bookman got penetration and held Beck to no gain on a run up the middle out of the wildcat formation. After Wakefield’s punt went out of bounds at the Red Raider 31 yard line, Melrose got its first shot at the ball and did not come away empty handed.
On its first play from scrimmage, Red Raider senior running back Jay Tyler, who along with junior Mike Pedrini form a potent one-two punch for the Melrose ground game, went up the gut for 20 yards, crossing into Warrior territory. Melrose tried the same play again but this time Warrior senior lineman Logan Dunn dropped Tyler for a two yard loss.
Then senior quarterback Julian Nyland stepped up to take control of the drive. First, Nyland ran a quarterback keeper that gained seven yards and then hit senior receiver Will Brincheiro for another nine yards on a short pattern along the Melrose sideline. Sitting at the Wakefield 35 yard line on first down, Nyland went back to the well, sending Brincheiro out on the same sideline pattern, only running a deeper route. Nyland lofted the ball downfield hitting Brincheiro in stride for a 29 yard completion to the Wakefield 6 yard line.
Pedrini, a junior, Melrose’s star running back with the quick feet and good balance, then got the ball for the first time on a handoff from Nyland, and he made the most of it, patiently waiting for his blocks to develop before walking into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
Senior kicker Michael Cusolito converted the point after kick and Melrose led 7-0 four and a half minutes into the game. The drive took six plays, covering 69 yards, with two plays of 20 or more yards mixed in.
Wakefield then put together a slow and steady drive that used up the remainder of the first quarter, only to stall in the early moments of the second quarter. The drive started on the Wakefield 26 yard line with two pounding runs up the middle by senior fullback Kane that gained a combined seven yards. Melrose then jumped offside, their first of six procedure penalties on the day, to give Wakefield a first down at the 39 yard line.
Senior Paul McGunigle then got his first touches of the game, getting the ball three consecutive plays and advancing the ball a total of 11 yards. McGunigle’s first touch was a pitch to the Wakefield sideline that netted six yards. That was followed by a run up the middle for two yards and then a flair pass to just beyond the first down marker for another three yards. Buckley then hit Beck on a seam route for eight yards that might have gone for more if not for a sure handed tackle by junior defensive back Steve Abbott. Kane then got the call, advancing the ball five more yards on two consecutive runs as the first quarter came to an end.
As the second quarter began, the Wakefield drive ended as the Melrose defense stiffened. First, senior lineman Jaret Botelho got great penetration dropping McGunigle for no gain on a second-and-eight. Looking at a passing situation on third down, Melrose senior lineman Brian Mercer, all 6’5” and 220 pounds, bull rushed from his defensive end position and crushed Buckley for an eight yard loss, for the first of four Red Raider sacks on the day.
Junior punter Pat Leary got off a great punt pinning Melrose back at its own 15 yard line but the Red Raiders shifted field position dramatically on the next play from scrimmage. Pedrini took only his second handoff of the day and made a sensational cut at the line of scrimmage to get out into space along the hash marks closest to the Melrose sideline. From there it was a foot race, with Pedrini finally getting hauled down from behind at the Wakefield 6 yard line. The play covered 79 yards.
Two plays later, Tyler, with a strong second effort, punched it in from three yards out for a Melrose score. Cusolito added the extra point and the Red Raiders were up 14-0 with just over seven and a half minutes left in the first half.
The next Wakefield drive ended prematurely when the Warriors fumbled on its side of midfield to set up Melrose with a first down on the Warrior 42 yard line. Melrose went for the jugular immediately, with quarterback Nyland finding senior receiver Alex Burton behind the Warrior secondary for a 41 yard pass play down to the Wakefield 1 yard line. Pedrini got the call this time and he was able to wriggle free after initial contact to fall across the goal line for Melrose’s second touchdown within a three minute span.
The extra point kick was blocked but the Middlesex League Freedom division champion had themselves a 20-0 lead.
Wakefield tried to put together a drive to get back into the ballgame before halftime but once again the stout Melrose defensive line rose to the challenge at an opportune moment. After the Melrose score, junior Joe Marinaccio returned the kickoff 17 yards to the Wakefield 25 yard line. Wakefield then turned to its short passing game, along with its wildcat formation, to move the ball. Senior Nick Elcewicz took a bubble screen from Buckley for five yards before Marinaccio gained 10 more yards on two runs up the middle out of the wildcat.
Buckley then used the bubble screen to three different receivers to advance the ball into Melrose territory. While junior Carmen Sorrentino was only able to gain short yardage, Marinaccio showed speed, instinct and determination to gain 14 yards, while senior end Mike Moran battled to get five more yards on his reception. With a third and-five at the Melrose 40 yard line, and 1:20 showing on the game clock, the Red Raiders blitzed and Buckley’s efforts to elude the pass rush resulted in a 16 yard loss and a subsequent punt.
The half ended with Melrose in control at 20-0.
Melrose had won the opening toss but deferred in order to get the ball to start the second half. But the Red Raiders lost six yards on their opening drive due to strong run defense and a Melrose procedure penalty. A poor punt put Wakefield in good field position, at the Melrose 39 yard line, with a chance to climb back into the game on their first drive of the second half.
The drive started well enough with a five yard gain by Buckley off a scramble when the pass play broke down. But the opportunity went by the boards as the Warriors then lost 20 yards in field position on a single play. A 10 yard run by Marinaccio to the Melrose 24 yard line was nullified by a holding penalty which pushed Wakefield back to the 44 yard line. Wakefield could not recover and punted the ball away.
Melrose broke off another big chunk play on its next series when Pedrini scampered from his own 7 yard line out to the 39 yard line on first down. After another run only gained but a yard, the Warriors got the ball back when quarterback Nyland forced a throw into coverage only to be picked off by Wakefield’s Pat Leary, giving Wakefield a first down at midfield with four and a half minutes left in the quarter.
Unfortunately, entering the game Wakefield’s offensive line resembled that of the New England Patriots, as injuries to several players robbed the line of its depth.
“Our weakness today, a thin offensive line, played right into (Melrose’s) strength which is their defensive line,” observed Cummings in a post-game interview.
This offensive series seemed to bear this out as fatigue may have played a role at this point in the contest. Melrose got into the Warrior backfield on three consecutive plays, including two sacks, ending the drive before it got going.
Melrose took possession at its own 22 yard line after a Wakefield punt but could not find an offensive gear. A run and two passes combined to lose a yard. On the ensuing Melrose punt, however, the Red Raiders maintained possession at the Wakefield 45 as the officiating crew ruled the ball was touched by the Wakefield return man before Melrose downed the ball.
But for the third time in the third quarter alone, the Warrior defense did not allow a Red Raider first down. In fact, except for the big Pedrini run, Wakefield allowed minus six yards of offense in the third quarter.
Wakefield had the ball to start the fourth quarter at its own 7 yard line but could not gain field position and was forced to punt after a three-and-out. Melrose then put together its final scoring drive of the game, finally able to pierce the resurgent second half Warrior defense.
Starting at its own 49 yard line, Melrose overcame a procedure penalty to gain a first down on a 15 yard pass from Nyland to Abbott who made a nice toe-tapping reception along the Melrose sideline. Pedrini gained 18 yards on two run plays sandwiched around a five yard gain by Tyler to advance the ball inside the Warrior 20 yard line. Two negative run plays combined with an 11 yard seam route from Nyland to Abbott put the ball at the Wakefield 11 yard line. Tyler then followed perfect blocking on a counter play to find an alley into the end zone.
Cusolito nailed his third point after kick and Melrose extended its lead to 27-0. The 11 play drive ate up just under six minutes of clock.
Wakefield got the ball back on its own 30 yard line with just over two minutes left in its season.
Buckley dropped back on first down and immediately looked for Beck going down the Wakefield sideline. The senior quarterback let loose the final pass of his season, a deep rainbow, which turned into a jump ball. Beck won the battle with his defender, as he has several times this season in this situation, to make the catch and then turn and run untouched for a 70 yard touchdown play.
Kane took a direct snap and barged into the end zone for a two-point conversion. That made the final score 27-8 in favor of Melrose.
Nineteen seniors suited up for their last game for the Warrior football program including Brendan Baeringer, Tighe Beck, Ned Buckley, Zach Conlon, Logan Dunn, Nick Elcewicz, John Fils-Aime, Evan Gourville, Alex Jancsy, Zack Kane, Jose Lopez, Jr., Paul McGunigle, Matt Mercurio, Mike Moran, Devin Pronco, Kevin Russo, Brad Sletterink, Matt Smith and Ben Yandell. They were joined by four teammates — Mike Hagioglu, Nick Nice, Jared Regan and Eric Smith – who were lost to injury for the game.