Wildcats take 20-0 lead, hold on in first league game of 2017

WAKEFIELD’s defense came up with a big stand in the red zone during Wilmington’s first drive of the third quarter. From left to right are Billy O’Keefe (88), Alex Joly (53), Taaj Andrews, Devin O’Brien, Dan Cataldo (55) and Marc Biennestin (5). The Warriors debuted their new uniforms donated to the program by WMHS class of ‘88 alum Andrew Lombara. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Published in the September 25, 2017 edition.


WILMINGTON — Wakefield football came into Wilmington for their first league game riding a wave from the previous week’s 28-13 win over Winchester. The Wildcats came into this game with even more confidence after winning their first two games of the season over Shawsheen and Bedford by a combined score of 68-27.

Wilmington jumped on the Warriors from the very first snap, creating a deficit that ended up being too great to overcome as the Wildcats 20-0 lead in the second quarter. Wakefield came back, scoring two unanswered touchdowns to cut the lead to 20-15 at the half, which is how the game ended.

After a Wakefield three-and-out to start the game, the Wildcats drove 70 yards on ten plays to take a 6-0 lead. Senior running back John Kenney got off to a great start, rushing eight times for 52 yards. The Wildcats scored on a 7-yard pass from junior quarterback Andrew Sullivan to senior receiver Tyler Roberts.

The Warriors went three-and-out again on the next drive unlocking a door that Roberts kicked down with a burst through the left sideline on the first play of the drive for a 65-yard score. After another failed two-point conversion, the Wildcats had a 12-0 lead before Wakefield could get their bearings. The Warriors stalled again on their next drive, bringing the first quarter to a close.

The Wildcats picked up the second frame exactly where they left off. After Wakefield forced a third and long, Sullivan completed a 20-yard pass to senior Patrick Carroll, a sequence that knocked the wind out of the Warrior defense. On the next play, Kenney took a handoff 54 yards for another Wilmington touchdown, and after a successful two-point conversion, the Wildcats led 20-0.

“We didn’t show up the first 17 minutes of this game,” said Wakefield head coach Steve Cummings. “We were giving up long runs, not executing assignments, not using our hands defensively, we were out-gapped in places. We spotted them 20 and that was too big of a hole to try to come out of.”

Despite the dizzying start, the Warriors did battle back, led by senior co-captain Ryan Fitzpatrick. After the fourth consecutive three-and-out to start the game for Wakefield, the defense got a stop and forced a punt, that Sullivan mishit out of bounds at the Wilmington 17 yard line. Wakefield switched their offense up, ironically shifting to a Wildcat formation to get some much-needed yardage. Fitzpatrick took a direct snap for five yards on first down, then took another one on second down for a 12-yard score. After a Dan Hurley point after, the Warriors trailed 20-7 with just over four minutes to play in the half.

Wakefield’s defense got the jump they needed, as they stuffed a couple of running attempts from Kenney and forced another third and long. This time, senior cornerback Andrew Miller picked off the pass and returned it 21 yards, creating a great opportunity for Wakefield to change the script of the first half. Junior QB Mike Lucey came back in on third-and-nine to loft a nice pass down the left sideline to Fitzpatrick for 18 yards. On first down from the 15, senior Henry Stikeman (six carries, 24 yards) ran 11 yards to make it first and goal from the five. From there, it took Fitzpatrick two carries to get into the end zone and after a wild extra point attempt that saw co-captain Brendan Coughlin roll out and find Derek Dimascio in the end zone instead of holding the ball for a kick, the Warriors had cut the lead to 20-15 as they ran into the locker room with all of the momentum.

“We finally got caught up and were making some plays,” said Cummings. “If we had been playing like that from the start then it’s a much different result.”

The Wildcats began the second half with another long drive, highlighted by a 34-yard scamper from Kenney. Carroll ended up getting in the end zone on fourth down from the four yard-line but it was brought back 10 yards on a holding call, and Stikeman broke up the ensuing pass giving Wakefield another burst of energy. The Warriors put together a nice drive, highlighted by a 14-yard carry from Fitzpatrick. Wakefield took the ball to Wilmington’s 41, and Fitzpatrick picked up another first down that was brought back by a holding call that ended up being one of the biggest plays of the day. The Warriors stalled and punted, bringing the third quarter to an end as the drive took about six minutes off the clock. The Wildcats did a great job of milking the clock in the final quarter, letting their senior workhorse continue to grind for tough yards. John Kenney finished with 25 carries, 190 yards and a touchdown for Wilmington.

The Warriors had two more drives to make something happen, thanks in large part to a defense that put together an excellent performance in the second half. Sophomore lineman Taaj Andrews showed what he was capable of as a nose tackle in a 3-4, and surely earned himself more playing time in the future.

Senior linebacker Dan Cataldo was also fantastic in the second half. His highlight play came with about six minutes left, when on second and 8, the Wildcats attempted a screen pass that Cataldo read all the way as he blew up the play for a six-yard loss, forcing Wilmington to play it safe on third and long and punt it away on fourth down. Sullivan shanked another punt after Coughlin put the pressure on and nearly got a hand on it, creating an opportunity for Wakefield at the Wilmington 40. Fitzpatrick (14 carries, 75 yards, two touchdowns) picked up eight yards on first down, but with time winding down, the Warriors couldn’t pick up the final two yards on three straight running plays, bringing the game to an end.

When it was all said and done, Wakefield will most definitely look back on this one as a missed opportunity. A loss is never about blame, especially in such a closely contested matchup, but coach Cummings was prepared to wear this one for his team.

“I’ll take the full blame on this one,” said Cummings. “I had a football team that wasn’t ready to play tonight when the ball was kicked off and that’s on me.”

While it was most definitely a tough way to start league play, the Warriors have the type of leaders who will be ready for another challenge on the road against Stoneham this week. The emphasis will be the energy at the start of the game, which is something that the players must cultivate amongst themselves starting in practice.

“I told the guys we can’t pick and choose. The game kicks off at seven, you have to be ready to play at seven; tonight we weren’t and that’s on me.”