Published in the September 24, 2018 edition.
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — The boys are back.
Following the return of seniors Danny Marinaccio, Derek Dimascio and Billy O’Keefe, the Wakefield Warriors (1-2) shut down the Wilmington (2-1) offense on their way to a 16-9 victory, their first of the 2018 season and first for new head coach John Rafferty.
“They finally got some reward for the hard work,” said Rafferty. “You always preach ‘you gotta work for it’ and it finally paid off. That was huge.”
Having those three keys seniors back was huge too. While a game like this requires a complete team effort, Wakefield jumped on the shoulders of captain Marinaccio who turned in two touchdowns and 94 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Marinaccio also played a great game at linebacker, driving the defense and flying around the field to help shut down the Wildcats’ offense. Which side of the ball did Marinaccio make the biggest difference?
“That’s a good question,” said Rafferty. “He was great on both sides. Offensively, he had some tough runs, those were big for us.”
O’Keefe and Dimascio, who also missed the first two games of the season, contributed plenty as well. O’Keefe was an edge-rushing menace at defensive end all night, and had three catches for 16 yards offensively. Dimascio, whose snaps were limited in his first game back, was especially impressive as a lead-blocker for Marinaccio.
Billy O’Keefe set the tone defensively on Wilmington’s first play from scrimmage, blowing up a run in the backfield for a two-yard loss.
After forcing a punt, Wakefield stalled on their first possession but O’Keefe made another great play on Wilmington’s next drive, reading a pitch and getting a five-yard loss. That led to a second Wildcat punt, which set up another O’Keefe to bring the decibel level up at Landrigan Field. Junior Michael O’Keefe caught the ball at his own 45 and tore up the middle of the field for 46 yards, bringing it down to the Wilmington 9. Wilmington’s defensive line stood up to the red zone task, and forced a 23-yard field goal attempt which Wakefield sophomore Danny Hurley nailed for a 3-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Hurley followed that with a deep drive on the kickoff and Joe Alden made the tackle at the 14, putting the pressure on Wilmington quarterback Andrew Sullivan. On first down, Sullivan didn’t take four steps on a drop-back before junior defensive tackle Taaj Andrews was bringing him down and ripping the football out in the process. Andrews fought for the ball at the bottom of a scrum and got a little help from Marinaccio who came away with it as Wakefield took over at the 13.
Lucey found Billy O’Keefe for a five-yard jump ball on first down and Marinaccio took it six yards to the two before punching a two-yard touchdown in for his first score of the season and a 10-0 lead.
Wakefield’s defense was excellent at reading options and screen passes all night. Sophomore corner Tucker Stikeman strung out a screen on Wilmington’s third down on their next possession, giving Wakefield the ball on their own 30. The Warriors’ first mistake of the game came on a botched hand-off between Lucey and Marinaccio. Like a true captain, Lucey put the play out his mind immediately as he ran out to his safety spot and made a great tackle on Wilmington’s first down as it was the secondary’s turn to shine. Senior Lorenzo Bell defended a pass on third down to force a 35-yard kick which Wilmington’s Adam Bishop hit to make the halftime score 10-3.
Marinaccio’s tackle on a third down quarterback draw during Wilmington’s first possession of the second half forced a punt.
The Warriors then put together an 11-play, five-minute drive, starting at their own 39. Wakefield overcame a holding call when Lucey scrambled for 18 yards on 1st-and-20. Marinaccio, who carried six times on this drive, had a 13-yard run to get it into the red zone. Later facing a 3-and-9 from the 17, Lucey found Billy O’Keefe for five yards, creating a more manageable 4th-and-4 that Rafferty decided to put in the hands of Marinaccio who picked up six tough yards for a massive first down. The captain got it again on first down, following a nice lead block from Dimascio and a nasty jump cut, Marinaccio got in the end zone for a six-yard score, his second of the night. The offensive line, including Andrews, Hurley, Dan LaMonica, Liam Cosgrove and Anthony DeVito opened up a great running lane, and continues to rapidly improve each game.
The point after was blocked as Wakefield took a 16-3 lead.
The Warrior offense drained the clock for most of the second half, but Wilmington struck for a big 36-yard touchdown pass from Sullivan to Kyle Kenyon with just under three minutes left. Stikeman blocked the PAT to keep the score at 16-9.
The Wildcats got the ball back at midfield with 2:15 remaining, leaving it up to the defense to officially get this win. Three incompletes set up a 4th-and-10. Sullivan threw a desperation pass 20 yards down the field and Lucey was on the spot for an interception. Wilmington got it back with just 18 seconds left and safety Michael O’Keefe wrapped this one up with his second pick of the season as the Warriors got a big win in their first league game.
Wakefield executed on Friday night, but this performance was earned in practice throughout the week.
“Now we have tangible evidence,” said Rafferty. “This is what you can expect if you work hard at it.”
Wakefield is 1-2, but 1-0 in league play. That’s all that matters right now. They will look to keep the momentum up next week when they host Stoneham, who Rafferty coached as the defensive coordinator for the last three seasons. The Spartans beat an up-and-coming Burlington team 44-14 last week, and will no doubt be a tough test, but if Wakefield earns it again in practice against this week, anything can happen.
“I told them ‘lets continue this process and continue to improve,’” said Rafferty. “‘It’s back to work on Monday. Lets work even harder.’”