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UPDATED 8:35 P.M.
With only a handful of ticks left on the clock and the Red Raiders facing a fourth-and-goal situation and trailing by three points, Melrose High head football coach Tim Morris had a difficult decision to make: put the ball in the hands of his kicking team, which had already botched a pair of field goals, or give it to senior captain Spencer Walsh, who had been his most consistent weapon all game long.
Morris opted for the latter, and the Wakefield defense enveloped Walsh well shy of the goal line, preserving a narrow 3-0 Thanksgiving Day win for the Warriors before a standing room-only crowd of over 2,000 spectators at the newly refurbished Fred Green Field at Melrose High.
The victory leaves Wakefield in sole possession of the Middlesex League Small School title, and will face Marblehead in the opening game of the Division 2A playoffs. The game date and time is still TBA as of this writing.
“Our regular field goal kicker wasn’t with us today, but we have a couple of guys who work on (field goals),” explained Morris. “The decision to go ahead and (run on fourth down) was mine, and it was a good one, I thought. We thought about (kicking), but decided that putting the ball in Spencer Walsh’s hands was a good bet too ... We've put points on the board that way all season long."
“He’s a special football player and a special kid ... Some college is going to be very happy to have him next year.”
Walsh carried the ball 17 times for 91 yards, and Melrose (8-3, 2-3 league) played a superb game, on both sides of the ball to limit Wakefield’s potent offense to under 100 yards on the day, but a few quirky plays made the difference and the Warriors were able to find a way to win and lock up the Middlesex League Small title all for themselves.
“My defense played exceptionally well all game,” said Wakefield head coach Mike Boyages. “I give Melrose a lot of credit, I thought their defense played outstanding. We’ve been able to move the ball, we’re a high scoring team and they really did a nice job on our offense.”
Odd Play Leads to Missed Melrose Points
Early in the final frame, the Red Raiders had a chance to break the scoreless tie with a field goal, following a C.J. Leach fumble recovery on a Wakefield (9-2, 4-2 league) punt return that left Melrose in excellent field position at the Warriors’ 25-yard line.
What ensued was a play that will surely become part of the lore of this rivalry.
Melrose, who was without the services of its usual kicker for unspecified reasons, had already missed a field goal attempt in the first half, and when Brett Barbati went to kick the ball this time, something went horribly wrong. The kick didn’t appear to get blocked, but nonetheless, it warbled off to the left and settled into the arms of Wakefield’s Nick Calderone in the end zone.
Ironically, Calderone was the ball carrier who lost the football on the aforementioned punt return, and as he raced out of his own goal and streaked down the field, he was surely wearing a grin of redemption inside his helmet as only a tremendous heads-up play by C.J. Hanson at the Melrose 29-yard line kept him from crossing the goal line.
“That was a really freaky play,” said Boyages. “I’ve been coaching a long time, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that. I thought (Calderone) was going to run it back all the way.”
Morris added his take on the fluky play.
“It was kind of like a delayed reaction,” he said of his special teams unit’s response to the botched kick and return. “That play is not a common play in football. But overall, I think our line on both sides of the ball played well.”
Starting Center Steps in For Wakefield Kicking Game
After several Dan Cardillo rushes, Wakefield finally grabbed its first lead of the game, with 5:33 left to play, when Joe Pacitto split the uprights with a field goal. Pacitto, a senior, normally an offensive lineman, got the nod from head coach Mike Boyages, despite a tendency towards inconsistency kicking the ball, over sophomore Brian Auld because of the latter’s experience.
“Joe Pacitto is our starting center,” Boyages explained. “He either kicks it into the line or kicks it 40 yards...(Auld) is a young kicker, he’s a sophomore and his range is about 35-yards. A lot of our guys were saying ‘let’s go with the senior.’ He has the stronger leg, but he’s been inconsistent, but it worked out.”
Melrose was able to drive all the way down to the Wakefield nine-yard line before Walsh was denied the goal line as time ran out on the game and the Red Raiders’ season.
What offense Wakefield was able to create against the Red Raiders came largely from the efforts of senior signal caller Josh Puccio who carried the ball nine times for 54 yards, while Cardillo gained 16 yards on five carries.
“I think we made more plays than they did,” lamented Morris. “We played outstanding defense and moved the ball, at times, very well. We just couldn’t put it in, although we certainly got close enough.”
Melrose played a great game, and although the result didn’t go their way, no team this season has given Wakefield such a headache, or so decisively shut down its high-scoring attack. Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, they didn’t get the bounces and Wakefield’s defense did enough when it needed to. Brian Reale rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries and was 4-for-12 for 72 yards through the air, while Hanson collected 36 rushing yards.
Recent Dominance Continues
This year marks the 97th time Wakefield and Melrose have met on the football field, as the two schools first played in 1901—some 110 years ago. The year this rivalry began, England bade farewell to one of its most revered monarchs, as Queen Victoria was laid to rest, and the United States and Great Britain concluded the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, in which the latter formally ceded control over the Panama Canal Zone to the former and business mogul John Pierpont Morgan concluded the first billion dollar business deal in world history. The rivalry has survived two presidential assassinations and two world wars, and continues on undaunted.
Melrose and Wakefield have met each year, without a break, since 1918 and ever since 1960, they have played on Thanksgiving Day.
While the Red Raiders enjoy the all-time series advantage at 51-40-6, they have won just three times since 1990 (90, 92, 07).