James Murphy

READING QB JAMES MURPHY set a new career passing yardage record (5058) while tying for the school record with 5 TD passes in Friday’s win. The Rockets won the Middlesex League Liberty Division title with their 46-21 win over Lexington.

LEXINGTON — With one championship assured, the Reading High football team begins its quest for another one.

The Rockets defended their Middlesex League Liberty Division title with a 46-21 victory against Lexington on Friday afternoon at Dr. Harold Crumb Field.

Reading takes an 8-0 record into the MIAA Division 2 state playoffs, which begin this weekend. The MIAA will announce the first-round matchups on Monday. The Rockets were ranked eighth in Division 2 going into Friday’s game and should remain somewhere in the middle of the 16-team bracket when the MIAA announces its parings.

“We’re pleased with how it went,” said Reading coach John Fiore. “We’re 8-0, going into the playoffs and we’ll see how it goes.”

For the second time in three weeks, Reading fell behind early. The Minutemen got on the board at the end of the game’s first series, with Ahmad Hanberry carrying the ball for an 18-yard touchdown.

After that, Reading scored four straight touchdowns with four straight successful two-point conversions to go up 32-7 before Lexington closed the half with Nelson Mandes-Stephens hitting Pierce Cattier for a 17-yard touchdown pass to cut the Rockets’ halftime lead to 32-14.

“It’s a little disappointing that that’s how it was,” Fiore said. “We just have to focus. Once we got going we did a lot of good things.”

Reading quickly took the lead on the ensuing kickoff. Colby Goodchild returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. He carried for the two-point conversion that put Reading up, 8-7.

The Rockets held that lead for the rest of the first quarter. They built on it at the beginning of the second quarter, when with 11:09 remaining in the half, James Murphy threw his first of five touchdown passes, a 14-yarder in the middle of the end zone to Ryan Strout. Goodchild added the conversion rush.

Murphy’s five TDs tied the school record of Chris Pizzotti who tossed five TDs in the 2003 Burlington game. The junior QB also surpassed Drew Belcher (Class ‘14) for career passing yards as Murphy now has 5058.

Lexington (1-6) faked a punt at the end of its next series, with the direct snap going to the upback, Hanberry. Jon Lawrence stopped him for no gain at the Minutemen’s 35. Two plays later, Murphy connected with Jesse Doherty for a seven-yard touchdown pass. On the preceding play, Murphy passed to Alex DiNapoli for 28 yards to the 7. Goodchild rushed for his third conversion.

Reading’s final touchdown of the half was an 18-yarder from Murphy to Aidan Bekkenhuis, who caught the ball on the right sideline and dove just inside the pylon for the score. Bekkenhuis also took an indirect snap and rushed for the conversion.

“They were who we thought they were,” said Lexington coach Shane Wilson. “They’re an excellent football team. They’re very patient. They see what you can do and capitalize on it. With [Murphy] they’re a lot of RPOs (run/pass options) and he makes the reads very well.”

Murphy completed 15 of 21 passes for 261 yards. Bekkenhuis caught his second touchdown pass from Murphy on a 40-yard play with 8:43 remaining in the third quarter on the opening possession of the second half. Murphy passed to Doherty for the conversion.

After Max Leone recovered a fumble at the Lexington 26, the Rockets scored their final touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Murphy to Strout with 5:08 remaining in the third.

During the series, Strout, who caught six passes for 70 yards during the afternoon, also threw a pass. On first down at the Lexington 14, he caught an overhand lateral from Murphy near the right sideline. He threw to Parick DuRoss, who made the catch for a 6-yard gain to the 8.

DuRoss also came up with a sack for the Rockets late in the third quarter.

Joseph Suh scored Lexington’s final touchdown on a 5-yard run while the clock was running with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter.

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