MELROSE — When the Burlington High football team scored on its first two possessions there was indeed hope.
But then when the second half started the same things that hurt Burlington in six previous games came back to haunt the Red Devils again. Melrose took advantage by scoring three unanswered second-half touchdowns, to pull away to a 33-14 victory over Burlington, in a game held at Green Field Friday night.
The Red Raiders moved the ball effectively behind quarterback Trevor Botto. The senior completed 7 of 13 passes for 135 yards and three touchdown passes. Botto also ran for 97 yards on 11 carries and a TD. Running backs Liam Maher (56 rushing yards) and Shea Fogarty (one TD) also ran well.
The Red Devils did get good rushing efforts from quarterback Ronan Noke (68 yards on 16 carries), and running back Adam Eldeeb (14-61), and both had touchdown runs. But after taking a 14-7 lead, mistakes, penalties, and turnovers caused Burlington to fall behind for good in the second half.
“We were up 14-7, but then we read a play wrong and allowed a touchdown run to end the first half,” said Burlington head coach Dan MacKay. “We were still looking good up 14-13 competing like crazy, but then in the second half we were down two starters in our offensive line and we simply got worn down.”
The Red Devils wasted no time going 65 yards in seven plays to score on their opening drive. Several short runs by Noke and Eldeeb moved the ball to the Melrose 28, before Noke took the next carry up the middle and into the end zone for the score. Josh Pupa’s extra-point kick gave Burlington a quick 7-0 lead.
The Red Raiders wasted even less time answering back, for on the third play of their first possession from their own 42-yard line, Botto tossed a pass to Jamie Haggerty who caught it near the right sideline, and took it to the end zone for the score. Zach Federico’s extra-point kick instantly tied the game at 7-7.
But the Red Devils, starting their next possession on their own 28-yard line, launched an impressive 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Short runs by Noke and Eldeeb, and an 11-yard pass from Noke to Charlie Hanafin, moved the ball to the Melrose 28-yard line.
Then on the first play of the second quarter Eldeeb took the next carry around left end and into the end zone for the score. Pupa’s extra-point kick gave Burlington a 14-7, and things were looking good for the Red Devils at that point.
Although Burlington fumbled a punt after Melrose went three-and-out on its next possession, the Red Devils got the ball right back when Aman Hirani picked off a pass by Botto and returned it just past midfield.
But with a golden opportunity to go up two scores, the Red Devils could only pick up one first down before stalling out, and Burlington gave up the ball on downs at the Melrose 33-yard line.
“In the first half we did some good things, but a holding penalty killed us again when we had a chance to go up 21-7, and we couldn’t recover from it,” said MacKay. “We played hard, but then more penalties, a muffed punt, and missed opportunities to increase our lead hurt us in the first half.”
The Red Raiders then gained the game’s momentum for good and started a seven-play, 67-yard drive. A 12-yard run by Botto, aided by a Burlington personal foul penalty, moved the ball to the Burlington 20.
Then Botto took the next carry up the middle into the end zone for the score, to cut Melrose’s deficit to 14-13.
The score with just 42 seconds left in the first half, along with Melrose receiving the second-half kickoff, gave the Red Raiders a chance for a ‘double-score’ on both sides of halftime, and they took advantage of it. On the first play of the third quarter Botto ran the ball 35 yards to the Burlington 30-yard line.
After a nine-yard run by Maher advanced the ball to the Burlington 21, Botto hit Haggerty again with a pass, this time in the end zone for the score, which gave Melrose its first lead of the game, 19-14.
After the Red Devils went three-and-out, the Red Raiders, starting on their own 36, started another scoring drive. A big 18-yard run by Maher helped move the ball to the Burlington 27. Then Shea Fogerty took the next carry into the end zone for the score, and Federico’s extra-point kick extended Melrose’s lead to 26-14.
Still only down two scores, the Red Devils started their next possession at midfield and launched their most serious second-half scoring bid. But after several short runs moved the ball to the Melrose 37, a penalty and an eight-yard loss pushed Burlington back to midfield, where it eventually lost the ball on downs.
“We had the looks we wanted, but we could see it during their first drive of the second half when they ripped a 35-yard run, and then scored two plays later,” said MacKay. “Then we had one good drive in the second half, but we got called for an illegal formation and eventually we gave up the ball on downs.”
The Red Devils stopped Melrose’s next drive which extended into the fourth quarter at the Burlington 15 and got the ball back after a missed field goal try. But the Red Devils couldn’t move the ball, as two pass attempts by Noke were both knocked down by Melrose linemen, and Burlington punted the ball away.
“Offensively we were running and moving the football, which set up our play-action the way we wanted to,” said MacKay. “But when we stopped running the ball we struggled since Melrose knew we were going to pass, and their defensive line did a phenomenal job batting down our passes when we had guys open.”
The Red Raiders then drove 58 yards in eight plays, which was capped by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Botto to Rob Colozzo, for the game’s final score with three minutes remaining, to put just its second win of the season safely away.
Despite the outcome which left the Red Devils winless through seven games this season, MacKay did give credit to his team’s skill position players, and the effort by Burlington in the first half. While the second half didn’t go the Red Devils way, MacKay hopes his squad can keep fighting and try to improve moving forward.
“I felt both Ronan (Noke) and Adam (Eldeeb) ran the ball well, and overall we played hard and competed in the first half,” said MacKay. “But in the second half we made mistakes and didn’t make play at inopportune times. We just have to keep battling, and I’m confident things will work out in our favor eventually.”
Burlington next plays on Friday when it hosts undefeated Stoneham at Varsity Field (6 p.m.).