READING — The Reading High football team has been in many memorable, high-stakes games this past decade, and not all of them have been in the playoffs. Two have taken place on Thanksgiving against neighboring rival Stoneham, a series which since 2013 has produced plenty of highlights and wild finishes.
These games are listed in ascending numerical order, not any particular ranking.
But, if we had to go with our top two, it’s hard to top the 2012 Super Bowl win over Mansfield, a team which had handed the Rockets a stunning overtime loss in the Super Bowl just two years prior at Gillette Stadium. Reading was the better team entering that game but the revenge factor made the win all the sweeter.
The biggest upset in this list is easily a 2015 win over Marshfield. The Rams were riding a 22-game win streak and coming off an undefeated Super Bowl championship season the year prior. But Reading shocked the Rams, 28-14.
On to the list:
READING 15, DRACUT 14 (2010)
Rockets "Two Good" for Dracut in Div. 2 semifinal
Trailing Dracut, 14-13, after scoring a touchdown with four minutes to play in the first round of the Div. 2 playoffs, Reading broke huddle from the sidelines and came in without its kicker.
The Rockets were going for the two-point conversion and the win.
Using every bit of his 6-5 frame, quarterback Brian Bourque leapt over a pileup at the goal line and into the end zone. Two clutch sacks by All-Scholastic defensive end Jeff Covitz later, the Rockets (12-0) held for a wild 15-14 final at Birch Meadow and advanced to their second straight Div. 2 Super Bowl.
Dracut’s explosive duo of quarterback Matt Silva and receiver Chris Malonis were as good as advertised. Silva threw two touchdown passes to Malonis, including a go-ahead 17-yard scoring strike with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter.
But as terrific as Silva was, Bourque was clutch when it counted.
Following Dracut’s go-ahead touchdown, Reading’s senior quarterback guided the Rockets on an 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive. The drive was literally all Bourque and he was perfect (5-for-5 passing for 38 yards and five carries for 28 yards on the drive), including a seven-yard touchdown run up the middle with 4:03 to play.
Reading lined up to kick the extra point but Dracut jumped offsides, moving the ball from the three-yard line to roughly the one and a half. With the narrow strip of real estate separating it from victory, head coach John Fiore opted to go for two.
Larry Gilligan and Zack Bates provided lead blocking and Bourque ran right behind the blocks of Anthony Fodera and Covitz, then leaped over the top for the two-point conversion. Reading survived a final Dracut drive to win the game.
READING 27, MANSFIELD 7 (2012)
“Reading Revenge Tour” reaches its final destination
The “Reading Revenge Tour” reached its final destination on a snowy Saturday afternoon at Bentley University in the EMass Div. 2 Super Bowl. Reading had exacted some payback the week prior against Tewksbury in the semifinals, a team that knocked it out of the playoffs in 2011. But payback against Mansfield — a team which it lost to 29-26 at Gillette Stadium in the Super Bowl in 2010, still fresh in the memories of some of Reading’s players—was even sweeter.
In the end the Rockets handed the Hornets a convincing 27-7 defeat. Tailback Alex Valente rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries — including a school record 99-yard touchdown run that put him over 1,000 yards on the season — while quarterback Drew Belcher threw a touchdown that set a new single-season school record (21) and ran for another score.
The star of the game was the Reading defense. The Rockets’ D had an enormous goal line stand, turning away the Hornets four times on a first and goal at the five at a critical juncture of the game. It also had two interceptions, including one by safety Chris Godwin in the end zone to halt one Mansfield scoring attempt. Jared Barros returned a second interception 75 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put the Super Bowl trophy on ice.
Despite the lopsided final score Mansfield took an early lead. Robert Rapoza — one of two 1,000-yard rushers on the Hornets — returned the opening kickoff 72 yards to the Reading 10-yard line, and two plays later Kyle Wisnieski connected with Brendan Hill for a touchdown pass.
Reading immediately responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive to close the gap to 7-6. Valente had a 51-yard run to the Mansfield four where Belcher plowed in for the touchdown.
Mansfield answered again with a 42-yard pass completion down the seam to the Reading five-yard line. But then came the turning point of the game. The Hornets took four cracks at the end zone but Reading turned them away, including two stops at the one-yard line by Peter Fodera and Andrew Bourque on third and fourth down. Reading took over at its own one-yard line, and Valente’s shocking 99-yard touchdown run gave Reading a lead it would never relinquish.
With the win the Rockets wrapped up a perfect 13-0 season, matching a school record for wins set by the 2009 Div. 2 Super Bowl champion squad.
READING 44, STONEHAM 36, 3 overtimes (2013)
“Triple the fun for Reading”
Reading had a 2013 season highlighted by comebacks and wild fourth-quarter finishes, but what transpired against Stoneham went down as the most improbable win of the year, easily one of the most memorable finishes in school history. In all likelihood this was the best Thanksgiving Day game ever played between the two schools (though 2018 would turn out to be pretty awesome, too — see below).
The Rockets (8-2) scored 24 unanswered points in the final 6:05 of regulation to tie the game at 30-all, then got a game-winning seven-yard touchdown run from quarterback Drew Belcher (six total touchdowns; three rushing, three passing) in the third overtime to stun visiting Stoneham, 44-36 in the 79th annual Thanksgiving meeting between the two teams.
Stoneham (5-6) built a 30-6 lead early in the third quarter by pounding the Rockets with hard between the tackles running. Reading seemingly had no answers to the Spartans’ potent ground game.
But behind the legs and arm of Belcher (26 carries, 112 yards, 3 TDs; 16 of 29 passing, 183 yards, 3 TDs), the Rockets put together a fourth-quarter comeback for the ages that left Stoneham stunned, and Reading head coach John Fiore in tears as he addressed his team in a post-game speech.
In addition to a monster game from Belcher, the Rockets got tremendous contributions from linebacker/fullback Liam Kenneally (13 tackles, interception; receiving touchdown and two two-point conversion runs), and little-used junior wide receiver Will Murray. Murray hauled in two touchdown receptions from Belcher in the fourth quarter and had a key tackle of Keskinidis in the final overtime. He also had an interception. Afterwards, in a scene reminiscent of “Rudy,” Reading players hoisted Murray overhead in the middle of the field in celebration.
READING 28, MARSHFIELD 14 (2015)
“Upset for the ages” sends Reading to the Super Bowl
Coaches and players on the Reading High football team had this one circled on the calendar for months. When the season began they knew the biggest obstacle on their road to Gillette Stadium was an undefeated team out of the South loaded with Div. 1 collegiate talent.
That laser-like focus paid off with its biggest win of the year — and one of the most improbable victories in the recent history of the football program. Behind four touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing) from senior wide receiver Will Connery and a monster “all 11” effort by its defense, the Rockets upset previously undefeated Div. 2 South champion Marshfield, 28-14, in the Div. 2 state semifinals at Cawley Stadium.
Reading advanced to the Div. 2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium to face Central champion Nashoba, where it unfortunately came up short. But the semifinal game had the atmosphere and feel of a championship clash.
Marshfield, the defending state champion in Div. 2, had a 22-game win streak snapped with the loss. The Rams had two Div. 1 players on its roster in Shane Leonard (BC) and Danny Dalton (Penn State) and a third, Fred Allen, who went on the play at the Div. 1A (FCS) level. But Reading was the better all-around team that day.
“We ran into a better team today, that’s plain and simple. We made some mistakes, they didn’t make too many,” said a dejected Marshfield head coach Lou Silva. “They executed on both sides of the ball very well, they’re well-coached, they were better than us today.”
Quarterback Corey DiLoreto (12 of 19 passing, 190 yards, three touchdowns) saved his best game of the season for the biggest stage. Marshfield had a big, rugged defense and keyed on single-season school record holder tailback D’Aundray Burcy (19 carries, 54 yards), holding him to his second-lowest rushing total of the season. But that left Connery and Sam Patterson locked up in one-on-one battles on the outside. The Rockets’ receivers won most of those battles, especially Connery, whose speed and elusiveness in the open field left Marshfield defenders grasping at air.
Reading’s outstanding defensive line of Sean Valente, John O’Brien, Hunter Atwood and Jake Malinski limited the Rams to just 87 yards on the ground. Junior linebacker Jack Gohr had seven tackles, an interception, and a de-cleating hit on Dalton.
READING 28, STONEHAM 26, OT (2018)
Sannella’s “2-minute drill” leads Rockets in handing Super Bowl champion Stoneham its only loss
Trailing 20-6 with 4:04 left to play in the 84th annual Thanksgiving series, quarterback Matt Sannella guided his team on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the final four minutes, then ran in the game-winning touchdown and two point conversion in an improbable 28-26 come-from-behind overtime win.
Reading (8-3) handed Middlesex League Freedom champion Stoneham (11-1) its first loss of the season and snapped a two-game losing streak on Thanksgiving.
Just as in 2013 Stoneham was running the ball at will on the Rockets in this game, but Reading’s defense forced a critical three and out—Stoneham only punt of the entire game — and with just under three minutes to play Sannella led the Rockets on a game-tying 79-yard touchdown drive to send the game to overtime.
On the last drive of regulation Sannella found Jake D’Agostino for an 18-yard completion to the 32, then threaded the needle with a beautiful pass to Javon Nortelus at the sideline to get within striking distance of the end zone at the 18. It appeared the Rockets would be finished there, as Sannella’s first two passes fell incomplete, and a snap from center sailed clear over his head on third down. But, undeterred, Sannella picked up the loose ball, ran to buy some time and re-orient himself, then fired an 18-yard touchdown to DuRoss in the end zone. Reading was stopped on the two-point conversion.
Reading got the ball first in overtime, and Sannella scored from five yards out on a QB keep. Critically, Sannella added the two-point conversion on a rush up the middle through a yawning hole behind the blocks of Robert Yandle, Will Hattery, and Dan Bekkenhuis.
Trailing 28-20 Stoneham had an opportunity to answer and Seth Russell needed just one play to score, darting in off the left side for a 10-yard touchdown run.
On the two-point conversion the Spartans opted for the same bread-and-butter play that had hurt the Rockets all game long — a sweep around end by Christos Agyropoulous (game high 162 rushing yards, two touchdowns) — but this time a host of tacklers led by D’Agostino, John DiMare, Colin Comerford and others were there to stop him short of the end zone and start the celebration.