READING — For the third time in four years the Stoneham High football team beat Reading on Thanksgiving, and its latest win in the series was by far the most convincing.
Led by Deshawn Chase (20 carries, 200 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Chris Dragone (9 carries, 120 yards, 2 TDs), the Spartans literally and figuratively ran the Rockets off Hollingsworth Field, 37-6, in the 85th meeting of the two teams on Thanksgiving. When the Field Turf settled, the Spartans rushed for an unbelievable 441 yards on 58 carries and five touchdowns, all on the ground.
Stoneham (8-3) still trails the overall series 63-18-4, but at least for now has reasserted itself as the team to the beat in the rivalry between the two neighboring towns. With the loss the Rockets ended their season at 8-3.
The game appeared to be a close one on paper, but Reading entered the game missing three key starters, including two of its stout defensive linemen (Thomas O’Brien and Sean Bekkenhuis), and inside linebacker Nick Bates. That recipe spelled disaster against Stoneham’s big, strong offensive line and run heavy Wing-T offense.
Stoneham was coming off a close 25-20 loss to Bishop Fenwick last week that left it one game short of the Div. 6 Super Bowl at Gillette. Head coach Bob Almeida was worried that his team would be flat and uninspired yesterday, but his fears proved very much unfounded.
“I was really worried last week about how it was going to affect us emotionally, because the kids were so down. The world was over and that was it,” Almeida said. “The kids rallied it up the way you want it to, they battled back, we got our minds right, and when these guys minds are right, they’re a hell of a talented team. I believe we’re as talented as last year and they went out and proved it today.”
Reading’s lone bright spot came from freshman quarterback James Murphy. Murphy threw for 173 yards on 11 of 26 passing with a touchdown to finish with 2,025 yards and 22 TD passes on the season. Both set new school single-season records.
The Rockets hung in for a half and left a couple scores off the board that could have made it a more competitive game. After Stoneham struck first with a 50-yard Dragone touchdown run to open up a 6-0 lead, Murphy connected with senior wide receiver Colin DuRoss on a 39-yard pass reception. A personal foul assessed against the Spartans tacked on 15 more yards, and Reading had a first and goal at the Stoneham five-yard line.
But a false start and two incompletions set up a fourth and goal, and Dragone had a touchdown saving tackle of tailback Dan DiMare at the one-yard line to keep Reading out of the end zone.
Stoneham went right back to work feeding Dragone, who got outside left and raced 40 yards to midfield. Then Chase broke free for a 33-yard run to the Reading 10. One play later Dragone was in for his second touchdown to open up a 12-0 lead with 3:08 to play in the first quarter.
Dragone later came out of the game with injury but his two touchdowns were all the Spartans would need.
“He’s (Dragone) a terrific player. He’s battled some injuries, and keeping him on the field has been a little bit of a stuggle, but boy did he ignite us today,” Almeida said.
Trailing 12-0 more ill fate awaited the Rockets. Trevor Thornton returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, but the play was nullified with a block in the back all the way back at the Rockets’ 25.
Reading went three-and-out and punted from its own 22 to set Stoneham up at midfield. The Spartans drove 44 yards on 12 plays and ultimately settled for a 23-yard Max Davis field goal to open up a 15-0 lead.
The Rockets finally cracked the scoreboard on their next possession. Murphy was 4 of 5 passing for 47 yards on the series, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Harrigan, trimming Stoneham’s lead to 15-6 with 3:02 remaining in the half. The Rockets went for two to make it a one possession game but Murphy’s pass to DuRoss in the endzone fell incomplete.
But that would be the Rockets’ only score. Trevor Conroy blocked a punt on Stoneham’s next possession to set up Reading at the Spartans’ 45, but Reading failed to move the ball another inch.
Stoneham came out in the second half and left no doubt with three unanswered touchdowns. On their first possession of the third quarter Stoneham gambled on a fourth and two at its own 45, but it paid off big as Chase bounced outside off right tackle and raced 23 yards to the Reading 32. A personal foul tacked on the end for a late hit out of bounds gave Stoneham a first and 10 at the Reading 17.
Four plays later Chase powered in up the middle for the touchdown, then scored on a two-point conversion run to open up a 23-6 Stoneham lead.
The Rockets had one last gasp as Murphy found DuRoss for a second long connection, a 50-yard strike down to the Stoneham 21. But again the Rockets failed to capitalize. DiMare was stopped for no gain and three straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs.
Stoneham answered with a 61-yard Chase touchdown run to open up a 30-6 lead to start the fourth quarter. Reading looked exhausted and beaten at that point, and Stoneham would add another score, a one-yard run by Francis Vallesio to cap a 13-play, 77-yard touchdown march.
After the game the Spartans celebrated on the field singing Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby” with a sea of blue-jacketed alumni.
“The fact that we’ve made it a competitive series means the world to me,” Almeida said. “That’s (Reading) a hell of a program, and one that we would aspire to be like over the course of time. That’s a great coaching staff. They’re a have in a have-not league. For us to be able to compete with them like we have the last four years, and be able to make this a competitive series, means the world to me. That’s what it’s all about.”