WOBURN — The past decade for high school football has been complete for the past few months so it is time to look back at the Top 5 Woburn High football games from the past 10 years.
The middle part of the decade saw Woburn’s best team as the 2014 squad won the Middlesex League Liberty Division and went a decade-best 9-2 overall. The Tanners had a realistic shot of reaching the Super Bowl that season but fell one point short in a sectional semifinal loss to Melrose at home.
The past decade also saw the beginning of the MIAA playoffs starting in 2013. That caused a bit of an uproar within the Middlesex League as Thanksgiving rivals Woburn and Winchester were forced to play another game prior to Thanksgiving.
The two rivals played twice in 2013 and then three times in 2014 with one being a playoff game.
The following season in 2015 there was an agreement worked out with Freedom Division Thanksgiving Day rivals, Melrose and Wakefield. Melrose and Wakefield also had to play an additional game during the regular season.
Woburn and Winchester would now alternate games, home-and-home, against Melrose and Wakefield within the framework of the regular season and allow their Thanksgiving Day games to stand on their own.
The past decade also saw the end of the 31-year coaching tenure of Rocky Nelson who stepped down after the 2016 season. The decade also saw Nelson’s passing on Dec. 2, 2018.
Chris Nugai was originally hired as the next coach in February of 2017 but abruptly had a change of mind shortly after accepting. Jack Belcher, who did not apply the first time for the position, was then selected as the new head coach and he took over for the 2017 season.
Here are the Top 5 Woburn High football games of the 2010s.
1. Woburn 30, Arlington 16 (2014).
“Tanners present Nelson with birthday present”
The present was a Middlesex League Liberty Division title in a battle of division unbeatens with this win over Arlington. Well, actually this win assured them of at least a tie which they then won outright the next week with a win over Reading.
The game played on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 was Nelson’s 70th birthday is our No. 1 choice for top game due to its ramifications with the title, Woburn’s lone ML crown of the decade.
A crowd of about 2,000 saw the big Liberty Division unbeaten battle against Arlington played at Woburn High. The Tanners were clinging to a 17-16 lead late but tight end Dennis Peary outjumped a pair of Arlington defenders on a short competition. Peary, who later went on to UMass Lowell for track, showed his speed by outrunning everyone to the end zone for an 89-yard TD pass thrown by quarterback Chris Morgan.
With just over a minute left, Liberty Division-MVP Tyler Joseph added a 16-yard touchdown run.
Other highlights from the game included Morgan running for two touchdowns on 22- and 50-yard dashes. Nick Dangora kicked a career-long 37-yard field goal and added three extra-point kicks.
2. Woburn 22, Winchester 21 (2016)
“Rocky Nelson goes out a winner”
Nelson had announced at the Mass State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame dinner in April that the 2016 would be his last as head coach at Woburn High. That season saw his team teetering around the .500 mark. Coming into the Thanksgiving Day game at home against Winchester, a winning season was on the line.
The game was a thriller. The Sachems scored with 33 seconds left to trim Woburn’s lead to 22-21. There was no question that Winchester would go for the two-point conversion and the win. Woburn linebacker Tyler Hayden broke through for the tackle to stop Winchester quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick’s attempt at a two-point conversion rush.
Woburn finished the season with a 6-5 record and sent Nelson out a winner in his final game, marking 208 coaching victories for him at Woburn High.
Besides making the big stop on defense, Hayden scored three touchdown runs of 4, 6 and 13 yards.
3. Woburn 17, Concord-Carlisle 14 (2013)
“Tanners stun No. 1 seed”
It was the first year of the MIAA playoffs and teams played a seven-game qualifying round and began these new playoffs in late October. The Tanners were the No. 5 seed in Division 3 Northwest and defeated No. 4 seed Wakefield, 21-7, in Wakefield in the first round. This set up a trip to Concord for the semifinals to play the No. 1 seed.
Tyler Joseph took the game’s opening kickoff back 84 yards for a touchdown to get things started. QB Rob Voci scored on a 40-yard run while Dangora, who kicked both extra points, also booted a 27-yard field goal at the close of the first half, giving Woburn a 17-0 lead.
Concord-Carlisle did not go quietly and made a game of it late, scoring with 52 seconds left to close within three points. However, the Tanners recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
4. Woburn 39, Wilmington 29 (2011)
“Ortiz scores five touchdowns”
The dynamic Woburn running back became just one of four players to score five touchdowns or more when he had this great performance in Wilmington during the 2011 season.
The game marked the first ever meeting between the two schools when they met in Week 5. The 2011 season saw the Middlesex League expand by adding Wilmington and Arlington to the league making for 12 teams that were split into two six-team divisions.
Ortiz scored his five touchdowns (three came in the fourth quarter) three different ways. Three were via the rush on scoring runs of 37, 17 and 52 yards. He caught an 18-yard TD pass from QB Hunter Romano and returned an interception 25 yards for another score.
And for good measure, Ortiz ran in a two-point conversion.
5. Woburn 33, Reading 28 (2017)
“Qualey to Chillemi for the win”
Any time a Woburn team beats Reading it is cause for celebration and to win in Reading is something that doesn’t happen often. In fact, it was the first time for a Woburn team since 2006.
The 2017 season was Jack Belcher’s first as head coach and his Tanners came into Hollingsworth Field with a 2-2 record.
The Rockets jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but Woburn quickly answered the second score with an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Isaiah Cashwell-Doe.
Woburn went ahead 21-14 early in the third quarter but later saw Reading take back the lead at 28-27 with six minutes left. Early in the third quarter, Ryan Qualey had completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Chillemi that gave their team the lead at 21-14.
Now, trailing by one and with time ticking away, the two connected again on a 36-yard scoring play with 1:47 left to rescue the victory.
The win proved to be a springboard toward a fine 7-4 season for the Tanners in Belcher’s first season.
Woburn 48, Billerica 22 (2014): Did Rocky Nelson run it up on son-in-law Duane Sigsbury, the Billerica head coach? Tanners did not take a knee and scored on a six-yard run on the game’s last play. This game also showed just how good the 2014 team was going to be.
Woburn 20, Lexington 19 (2014): Tyler Joseph caught a 15-yard TD pass from Chris Morgan in the back of the end zone on the final play of the game to rescue the win.
Woburn 21, Waltham 20 (2017): It was a “non-playoff” win but Tanners saved the victory by stopping the potential two-point conversion rush with :04 to play.
Winchester 27, Woburn 21, 2 OT (2018): Losses usually are not chosen as top games for the losing team, but this game is the only one in the Thanksgiving series to go to double overtime.
Woburn 26, Waltham 12 (2018): Playoff wins are always special.
Woburn 28, Arlington 27 (2018): Tanners stopped Arlington’s two-point try for the win with :42 left to put the “W” in their column.
Woburn 28, Peabody 24 (2018): In a battle of “Tanners,” Woburn’s version scored the game-winning TD with 3:22 left.