READING — Visiting Arlington gave Reading a battle for a half, but in the end the Rockets had too much muscle on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and too many playmakers all over the field.
Sparked by a 69-yard kickoff return by senior linebacker Colin Comerford, the Rockets snapped a 14-14 tie with 34 unanswered points in an eventual 54-20 rout of the Spy Ponders, Friday night at Hollingsworth Field.
The win — Reading’s (4-1) fourth straight — sets up a monster clash with undefeated Winchester (5-0) next Friday at Knowlton Stadium (7 p.m.). The winner of that game is likely to emerge as Middlesex League Liberty champion, barring an unforeseen collapse. Reading is 3-0 in ML Liberty play, Winchester 2-0.
On the ensuing kickoff after lightning in a bottle Arlington quarterback Tyler Callahan struck with an 85-yard touchdown run to knot the game at 14, Comerford picked up a squib kick and ran 69 yards for a momentum-swinging score in the Rockets’ favor.
Comerford also recovered a fumbled Arlington kickoff return at the Spy Ponders’ 24 in the third quarter, leading directly to another Reading touchdown. He finished with a tied for team best seven tackles.
“Colin has very quietly but very steadily been leading the way here on defense and on special teams, giving us a tremendous amount of effort,” said Reading head coach John Fiore.
Arlington packs a big punch offensively with the likes of Callahan and freshman running back Marcues Jean-Jacques, two of the fastest players in the league. Jean-Jacques had an 80-yard touchdown run and a 45-yard reception to the Reading 30 to set up the Spy Ponders’ first score, a 27-yard Callahan to Calvin Pike touchdown pass that gave Arlington an early first quarter lead (7-6).
But with a small roster Arlington lacks the numbers and size to compete with the likes of Reading. By halftime the Spy Ponders simply wore out from the constant pounding. Reading moved the ball at will in the second half, finishing the game with 20 first downs and more than 500 yards of offense.
“We all knew going in that (Arlington) was going to play hard, play physical,” Fiore said. “They have some good skill players, those guys can make plays.”
Despite some heavy wind and persistent wet conditions, freshman James Murphy threw three touchdown passes, two to Colin DuRoss and a third to Patrick Harrigan. Murphy now has 13 TD passes on the season, tied for ninth place for TD passes in a single season with former great Bill Kelly (13 TD passes in 1966). He’s also just one behind the 14 career TD passes thrown by his father Jim in the 1991-92 seasons.
Murphy was at his best leading the Rockets on a seven-play, 86-yard touchdown drive in the final 1:14 of the first half. Murphy was 4 of 5 passing on the drive, including a 31-yard screen pass to Harrigan, who stepped out of bounds on the play at the Arlington 34 to stop the clock with 19 seconds remaining.
Two plays later Murphy found Harrigan again in the endzone for a 27-yard touchdown. Reading had three receivers right and Harrigan alone at left, and the 6-4 junior beat his man in single coverage for the score. Trevor Thornton’s two-point conversion run gave Reading a 28-14 lead headed into halftime.
“A great drive by our guys executing it, the big screen got the first down, then finished it with some good throws and protection,” Fiore said. “Truthfully, I was real pleased with what we did (in the rain/wind). Nothing was an excuse, we played our game no matter what the conditions were, and we executed.”
Reading’s defensive line led by junior Dom DeCresenczo was particularly stout against the run. Arlington rushed for 203 yards on 26 carries, but the two long runs by Callahan and Jean-Jacques (80 yard TD run on the Rockets’ second string defense) accounted for 165 of those. Otherwise the Spy Ponders had hard going on the ground.
The 6-2, 255-pound DeCresenczo was a menace, racking up seven tackles including two for a loss and a big solo stop on a fourth and two at the Reading 48.
“He was awesome tonight. That’s a huge key to our success right there, when our d-line plays well,” Fiore said. “Second half in particular Dom played extremely well.”
DeCresenczo and fellow offensive linemen Chris Chiulli, Dan O’Connor, Thomas O’Brien, and Steven Ilumba also helped pave the way for another big day for Reading’s run game. Junior Dan DiMare finished with his second straight 100-plus yard game with 13 carries for 123 yards. Nick Bates added two short touchdown runs, wide receiver Dante Barboza scored on a 39-yard jet sweep to open up a 47-14 lead, and backup quarterback Dante Barboza ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
After two straight home games Reading is back on the road next week for its biggest game of the season. It will have its hands more than full at the undefeated Sachems and hard running, tough to tackle tailback Jimmy Gibbons. Winchester is off to its best start since an undefeated campaign in 1990.
“All eyes now turn to Winchester. As they say, we’re on to Winchester,” Fiore said.