READING — Last season, one of the biggest challenges the Reading High football team faced was in its opening round MIAA Division 2 state playoff game against Bishop Feehan.
On Friday, the Rockets will face the Shamrocks again, this time in the state quarterfinals, at Hollingsworth Field (5 p.m.).
“This time of year, anyone who is still playing will be really good,” said Reading coach John Fiore.
In their first-round playoff games, Reading (9-0) and Feehan (5-3) combined to score 100 points. Sixth-seeded Reading defeated Leominster, 51-44, while Bishop Feehan, the 14th seed, upended third-seeded Peabody, 49-28.
“We love playing against great programs and class people,” said Feehan coach Bryan Pinabell. “John Fiore and I were texting each other on Friday and Saturday and we’re looking forward to going up there. It’s a great atmosphere. I’ve coached games there before with other teams.”
While Reading quarterback James Murphy threw for five touchdowns and completed 22 of 35 passes for 322 yards in the win over Leominster, Shamrocks’ quarterback Nick Iovieno threw two passes, completing one for 23.
On the ground, Nick Yanchuk gained 314 yards on 23 carries, scoring four touchdowns. Dante Bruschi, son of former New England Patriot linebacker Tedy Bruschi (who is on the Shamrocks’ coaching staff), scored three touchdowns, carrying the ball 17 times for 115 yards.
“They have a lot of good seniors,” Fiore said. “We kind of figured we might face them again. They run the ball well. Woburn does some similar staff with two tight ends. Barnstable does some similar stuff. Bishop Feehan does a lot of good things and it’s a very different offense from Leominster.”
The Shamrocks’ win over Peabody was their fifth straight. They opened the season with three straight losses, bowing to North Attleboro, 28-6, Attleboro, 27-7 and St. Mary’s, 12-10.
“We had some key injuries and played a tough early schedule,” said Pinabell. “The turning point was the loss to St. Mary’s. The way we practiced that week, I thought we could turn it around, it’s because of our senior class. We’ve practiced the same way every week, whether we’re 0-3 or 4-3.”
Bishop Feehan’s regular-season wins came against Archbishop Williams, 30-0, Arlington Catholic, 65-19, Cardinal Spellman, 48-21 and Bishop Fenwick, 20-3.
The Shamrocks also have a considerable amount of size on the offensive line, with 290-pound tackle Eddie Cinelli and 280-pounder Sean Finucane, in addition to Chase Mankins, son of former New England Patriot Logan Mankins.
In last year’s matchup in Attleboro, Reading hung on for a 25-23 victory after defensive back Aidan Bekkenhuis broke up a two-point conversion pass to tie the game with 32 seconds remaining.
Reading held a 25-6 lead at the half before the Shamrocks scored 17 straight points in the second half.
“I’m sure they remember that,” Fiore said. “We do, too.”
The winner of Friday’s game advances to the state semifinals against the winner of King Philip-Marshfield.
* Friday’s kickoff was moved up to 5 p.m. due to the threat of rain.