NORTH READING — At halftime of Friday night’s showdown between Pentucket and North Reading, the Hornets faced an 11-point deficit and needed a boost. They found strength from their hospitalized coach.
Despite not having offensive coordinator Edward Melanson, who was injured in an automobile accident on Monday, the Hornets responded with two third-quarter touchdowns to defeat the Sachems, 17-14, at Arthur J. Kenney Field.
Melanson was not at practice this week and did not attend the game, but sent a message to the players before kickoff.
“The first thing [Melanson] asked about when he was in the hospital was the kids,” said North Reading coach Jeff Wall. “He said, ‘Make sure the kids know I care about them, make sure they know I love them.’ ”
The Hornets (4-1) seemed re-energized after halftime and took the opening possession 59 yards for a score, finished by an 11-yard Charles McCarthy run to make it 14-9.
Senior captain Carl Lipani made the defensive play of the game on the next series. As Pentucket quarterback Ryan Kuchar rolled out for a third-down pass, Lipani blitzed from the blind side and forced a fumble, which was recovered by teammate Ryan Boucher at the Sachem 11.
Three plays later, McCarthy (13 carries, 47 yards) found the end zone for his second score, a 3-yard rush, and Lipani took in the 2-point conversion for a 17-14 lead.
“We have some different checks in there, and if the QB does roll, Carl has free reign to go if the back doesn’t come to his side,” Wall said.
The hosts forced a punt on Pentucket’s next series, and McCarthy intercepted a pass with 1:43 to play, allowing the Hornets to run out the clock. Pentucket lost 4 yards of offense and had two turnovers in the second half.
McCarthy said the squad talked about Melanson — who is expected to return to the team next week — at halftime.
“We all just stepped it up, we knew we had to win it for him,” McCarthy said. “Losing him, he’s the whole offense. But every single player and coach stepped it up tonight. This is for him.”
Pentucket (3-2) got on the board first on the third series of the game. Kuchar (5 of 11, 61 yards) fired a bullet to Mike Tashjian, who broke away on a 20-yard post pattern for a 6-0 first-quarter lead. The Hornets cut the deficit in half thanks to a 25-yard field goal from Michael DiSanto in the second quarter.
Pentucket’s Cody Rothwell extended the lead late in the half, sprinting 35 yards to the end zone. Kuchar found Will Sullivan for the 2-point conversion to make it 14-3 at the break.
Wall credited his players for remaining composed despite trailing.
“We relied on the kids,” he said. “We went in at halftime, the kids started drawing stuff up. They gave us all the information we needed, and it’s good that you can trust them.”