MELROSE - Even a slacker could master the recent history of Melrose-Wakefield football.
When Melrose is good, Wakefield wins. When Melrose is bad, Wakefield wins. Since 1992, the story has been the same, aside from an infamous 14-14 tie in 1999 that couldn't determine a league champion.
Who won final tiebreaking option for the playoff spot that year? Your guess is correct.
Fitting, then, that the Middlesex League championship rested on another storied contest between the rivals yesterday at Green Field. Having defeated Woburn - which was alongside the Red Raiders at the top of the standings, with one loss, and had defeated Winchester - it was win or go home for Melrose.
After a sloppy first half, Melrose reversed history and edged Wakefield, 15-14.
"It was 14 years, but it's about these kids, and this year," said Melrose coach Tim Morris. "It's about the way they've played and the heart they've shown in coming from behind, game in and game out. And about doing it again today, and not about anything in the past."
Melrose will face Walpole in a Division 2 playoff game Tuesday.
After trailing, 14-6, at the half, Melrose got an early third-quarter touchdown to pull within 2, setting the stage for cocaptain Sean Morris's decisive 23-yard field goal with 7:26 remaining in the game.
"It's a great feeling," said Morris, the coach's son. "It's what [my father] always wanted. We've been down before, but we've always been able to come back."
But it was in doubt in the first half when the Warriors controlled the clock.
With a Brian Millea interception at the Wakefield 49 in the first quarter, the Warriors had the momentum. Three plays later, Millea found sophomore wideout Shane Taylor for a 45-yard touchdown.
Relying heavily on a running game anchored by junior Jack Pizzotti and senior Ryan Webster, Melrose gradually moved down the field. With 2:31 left in the first quarter, quarterback Dale Parsons ran a keeper to the left side and hustled into the end zone. But Morris missed right on the PAT and the score stood at 7-6.
Wakefield wouldn't let Melrose rest easily. Taylor caught another big pass at the start of the second quarter, moving the ball 33 yards to the Melrose 40. Wakefield then relied on the rushing of Martin Hyppolite and Zach Boyages to get closer to the end zone.
Hyppolite finished the drive with 7:43 left in the half when he crawled through the middle for a 15-yard score. Will Gangi hit his second extra point to increase the lead to 14-6.
Melrose didn't panic in the second half. Its defense became impenetrable, while its offense scored on its first drive.
Though he slipped as he ran from the right side, Pizzotti scored from 4 yards with an even four minutes remaining.
"The kids came out and really shut [Wakefield] down in the second half," coach Morris said. "We've been here before [in close games]. I told them they just had to go out and do what they had to do to win the game."
After another failed Wakefield drive, Morris finished his team's most crucial drive on fourth and goal.
"A streak has to end someday," said Wakefield coach Mike Boyages. "There's nothing to be disappointed in. We just stalled in the second half. The kids played a good game. They left everything on the field."