Defense, hard-nosed play fuels 5-0 start for Melrose football

Melrose High running back Spencer Walsh breaks away during the fourth quarter last Thursday. Melrose High running back Spencer Walsh breaks away during the fourth quarter last Thursday. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Cat Calsolaro
Globe Correspondent / October 13, 2011

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The latest win, a 10-7 victory over Lexington last Thursday night, summed up what has been an unbeaten start for the Melrose High football team.

With little hesitation, Melrose High School head coach Tim Morris turned to the right leg of Matt DiSimone in a 7-7 game early in the fourth quarter and the senior confidently booted a 28-yard field goal that was the difference for the Red Raiders.

“He’s a strong kicker,’’ said Morris. “We have confidence in him so when we get into those situations we certainly lean heavy on putting points on the board.’’

Then Morris turned the game over to his hard-nosed defense, which delivered a big stop late in the fourth quarter, denying the Minutemen on the 4-yard line.

“Our defense stepped up strong,’’ said senior cocaptain Spencer Walsh. “Last year we were known for giving up the big play. So we knew we couldn’t give that up.’’

It was the third straight nail-biter for Morris’s squad, following wins over Woburn (19-18) and Reading (14-12).

“It had been a long time since anybody beat Reading in the league. It was a nice win for those guys,’’ said Morris. “It lifted everybody’s spirits.’’

In its 3-8 finish last season, the Red Raiders yielded 21.5 points per game while scoring barely over 11. This season, at 5-0, Melrose is scoring (21.5 ppg.) and defending (10 ppg.).

“A lot of people didn’t expect this of us,’’ said Walsh. “As seniors this is our last year. We have a lot of experience.’’

Melrose is not flashy; it’s a team full of workhorses; the Red Raiders hit hard and earn every point they score. And they have yet to play a true home game, using facilities at both Woburn and Reading until their new field is ready next month.

“This year it’s all coming together. The whole team is just having fun,’’ said senior cocaptain C.J. Hanson. “Just out on the playground having fun.’’

Morris said that Hanson and Walsh are providing strong leadership as captains.

“Both have great attitudes and good work ethics,’’ he said. “It rubs off on everybody else around them.’’

“I try to do whatever I can to lead my teammates,’’ said Walsh. “It takes everyone to win the game. We all have to do our job.’’

Melrose can attribute much of its success to its line play, both offensively and defensively, anchored by Jon Babula, Matthew Devir, and C.J. Leach.

“If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t be anywhere,’’ said Walsh, the Red Raiders’ primary back.

“Both the offensive and defensive lines have done a good job for us,’’ said Morris. “It’s a group that has really come together.’’

Senior Luc Sullivan was stellar against Lexington, delivering hard hits.

“He’s a kid who started the last two or three games for us last season. He has a good motor and plays with a lot of intensity,’’ said Morris.

The coaching staff urges all the players to participate in winter and spring sports and to get into the weight room when they can.

“We like guys to play multiple sports. ‘If you’re not a baseball player, run track,’ ’’ said Morris, a special education teacher at the high school.

Meanwhile, the Red Raiders are eagerly awaiting the completion of their stadium, with a scheduled opening of Nov. 4 against Arlington. Melrose will play one more “home’’ game at a neutral site, Oct. 28 against Watertown.

“I think it is difficult but it’s something we have to do,’’ said Morris.

“We come out and play to the best of our ability. No matter where we are,” said Walsh.

The Red Raiders practice at the Knoll practice facility across from the high school. It’s a very swampy area due to its proximity to Ell Pond.

“The city and mayor made a commitment to build a new field because our previous conditions weren’t very good,’’ said Morris. “The kids know that good things are coming very soon.’’

In the meantime, Melrose will take on the season one game at a time.

“We really just focus on today, the opponent this week,’’ said Morris, in his 14th season at the helm.

“We can’t look down the road. We just try to compete and get better every day. At the end of the year we’ll add it all up.’’

Tomorrow night, Melrose heads to Burlington to face a Red Devil squad (3-2) averaging 36.6 points per game. It is the Middlesex Small opener for both teams.

“Burlington is a very talented team with an awful lot of weapons,’’ said Morris. “We have to play mistake-free, try to contain them as much as we can and keep them out of the end zone.’’

“We have to keep doing what we’re supposed to do and we have to be unified as a team,’’ said Walsh. “There might be pressure on us, but our goal is to play our A game every week.’’

Win streak continues

Swampscott (5-0) continued its unbeaten streak with a 24-23 comeback win against Triton. With the Big Blue trailing 23-12 in the third quarter, Michael Walsh connected with senior A.J. Baker for two touchdowns and the win. Swampscott heads to Malden (2-3) tomorrow night.

Lynn Tech improved to 5-0 after shutting out Mystic Valley, 34-0. Led by junior quarterback Kennedy Gomes and senior Pedro Martinez, the Tigers are averaging more than 30 points per game and host Greater Lawrence (4-1) Saturday night. . . .

It is not a misprint. North Andover High will square off against Phillips Academy, Andover, tomorrow night at Atkinson Elementary School.

“We will schedule anyone,’’ said North Andover AD Jon Longley. Phillips “said that they had not played a public school in years. And there is no rule against playing private schools,’’ Longley said, even ones with postgraduate students.

Former coach honored

The Reading Memorial High football field will officially be dedicated to John Hollingsworth on Oct. 21 at 5:30 p.m. before the Rockets kick off against Belmont at 7 p.m.

He served the youth of Reading for 27 years as a teacher, coach, and athletic director. In his 20 years as a football coach, he earned five Middlesex League titles, won 100 games, and was named to the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association and Reading Memorial halls of fame.

The new John Hollingsworth Field sign will be unveiled and Hollingsworth will participate in the ceremonial coin toss.

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