By Conor Walsh Correspondent
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — MANCHESTER -- With a powerful North Reading squad coming to town, it was clear the Manchester Essex football team would need to be at its best if it hoped to compete.
In a battle of two Hornets squads, though, the host Hornets had nowhere near enough sting when they took Hyland Field last night.
North Reading returned a Manchester Essex fumble for a touchdown on the opening kickoff and never looked back, and by the final whistle, Manchester Essex was left with its worst loss in recent memory.
The 60-7 shellacking leaves Manchester Essex at 0-2 in Tier 4 of the NEC/CAL, and, more importantly, searching for answers to just what happened last night.
“There’s not much to say,” Manchester Essex coach Mike Athanas said. “It’s pretty self-explanatory. We give a game away and we don’t play. They’re going to take advantage of it and they did.”
North Reading put up points in just about every possible way, piling up 60 points despite running just 29 offensive plays and never throwing the ball.
Running back Carl Lipani ran for 186 yards and four touchdowns, also taking an interception 45 yards to paydirt. Evan Wade weaved through the Manchester Essex punt coverage for a Reggie Bush-like 70-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the first half. The Manchester Essex fumble gave North Reading a touchdown on its own kickoff to open the game. A botched snap on a punt gave North Reading just 18 yards to go for one of its first-half touchdowns.
Three of North Reading’s nine touchdowns came on returns. Four came on the first play of a possession.
According to Athanas it was the most lopsided affair he has seen during his time at Manchester Essex.
The Hornets (1-7, 0-2 NEC/CAL Tier 4) were unable to find a rhythm in any facet of the game. Their special teams struggled. Their offense managed just 131 yards on the day and a mere 18 total yards in the first half.
And while the Manchester Essex defense held its own early on against North Reading’s vaunted ground game, forcing turnovers on downs on two of North Reading’s first four possessions, it ultimately ran out of steam.
The visiting Hornets scored the final six times they touched the ball, and ran just nine offensive plays in a second half where they tallied 33 points.
“We give them six points on the first play of the game, then we snap it over our heads and give them a short field,” Athanas said. “There’s 14 points we gave them in the first half. That’s tough to come back from.”
The end of the game brought with it some controversy, as North Reading opted to keep many of its starters in the game despite its 33-point lead late in the third quarter.
Lipani ran for a 69-yard touchdown on the first play of a late-third quarter drive, his fifth touchdown of the day, and was subsequently taken out.
“He’s good,” Athanas said. “It’s what we expected of him. We’ve seen him for two years, and he’s a good player. He runs hard and had a great game.”
The next possession, Lipani’s partner in the backfield, Charles MacCarthy, broke through for a 37-yard score on the first play of a drive to put North Reading up, 53-7.
“I know Lupini and McCarthy scored the 47th and 53rd points,” Athanas said, “so take that for what it’s worth.”
When the starters did come out, though, it made little difference, as backup running back Scott McDonough barrelled for a 35-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
Aside from two late-game kneel-downs, North Reading (6-1, 2-0 NEC/CAL Tier 4) scored on each of its final four offensive plays of the game to move into first place in the division pending the result of today’s game between Hamilton-Wenham and Lynnfield.
The lone bright spot on the day for Manchester Essex was when quarterback Cory Burnham, who had been pressured by North Reading’s front 7 all game, lofted a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass to fellow co-captain John Beardsley midway through the third quarter.
At that point, though, the game was over, and a season that’s been ugly from the start for Manchester Essex had gotten even worse.
“We’ll take a look at it,” Athanas said, “and see what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to figure something out.”