Boston High School: Chris Arria

Recap: No. 6 Reading 22, Burlington 15

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
11:29
PM ET
Matt ComerfordJon Mahoney for ESPNBoston.comA steady Reading line, led by senior Matt Comerford (77), gave the Rockets enough push to escape with a win over Burlington.
READING, Mass. — The Reading defense finally showed signs of being human last night against a tough Middlesex League opponent.

Luckily Drew Belcher appeared out of the phone booth, donning the cape.

Belcher scored from 8 yards out in the final minute of play as the Rockets downed Burlington, 22-15, to keep their record unblemished as we near the midway mark of the season.

Belcher stayed cool, calm and collected as the Rockets had all of their timeouts with a little more than four minutes to go in the game down by a point with a tough home loss staring them in the face.

“We practice it in practice all the time and coach (John Fiore) always has us prepared for that drive,” Belcher said. “As a team everyone did their job on that drive. The offensive line was great the whole time and we just ended up making a play and scoring a touchdown.”

Belcher is just the next well-polished quarterback to run John Fiore’s offense, and being in big game situations helped the senior maneuver his team down the field for the go-ahead score.

“Experience definitely helps from playing last year and we have a lot of guys on offense,” said Belcher. “Nobody was really nervous and everyone knew what we had to do to win the game. We just made plays at the end.”

KEY KICK RETURN
Burlington gave the Rockets all they could handle and it looked like it would be killing the clock and moving its way towards the end zone behind the running of Marcus O’Diah and Anthony Cruz.

The defense -- which had surrendered the most points it had all season in this game alone -- came up with a few huge negative plays to force the Red Devils’ coaching staff to go for the field goal with 4:32 left in the game. Chris Arria successfully made the 35-yarder, and on the ensuing kickoff Jared Barros got his team right back into business with a 50-yard return.

“We had a great kickoff return and we had a short field, so we were able to capitalize on it,” said Rockets head coach John Fiore. “We had plenty of time and we had all of our timeouts left, so we were able to run the ball and keep them honest and throw the ball on our terms. (Belcher made a great read on the goal line.”

Belcher extended the drive on fourth-and-1 from the 11 with a keeper up the gut for 2 yards, and three plays later the quarterback was scampering in the end zone for the winning score with 57 seconds left on the clock.

BURLINGTON IN RYTHYM
The second half belonged to Burlington, but it was the Rockets that still came away with the victory. The Red Devils began the half with a 14-play, 64-yard drive that ate up over six minutes of clock, ending with O’Diah leaping in for a touchdown. Burlington missed the 2-point conversion pass that would have tied the game.

The defense got the offense the ball back again, and it proceeded to run off 15 plays to set up the go-ahead field goal at the time. Burlington was bottled up in the middle of the Rockets defense on inside runs, but O’Diah and Cruz were able to take tosses and sweeps to the outside to get chunk yardage to keep the Rockets offense sitting on the sideline.

O’Diah rushed for 44 yards in the second half after getting held to 19 in the first, and Cruz broke off several big plays on the ground and in the passing game.

“You are playing one of the best defenses in the league, in the state not the league. The best defense right now,” Red Devils head coach Shawn Maguire said of the first half struggles. “We scored three times off of them and no one has been able to score. That says one thing.”

Recap: Burlington 21, Melrose 20

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
1:00
AM ET
BURLINGTON -- Anthony Cruz blocked a point-after attempt and returned a punt 83 yards early in the fourth quarter to give the Burlington Red Devils an edge, in knocking off previously undefeated Melrose, 21-20.

“I knew we needed something big,” said Cruz of his team. “So I thought what better thing could I do than get a nice punt return, get the team up.”

Cruz scored with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter, so if Burlington was going to have a chance to strike, they would have to do it quick.

Taking the ball from their own 31, Melrose suffered a setback in a holding penalty then three plays before they were forced to punt. This time, the ball went to Jonathan Dube who returned the kick about 25 yards and across the 50 to the Melrose 49. Junior running back Marcus Odiah carried the ball down to the 32, but a holding call on the next play brought it back to the 40.

Senior captain Kyle Shields took the next handoff from quarterback Shane Farley and brought it past the plane, tying the game up 20-20 with 7:36 left in the game. An offsides penalty by Melrose brought the ball to the 1-1/2 yard line, and kicker Chris Arria booted the point after to put the Red Devils ahead, sealing the win.

“Man Up”: Even after Burlington went ahead, Melrose had two opportunities to score. The first an unfruitful drive that was stymied by the “man up” defensive mode that Burlington switched into in the second half.

“We had a little attitude adjustment at halftime,” said Burlington coach Shawn Maguire. “We wanted everyone to just man up on their own and be accountable for themselves.”

With multiple threats on offense, Melrose put on long, sustained drives in the first half, but after taking a gut check, Burlington slowed down the offensive attack to a crawl. “We were where we should have been sometimes but we just weren’t tackling. When you are where you should be, you should make the tackle.”

Lightning Strikes Twice: With 36.8 seconds left in the second quarter, after Melrose’s Bryan Reale scored his third rushing touchdown of the night, lightning struck in the area and the game was put on a 30-minute delay. After that delay, the ball was given to an official as another bolt struck near the field, causing a second 30-minute delay.

“I’ll take it as long as I can, if that’s what did it,” said McGuire.

A Little Extra is Required: The term "extra point" is not optional in Burlington football, it is needed. "It's not an extra point, that's necessary," added McGuire. "That's a winning point right there. We stress those little things all the time. We work on our special teams and kicking extra points [in practice]."

Strong, Silent Type: Anthony Cruz is a playmaker. He blocked an early point after attempt which sealed the win for his team, ran the 83 yard punt return for a touchdown, but per his usual cool, he didn't say much before performing his duties.

"I'm not really that loud in the locker room," said Cruz. "I try to lead by example."

BURLINGTON 21, MELROSE 20
MEL (5-1) 7 13 0 0 --- 20
BUR (4-2) 0 7 0 14 --- 21

First Quarter
M – Bryan Reale 1 run (Matthew DeSimone kick)

Second Quarter
M – Reale 5 run (kick blocked)
B – Shane Farley 4 run (Chris Arria kick)
M – Reale 16 run (DeSimone kick)

Fourth Quarter
B – Anthony Cruz 83 punt return (Arria kick)
B – Kyle Shields 40 run (Arria kick)

Recap: Reading 32, Burlington 27

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:09
AM ET



BURLINGTON, Mass. -- Reading's first month of the 2011 season was a forgettable one to say the least. After starting the year off in the top 20 of ESPNBoston's statewide MIAA poll, the Rockets stumbled to a 1-3 record out of the gates.

Headed into training camp, this was a squad viewed as green, with minute varsity experience, but talented no less. Tonight at Burlington High, the fruits of the latter trait were on display, as promising sophomore quarterback Drew Belcher completed 14 of 18 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, and added a fourth rushing score, as Reading (2-3) staved off a dangerous Burlington Red Devils squad, 32-27.

"I can't say enough about how our kids played tonight," Reading head coach John Fiore said. "They played to win, they played loose, they played together, they played as a team. They just played so hard on defense. I mean, in a short week, we came off a short week with a real physical game against Melrose (a 14-12 loss), and to get your body ready, they worked very hard this week with great enthusiasm. Just can't say enough about the maturity they exhibited tonight."

Down 32-14 with two minutes left in the third, the Red Devils (3-2) rallied with two quick scores to cut the lead to five with 5:56 remaining. First, quarterback Shane Farley (16 of 23, 187 yards, 2 TD) hit Nick Ciardi with a 48-yard fade just before time ran out in the third. Six minutes later, Ciardi came up big again, hauling in a 61-yard halfback pass from Anthony Cruz.

Burlington forced a three-and-out and took over at the Rockets' 41 with 4:38 to go. But on fourth and 11 from the 20, Stephen Mattos hauled in a Farley pass over the middle and was dragged down by Bill Carnes a yard short of the first down marker.

Reading then sealed the win by converting a fake punt on fourth and one with 40 seconds left.

And while Fiore spoke high praises for the mettle his players showed tonight, Burlington head coach Shawn Maguire was left frustrated with what he thought could have been. Reminded of Ciardi's resolve in the second half, Maguire fired back, "Yep, but again, when it came crunch time, we couldn't make plays."

"We just didn't step up and make plays when we were supposed to," he said of his team, which surrendered 12 points off turnovers. "You can't give up 32 points and win. We're not tackling good enough, we're not covering well enough, we just didn't play good enough to win. That simple. We got outmanned out front, blocking and tackling. We lost the line of scrimmage tonight."

Fourth and Guts: The Rockets are never a team afraid of rolling the dice (see: last year's Division 2 playoff and Super Bowl contests), and that playcalling pluck reared its head again tonight on fourth and one with 40 ticks left in the ballgame.

A turnover on downs would have given the Red Devils first down at the Rockets' 34 -- with, as we saw in spurts tonight, ample time to put together a game-winning drive. Convention says in this instance to run a sneak up the middle, given Belcher's size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and the way the line of Matt Commeford, Peter Fodera, Andrew Ferrano, Tom Beucler and Vaughn Wilder were getting push most of the night.

Instead, Fiore called for a direct snap to Anthony DeSimone out of a punt formation, and the senior tailback took off down the right sideline for 18 yards. Keying the run was Liam Kenneally, who sustained his block 10 yards downfield on a Burlington defensive back, long enough to open up a wide seam outside of the hash marks.

Asked about his inclination against just running it up the middle, Fiore channeled his inner Les Miles.

"I think we just decided we didn't want to be crazy, but we wanted to be a little crazy," Fiore laughed. "We wanted to play to win, and you know what, he has the option to punt it if it's there. But you know what, that's Anthony DeSimone making a great athletic, hardcore play. He made the right read and took off, and that's what we needed."

Obstructing Odiah: Junior Marcus Odiah is considered arguably the Red Devils' most dangerous big-play threat, if not the highest ceiling for college recruiters. And while he finished the night with 109 yards and score on 19 carries, he was unable to sustain that pressure against the Rockets' defense throughout the game.

It's not often you see a no-huddle team that operates from under center, but it's a style that plays to the Devils' strengths -- that is, the running game, and the short passes to the flats -- and we saw flashes of brilliance tonight.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Odiah runs in an upright style and demonstrates great body control; the Devils called many zone and stretch plays to left side of the field, whereupon Odiah would strafe Northwest before cutting 45 degrees and accelerating very quickly upfield.

All that said, he had just three runs of 10 yards or more, one of which was a 38-yard scamper down the left sideline, showcasing that 4.5 speed. His lone score of the night, a six-yard plunge, ironically came after he fumbled in the backfield.

Credit the outside rush -- led by ends Fodera and Joe Staffier, and outside linebackers Kyle McCarthy and Mark Sheehan -- as well as improved run support from safeties DeSimone and Greg Connery.

"Look, they're not chop liver over there as far as their offensive line and tight ends," Fiore said of Burlington's run game. "We have to fit everything perfectly against them, especially a tailback like Marcus who can stop and go, zero to 100. You have to fit your blocks the right way, get off them, and we have to have some run support there, get that edge set firm where it needs to be, and have our pursuit get there.

"We mixed up some fronts, mixed up some coverages, and I thought we played hard to the run. I thought our safeties did a much better job playing to the run tonight."

Ciardi turned it up: For all the talk of Belcher's improving arm, and the tricky two-back read option scheme the Rockets deployed adequately tonight with tailbacks Alex Valente and DeSimone, it was Burlington's Ciardi that may have ended up stealing the show in the end.

Simply put, the 6-foot-1 senior brought the burners out of the locker room to put in a monster second half, hauling in three catches for 118 yards and two scores on the Red Devils' final two scoring drives. On the first score, Maguire called up a 48-yard fade to Ciardi, who was left in single coverage and had his man beat by about three yards when Farley's pass came into his hands. The second score was more of the same, leaving his defender in the dust.

Overall, Ciardi caught six passes for 156 yards.

Making the grade: Belcher first impressed last season when he relieved the injured Brian Bourque in the second quarter of a one-score game and stormed the Rockets to a victory over Lexington; this summer, watching him in 7-on-7's, he showed considerable poise for a kid just 15 years old.

There's still a ways to go, but Belcher's getting passing grades from Fiore for his progression in the mental aspect of the position.

"It's not a 7-on-7, it's not practice, it's competition," Fiore said. "It's game-planning, scheming up against teams, and he's doing a better job of reading the defense. I'd say that's where he's improved a lot. It's good, it's great."

READING 32, BURLINGTON 27

REA (2-3) 14 6 12 0 --- 32
BUR (3-2) 7 7 7 6 --- 27

First Quarter
R - Drew Belcher 1 run (kick blocked) 8:45
B - Anthony Cruz 10 pass from Shane Farley (Chris Arria kick) 4:51
R - Ryan Maney 31 pass from Belcher (Anthony DeSimone run) 3:39

Second Quarter
R - Maney 17 pass from Belcher (kick failed) 4:44
B - Marcus Odiah 6 run (Arria kick) 1:03

Third Quarter
R - Liam Kenneally 30 run (rush failed) 9:29
R - Jared Barros 24 pass from Belcher (pass failed) 2:02
B - Nick Ciardi 48 pass from Farley (Arria kick) 0:43.8

Fourth Quarter
B - Ciardi 61 pass from Cruz (pass failed) 5:56

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