Hornet gridmen earn 21-7 victory over Ham-Wenham

Apr 1, 2021 by

Published April 1, 2021

By DAN ZIMMERMAN

NORTH READING — After suffering the football season’s first defeat in Ipswich a week ago, the North Reading Hornets regrouped for a decisive 21-7 win over a visiting Hamilton-Wenham club.

On a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon, the Hornets scored on each of their first two possessions and added a third near the end of the half to take a commanding lead over the winless Generals.

While heavily reliant on the ground game in the first two games of this abbreviated campaign, the Hornets enjoyed an added wrinkle in their offensive scheme against Hamilton-Wenham with the emergence of wide receiver John Jennings, who caught a pair for TDs and played a significant role on defense, as well.

BRIAN HEFFERNAN slings a screen pass out to Jack Donohue. Heffernan threw for 156 yards and two TD’s. Donohue rushed for 107 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run. (Courtesy Photo)

“John Jennings came up with a number of big catches today and also set the tone defensively,” agreed North Reading head coach Ed Blum, who improved to 2-1 overall. “Not only were they momentum-changing catches but other players fed off his effort. He hauls one in and soon, other guys are catching the ball and making plays.”

“This was a team effort,” said Jennings, who was a menace in the secondary, knocking down several throws from top-notch H-W QB Carter Coffey. “We came into practice on Monday and all of us put the effort in and worked very hard. After the loss to Ipswich, we were definitely fired up today.”

North Reading lost the coin toss but won the deferral, forcing a Generals’ three-and-out at the outset and taking the ensuing punt on their own 31. Seven snaps later, the Hornets were ahead 7-0 when QB Brian Heffernan, who was an impressive 10 of 13 for 156 yards, found Jennings for a 33-yard TD. Sharing running duties on the series, with the absence of injured tailback Will O’Leary, was the tandem of Jack Donohue and Robbie Tammaro, who was also PAT-perfect on the day.

The Generals pieced together a threat on their second possession, advancing the ball into the red zone but were turned back when Zach Sampson and Sam Morelli combined for a bone-crunching sack of Coffey. The resulting lost yardage led to a fourth-and-long and soon, the ball was back in Hornet hands.

JOHN JENNINGS breaks free for his first touchdown of the day which went for 33 yards. The junior also had a 27-yard TD catch while making plenty of big plays for the Hornet defense as NR won 21-7. (Courtesy Photo)

They made quick work of the opportunity, adding insurance when Heffernan lofted a 27-yarder to Jennings, who briefly bobbled it but with remarkable concentration, held on in the end zone for a 14-0 lead. Earning much-deserved credit on the drive was Donohue, who popped a game-long 41-yarder to put his team in range. On the day, Donohue amassed an exemplary 107 yards on 19 carries, including a 2-yard TD rush with 37 seconds remaining in the first half to put the Hornets ahead, 21-0.

“We were down a few people and others stepped up today,” said Blum. “There was a great energy all week in practice. Today, there were guys getting opportunities that maybe they weren’t expecting and they delivered when their number was called.”

A virtual offensive stalemate took place after the break, with both teams spending considerable time between the 20s. On one Hamilton-Wenham series in particular, the stubborn Hornet defense limited their opponent to 21 yards on 10 plays. And early in the fourth quarter, when the Generals mounted an exhausting 14-play series and reached into the red zone again, Morelli and company thwarted the effort. A borderline pass interference infraction breathed new life into the drive but the Hornets refused to buckle under the pressure and preserved the three score lead.

In the final minutes, Hamilton-Wenham finally snapped the shutout, scoring off one of the few North Reading mistakes on the afternoon. The sequence began when the Hornets, in the shadow of their goalpost, were forced to punt. Tammaro shanked the hurried kick, handing the Generals a starting field position in the red zone, on the 18. QB Coffey wasted little time, rifling a TD throw to Thomas Ring on the first snap. The officials missed an obvious holding call that afforded Coffey time enough to find his receiver but with 2:55 left and the game in hand, the North Reading quarrel was brief.

“After last week’s loss, we had to refocus and double down on our efforts today,” said Blum, who next travels to square off against a 2-1 Amesbury club this Saturday at 1 p.m. “We had to return to the fundamentals and bear down on the little things that make you successful.”

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