Warriors shut down Burlington 30-7

Oct 7, 2019 by

Rafferty earns 100th career victory

TUCKER STIKEMAN had a strong two-way game for the Warriors, combining excellent tackling on defense with 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

Published in the October 7, 2019 edition.

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

BURLINGTON — One possession into Friday afternoon’s Warrior-Red Devil clash in Burlington and it looked like Wakefield head coach John Rafferty’s bid for his 100th career win would have to wait.

Burlington’s All-Star QB Khyle Pena came out firing on the first drive, throwing a perfect 4-for-4 for 52 yards culminating in a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Hurley.

It took 3:48 for the home team to make a statement and 3:34 for the Warriors to respond with a 12-yard Tucker Stikeman TD run after a seven-play 58-yard drive.

Pena’s stat line after that opening drive read like this: 11-for-25, 73 yards and three interceptions.

“We had a tough time right off the bat and we had to make some adjustments but once we got that done the kids played well,” said Rafferty.

The Warrior defense was lights out on all three levels. Lineman Taaj Andrews and Liam Cosgrove led the charge in holding the home team to just 64 yards rushing. Stikeman and Dan Hurley tackled well and also got to Pena from the second level while Wesley Pierre (2 INT’s) and Aidan Sweeney (INT) threw a fleece blanket over one of the league’s best receiving corps.

“We were stout against the run and pass coverage was great,” said Rafferty.

Offensively, the Warrior running game couldn’t be stopped. Led by Sweeney (161 yards, two TD’s) and Stikeman (117 yards, two TD’s) Wakefield rushed for 303 yards on their way to big win over a strong, previously undefeated team.

“The offensive line, for the most part, did a good job,” said Rafferty. “Sweeney and Stikeman broke some tackles and overall it was a good group effort.”

The first swing of momentum was provided by Sweeney on Burlington’s second drive.

A great play by Cosgrove on a first down run pushed Burlington back and later facing a 3rd-and-11 from their own 35, Pena took a shot down the left sideline. Sweeney was battling in one-on-one coverage. He stuck with his man step-for-step, stayed in front, located the ball and made a great catch. It was textbook cornerback play.

The sophomore then touched the ball seven times for 52 yards on the ensuing drive and ultimately capped a 67-yard possession with a 27-yard TD run up the gut.

The key play besides the Sweeney score was a Stikeman 4-yard plunge on 4th-and-3 from the Burlington 40.

With 8:20 to go before the half, the Warriors made a red zone stand following a long Burlington drive.

The Red Devils had a first down from at the Warrior 11-yard line. Two Burlington penalties later, including a holding call drew by Cosgrove who had some great battles with All-Star lineman Chris Jones, and the Red Devils were facing a 3rd-and-25 from the 26. Pena once again tested the Wakefield secondary with a deep throw on a post corner route. Pierre read the pass and went up for a jump ball at the pylon, ripping it away from two receivers at the peak and crashing down in the end zone for a touchback.

That gave the Warriors momentum that carried over into the second half as they went into the break leading 14-7.

To start the 3rd, Burlington was pinned at the 8-yard line and facing a 3rd-and-10 after back-to-back stuffs by Taaj Andrews at the line. A tough pass interference gave Burlington life but the Warriors picked up a sack on a 3rd-and-12 from the 36. Andrews was in the mix again with Hurley, who got a late sign from the sideline to blitz.

“We’re not really known as a pressure team, we usually rely on our front four to get to the quarterback,” said Rafferty. But with Wakefield covering so well, the coaches felt like they could send extra pressure. “In a lot of situations it helps a lot when you’re in man and you can send some extra guys. They did a nice job of that.”

Wakefield had their second three-and-out to start the third so it was up to the defense again to set the tone.

Burlington couldn’t pick up a first down either, with Hurley again getting the call from the sideline to blitz on 3rd-and-10, forcing Pena to dump off for a screen that lineman Jake Sowyrda and defensive back Leo Yardumian read perfectly to combine for the stop.

Sweeney, Stikeman and Hurley had consecutive small gains to to earn a first as the game shifted to the fourth quarter.

Sweeney got the visiting bleachers going with a 42-yard run on the first play of the final quarter. The Warriors gave it right back to him on the 3-yard line and the sophomore did the rest for his second touchdown of the day.

Pierre then set up the offense at their own 47 after his second pick of the day. The ball bounced off the chest of a Burlington receiver and Pierre snagged it.

Considering the momentum, offensive coordinator Mike Mosto decided to take a shot on first down. Pierre fired one down the seam to his biggest target, tight end Chris Miller who made a terrific, extended catch for 31 yards.

The Warriors stalled on the 19 and sent out Hurley to kick on a 4th-and-7. It was a 36-yard attempt that would have been good from 45 as the Warriors took complete control with a 24-7 lead and 5:23 to play.

The message on the sideline was “to finish.” The Warriors wanted to close the right way. Senior Joe Bernabeo relayed that message to his younger teammates with a swift tackle on the ensuing kickoff and the defense forced a turnover-on-downs thanks in large part to Sweeney shutting down Pena’s left side of the field.

Wakefield bled the clock on their last drive before Stikeman put the final touches on a great day with a 55-yard TD scamper up the middle on 4th down.

It was quite a difference from last year’s game in which Burlington beat Wakefield at Landrigan Field 42-14.

“We struggled against a lot of these teams last year and we’re definitely using that as motivation to reinforce the concept that things are different this year,” said Rafferty. “They’re working hard as a unit.”

The Warriors are quickly learning what a great week of practice can do. Now they just have to do it again as they get ready to play another undefeated team, Winchester (4-0) at Landrigan on Friday at 7 p.m.

Rafferty celebrated his 100th win with many of the same assistants who helped him get 95 of them at North Andover High.

“It’s a staff accomplishment,” he said.

And an impressive one at that – the type of feat only attained with a “what’s next?” mentality; something Rafferty wants his team to embrace this week.

“It’s done. The kids reaped the benefits of working hard. Now we have to do it again.”

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