READING, Mass. -- The No. 22 Reading High football team made one thing pretty clear when they shutout No. 9 Brockton, 12-0, on Friday night.
The Rockets’ defense is as for real as is their lauded offense.
That's no easy task either, as Reading has averaged no less than 27.2 points per game in each of the last four seasons. The Rockets made the playoffs in each of those seasons.
In 2012, though, the Rockets’ defense is yet to surrender a point. In week one, the two points that Lawrence scored came off a returned point after try.
And against Brockton?
The Boxers rushed for 141 yards on 29 carries, all while passing for just 23 yards and throwing two interceptions. In their week one win against then No. 2 BC High, Brockton got 139 yards from quarterback Austin Roberts.
He was again Brockton’s leading rusher, but was held to just 61 yards on 14 carries in the loss.
The Rockets defense, which only allowed Brockton to advance past the Reading 35-yard line once in the game, earned praise from their offensive signal caller.
“They’ve been outstanding. They’ve played physical, and they’ve played ‘Rocket Football’ as Coach [John Fiore] likes to say,” said Rockets quarterback Drew Belcher. “It’s awesome. It helps me out knowing if we can only get a couple touchdowns, we can still get out of there with a win.”
Linebacker Liam Kenneally paced the defensive attack, racking up eight tackles for the Rockets (2-0). Robert DiLoreto and Zack Krugman, both part of the line-backing corps as well, added four tackles a piece in the win.
Reading ended the last two Brockton drives with interceptions - one by Joe Papplardo and one by Chris Godwin – to seal the win.
Much of the defensive success is because of defensive coordinator Dave Blanchard.
“Coach Blanchard has helped us a lot over the last 10 to 15 years, in so many capacities,” Rockets head coach John Fiore said. “He’s just an unbelievable teacher of the game and an unbelievable classroom teacher. What a job he’s done coaching. Look back at every big game we’ve had the last couple years, and he’s found a way to shut the other team down.”
Getting behind a good run game
The Rockets defense may have shined brightest on Friday night, but they wouldn’t have been able to mount much of an offensive attack without an effective running game.
Led by Belcher’s 76 yards on 11 carries, Reading ground-and-pounded their way to a 164 yards on the ground on 26 carries. Belcher also ran in their first score with 2:54 remaining in the first half from 12 yards out.
The rushing success was especially important considering Brockton’s made passing difficult all night. Belcher finished 3-for-10 passing for 27 yards and a TD, but was 0-for-7 in the first half.
Reading’s run game picked up steam on their second possession, when their offensive linemen, led by senior captain Matt Comerford at right tackle, started dominating the trenches.
“They were awesome,” Fiore said. “That was a big question mark coming into the year. People thought we were going to a finesse team but the last two games we were pretty heavy on the run, and pretty heavy running off tackle and downhill.”
Added Belcher: “They played great all night. They were just awesome. They deserve a lot of credit tonight. We were just finding the holes. The running backs also did a great job of lead blocking and we were getting off the ball well.”
The line paved the way for Reading to run three drives of at least eight plays, including their 15-play scoring attack to open the third quarter. Belcher finally capped the drive 7:38 in the quarter with a touchdown pass to Godwin.
“They’re a good team and they put some drives together,” Brockton head coach Peter Colombo said. “The game got short and we had to pass the ball which isn’t our game.”
The lateral that wasn’t
Brockton’s best chance to put points on the board was stopped by the referees before it was stopped by Reading’s defense.
On fourth-and-5 from the 14 yard line with 9:40 remaining, Austin Roberts took off on a QB-keeper. When it became clear he would be dragged down by a Reading defender, Roberts pitched the ball backward toward Ricardo Calixte, who snagged it and took off toward the end zone, being forced out at the one.
With players milling about after the play, the referees converged on the spot where Roberts was taken down. They deemed an inadvertent whistle was blown, and the down was re-played.
Brockton’s second fourth down attempt resulted in an incomplete pass, signaling a turnover on downs.
“They explained it was an inadvertent whistle,” Colombo said. “They took away one of Auggie’s [Roberts] magical tricks. He knew it was fourth down and he was trapped there. He made a lateral and we got it to the one yard line. That would’ve given us a chance to make it a one score game.
“He apologized to me - the ref. He thought he fumbled intentionally instead of lateralling it. The ball never got on the ground anyway, so it wasn’t a fumble.”
The play may have changed the game late, but Brockton knew they lost the game because of missed opportunities throughout.
“We didn’t execute on offense and I’m very disappointed with that,” Colombo said. “We need to learn from it. It’s a long road, we can’t let this effect us. We have to move on.”