STONEHAM — All season, the Stoneham football team had been prepping and fine-tuning its pitch. It had cleared up its missing pieces, witnessed the maturation of its personnel, and gathered itself mentally for its big presentation against Middlesex League executive power Reading, all under the guidance of a new and skilled director, coach Bob Almeida.
Thursday morning, in the 100th meeting of the rivals, host Stoneham’s pitch was forcefully rejected. En route to its fifth straight playoff appearance, Reading beat the Spartans, 41-14, behind junior quarterback Drew Belcher’s four touchdown passes.
Stoneham, which hasn’t beaten the Rockets on Thanksgiving since 2005, trails in the series, 59-15-4, on the holiday and 65-27-7 overall.
“There’s a reason why Stoneham won seven games,” Reading coach John Fiore said. “But our offense clicked and our defense played well again. I thought our captains in particular answered all challenges really well.”
Reading will stay at home for its Tuesday matchup against Tewksbury in the first round of the Division 2 playoffs.
After a Reading interception, Alex Valente plowed through untouched for a 20-yard touchdown on his team’s first play, just 24 seconds into the game. It looked like a bad sign for Stoneham, but the Spartans kept it close for more than a quarter.
Neither team got on the board again until the 7:35 mark of the second quarter, when Belcher found Valente in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score.
The Spartans responded quickly, providing a jolt for the thousands in attendance. Quarterback Andrew Cann found David LaBossiere, who made a leaping, bobbling catch for 36 yards on Stoneham’s first play of the next drive, bringing the Spartans to the Reading 25.
Cann then connected with Eric Mooney for a 25-yard score, before he found LaBossiere again in the front corner of the end zone for a 2-point conversion, making the score 14-8.
Belcher was at it again on Reading’s ensuing drive, locating Robert DiLoreto in double coverage from 6 yards for a touchdown.
“Stoneham was playing man coverage, but we have athletes that make plays and run great routes,” said Belcher, who needs just two touchdown passes to eclipse Chris Pizzotti’s 2003 single-season team record of 20.
Reading scored 19 straight points in the third quarter to put the game away. Belcher ran for a 3-yard score, connected with Chris Godwin for a 48-yard strike, and found DiLoreto again for a 15-yard score on consecutive drives.
“What else can you say? Belcher was ready to go,” Fiore said. “Our lines were clicking, too. Now we can turn our attention completely to the playoffs.”