MELROSE — Running back Mike DiRaffaele notched his first two scores of Friday’s game against Watertown the hard way — bursting through holes at the line of scrimmage, shaking tacklers, and cutting for the outside edge before racing down the sideline.
Yet his most important contribution for Melrose came on the other side of the ball late in the fourth quarter. With his team holding a 20-13 lead and Watertown driving, the senior — lined up at linebacker — returned an interception of a Nick Giordano pass 45 yards for a TD. DiRaffaele’s interception — one of four for the home team — broke open the game late as Melrose (4-1, 2-1 Middlesex Freedom) upended previously undefeated Watertown, 33-13.
“They gave us all we could handle, that’s for sure,” said Melrose coach Tim Morris. “[Watertown has] a lot of weapons at the skill position and skill up front. We made a couple of big plays on defense in that last quarter that sealed the deal.”
The senior backfield tandem of DiRaffaele (113 yards rushing, three TDs) and Eric Mercer (95 total yards, two touchdowns) accounted for all five Red Raider scores.
In search of its first winning record in conference play since 1995, Watertown (4-1, 2-1) wasted little time testing the Melrose defensive backs. On the second play from scrimmage, Nick Giordano flushed right before looking deep for wide receiver T.J. Hairston on the near sideline.
The pass appeared to be short, but Hairston used his 6-foot-3-inch frame to haul in the pass over a defender before turning up field for a 75-yard score.
Unable to gain a first down through its first two possessions, Melrose broke onto the scoreboard with 1:52 remaining in the first quarter as quarterback Malik Garrett connected with Mercer for a 32-yard score.
Watertown would then get a key reception and ensuing touchdown from an unlikely character. About to be dragged down for a loss, Giordano tried to toss the ball away. His pass was tipped and fell into the hands of offensive lineman Angel Carrion, who then rushed for a 14-yard gain.
Four plays later, on second and goal from the 2, Watertown fumbled the handoff. But the 5-7, 207-pound Carrion was there again, jumping on the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Melrose answered on the ensuing drive as a 36-yard scramble by DiRaffaele set up his 7-yard score and a 13-13 halftime score.
On the first drive of the second half, Mercer outmuscled a pair of tacklers en route to a 48-yard jaunt. With first and goal at the Watertown 2, DiRaffaele took the ball straight up the middle for Melrose’s first lead of the game, 20-13.
After Giordano and Hairston connected for 134 yards and a touchdown on four receptions in the first half, the Watertown offense sputtered in the final two quarters.