STONEHAM – All the emotion that had been pent up inside Stoneham head coach Bob Almeida came out with lots of dancing and smiles on Friday night when his team polished off a 30-13 win over Melrose for his 200th career win, becoming the 56th coach to do so in Massachusetts history.
“That was a lot of pressure last week and coming into this week,” Almeida said after his team gave him the obligatory water bath as time wound down. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and this is a credit to all the players and coaches that we’ve had everywhere we’ve been. Every one of them is responsible for this.”
The milestone win was a clinic in winning football for Stoneham as the Spartans (4-1) dominated on both sides of the ball in the second half in outscoring the visitors 23-6 after the half. It was also dominated by the big play as running back Shane Farren did everything but carry the kitchen sink for Stoneham.
The senior turned all the momentum Stoneham’s way midway through the second quarter with his team trailing 7-0 after a Nick Chiulli first-quarter touchdown for Melrose. On third-and-21 from the Spartans 25, quarterback Jason Nutting went deep and found Farren wide open on a post route for a score that cut the lead to 7-6 at halftime.
“That touchdown pass was huge. We’ve hit that for a big play to Shane more than once this year,” Almeida said. “He really is having a great year and he ran like a beast (Friday).”
Feeding off that touchdown and a half-ending stop by its defense, the Spartans came out of the locker room and took control of the game in the third quarter.
Stoneham received the kick and didn’t let Melrose (3-2) see the field for almost nine minutes thanks to a 16-play drive that saw the Spartans convert twice on both third and fourth downs. A 25-yard Nutting to Paul Mannke pass got Stoneham in position to strike before Farren’s leaping grab on fourth down at the Melrose 38 kept the drive going.
James Landers paid off all the work as he capped the 87-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal to give the Spartans a lead they never relinquished.
Desperately in need of a drive to give its defense a rest, the Red Raiders instead went three-and-out, giving the ball right back to the red-hot Stoneham offense. The Spartans went right back to work as Nutting and Farren connected for a 25-yard gain on yet another third down on the penultimate play of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, Landers busted around the left side for his second score of the half, this one from 17 yards to give the Spartans a 22-7 lead after Farren’s conversion rush.
Melrose needed a spark to try and right the ship and that’s what quarterback Josh Madden gave the Red Raiders on the next offensive play as he kept on a read option play, broke four tackles, and then proceeded to out run the Stoneham secondary to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown. The conversion rush was stuffed, keeping it a two-score game with 9:53 to go.
It was as close as Melrose could get as the Spartans’ ground game finally began to wear out the Red Raiders defense. Fittingly it was Farren that insured Almeida’s milestone victory with a 27-yard jaunt to the house with 3:09 to go.
“This was just a gutsy performance but our team,” Almeida said. “We were able to wear them out in the second half.”