Photo: Belmont wide receiver Will Ellet 6-yard touchdown vs. Reading
Last time Reading High Football was at Harris Field back in 2015; the matchup was ugly in many ways.
On a rainy Friday night, the Middlesex League powerhouse steamrolled the Marauders, leading 42-0 at halftime, while displaying an utter lack of sportsmanship.
This past Thursday, it was the winless hosts against the 2-1 Reading team, smarting from its second loss to Lexington in as many years six days before. After Reading’s star running back Jack Geiger took the first carry of the game 66 yards for a touchdown; it appeared the Rockets would make quick work of the Marauders.
But in a game that could prove to be a watershed for the team, Belmont refused to turn tail and run. Rather, the squad took the measure of the Rockets, staying within arms-length of the visitors throughout the contest, taking a near-record performance by Geiger to secure a 29-24 victory over the hosts.
Geiger rushed for 266 yards – the fourth most by a Reading player – and scored Reading’s four touchdowns, with most of his yards coming from sweeps around the tackles as his speed was, at times, too much for the Marauder defense.
“That’s two weeks in a row that we’ve seen tough backs,” said Belmont Head Coach Yann Kumin. “Last week Woburn running back Isaiah Cashwell-Doe, and obviously [Geiger] is a great back, we saw him last year as a great back.”
While Reading (3-1) relied on Geiger, Belmont’s (0-4) senior quarterback George Fitzgerald was outstanding, throwing for 182 yards on 19 for 25 passing and a pair of touchdowns. With the passing game clicking, the Marauders’ running attack led by senior fullback Adam Deese and running back Tyler Reynolds was able to pick up critical yards in the game.
After the Rockets’ initial score, Belmont – using short passes and runs up the middle – took the ball 47 yards to the Reading 25 yard line where Fitzgerald lofted the ball to the back of the end zone where wide receiver Jake Pollock outleaped two defenders to come down with the ball for the TD at the 4:08 mark in the first quarter to knot the game up at 7.
Reading would retake the lead behind the running of Geiger, finishing the job with a 12-yard run midway through the period. Just to add insult to injury, a muffed hold on the point-after-touchdown was take in for a two-point conversion to up the Rocket lead to 15-7.
After both teams could not make their first downs, Belmont would take nearly six minutes off the clock on a 56-yard scoring drive, culminating with a Fitzgerald to wide receiver Will Ellet 6 yard touchdown with 21 seconds left to cut the lead to 15-14 at the half.
Belmont’s positive play in the first half was put sorely under pressure on the first play in the second half when that man Geiger repeated his first quarter heroics by romping 58 yards on the first play in the third quarter for his third touchdown in as many quarters.
But once again, Belmont would not quit, marching from the Marauders’ 10 to Reading’s ten where Marauder senior kicker Aidan Cadogan hit a 27-yard field goal with 5:28 remaining in the third to cut the lead to 22-17.
In the fourth quarter, Reading took the ball and grinding it down the field behind Geiger, ending on a 6 yard run straight up the gut to up the lead to 29-17.
Belmont appeared ready to head over the ball on downs, facing a fourth and one from the 30-yard line when lightning struck in the guise of running back Kilian O’Connell who hit the hole and found daylight, scampering all alone 70 yards for the TD that caused the bleachers to rattle and roll.
Down just five, 29-24, with 5:15 to play, it appeared Belmont’s fortune had finally smiled on the Marauders as Reading seemed to be falling apart with three consecutive penalties resulting in a first and 30 from its 25-yard line.
But facing a second down and 26 yards, it was Geiger again coming down the line and turning up the field to gain 25 critical yards. Reading would convert that and two other first downs to run out the clock to take home the victory.
Kumin said the game showed the best of his team “with the effort they put forward and executing in the big moments when they had to to keep this game tight.”
“I’m proud of the team identity the boys brought to the table,” he said.