NORTH READING — He’s the other man in the backfield, the player that lines up next to record-setting Carl Lipani and only earns carries when necessary.
But when the Hornets needed big plays last night, C.J. McCarthy was ready for prime time.
The junior running back rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter, and made a huge interception to lead the Hornets to a comeback 17-14 victory over Pentucket last night in a battle of 3-1 teams.
“C.J. turned it up a notch in the second half,” said North Reading coach John Wall. “We needed it and he was great.”
With the Pentucket defense shutting down area rushing leader Lipani — with just 30 yards on 11 carries in the first half — North Reading went to their other back to start the second half and he responded.
McCarthy struck first for a 10-yard touchdown, and three minutes later plunged in for a 3-yard score that proved to be the winning margin. McCarthy, who entered the game with just one rushing touchdown on the season, finished with a season-high 56 yards on 12 carries.
“C.J. was awesome,” said Lipani. “He worked so hard in the offseason, and you can see how hard he runs. When teams play me too much, he can definitely hurt them.”
When he wasn’t doing it on offense, McCarthy added a key interception and made eight tackles.
“That interception was crazy,” said McCarthy. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to catch it. It was a big win.”
Doing it for coach: The Hornets had to play last night without offensive coordinator Ed Melanson, who was in a car accident on Monday and spent much of the week in the hospital. Melanson’s father was there to accept the game ball, and Wall expects him back next week.
“We did it all for coach Melanson,” said McCarthy. “We really missed him today. It was a tough week for him, but we wanted to get this win for him.”
44 vs. 44: The best one-on-one matchup of the day was North Reading’s No. 44 Lipani against Pentucket No. 44’s Tim Freiermuth.
Freiermuth had a big day, making 14 tackles and limiting Lipani in the first half. But Lipani and the physical North Reading front got the better in the second half, as he finished with 64 yards after the break.
Lineman to TD: Pentucket’s Mike Tashjian never looked quite right with a lineman’s number. After all he is just 5-6 and 150. Still listed as a lineman on the roster, Tashjian was a receiver last night and caught a touchdown pass.
Big men, big plays: It’s hard to miss 6-foot-2 (listed) and 270 pounds North Reading lineman John Fortes. And he played that big last night, making 10 tackles.
Fellow lineman Ryan Boucher may not be quite as big — at 240 — but added a huge play when he caused and recovered a fumble that set up the Hornets’ second score.
North Reading 17, Pentucket 14
Pentucket (3-2): 6 8 0 0 — 14
North Reading (4-1): 0 3 14 0 — 17
P — Mike Tashjian 35 pass from Mike Kuchar (kick failed), 5:25
NR — Mike DiSanto 25 field goal, 2:51
P — Cody Rothwell 35 run (Will Sullivan pass from Kuchar), 1:45
NR — C.J. McCarthy 10 run (rush failed), 3:41
NR — McCarthy 3 run (Carl Lipani rush), 0:45
RUSHING: NR (46-187) — Carl Lipani 24-94, C.J. McCarthy 12-56, Jackson Kellogg 6-17, Evan Wade 4-20; P (24-115) — Cody Rothwell 12-89, Tim Freiermuth 8-30, Ryan Kuchar 4-(-4)
PASSING: NR — Lipani 0-1-0, Kellogg 0-1-1; P — Kuchar 5-11-1. 79
RECEIVING: P — Mike Tashjian 1-35, Luke Strangman 1-22, Freiermuth 2-17, Rothwell 1-5
David Willis is a sportswriter/videographer for The Eagle-Tribune. You can see his video profiles at eagletribunetribune.com/sports