Rocket Football Preview: Playoff Round 2

Rockets Host Bishop Feehan


Colby Markham ('25), Orbit Contributor

Round two of the MIAA football playoffs is here, and the Rockets are moving on. It’ll be another game in the jungle, as 9-0 Reading will host the 5-3 Bishop Feehan Shamrocks on Hollingsworth Field this Friday at 5 pm, in a rematch of last year’s playoff game. But first, a look at last week.

Last Week: Reading Over Leominster

What happens when two of the most potent offenses in all of D2 go head to head? You get a thriller for the ages with a dramatic finish. The Rockets achieved liftoff last Friday in the historic matchup, accounting for 518 of the 942 combined yards of offense. Quarterback James Murphy threw for a whopping 324 yards and five touchdown passes. Aidan Bekkenhuis hauled in 3 of those touchdown passes, along with a total of 7 receptions for 99 yards, in a performance that was critical to the game’s final outcome.

“We just kind of got on a roll,” Said Bekkenhuis, “The plays that I caught passes on were normal plays we installed at the beginning of the year, there was nothing special about them, the defense just couldn’t stop them.”

Leominster Freshman quarterback Osiris Lopez had a very good showing as well in his first playoff start, tossing 260 passing yards and three touchdowns. Lopez’s favorite target, senior receiver Ricky Encarnacion, was electric, catching 7 passes for an outstanding 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. Promising freshman receiver Kaiden Drinkwater added 63 receiving yards and a touchdown.

We just kind of got on a roll…

— Aidan Bekkenhuis ('23)

Right out of the gate, the teams traded blows. Reading drew first blood when James Murphy found an open Bekkenhuis over the middle on third down. Bekkenhuis was then able to avoid defenders and make it into the endzone for the 32 yard score. Shortly after, Leominster responded with a big touchdown play of their own. On third and short, Osiris Lopez with a defender bearing down on him, backpedaled and launched a deep ball to Ricky Encarnacion. Remarkably, Encarnacion was able to pull it down, beating his pursuers to the end zone with 6:32 left in the first quarter. After a successful 2-point conversion, the score was 8-8. 

For about three minutes. 

Reading marched right down the field. A couple big catches later, the Rockets were knocking on the door. At the twenty yard line, Murphy bobbled and dropped a low snap. Somehow he was able to pick it up and throw a rope over the middle to Ryan Strout, who was taken down at the one. Strout got his touchdown the very next play on an unexpected handoff, and the Rockets took the lead back, 15-8.

Two subsequent punts by Reading and Leominster brought it to the second quarter. After Jake Palm secured the first of his two interceptions, the Rockets had the ball at their own 5. They were then able to lead a 95 yard drive ending in a touchdown run by Running Back Alvin Day. The teams traded scores to end the second quarter. A 39 yard touchdown pass from Lopez to Encarnacion, and a 13 yard touchdown pass from Murphy to Bekkenhuis made it 30-16 at the half. The lead would not remain safe though, as the Blue Devils came roaring back in the second half, scoring 12 unanswered points before Reading was able to momentarily stop the bleeding with another Aiden Bekkenhuis touchdown reception. A Leominster rushing touchdown on the very next drive kept the pressure on. The Rockets answered explosively, James Murphy hitting Ryan Strout on a seam route, who shrugged off his defender and made it to the endzone for the 48 yard score, Making it 44-36.

But the Blue Devils weren’t finished just yet. From their own 34 yard line, Leominster executed a brilliant drive. Punctuated by a couple of big first down scrambles from Osiris Lopez, they drove down the field effortlessly, but stalled at the goal line. The Rockets stuffed three straight Leominster attempts to punch it in, and all of a sudden it was fourth down at the 1 yard line. Reading seemed poised to make a clutch goal line stand, but the Blue Devils had other ideas. They were able to finally break through on another run up the middle, and the following end-around on the two-point conversion tied it at 44-44 with 3:11 left in the game, and set the stage for an exciting conclusion.

Following the kickoff return, the Rockets had it at the 31, and James Murphy went to work. After an incompletion and a stuffed running play, it was third down and eleven but an 18 yard laser over the middle to Ryan Strout moved the chains, and kept the drive moving. A couple of big runs from Alvin Day and a first down toss to Strout brought Reading all the way to the 26 of Leominster. On first down, a hole opened up in the defensive line, enabling a 15 yard scamper from Murphy all the way to the 11. On the very next play, Murphy rolled out to his right, and after seeing nobody home, took it for 4 more yards before getting out of bounds with 43 seconds to go. After a 3 yard carry from Alvin Day, it was third down and goal, with the clock still running, setting up Reading’s final offensive play of the game.

On a play from the shotgun, Murphy scrambled out of the pocket with a defensive lineman in hot pursuit. With fans on their feet, Murphy looked over the middle and zipped a pass across his body to a wide open Ryan Strout. 51-44 with thirteen seconds to go. The Reading defense was then able to foil Leominster’s attempts to tie the game, walking out with a hard-fought victory.

This Week: Bishop Feehan

How will that offensive shootout compare to this rematch against 14th ranked Bishop Feehan? There won’t be nearly as many points, because there won’t be as many chances to score. The Shamrocks almost exclusively run the football. The ground game is led by senior running back Nicholas Yanchuk, who played outstandingly in a 65-18 win over Arlington Catholic. In the blowout, Yanchuk rushed for 275 yards and five touchdowns.

Their run game is very good. Right from the jump we have to be physical and tough and stop that

— Aidan Bekkenhuis ('23)

“Their run game is very good. Right from the jump we have to be physical and tough and stop that,” Bekkenhuis said about Bishop Feehan, “Their coaching staff is really good… we’ll have to be ready for everything.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Shamrocks are inconsistent at times, but decent and able to learn from mistakes. However, it has been shown that in order to keep the Reading offense in check, a defense has no room for inconsistency. The Bishop Feehan roster boasts two defensive players with notable football heritage, Case Mankins, son of ex-Patriot Logan Mankins, and Dante Bruschi, son of ex-Patriot Tedy Bruschi. According to Bekkenhuis, however, the success of an opponent’s parents holds no significance once they are on the field.

“They’re just high school kids so we’re not really scared of them just because their dads had really good careers. We played them last year and had pretty good success on offense. We had a lot of penalties which killed us at the end so that’s why it was such a close game, but if we minimize the penalties and we do what we did last week, we should have no problem.”

It’s another one at home, Reading. Get loud. 

The Rockets are favored to win.