READING — James Murphy could not have asked for a much better opportunity on opening night to show why the junior quarterback and the Reading football team should be on everyone’s radar this season.
Kicking off his third season under center for the Rockets, Murphy led two scoring drives late in the first half — including an 82-yard drive with under two minutes — to catapult the eighth-ranked Rockets to a 40-21 Middlesex League win over No. 10 Melrose Friday night.
The win ended Melrose’s 21-game win streak — the longest in the state entering play.
“It was time to end that,” said Murphy, who was 23-for-36 passing for 308 yards and three touchdowns.
Melrose answered the bell early after Reading scored on its first possession. Quarterback Trevor Botto scampered up the middle for 50 yards on a quarterback read to tie things 7-7 early.
Then the spotlight shifted to Murphy and Rockets.
Colby Goodchild plunged in from a yard on fourth down to break the tie with 3:08 left in the half. And the Rocket defense forced a three-and-out to give Murphy the ball on his 18-yard line with 1:24 remaining.
Back-to-back completions up the seam to Ryan Strout of 17 and 21 yards and a 34-yard completion to Jesse Doherty set up a 6-yard pass to Goodchild a 21-7 lead at half.
“I feel really comfortable and the guys around me are great,” said Murphy. “That was an amazing drive. We practiced that exact thing at practice yesterday and to see it play out on the field was awesome.”
The momentum swing into the half proved back-breaking for the Red Raiders defense. Goodchild started the second half with his third score, a 2-yard run to cap a 13-play drive.
Murphy hit Alex DiNapoli for the junior’s second touchdown, a 14-yarder to start the fourth quarter. That capped a 28-0 run for the Rockets.
Botto added a 34-yard touchdown run and a touchdown pass to Liam Maher to close the deficit late. Alvin Day finished the scoring for the Rockets with a touchdown run.
“That core from the offensive line to the quarterback and the running backs,” said Reading coach John Fiore. “I can’t say enough about how they executed tonight.”