BILLERICA, Mass. -- The scoreboard may have said 40-30 in favor of Billerica over Lowell Friday, but it was a lot closer than it appeared. The Red Raiders fought hard, even tying the game at one point, but they never could take the lead.
The No. 20 Indians jumped out to an early 14-0 lead when Byron Ramirez ran for two touchdowns on his team’s first two drives of the game.
Both offenses struggled to score for the remainder of the first half, but Billerica (6-1) took a 14-6 lead into the break.
The fireworks started right at the beginning of the half. On the opening drive of the second half, Lowell (5-3) moved the ball down the field in barely over two minutes. Quarterback R.J. Noel hit Jack Galvin for a 10-yard touchdown, and then successfully executed a 2-point conversion pass to tie the game at 14.
Billerica came back and answered with a two-minute drive of its own, which was capped off when Nick LaSpada found Cam Slatton running a post pattern towards the right pylon and put the ball over his shoulder for the touchdown.
The team extended its lead in the fourth quarter when Ramirez ran for another touchdown, again putting his team up by two scores.
“We came out in the first quarter moving the ball well, but then we stalled there a little bit in the second,” LaSpada said. “At halftime, we made a couple adjustments and came out flying here in the fourth quarter and put the game away.”
Ramirez ended the game with 21 carries for 117 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was Billerica’s leading rusher, but LaSpada was right behind him with 112 yards rushing of his own.
“The offensive line really stepped up, they really helped me do my thing and they did their thing,” Ramirez said. “We really stepped up. We needed this.
“Coach always says to keep running your feet. I always do that. Every time, before the play, I always think about what I’m going to do, and that really helps me out.”
Lowell did not go quietly however. On its next drive, Noel found his favorite target, Gilberto Brown, running in the secondary and connected with him for a 45-yard touchdown pass. It had another successful two-point conversion, making it a 6-point game. The Red Raiders were at a disadvantage all night because their usual field goal kicker, Connor McHugh, was out with an injury. That forced the team to go for two points after every touchdown, rather than kicking an extra point.
The two teams traded touchdowns until LaSpada hit Slatton for another touchdown pass, making it a 10-point game with two minutes to go.
Slatton had seven catches for 133 yards in the game. LaSpada was 15-of-28 for 235 yards and a touchdown through the air.
The Red Raiders turned the ball over on downs during its ensuing possession, finally allowing Billerica to breath easy knowing it was leaving with a victory.
“We have to stay tough, we have to execute play by play,” LaSpada said. “We have to stay consistent. Coach preaches that all the time that consistency is the biggest thing.”
“This win says we never give up, we always stay the course,” Ramirez added. “Coach Flynn always says, ‘Thunder and lightning, we stay the course, we never give up.”
If a quarterback throws for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a game, it would be easy to believe he played for the winning team. Friday, however, those were Noel’s numbers in a losing effort. He threw 178 of those to Brown, who had 10 catches in the game. The dual-threat quarterback is usually prolific on the ground, but the Billerica defense was able to keep him in the pocket. He ended the game with 15 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. While his numbers are impressive, its his two interceptions that proved to be crucial. The most important was the second quarter interception caught by Slatton in the endzone on a long pass intended for Brown. The ball tipped off Brown’s hands when he jumped to catch it, and Slatton was able to secure it for the touchback. If Brown would have been able to come down with the ball, it would have been a one-score game with six minutes to go in the half. Hypothetically, that touchdown could have changed the entire complexion of the game.
In the third quarter, Noel was picked off again and Ngiiva Mason lost a fumble. While Billerica was unable to create points off the three turnovers, it was the momentum swings that resulted from them that were critical.
“Those were big,” Billerica head coach Peter Flynn said. “The kids stayed the course, they bent, but they didn’t break in those situations. We, as a coaching staff, address all the time how important that is that you bend a little bit but just as long as they don’t go in that endzone, its fine.”
BATTLE OF ELITE QBs
When facing a quarterback like Noel or Billerica’s LaSpada, you have to be prepared for them to take off and try to run and create plays with their feet. Friday, Lowell was willing to take away that part of his game and force him to beat them with his arm. They played with a single-high safety and brought an extra defender into the box, leaving man-to-man coverage on the receivers on the outside. Rather than try to force a play with his feet, LaSpada stayed patient in the pocket and did his damage that way. He still ended the game with 112 yards rushing, but 81 of those game after halftime.
“They were giving me the cover-3 look with the free safety over the top, so I was just sitting in the pocket, finding the open guys,” he said. “There was no need for me to run until we needed the big play so I could step up and do that.”
That was nothing new for Flynn and the Billerica coaching staff.
“This is what we go over all the time in practice,” said Flynn. “He’s seen every defense in practice, from when they bring eight guys to when they drop eight guys. He’s so disciplined. As you could see, he just takes his time, surveys the situation, and makes the correct call.”
It was the Indians’ sixth win in a row after the early season 12-7 loss to Woburn. The team credits that game as a wake-up call and its seniors leadership as reasons for its turnaround.
“This is my fourth year starting with the team, so I looked at all the seniors and said that couldn’t happen again,” LaSpada said. “The first thing I thought of when I came off the field was that wasn’t supposed to happen. So I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“That was a slap in the face,” Flynn said of the loss to the Tanners. “That was a reality check and wake-up call for the kids. In the preseason we had it pretty easy as far as dominance and in the first game against Burlington our kids did very well and moved the ball and scored a lot. Things were looking really good and I think we forgot what got us there. That really woke everybody up that we have to stay the course, be shoulder-to-shoulder and be one family with one heartbeat.”
NO. 20 BILLERICA 40, LOWELL 30
Billerica - 14 0 7 19 -- 40
Lowell - 0 6 8 16 -- 30
B - Byron Ramirez 8-yard run (Steve Trask kick)
B - Ramirez 17-yard run (Trask kick)
L - Gilberto Brown 10-yard pass from RJ Noel (2-pt conversion failed)
L - Jack Galvin 10-yard pass from Noel (Brown pass from Noel)
B - Cam Slatton 35-yard pass from Nick LaSpada (Trask kick)
B - Ramirez 14-yard run (Trask kick)
L - Gilberto Brown 45-yard pass from Noel (Emo Beaudry pass from Noel)
B - LaSpada 5-yard run (2-pt conversion failed)
L - Noel 4-yd run (Brown pass from Noel)
B - Slatton 17-yard pass from LaSpada (kick failed)