BILLERICA, Mass. -- Cal Carroll was just looking to move the chains, bring up a new set of downs, and run out the last 40 seconds on this clock to let the celebration begin. With third down and a few yards to go, his team up 29-26, the Methuen quarterback took a direct snap, churned up the right side and -- perhaps in a sign of how much his hogs in front had worn down the Billerica defense in the second half -- sprung loose for a 55-yard touchdown, the last 45 or so unscathed.
And so, on a night already on its way to being a pleasant surprise, the Rangers got some unexpected insurance in the first of what ought to be a handful of "hype games" in the Merrimack Valley Conference. Down 26-20 with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, No. 17 the Rangers rallied with 14 unanswered points to take down the No. 9 Indians, 36-26, for the program's first win over Billerica since 2000.
"I just can't believe it. This is the best win in program history," said Carroll, who racked up 290 yards of offense and four touchdowns in leading the Rangers to victory. "We haven't beaten Billerica in 10 years. This is just a great win for us...We wanted it so bad all week, we were hungry for it. You could tell. I think we proved it on both sides of the ball."
For wideout Raudy Minaya, whose basketball skills have translated well in the open field on the gridiron these last two seasons, tonight's win justifies that decision four years ago to come out for the freshman football team and put on a pair of shoulder pads for the first time in his life.
"It's amazing, it's amazing. Coming into high school, I didn't think I was going to play football," said an ecstatic Minaya, who had four catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. "I tried it out, and now look where I am. It's just the greatest feeling in the world right now."
Carroll and Minaya, best friends off the court and running mates on the hardwood, had their MVC coming-out party before a packed crowd at Marshall Middle School. But the Rangers won this game by buckling down in the trenches, moving the ball steadily with a series of zone-read options behind the guards and tackles. Led by seniors Steve DiZazzo and Dan Cormier on the left side, the Rangers paved their way to well over 200 yards on the ground with Carroll's 113 and another 98 from Ryan Savastano.
"Our line just got after it every play," Carroll said. "They never took a play off. Our tempo was really fast again (no-huddle), like it was last week. We really wore down there defense, and again that's because of our offensive line just taking it to them every play and not giving up."
All-everything quarterback Nick LaSpada (21 carries, 94 yards, TD; 19 of 34 passing, 240 yards, 3 TD) gave the Indians (2-1) a 26-20 lead with a 56-yard strike to Matt Clifford with 4:58 to go in the game (the point-after pass failed). Methuen (2-1) responded with a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive that took just over three minutes to complete. Minaya put the gears in motion by hauling in a 20-yard pass from Carroll in single-coverage on the third play, and the Rangers finished it off with a steady dose of Savastano draws and Carroll keepers. Carroll punched it in from three yards out on first and goal to give the Rangers a 29-26 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Clifford fielded a booming Cormier boot at his own five and brought it all the way down to the Ranger 37, bursting up a seam at the left hashmark before being dragged down near the left sideline. But the Indians stalled immediately.
Methuen head coach Pat Graham called for seven defenders to drop into coverage against LaSpada's precision arm, but the one rusher from the back seven -- linebacker Mike Harper -- caused a whole lot of havoc. Three times he exploded up the A-gap, and three times he created turmoil around LaSpada, first dropping him for a six-yard loss; then hurrying him into a throw out of bounds; and finally hurrying him to scramble up the middle on fourth down, where he was met forcefully by Jeff Sadezwicz and Gio Rivera and turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to go.
"I didn't want to lose. We had a bad kick return (coverage), and I knew I had to make up for it," said Harper, who earlier in the second half blocked an extra point kick and returned it for two points. "(This win) definitely puts us on the map, but we're not done. We're not done at all. We've got alot of work to do."
A few more observations:
-- Minaya's two scores came on the long ball. His first, a 51-yarder in the second quarter, came off a slant from wide left coming over the deep middle, where he easily shed an arm tackle and marched unscathed to paydirt. His second came in similar fashion, beating his man off the blocks off a go route.
It seemed like whenever the Indians left Minaya in single-coverage with no help over the top, the Rangers were going to make them pay for it.
"Me and Cal have that connection, and we just know when...our coaches have the perfect play calls," said Minaya, who now has five touchdown receptions on the season. "They're just perfect plays at the right time, you know? And that's what opens me up. I just run routes."
-- Graham put together a pretty diverse gameplan for stopping LaSpada, the defending Gatorade Player of the Year and an ESPNU 150 recruit for the Class of 2012. The Rangers came out in a 3-3-5 stack look defensively all night, and threw in a few stunts. Graham's assessment?
"We had all kinds of plans to stop him, and we used them all, and I don't think any of them really stopped him," Graham said. "But I think we threw him different looks, and we did alot of different things to him, sometimes we contained him and sometimes we didn't. He's obviously a very special player."
No. 17 Methuen 36, No. 9 Billerica 26
MHS 6 7 9 14 --- 36
BHS 7 7 6 6 --- 26
B - Matt Clifford 18 pass from Nick LaSpada (Steve Trask kick)
M - Ryan Savastano 5 run (kick failed)
M - Raudy Minaya 51 pass from Cal Carroll (Eric LaCroix kick)
B - Ryan Donohoe 8 pass from LaSpada (Trask kick)
B - LaSpada 9 run (Mike Harper blocked kick return)
M - Minaya 61 pass from Carroll (LaCroix kick)
B - Clifford 56 pass from LaSpada (pass failed)
M - Carroll 3 run (LaCroix kick)
M - Carroll 55 run (LaCroix kick)