FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- Leominster did more than simply win a Super Bowl championship, Saturday, at Gillette Stadium.
The Blue Devils forged a place in history, too.
They did all of that in one fell swoop with their 21-6 triumph over St. John's Shrewsbury, to claim the Central Massachusetts Division 1 crown.
It is Leominster's 11th Super Bowl title, tying it with Brockton for the most football championships in state history.
No small achievement, considering that the Pioneers dropped their first three games of this season.
“It means everything,” said running back Geraldo Rivera, who rushed for 81 yards and a third quarter touchdown on 17 carries. “We went from 0-3 to 10-3. That basically sums up everything.”
Said junior quarterback, Garrett DelleChiaie, who was unaware of the historical significance, “Really? That feels great. Now we've got something to defend next year.”
The Blue Devils took to the air -– if somewhat unconventionally –- to build up a 14-0 halftime advantage.
The first strike came with 1:38 left in the first quarter on a halfback option pass from sophomore Neil O'Connor to his brother Kevin, a senior.
Neil O'Connor took a left side lateral from quarterback Garrett DellChiaie, then hit Kevin in full stride as he streaked down the left sideline behind the Pioneer secondary.
St. John's sought to respond on its next possession, and drove to the Leominster 27.
However that drive was halted when Kevin O'Connor, playing safety on defense, picked off St. John's quarterback Connor Kurtz at the 5.
The Blue Devils proceeded to grind out a 19-play, 95 yard drive that culminated with a 4 yard strike from DelleChiaie to tight end Daniel Curley, with 6 seconds to play in the half.
The Pioneers were primed to pull themselves back into the game, early in the third quarter, when they drove to the Leominster 2.
But on fourth and goal, the snap from center sailed over Kurtz's head, ending that threat.
Soon after, the Blue Devils put the game away, using Rivera's 14 yard burst to make it 21-0.
St. John's lone score came on the opening play of the first quarter, a 17 yard strike from Kurtz to Efrain Montalvo.
“This is amazing,” said Kevin O'Connor. “I've never felt anything better in my life.”
Giving thanks for the big play: It was perhaps the biggest play of the day for Leominster, of many that made up its 21-6 Super Bowl win over St. John's.
Indeed there's no question that the 44 touchdown pass from halfback Neil O'Connor to his brother Kevin that in the first quarter gave the Blue Devils both the lead and a huge boost to the psyche.
“That was the greatest feeling,” said DelleChiaie.
As plays go, this was one you couldn't draw up in the dirt.
In fact, with all of its moving parts, the option -- dubbed “Thanksgiving Day” by Blue Devils coach Dave Palazzi -- was as complicated as it gets.
It started with a fake handoff by DelleChiaie to Rivera, followed by the well-placed lateral to Neil O'Connor, then followed by the perfect strike to Kevin.
“It was kind of a crazy play,” said Neil. “But it was a good one. It worked.”
Said Kevin, “It's designed to look like a screen, so I just jog. Then make a sharp cut once (Neil has) the ball.
“We've worked on it a lot in practice. And to tell you the truth, that's the best of all the times we've run it.”
It might not have been run at all if the play had been unveiled when it was supposed to be, during the Thanksgiving rivalry game (hence the name) with Fitchburg.
However, circumstances intervened, which allowed the Blue Devils to dust it off for the Super Bowl.
The timing couldn't have been better.
And for that, Leominster can give “thanks”.
Mistaken Identity? It's said that you can't the players without a program. However instead of wearing jersey No. 1 as he is listed, Rivera pulled on No. 23.
It wasn't a matter of trying to confuse the Shrewsbury defense.
Instead, the explanation was a little more practical.
“It ripped completely,” said Rivera, “and I never got anyone to sew it.”
Leominster 21, St. John's (Shrewsbury) 6
L (10-3) 6 8 7 0 – 21
S (8-5) 0 0 0 6 – 6
L – Kevin O’Connor 44-yard reception from Neil O’Connor (kick blocked), 1:38
L – Daniel Curley 4-yard reception from Garrett DelleChiaie (DelleChiaie run), :06
L – Geraldo Rivera 14-yardrun (Ryan Moran kick), 1:52
S – Efrain Montalvo 17-yard reception from Connor Kurts (kick no good), 9:53