CHELMSFORD, Mass. -- As a lifelong Chelmsford resident, Zach Hayes has seen many a loss by the local high school to nearby rival Acton-Boxborough, both in good years and bad. So when the handshakes had ceased and his Chelmsford teammates took a knee around head coach Bruce Rich, Hayes, like everyone else, merely exhaled. Two years, no loss.
"It feels great that we can finally get a win streak," he smiled. "Teams before us, Super Bowl teams, never did it. We're just trying to build off that and make a run with it this year."
Hayes, by virtue of a fumble recovery in the Colonials' end zone, started the scoring late in the second quarter. The Lions then added another score with another lucky bounce in the third to cushion it, got some mileage out of feature back Joe Gennaro (27 carries, 204 yards), and then Hayes sealed it late with an inteception. They went on to win, 13-0, and mark the first win streak by Chelmsford (2-0) in this annual series (the Lions also won 2009's contest, 28-21).
"Twelve years in a row losing? Yeah, I remember it," laughed junior linebacker Tim Joy (12 tackles), another Chelmsford lifer. "It feels really good, but you can't get over-confident now. It's like every other game to me -- 100 percent, relentless every single play."
After taking a downed punt at their own four midway through the second quarter, the Lions marched 95 yards in 15 plays, with quarterback A.J. Rotella (9 of 17, 100 yards, TD) keeping the drive alive with darting scrambles and light pop passes over the middle. On fourth and goal at the Colonials' one yard line, Rotella was stuffed on a sneak over center, met at the goal line by Matt Marcotte, Brendan Spangler and Collin Shaughnessy.
It took all of one play to reverse that fortune. On A-B's first play of the ensuing drive, Eric Apgar came off tackle right only to be met at the line of scrimmage by Brett Harrington. Hayes then popped the ball loose from Apgar's grip, and fell on it in the end zone for the game's first score.
Hayes followed through just as he does in the Lions' strip-and-rip drills in practice.
"Our coach Sal (Lupoli), he does the drill, and he's very intense with it," Hayes said. "He just teaches us to punch it and rip it."
Said Joy of the Hayes' fumble recovery, "I'd say he's probably the best defensive player in the MVC right now, and he's my best friend. So that feels good."
The Lions gave themselves some cushion in the third quarter when, on fourth and 10 at the Colonials' 13, Rotella rolled right and flicked a fade to the far right corner of the end zone. The pass was originally intended for Arron Witkus; but Witkus, falling out of bounds, smartly tipped it up instead, and Anthony Andre came down with it for the 13-0 lead.
A few more observations:
-- At halftime, the Colonials had mustered just 46 yards of offense. And really, they didn't get going until the fourth quarter, down two scores. A-B head coach Bill Maver deflected the blame unto himself -- "The whole game we had no life to us, we were flat from the beginning, but that's on me, that's my fault," he said -- but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and credit the Lions defense.
In eight quarters so far this season, the Lions have yet to give up a point. Head coach Bruce Rich said he installed a 3-4 scheme this season to match up better with the many spread teams he'll face the rest of the way, but that's not to discount his depth at linebacker. Juniors Ryan Decoste and Joy (who's already receiving great Division 1 interest) were very active tonight at the two middle backer positions, and provided tremendous run support.
"We really like our defense," Rich said. "We've got some youth over there, most of those kids are juniors, including (Corey) Everleigh. With Decoste, Tim Joy and on the other side Joey Christopher, they're just great athletes. They all play two or three sports. We installed a 3-4 defense this year, hope I'm not jinxing it but...we were able to apply it tonight against a Wing-T offense.
"The kids worked it well. So, we're putting most of our good athletes on that side of the ball, and they can run to the ball. Tonight, they did a great job."
-- That isn't to say the Colonials are running with flat tires, either. After years of wearing defenses out with the Wing-T, Maver has diversified his playbook a bit. A-B ran some spread packages tonight, and used it to put together a solid drive in the fourth that came up empty when Hayes jumped a route over the middle for the pick.
Wes Schroll (four catches, 48 yards) is their best vertical threat and go-to guy in hurry-up mode -- the 6-foot-3 senior kept the chains moving with great sideline routes. But Maver was most pleased with Schroll's pursuit of Gennaro on the Lions' game-ending drive; the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Gennaro burst up the middle on the first play following Hayes' pick, and was chased down by Schroll 52 yards later.
"That was impressive in my book. That means you want to play football," Maver said.
-- For all the talk about Billerica and Central Catholic, here's my case for Chelmsford as the team to beat in the MVC Large. Not only are they a sound, balanced defense, they have the capability to wear down teams in the second half with monster drives.
Speaking specifically to Gennaro, the Lions kept the chains moving tonight without having to rip off too many big plays, thanks to the run game. Gennaro follows his blockers well, and looked elusive against A-B. One particular play that comes to mind is his second carry of the third quarter, a nifty little 33-yard scamper: out of the I, Gennaro plunged up the middle, cut 45 degrees to the right sideline, reversed direction at the right sideline, and evaded several more tacklers with two quick cuts to the left before being wrapped up at midfield.
"I think he's one of the best running backs in the state," Hayes said of Gennaro. "Just how he plays, he's one of the toughest runners...(his big runs) just lights our team up. He did it alot last year, we get psyched for him and we just try to build off that."
Chelmsford 13, Acton-Boxborough 0
AB 0 0 0 0 --- 0
CH 0 7 6 0 --- 13
C - Zach Hayes 0 fumble recovery (Charlie Calenda kick)
C - Anthony Andre 13 pass from A.J. Rotella (kick failed)