Boston High School: Connor Lemieux

Framingham, Falmouth advance in D1 South

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27

BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. – During the last several seasons, Framingham goaltender Al Lynch has been among the state’s very best. But, at times, Lynch and his Flyers teammates have struggled to find consistency.

“We’re always shifting back and forth and we were hoping to hit our stride at the end of the year,” Lynch said. “We started off good. We knew we had the talent and we had some really nice wins, but we had some really bad losses. It’s just that when we don’t show up, it shows.”

And so, Lynch and Framingham’s seniors faced down what potentially could have been their final period of high school hockey. Tied, 2-2, against reigning Division 1 South champion Marshfield, Lynch knew they needed to come up with something special.

“We’ve been looking for this win, nothing was going to stop us tonight.”

Lynch continually slammed the door shut, making 42 saves. Meanwhile, junior forward Ryder Lessing chipped in a 2-goal game as the Flyers skated away with a 5-2 win over the Rams in Wednesday’s Division 1 South first-round game at Gallo Arena.

“Here we are against the defending Division 1 South champions and we’re tied 2-2 going on the third period,” Framingham head coach Paul Spear said. “[Lynch] made some absolutely amazing saves against some really talented and skilled players. He’s proven time and again he’s one of the best goaltenders in the state and he stole this one tonight.”

The Rams (15-8-0) got on the board first on Hunter McCauley’s one-timer set up on a pass across the top of the crease from Nevin Connors at 9:24 of the first.

Framingham (12-10-1) countered on the power play at 12:09, when Lessing played the puck between the pads of Rams netminder Connor Lemieux from below the goal line.

The Flyers claimed the lead before the period was out as defenseman Tim Tierney’s point shot through a screen, with Lemieux unable to see the rising half-slap.

Marshfield swung momentum in the second, outshooting the Flyers, 12-5, while tallying the lone goal of the period. Senior forward David Cataldo evened the score going bar-down with a power-play goal with less than a minute remaining in the second, beating Lynch to the high glove side.

“I thought we were focused and ready to get right back on the ice,” Rams head coach Dan Connolly said of his team’s effort in the second. “But credit to Lynch, the kid played phenomenal in net. They played hard, Paul [Spear] ran a great system, Lynch was amazing and they capitalized on their chances.”

Framingham regained the lead for good on Christian Seariac’s wrister from the slot with 7:24 remaining.

Lessing added an insurance goal with his second of the game – also on the power play – at 11:28.

Cory Gorovitz added an empty-net goal with less than a minute to play.

The Flyers advance to play No. 5 seed Franklin in the sectional quarterfinals on Saturday (time TBD), after the Panthers routed Weymouth, 7-2, on Wednesday.

Falmouth 2, Walpole 1 (2 OT)
A pair of freshmen led the way as the Clippers (13-8-2) walked away with a 2-1 victory in double overtime.

Patrick Coyne scored the game-winner on the power play, following a Rebels’ too-many-men penalty with 2:32 to play in the second overtime. It was Coyne’s second point of the game (1 G, 1 A).

Freshman defenseman Cam Tobey opened scoring for the No. 8 seed Clippers in the first period. Walpole (12-9-2) tied the game in the second period on a goal from junior defenseman Kevin Ivatts.

Falmouth advances to play Braintree, which returns to the South sectional tournament as the No. 1 seed, following the Wamps Super 8 play-in game loss, in a quarterfinal Saturday at Gallo.

Recap: No. 18 Duxbury 3, No. 11 Marshfield 2

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21

PEMBROKE, Mass. – With backyard rivals Duxbury and Marshfield duking it out in a Martin Luther King Day matinee, there was sure to be plenty of emotion. That was evidenced in the 23 penalties doled out to the teams in the course of 45 minutes.

But aside from the extracurriculars, the matchup between two of the top-ranked public high schools in the state was sure to be a heavy game. In that regard, the No. 18 Dragons bettered their 11th-ranked counterparts from Marshfield, while jumping out to a 3-0 third-period lead. Although the Rams made it a game with back-to-back power-play goals late in the third, Duxbury held on for a 3-2 win.

And they might just have gained something else in the process.

“Our guys wanted to go out there and earn some respect,” Dragons head coach John Blake said. “They were ranked ahead of us in all of the polls. They’re the top public school in a lot of polls. And we felt today we had a great opportunity to gain some respect and I think our guys really showed that they have some character.”

Duxbury (6-1-3) claimed a 1-0 lead 6:47 into the first on a Mike Boyle goal from Nick Marrocco.

Yet, it could have been worse for Marshfield (8-4-0), as the Rams were outshot 13-1 in the first frame.

Marshfield had difficulty breaking out of its own zone against the Dragons’ forecheck. The sledding wasn’t much easier in the neutral zone either, with Duxbury looking to take away open ice, in particular from the Rams’ potent top trio of JoJo Carbone, David Cataldo and Pat Shea.

The Rams improved their effort through the neutral zone, playing a more even period in the second, but the Dragons were still able to distance themselves. Shawn Errasti scored a power-play goal at 9:29 on Matt Saia’s dish across the faceoff dots.

“Our power play, we changed it up because it wasn’t really working,” Errasti said of the Dragons’ practices leading up to Monday’s action. “We were looking back door all day and it just worked.”

Duxbury netted its third goal at 8:15 of the third with Saia picking up his second helper of the game on Matt Murphy’s tally.

However, as the penalties continued to add up, the Dragons were burned on the Rams’ 5-on-3 power play chance with less than four minutes to play.

Marshfield called its timeout and the advice was heeded.

“It was a simple as we have to outwork them,” Rams head coach Dan Connolly said. “Every loose puck, we had to get three guys on it and then throw everything on net, I don’t care where it is, and have somebody out front. And it finally worked.”

Nevin Connors was finally able to solve Duxbury goaltender Tucker Kelly (16 saves) with 3:38 to play, putting back a puck through a scrum on the rebound of a shot from Jacob Maher. The Rams then went 2-for-2 on the sandwiched power plays, when Cataldo potted an unassisted goal just 17 seconds later.

Marshfield had a couple more point blank opportunities with goaltender Connor Lemieux (26 saves) pulled from his cage, but Kelly countered on each chance.

“You dig yourself a hole of three goals against a good team,” Connolly said, “it’s hard to come back.”

Mission accomplished: Entering Monday’s action, Blake paid extra attention to Marshfield’s top line, giving the primary responsibility of going toe-to-toe with the Rams’ top unit to his “shut-down” defensive pair of Tyler Powers and Errasti.

“We think that first line with Cataldo, Carbone and Shea is dynamite,” Blake said. “That’s the best first line we’ve played against all year long. We really wanted to try to limit their time and space, and then try to take the body as much as we could, and keep them on the perimeter.”

The plan worked, keeping the line scoreless until Cataldo’s power-play marker late in the third.

By limiting the trio’s speed coming through the neutral and then forcing the fleet-footed forwards to operate from the perimeter in the attack zone, the Dragons were largely able to mitigate the group’s impact.

“We knew they were coming out high, Coach [Blake] scouted them,” Errasti said. “They were coming from the week side and cutting across. We wanted [the third forward] high and our D would back up. We thought we could handle them defensively.”

On Errasti, who logged a boatload of minutes, Blake heaped praised on the blue-liner, citing him, and the work of his partner, Powers, as a key to Monday’s win.

“We have no problem putting him out there on the power play, PK or out against their top line because he keeps things simple out there and does the right thing,” Blake said of Errasti.

He added, “I thought they executed the game plan to a ‘T.’ We had them [Errasti and Powers] out against those guys for a specific reason – to shut them down – and I thought they did a great job.”

An added victory: Monday’s game was also played as part of a daylong fundraiser for the teams. The Fifth Annual “Green Cup” raised funds for the American Cancer Society.

The proceeds from t-shirts and knitted caps, along with raffle tickets will be donated.

Last year’s event raised more than $3,000.

Recap: No. 12 Marshfield 5, Falmouth 2

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
PEMBROKE, Mass. – Each of the last three seasons has ended with the same result in the Atlantic Coast League, with Marshfield as the champion, and Falmouth in second place.

The Rams took a big step towards extending that streak to four years in a row tonight at the Hobomock Arena. Thanks in large part to a three-goal outburst over a span of just three minutes and 31 seconds in the first period, No. 12 Marshfield toppled Falmouth by a 5-2 score.

The Rams improve to 6-3 overall, and are a perfect 5-0-0 in the ACL. Falmouth falls to and 2-2-0 in the league.

After a five minute feeling out period, in which neither team was able to put a shot on the opposing goalie, the Rams found a groove and scored on three of their first four shots against Clippers senior keeper Jake Beaton to set the tone for the day. Bookend strikes from David Cataldo around one from Colin MacDonald gave the Rams command for the rest of the day and gave a bit of breathing room for a defense that missing two of their top four blue liners.

Falmouth cut into the lead with a fortunate bounce of the puck early in the third period, but the Rams' Will Cole put the game away for good late in the third period when he popped a rebound of a Jeff Nagle shot past Beaton. Marshfield scored again early in the third, on a deflection off a Falmouth defenseman. Robbie Souza's second of the game, and 13th of the season, rounded things out for the Clippers late in the contest.

Marshfield head coach Dan Connolly said that his team's goal was to set the tempo early against a team that they know is always going to be one of their main contenders for the coveted league championship. Their first period flurry, he thought, went a long way towards picking up the two points in the standings.

“It's always a big league rivalry and the key was getting out early on them,” he said. “Our kids buzzed the net and it was good for us because in the last game, against Sandwich, we sort of started slow and then came on strong. Today I thought we started strong, and then in the second period, I thought they took it to us for a bit, but we finished well.”

Cataldo's first one was the result of a good shift by the senior forward. He flung a shot on net from the left side that Beaton stopped, but lost sight of. The Ram charged to the front and dug the loose puck out and popped it past the Falmouth netminder to put his team on the board at 4:59.

Before the public address announcer had finished reading off the night's first score, Marshfield added its second on a bang-bang play out of the left wing corner again. This time Sam Bartlett got the puck to the net where Cole snapped it in high to make it 2-0 at 7:05.

Cataldo, finished the night with a hat trick, reached the two-thirds mark of the cap tossing-worthy feat at 9:30 with a superb individual effort, again out of the left wing corner. The senior tip-toed his way along the goal line and lifted a quick wrister between Beaton and the pipe into a window that you couldn't fit a water bottle through. That finished off a supremely efficient first 15 minutes for the Rams, who scored on three of the six shots that they were able to get on net.

If Cataldo owned the first two periods the Rams, then senior goaltender Connor Lemieux could certainly say he had the pink slip on the latter two. The goalie halted 18 of the 20 shots in the game that were put on net by Falmouth, and 18 of the 19 that he saw, which did not include the first of Souza's two on the night as the Clippers' senior captain looked to center the puck from behind the net at 3:23 of the second, only to have his intended feed to the front ricochet off of Lemieux's equipment and bounce into the goal, getting the Clippers onto the board and into the game, at 3-1.

Falmouth had chances to tighten things up from that point on, but Lemieux prevented that from happening. He stopped a number of quality Clippers chances the rest of the way, including a nice body-up of a Cam Tobey bomb from the high slot late in the second and, most impressively, consecutive left leg pad flashes that robbed Tobey and then Cody Bailey.

“He made some really big saves for us tonight, especially right there where he went left pad, left pad,” Connolly said.

Later in the period Lemieux also stopped a 4-on-4 breakaway by Zack Barrett, sliding left-to-right to take away the prime scoring chance.

Cataldo finished off his hat trick, with a little help from the Clippers, midway through the third. The forward was attempting to wrist one from the left wing dot towards the net. One of the Clippers defensemen dove at the puck to block it, but instead changed the wrist shot's flight as it knuckled over Beatons' glove into the net.

Souza added the last goal of the night for the Clippers with 1:04 left on the clock. After having a breakaway fall apart, he spun off the ice and snapped one inside the near post to make it 5-2.

“I was proud of our effort. We spotted them two of the first three [goals] on a platter, and you can't do that against a good team, but I was proud of our effort for 45 minutes,” Falmouth head coach Paul Moore said. “I'd like a different result, but I thought we played well.”

Now the Rams have a chance to really secure themselves as the league front-runners on Wednesday night. The red hot and upset-minded Plymouth South Panthers (6-0-1, 2-0-1) come to town fresh off their own win over Falmouth, 3-0 last Wednesday, and would like nothing more than to vault past the perennial league champs.

South head coach Mike McCosh was in the house to scout the Rams on Saturday, with his club enjoying a bye over the weekend.

“South's a really good club and that's going to be a good match-up between us and them,” Connnolly said. “We're hoping to keep the momentum going.”

Recap: No. 11 St. John's (S) 2, No. 12 Marshfield 1

December, 27, 2013
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- Clinging to a one-goal lead heading into the final period, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) knew full-well Marshfield would throw everything but the kitchen sink at them over those last 15 minutes.

The No. 11 Pioneers were dead on in terms of their prediction. The No. 12 Rams opened up their offense in the frame, attacking the Pioneer zone with reckless abandon.

But when he needed to step up, St. John’s goaltender Mario Pizzeri did – meeting the challenge head-on. Pizzeri, a senior, was nothing short of brilliant, especially over the closing period, stopping all 11 shots he faced to preserve the Pioneer’s 2-1 victory in the opening round of tonight’s Silverback Hockey Classic at Loring Arena.

“That was a complete 45 minute game out there by both teams,” said Pizzeri, finishing with 28 saves. “I thought Marshfield kept most of their shots to the outside. I was seeing them pretty-well, but I still need to work on my rebound control a little more.”

St. John’s (2-1-1) will face Framingham in tomorrow night’s championship game beginning at 7:50 p.m. Marshfield (2-2-0) will take on Catholic Memorial in the consolation tilt starting at 5:50.

“Mario played very well,” Pioneers head coach Mike Mead said. “He really stood tall. Marshfield kept coming at us. We bent a little but didn’t break. We’re still continuing to learn as we go. We just want to get a little better with each game and hopefully a little tougher as well.”

The Pioneers grabbed an early 2-0 lead after dominating all but the final 20 seconds of the opening period, putting up 14 shots to the Rams’ five. Mike McGillicuddy, skating all alone along the right boards, put St. John’s up 1-0, launching a laser beam past Marshfield goaltender Connor Lemiuex just 33 seconds in.

The Pioneers continued to set up camp inside the Rams’ defensive zone and would add to their lead five minutes later when senior defenseman Bryan Nelson sailed a hard wrist shot through traffic that Lemiuex (30 saves) never saw.

It appeared as though St. John’s would head into the first intermission with its two-goal lead intact. But with 20 seconds remaining, an errant Rams shot deflected off the glass behind Pizzeri and landed onto the stick of junior Will Cole just in front of Pizzeri. The forward easily slipped the puck into the net to narrow the deficit to 2-1.

“Our kids played hard,” Marshfield head coach Dan Connolly said. “Mario [Pizzeri] played unbelievable for them in net. He made some big saves but Connor made some big saves for us too. We never gave up and had a couple of chances to tie it in the third but overall I thought our whole team played well tonight. We just couldn’t get the win.”

Both teams played evenly over during the middle frame, with each landing 13 shots on net but nothing to show for it. Marshfield’s offensive effort certainly looked to be much better in the period, but the Pioneers did a nice job clogging up the neutral zone and slowing the Rams rush up the ice. Likewise, Marshfield was performing admirably by taking away some of the passing lanes St. John’s had used effectively in the initial frame.

“We need to play more even-keeled out there,” Pizzeri said. “When you score two goals you should want to score two more. You don’t want to sit back and play just defensive because the other team can just start piling it up. That’s what they started doing in the third.”

Austin Prep enters season as boys' hockey No. 1

December, 12, 2013
For the first time in site history, a team other than Malden Catholic occupies the top spot in our preseason statewide MIAA boys' hockey Top 25 poll.

Last year's Super 8 runner-up Austin Prep takes the top spot to start the 2013-14 season, with the three-time defending champions, Malden Catholic, in the rearview mirror at No. 2

For the full poll, click HERE.

Here's a few observations from our first poll:

Super 8 Projecting?: It might be way too early to start thinking about the Super 8 tournament (although we've already given you a glimpse at our projections), but it's never really too early to predict, right?

You can read through the tea leaves on our Top 8, but let's not forget the tournament starts as a 10-team field. From Nos. 9-12, there's a cluster of three Catholic Conference teams likely to be in the fray. Xaverian (No. 9) might be the surprise of the group, but a potent offense led by Antonio Marini should have the Hawks in the hunt. Catholic Memorial and St. John's Prep are among the group -- both teams made the crossover round in last year's Super 8 -- but are filling some top-line minutes after graduations.

Let's not forget about No. 11 Marshfield, however. The Rams were included in last year's initial tournament Watch List and have made a Division 1 championship game appearance in two of the last three years. With six of their top nine forwards from last season returning, the Rams will find the back of the net, in addition to having a solid starter between the pipes in Connor Lemieux.

Where the champions stack up: In the state's Div. 1 and 2 levels, repeat champions hailing from the Middlesex League, enter our poll once again.

Burlington, winners of back-to-back D1 state titles, returns at No. 21. Meanwhile, two-time defending D2 champion Wilmington begins the year at No. 15. However, the Wildcats are guaranteed not to capture a three-peat, as they are among a host of teams, statewide, changing divisions this season. Wilmington joins the Middlesex League's Div. 1 teams this season.

Breakdown by conference:
Catholic Conference - 5
Catholic Central - 4
Middlesex - 4
Catholic West - 2
Hockomock - 2
Atlantic Coast - 1
Bay State - 1
Independent - 1
Northeastern - 1
Patriot - 1
Quinn - 1

D1 boys final: Burlington 4, Marshfield 2

March, 18, 2013

BOSTON – The biggest difference between Burlington High School and Marshfield in Sunday's Division I state championship game? A second-period stretch of hockey that lasted three minutes and 19 seconds.

Burlington scored three goals in that span, which turned a tie game into a three-goal advantage. It was too much for Marshfield to overcome, as the Red Devils went on to post a 4-2 victory and win the Division I title for the second consecutive season.

“That was definitely the difference,” Marshfield coach Dan Connolly said. “We got away from the way we wanted to play. We were too aggressive on the forecheck. We made a couple bad pinches that led to odd-man rushes and they capitalized. Give credit to them. They forced us into that.”

Senior forward Sean Murphy gave Burlington a 2-1 lead at 6:11 of the second, and then made it a 3-1 contest at 8:44. Senior J.P. Scola added a goal a 9:40 of the second that put the Red Devils up 4-1. Murphy's second goal came during a Burlington power play – one of two power-play goals the Red Devils scored in the game.

“I thought we were lucky to be 1-1 because I thought we were back on our heels and playing a little passive in the first period,” Burlington coach Bob Conceison said. “We changed our tactics a little bit. We played a little bit more aggressively and started taking the body more. Then once we got that goal to make it 2-1, the other two seemed to come fast. That was the key to the game.”

Burlington's Joe Berardi opened the scoring with a power-play goal in the first period and also collected two assists in the victory, which came in Burlington's fourth appearance in the Division I state final. The Red Devils completed their season with a 14-6-5 record.

Burlington, which had to replace seven seniors from last year's team, received a 27-save performance from senior goaltender Derek DeCastro.

“He's a great goaltender,” Connolly said. “He didn't give us a lot of net to shoot at. He knows how to win big games. He proved that last year.”

Marshfield hadn't allowed a power-play goal in the postseason until the championship game.

Senior forward Michael Carbone and junior defenseman Matt Burchill collected the Marshfield goals. Carbone's goal made it a 1-1 game in the first period, and Burchill made it 4-2 with 42 seconds left in the second.

The momentum created by Burchill's goal didn't seem to carry over to the final period, however.

“We played a gutsy third period,” Conceison said. “We got in the passing lanes, blocked some shots. We did the little things you have to do to win a game like this.”

Marshfield goaltender Connor Lemieux stopped 13 shots.

The Rams, who won the Division I title in 2011, finished with a 20-7-0 record. Severn players on this year's Marshfield team also skated for the Rams in 2011.

“It was a good hockey game,” Connolly said. “They played a little bit smarter system-wise. Someone has to lose in a championship game, and tonight it was us. It's sad for the seniors.”

D1 South: Marshfield 5, Archbishop Williams 1

March, 11, 2013

BOURNE, Mass. - Marshfield head coach Dan Connolly has been seen around Gallo Ice Arena frequently of late, even when his Rams were not on the ice. Whatever Coach Connolly is doing - scouting, taking a break from his team, watching great state playoff hockey - it is working.

No.5 Marshfield came out of the gates with their pads on fire and posted three tallies on 17 shots on goal on their way to a 5-1 rout over top-seeded Archbishop Williams (13-6-4) in the Division 1 semifinals.

Mike Carbone and Matt Burchill each posted a goal and an assist to help the Rams (19-6) advance to the Division 1 finals on Tuesday against No.2 seeded Hingham, who were 8-1 winners over Barnstable on the other side of the bracket.

Jimmy Connors, Liam Manning, and Burchill were credited with the first period goals, with Connors and Manning scoring only 32 seconds apart within 7:19 of regulation.

"It was very unexpected to get up 3-0 that quick and I thought our kids played great. We were all over them with a lot of energy and out-beating them to pucks and played real well," said Connolly. "The key was keeping [Mike] Jessman and [Mike] Sorrenti outside, as they are two very, very talented players. Try to keep them to the perimeter as much as we could."

The Rams defense worked out Connolly's plans to perfection as the speed and depth of the offense outshot Archies, 17-4, in the first 15 minutes of play.

Connors sent the pro-Marshfield crowd into a frenzy at 6:47 of the first as he was fed out in front of a scrum from Pat Burchill with Will Decost also getting an assist on the first goal of the game. Manning decided to do things himself as he took the puck left-to-right across the crease for the unassisted tally only 32 seconds later on the next Marshfield shift down the ice for the 2-0 lead.

Burchill finished off the first period onslaught on the power-play one second before Kyle Leonard's boarding penalty expired off a 5-on-3 opportunity to give Marshfield plenty of room with a 3-0 lead at 12:08 of the first.

Marshfield came out sluggish in the second period but couldn't be blamed much with a 3-0 lead. The defense was on their heels with numerous turnovers in the neutral zone within the first five minutes of play and Jake Romano finally figured out Connor Lemieux at 4:03 of the second to cut the deficit to 3-1.

The Archies' goal, however, did not hand momentum back to the top-seeded Archies but only woke up the speed of the Marshfield skaters and showcased their depth. Third-liners Colin MacDonald and David Cataldo paired up on a goal to get back the three-goal cushion at 10:47 of the second stanza.

MacDonald worked the blue line to keep the puck in the Marshfield zone and was able to find Cataldo low in the right slot. Cataldo pulled the trigger and found daylight between the crossbar and pads of Joe Vinay in net on the near side top corner for a picturesque odd-angle goal and a 4-1 Marshfield lead.

"I thought they took it to us in the first five or six [minutes] of the second, but then we started settling back in and playing the way we wanted to play," said Connolly.

Not often you can talk about an assist being the play of the game, but Burchill pulled it off early in the third period. The junior defenseman dropped behind the right post with two defenders draped over him and flipped a backhand pass out in front of the crease between a defender's legs and Carbone sniped it for the 5-1 lead.

"That was a great goal as I was just playing in the slot waiting for it, I was hollering his name, and he picked his head up and hit was perfect," said Carbone, a senior forward who is looking for his second trip to the TD Garden after the Rams won the Division 1 title in 2011 when he was a sophomore. "It's hard playing with the lead cause they are coming hard at us and to keep up the intensity - it is hard to do that and when you think the game is already over but its 45 minutes in every game."

While Archies featured a more aggressive style coming into the semifinals, the Rams now move on to face No. 2 Hingham, who features four strong lines, just as much speed as the Rams and obviously can match their depth. The two South Shore foes faced off in the final game of the regular season with the Harbormen hanging a 10-1 loss on the Rams. Connolly is obviously hoping for a better fate.

"We are obviously hoping for a different outcome, but as long as we stay playing like we have in the tournament I think it will be a great game," said Connolly.

Recap: No. 14 Leominster 21, Fitchburg 14

November, 24, 2011
FITCHBURG, Mass. -- There was not a spot in the playoffs up for grabs Thanksgiving morning. Each team already had one of those. Fitchburg and Leominster played for pure pride and bragging rights, with Leominster holding on for a 21-14 victory.

It was the 128th meeting between the two Mid-Wach A schools, so it is a storied rivalry to say the least. With the two teams so familiar with each other, one could almost expect to see something it had not seen before.

On Fitchburg’s first offensive play, quarterback Connor Lemieux lined up in the shotgun and handed the ball off to Demitri Brasili. He ran left, then pitched the ball to Quinton Perkins for what appeared to be a designed reverse for the speedy wide receiver. Instead of running around the right end, he heaved the ball downfield to a wide open Berny Platel for a 68-yard touchdown.

“We knew it was going to happen, we told them, ‘Don’t bite up on that,’ and we bit up,” said Leominster coach Dave Palazzi. “But it’s a game of what you do after you’re down. I told the kids that’s what this game is all about. There’s going to be plays, there’s going to be big plays, it’s how we respond to those big plays that’s going to be the test of who we are.”

Game on.

After going three-and-out on its first drive, Leominster (8-3) responded with a five-minute scoring drive. The pivotal play came when Palazzi decided to go for it on 4th-and-4 from the Fitchburg 10-yard line. Quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie (5-of-18, 93 yards) took the snap and sprinted off left tackle with his running back to his right, available for the option pitch if needed. Instead, he decided to keep the ball and got into the end zone to put his team ahead 8-7 after the two-point conversion.

The momentum swung towards Leominster on the ensuing drive when it stopped Fitchburg (6-5) on 4th-and-5 around midfield. This gave the Blue Devils short field position, which they capitalized on early in the second quarter when running back Geraldo Rivera (18 carries, 60 yards; three catches, 71 yards) ran in from seven yards out to put his team ahead 14-7.

Fitchburg tied up the score on its next possession, but Leominster came up with a big play when Brandon Herrick knocked the ball out of Perkins’ hands on a running play. Jason Valera picked up the fumble and ran it back 40 yards for the deciding touchdown.

“It’s one of those Leominster-Fitchburg games,” said Palazzi. “It’s always the same thing, same deal. One or two plays here and there is the deciding factor and we just held strong until the end.”

Palazzi reflects: This marked the first Fitchburg-Leominster Thanksgiving Day matchup for Palazzi as the head coach of Leominster. When asked after the game if the game had a special feeling to it, he quickly put the attention back on the players.

“I’m just happy for our 32 seniors,” said Palazzi. “Starting out the season 0-3, and to be standing on this field 8-3 beating Fitchburg on their home field and just letting our seniors take it all in is fantastic. We’re just fortunate to do what we’ve done. My hat goes off to Ray Cosenza and his entire team. That’s a good football team over there. They battled all game and we’ll see what happens in the playoffs.

D1 Playoff field set: The playoff eligibility was already decided for the two teams coming into Thanksgiving, so the result of the game only told the two teams who they would play Tuesday night in the playoffs. Fitchburg will play St. John’s of Shrewsbury, while Leominster is scheduled to face Shrewsbury. This marks a short preparation time for all teams involved.

“We have tomorrow off, then we’ll practice Saturday, Sunday, and Monday,” said Palazzi. “We’ll have a Tuesday night playoff game. Maybe you guys will figure out who we’re playing and when. I know it will be at Doyle Field, I’m just not sure of the time.”

Perkins goes down: In the third quarter, Fitchburg’s Quinton Perkins went down with an apparent cramp and was forced to leave the game. After getting stretched out on the sidelines by the trainers, he gave it another shot and reentered the game later in the quarter. After one running play, the pain appeared again, but this time Perkins left the game for good.

This time, no stretching or hydration could help. It was a big loss for Fitchburg because until that point, he was giving the Leominster defense fits. The Fitchburg offense was noticeably sluggish with him not in the lineup. Perkins was lining up as a receiver, running back, and even a Wildcat quarterback until that point. He ended the game with 9 carries for 74 yards and the 68-yard touchdown pass.

Defense holds: Both defenses showed up when its team needed it to in the second half. However, it was Leominster’s defense that made the bigger impact by intercepting Connor Lemieux three times in the second half.

“I knew once they started throwing the ball and Perkins went out of the game, that really hurt them,” said Palazzi. “Let’s be honest, he’s an unbelievable player. You take our best player away from us and those things happen. They had to change their gameplan a little bit, throwing the ball around, and I had a little more confidence once they started to throw the ball. We defended the pass pretty well all year and we did it in the second half.”

LEO (8-3) --- 8 - 13 - 0 - 0 --- 21
FIT (6-5) --- 7 - 7 - 0 - 0 --- 14

First Quarter
F - Berny Platel 68-yard pass from Quinton Perkins (Eric Comeau kick)
L - Garrett DelleChiaie 10-yard run (Kevin O'Connor pass from DelleChiaie)

Second Quarter
L - Geraldo Rivera 7 run (pass failed)
F - Comeau 33 pass from Connor Lemieux (Comeau kick)
L - Jason Valera 40 fumble return (Pawel Kubiak kick)