LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- With the upcoming playoff scenario beginning to take shape, one has to wonder if anyone can beat the Leominster Blue Devils.
Last night it was Nashoba Regional's turn, but the Chieftains failed in their attempts, falling hard 40-15 at Doyle Field. No. 6 Leominster improves to 6-0 and look to be virtually unstoppable.
"That team is super-athletic and very well-coached," said Nashoba coach Jamie Tucker. "They come at you with multiple sets and are very fast. We had trouble containing them all night. They are just a very good football team."
Tucker is not alone in trying to conjure up the right strategies to beat the Blue Devils. His Chieftains just happened to be the latest in a long list of teams who have tried and failed to match Leominster on both sides of the ball.
Racking up 432 yards of offense, Leominster pulled away from Nashoba after scoring a pair of touchdowns in the final 1:47 of the first half to grab a 27-7 lead. The Blue Devils had no problems maintaining control of this one throughout the second half as well, after scoring on their opening two possessions to go up by 33 points before the Chieftains were able to punch one in late.
Senior quarterback Neil O'Connor led the Leominster assault by completing 11-of-19 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score, finishing with 50 yards on seven carries.
The Blue Devils wasted no time getting on the board. On their initial possession, Leominster marched 79 yards before O'Connor closed it out with a 26-yard jaunt into the end zone.
Nashoba (3-3), which began the season hot but has since fallen on hard times losing three straight, caught a huge break late in the quarter. After O'Connor found Jarell Addo for a 21-yard completion, the senior receiver was stripped of the ball before falling to the turf. Frankie Chiodo recovered the fumble for the Chieftains. Realizing opportunities such as this don't come often against the Blue Devils, Nashoba wasn't about to let it go to waste. Matt Sabourin's 19-yard touchdown run knotted things at 7-7. However, less than a minute later, Leominster reclaimed the lead on a perfectly-executed, 70-yard strike from O'Connor to Mayson Williams, who slipped past the defensive secondary to make it 13-7.
On its next possession, Nashoba's ground unit was able to move the ball to the Blue Devils 26. Looking to take the lead, quarterback Matt Mudgett's errant pass was intercepted by Jake Allain, who returned it 60 yards, and set the stage for wide receiver Shane Crayton's 19-yard touchdown reception and upping the advantage to 19-7.
Following a Chieftains punt, Leominster found itself back in business on its own 44 with three timeouts remaining and just over a minute remaining before the half. O'Connor began the drive by connecting with Addo for a 23-yard reception. Three players later, he hooked up with Crayton again, this time for a 33-yard catch, in the end zone sending Leominster into the break on top by 20 points.
"It feels marvelous to be able to contribute to this win," said Crayton, a junior, who finished with three catches for 57 yards. "We have some players who have been hurt so I was told I needed to step up tonight and I did.
“The only reason I scored those two touchdowns was because Neil O'Connor was just being Neil and our offensive line gave him time to throw. He put both passes perfectly where I needed to get them and I was able to run under both for touchdowns. Neil is marvelous and he is the leader of this team."
Beginning the second half, Leominster left no doubts. After Nashoba (189 yards offensively) witnessed what began as a positive drive stall on the Blue Devil 28, Leominster went back to its quick-strike offense after regaining possession. This time they looked to their running game to carry the load and James Gurley did just that, busting through the Chieftains for a 63-yard scoring run to make it 33-7 with under five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Gurley, who has been a main catalyst in the Leominster backfield all season, was saw limited action, finishing with 64 yards on just two carries.
With Leominster's first unit now being relegated to the role of spectator at this point, the second group entered and still managed to move the ball with relative ease, offensively. That group set forth on a 66-yard drive before Eddie Rivera plowed into the end zone from two yards out, extending the lead to 40-7.
Despite the lopsidedness of the contest, the Chieftains still showed some heart. Kurt Arsenault's 1-yard dive over the goal line capped a 56-yard march to make this tilt a bit more respectable.
"Our defense hung tough in the first half and we were able to continue that in the second half," Leominster coach Dave Palazzi said. "There was some things we saw we felt we could take advantage of offensively with the pass. They made it a little tough on us but O'Connor made some very-good throws tonight.
“It was another great team victory. There is no me on this team, it's we. That's what we've said all year. We have a lot of different guys stepping up. We expect all of our kids when their number is called to be ready to go and give them credit all have answered the call."