METHUEN, Mass. -- Cal Carroll checked in with Dr. David St. Pierre at his Danvers office last Monday and got the OK to lead his No. 11 Methuen Rangers tonight at home against No. 10 Chelmsford. It was a hairline fracture to his left thumb (non-throwing), suffered in Saturday's win over Lowell, but if he treaded carefully with his heavily-wrapped cast, he'd be healed in three weeks.
Thumbs up or down, though, St. Pierre could probably guess what the reaction would have been.
"God, you'd have to chain him inside his house to keep him from playing," running back Ryan Savastano said of Carroll. "He plays hurt, he plays whenever he can...he loves this sport. Nothing can keep him away from it."
Yet not even Chelmsford's stalwart defense, led by a trio of fierce linebackers and allowing just seven points a game, could keep these guys chained down -- least not tonight. The gameplan didn't deviate an inch in spite of the injury, the Rangers line plowed away, and Carroll kept it steady all night -- inside zone left, inside zone right, keeper here or there -- as they took down the Lions, 31-21, before a capacity crowd at Nicholson Stadium.
"They caught on, I thought they were going to shut us down fast," said Savastano (32 carries, 221 yards, TD) of the game plan. "But we still put it to them. We drove it right up the hole."
The diminutive Savastano ended up shouldering the bulk of the load, repeatedly taking zone read handoffs from Carroll and darting between and around his linemen as they repeatedly drove Chelmsford linemen off the ball -- sometimes straght into their linebackers -- with a surgical zone-blocking scheme. But Methuen head coach Pat Graham insists that wasn't by design.
"I think if the reads were there, he (Carroll) would have kept it," Graham said. "He wanted to run the ball. He's not that type of kid. At the end of the game, we told him to hold the ball, to hand the ball off, and he didn't want to do that. He's not that type of guy, if the read's there, he's not a selfish kid but he wants the ball in his hand."
Carroll admitted there was little pain tonight, despite the repeated dives through the middle of the line and ensuing pile-ups.
"Throwing passes, I kinda have to fiddle with the ball a little more, try to find the right grip with this thing (cast) on," said Carroll, who had a seven-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target Raudy Minaya in the third quarter. "Running up the middle, I actually had to use this (right) hand to cover it up, usually I like to use my left to stiff-arm."
He then added, laughing, "I didn't fumble tonight, so that's a plus."
After a scoreless first quarter that saw Chelmsford feature back Joe Gennaro leave the game following a collision with Methuen linebacker Mike Harper (he returned in the second half), the Rangers (4-1, 3-0 MVC) took the initial lead when Carroll plunged in from three yards out and Eric LaCroix split the uprights on the point after. Savastano shouldered most of the load on the drive, carrying four times for 24 yards, and that became a reoccurring theme throughout the night.
Methuen's next scoring drive was more of the same, with Savastano eating up most of the yards of shifty scampers up the middle and Carroll scoring from a yard out on fourth and goal on the second half's opening drive. But the Lions responded immediately with an 85-yard pass from A.J. Rotella (14 of 24, 269 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) to Colby Emanouil. A muffed kickoff return gave Chelmsford (4-1, 2-1) a starting drive at their own 11, but on the second play Rotella found Emanouil with an underthrown deep ball in double coverage. But Emanouil, facing his quarterback, faked with his shoulder to his left and burst to his right, going unscathed the final 60 yards to paydirt.
In the final minutes of the third, the Methuen defense came alive. First, LaCroix came up with his second pick of the night on Rotella, setting up Carroll's seven-yard touchdown pass to Minaya. On Chelmsford's next possession, junior linebacker Kevin Nickerson ripped the ball out of Gennaro's hands as the senior pushed the pile for extra yardage, setting up a 22-yard LaCroix field goal. Savastano then made it 31-14 with a 12-yard scamper into the end zone, preceded by a 30-yard strike from Carroll to Kevin Higgins.
"We knew we wanted to be physical with them," said LaCroix, who also picked off Rotella to end the first half. "People have said the secondary was our weakness, and we've been using that as momentum all year. I'm glad the secondary stepped up tonight. Hopefully they start realizing we're not a weakness, that we're a strength."
METHUEN 31, CHELMSFORD 21
CHE 0 6 8 7 --- 21
MET 0 7 14 10 --- 31
M - Cal Carroll 3 run (Eric LaCroix kick) 6:46
C - Anthony Andre 18 pass from AJ Rotella (kick blocked) 4:12
M - Carroll 1 run (LaCroix kick) 8:25
C - Colby Emanouil 85 pass from Rotella (Pat McLaughlin pass from Rotella) 7:12
M - Raudy Minaya 7 pass from Carroll (LaCroix kick) 3:28
M - LaCroix 22 field goal 7:41
M - Savastano 12 run (LaCroix kick) 5:29
C - Eddie Sheridan 90 kickoff return (Charlie Calenda kick) 5:13