Double Wing Key in Chicken Bowl
FITCHBURG -- With the Crocker Field turf chewed up and the red and blue -- and for Leominster’s freshman team, white -- jerseys covered in mud, Leominster junior varsity coach Mario Meza dug deep into the recesses of Dave Palazzi’s playbook and dusted off a little used part of it.
In order to be successful against host Fitchburg, the Blue Devils need to get an advantage -- and that advantage was the double wing offense.
LHS utilized it time and again and found success against the Red Raiders, doing so to the tune of 254 yards en route to a 26-12 victory in the annual Chicken Bowl on Sunday evening.
In the Pigeon Bowl earlier in the day, Fitchburg’s freshmen limited Leominster to 20 total yards in a 32-0 victory to improve to 8-1 on the season.
Meza explained that the Blue Devils (4-6) have gone to the double wing on occasion this season.
“We figured with the field conditions, we would do our best to pound it at them,” he said. “The kids played fantastic, the line played great. Guys ran hard, and these kids worked hard all year, and this was the pay-off for them.”
In the JV nightcap, Leominster -- whose defense limited FHS (5-4-1) to 80 yards of offense -- jumped out to an 8-0 lead late in the first quarter as the Blue Devils posted a 13-play, 81-yard scoring drive as JV Rodriguez swept the left-hand side of the line from three yards away.
Tyler Bedard then converted the pass to Larry Noudjom, giving the Blue and White the lead with 53 seconds remaining in the quarter.
With 3:17 left in the half, Leominster lineman Brett Mann recovered a bad snap fumble at the Fitchburg 15. Three plays later, LHS made it 14-0 as Rodriguez connected with Gaige Cormier in double coverage for the 17-yard scoring strike.
The conversion pass failed.
Fitchburg would get on the board late in the half, as Adrian Laurino picked Rodriguez off and, with acres of muddy pasture in front of him, brought it 84 yards the other way for the pick six.
The conversion run failed, and FHS trailed, 14-6, headed into the locker room.
The Raiders went 39 yards on seven plays to open the third, as Fitchburg quarterback Monty Graham plunged in from a yard out to get the hosts within two, 14-12. The conversion run failed.
Key in the drive?
A pair of 17-yard carries by Bryan Rivera, getting FHS into the red zone for the first time on the night.
But Leominster immediately marched the other way, with Rodriguez scoring from 35 yards out in the double wing to restore the Devils’ eight-point lead.
The conversion pass failed, and LHS held a 20-12 lead.
“That was huge,” Meza said. “The lanes were there all day with our blocking. I can’t say enough about the line blocking.”
Fitchburg would turn the ball over on downs on each of its next three series, despite its next series after the Rodriguez score being its most sustained of the three. But the Raiders could not convert.
FHS was 1 of 8 on third down, and 1 of 5 on fourth.
In the Pigeon Bowl, contested by the freshmen, Fitchburg improved to 8-1 thanks to 298 yards of offense and a stingy defense, as the Red Raiders knocked off the Blue Devils (4-5), 34-0.
The game was scoreless through the first quarter, but it was Fitchburg’s Jovan Falcone who came up with a key interception early in the second. It led into FHS’ first scoring drive of the afternoon, as the Raiders needed five plays to go 21 yards before Donovan Deleon walked into the end zone from a yard out.
Key in the drive, a 15-yard carry by Falcone on the reverse to get the Red and Gray down to the Leominster 5.
Two plays later, Deleon eased his way into the end zone off the left end. The conversion pass failed, and Fitchburg led, 6-0, with 3:53 remaining in the first half.
The Fitchburg defense, paced by Darnell Thomas and Nathan Acker, sent LHS three-and-out on the next series, before the Raiders marched 51 yards in four plays to hit paydirt. Deleon converted a massive third-down play for a gain of 28 down to the LHS 14.
On the next play, Colin Dudek took the handoff and swept the left side, taking advantage of a Jonathan Troche block to get into the end zone.
Deleon added the conversion run, and FHS held a 14-0 lead with 1:19 remaining in the first half.
Two plays later, Fitchburg got the ball back as Acker picked Caeden Constant off, setting up first-and-goal at the Devils 10.
And FHS needed only one play -- albeit with some trickery involved -- to score, as a double reverse led to Troche tossing a rainbow to Deleon in the back of the end zone to put the hosts ahead, 20-0.
Fitchburg added to its total on the first drive of the third, with Deleon scoring from 8 yards out, fighting away from several Leominster tacklers to cap an 8-play, 59-yard drive.
Dudek’s conversion run made it 28-0.
And after Acker recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Fitchburg went 55 yards on five plays, with Deleon scoring from 40 yards away to account for the final score.
Leominster only ran two offensive plays in the final 20 minutes, and accrued 20 yards on the day.
“The defense has been our strength all year,” Fitchburg coach Craig Antocci said. “No matter how many points we’ve scored, we win because we keep people off the board.”