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Lunenburg Eager to Go Out on High Note

November 20, 2018

Lunenburg junior Cameron Mackenzie scores a touchdown during a Sept. 21 game at Monty Tech. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE /JEFF PORTER Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

BARRE -- When the Lunenburg football team makes the drive out to idyllic Barre to play Quabbin Regional for the fourth time on Wednesday night, they’ll carry quite a bit of momentum along with them.

And sure, the Blue Knights are coming off the sting of a 44-7 loss to St. Bernard’s a week and a half prior. Some will argue the Bernardians already derailed the momentum.

Not true: none of that will matter, as LHS has the opportunity to complete an eight-win season for the first time in a decade.

And against a Quabbin team that has struggled at 2-8, it’s quite possible Lunenburg can do just that.

“What we’re going to tell the kids: Seniors, this is your Super Bowl. Thanksgiving,” longtime Lunenburg coach Steve Boone said last week. “Since we’ve been playing them on Thanksgiving Eve, (Quabbin) has won them all, this whole rivalry, so that’s a big motivator right there. They want to go out and become the winningest season here in 10 years. There are a lot of positives we can draw from.

“Put (St. Bernard’s) into the learning experience column and concentrate on this one, and we’ll use the St. Bernard’s game in the offseason: how to compete and be at the level.”

But let’s not put the cart before the horse: while the Panthers have struggled due to the schedule they play, they are banged up pretty good.

“We are hoping to get some guys back from injury to get closer to full strength,” said Quabbin coach Dave Buchanan, who is finishing up his fifth year at the helm, “although we are still missing some key pieces on offense and defense. We’ve had young guys step into those roles and get some great experience for us.”

So, too, is Lunenburg.

″(They’re) not more banged up than we are. We’re both in the same boat,” Boone said, noting that his Blue Knights are fighting the injury bug. Boone expects one impact player to be sidelined for Wednesday.

“The younger kids have to step up,” he said.

Quabbin has switched up from the mainly spread offensive set the team ran while Ryan Malkowski, now at WPI, was the quarterback in Barre: the Panthers now run the double wing, which allows seniors Colby Smith (804 yards, 8 TDs) and Derek Rohan to run wild.

“We’ve gone through some growing pains this year,” Buchanan said, “but we are getting there. It’s allowed us to control the clock against really good teams like Northbridge, but we have to keep growing and getting better in the offense.”

Lunenburg has seen the double wing twice this season, against West Boylston and Littleton. Both of those were losses.

“It’s a patient offense,” Boone explained. “You have to be very disciplined. They have the Smith and Rohan kids. They’re pretty good backs. Smith, as a receiver, killed us last year. He’s legit, he’s fast, he can do it. He’s beat us three years in a row: he ran the kickoff back in the 52-50 game (in 2016). We have to stop those two kids. Up front we have to be disciplined and play very well, and we have to have a team defense to corral these kids.

“They do run some spread, he’ll pop out and do some spread, but 90 percent of the time, they’re in tight with the double wing. He wants to run the football.”

Defensively, Quabbin has given up points in bunches (273 points allowed), but Boone isn’t expecting his Knights to put up the 27.3 points per game average against the Panthers.

“I don’t think so, honestly. It’sThanksgiving for them, too. It’s not just another game,” he said. “It’s up there. I think it’s going to be a pretty even game, to tell you the truth. I think they have some weapons they’ll be able to use, and I think we can counter with kids they have left. It’ll go back and forth. I think it’ll be a defensive battle.”

Buchanan believes that, too.

“We are going up against a team that was good enough to get to a Central Mass. final,” he said. “Lunenburg is balanced, big up front, and a well-coached football team. We’ve got to play a complete game against them.

“Lunenburg’s offense presents a lot of challenges to opposing defense. (Anthony) Iannacci will kill you if you don’t play stout against the run and (Chris) Costich can sling it with lots of weapons through the air. We have to play with intensity and focus and trust our keys.”

The Blue Knights are led by Costich (89 of 149, 1,311 yards passing, 9 TD passes) and Iannacci (693 yards, 11 TD runs).

When Costich looks to throw, he’s generally looking toward Mason Infantino (21 receptions, 381 yards, 5 TD receptions), Cameron Mackenzie (9 receptions, 175 yards, 1 TD), or Iannacci (15 receptions).

“His decision-making and his leadership has grown,” Boone said of Costich. “He’s always been a strong-armed kid, a good football player. This year, his decision-making has been much better. We put in some option stuff in -- run-pass option -- and that made our offense that much better.”

But while the stats are always a great indicator of success, the game will be won or lost up front.

“The line will have to take charge offensively and defensively,” Boone said. “To stop the double wing, you have to be successful up front. The kids have to play disciplined up there, and up front, if we take care of business blocking, we’ll be successful.

“When we gave Chris time to throw (against St. Bernard’s), he made the throws. When he was under pressure, scrambling, he didn’t make the throws. (Quabbin)’s played a tough schedule, we have played a tough schedule. It’s going to be a good game, they do some good things, we do some good things.”

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