Cora Scores Twice As Leominster Shuts Out North Middlesex
LEOMINSTER -- Last year, the Leominster football team entered Thanksgiving with quite a bit of confidence. After starting the season 0-7, LHS ripped off three straight wins and headed to Fitchburg’s Crocker Field with its proverbial sails full of wind.
One year later, the Blue Devils started 0-6, but have since won four straight after Friday night’s 26-0 victory over visiting North Middlesex Regional in the teams’ penultimate game of the 2018 season at historic Doyle Field.
Leominster (4-6) will now rest up over the weekend and get back to work Wednesday in order to get ready for Thanksgiving morning’s tilt with archrival Fitchburg here on Nov. 22. North Middlesex (2-8) will take on St. Bernard’s on Thanksgiving Eve at Nashoba Tech in Westford.
The stats told the tale, as Leominster’s first-choice offense, paced by two rushing TDs out of sophomore quarterback JC Cora, posted 248 yards of offense before they gave way with a healthy lead late in the third quarter.
Conversely, the Leominster defense was relentless, limiting North Middlesex’s first-choice offense to 50 yards of offense before coach Ryan DeMar inserted the second-stringers in the fourth.
Simply put, Leominster is hitting its stride at the right time.
“The weather and, in fairness to coach DeMar, they’re dealing with some injuries,” Leominster head coach Dave Palazzi said of factors that worked in the Blue Devils’ favor. ”(Our offense) put some nice plays together, and our defense obviously played very well like they have the last five weeks. It was a great win.
“I don’t know if it’s confidence: We just have to prepare for Fitchburg now; we never take them lightly, anything can happen. It’s all about our seniors, it’s all about getting ready for that game.”
Leominster went run-exclusive for its first series, with Adam Couch carrying six of the 11 plays. Cora, though, as he’s been doing with authority these last few weeks, scored from 11 yards away on a waggle to the left.
The conversion run failed after an 11-play, 62-yard drive.
“We had to ratchet (the offense) back with Cora,” Palazzi said of his young signalcaller. “We try to do what we do best, and that’s run the ball out of play-action. He’s taken the offense under his own command, and he’s worked on his pass game, and he’s made some great runs.”
After the Leominster defense swarmed on the second fourth-down play -- North Middlesex had converted with a fake punt earlier in the drive -- the Blue Devils needed two plays to score. Cora handed off to Couch on both, and the Patriots stuffed the first play.
They didn’t stuff the second, as Couch swept to the left side of the left and waved toodle-oo, turning on the afterburners to score from 72 yards out. Brian Rodriguez’s conversion run was good, and LHS held a 14-0 lead only 66 seconds into the second quarter.
Leominster sent North Middlesex three-and-out on its next series and needed four snaps to make it 20-0.
“Our defense, we scouted well, and we get a lot of push up front from Zach Khallady, Connor Marchand in the backfield, and Fernando Aguillar, I thought he played really well tonight,” Palazzi said.
A holding penalty had erased a solid Cora run, but on the next play, Cora took a two-step drop and lofted the ball to Rodriguez. He caught it and after a missed tackle, B-Rod turned on the jets and scored from 67 yards out.
The conversion run failed.
Leominster sent North Middlesex three-and-out on its initial series of the third, and again only needed two carries to score: This one saw Cora roll right and, with acres of plastic pasture ahead, streak down the sideline for 24 yards to score his second rushing TD of this rainy night.
The conversion run failed.
Blue Devils 26
North Middlesex (2-8) 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Leominster (4-6) 6 14 6 0 -- 26
L -- JC Cora 11 run (run failed), 5:32
L -- Adam Couch 72 run (Brian Rodriguez run), 9:54
L -- B. Rodriguez 67 pass from Cora (run failed), 1:58
L -- Cora 24 run (run failed), 8:50