For Chelmsford, Season of Winter Ends on a Sunny Note
CHELMSFORD -- Chelmsford High School head football coach Dave Kaizer was thankful to be around his team again.
CHS 6, Billerica 0
Kaizer had been missing in action for the Lions for over a month after he injured his patellar tendon during what he described as “a halftime speech gone wrong.” Kaizer was trying to fire up his team during halftime of the Lions’ Oct. 12 game against Tewksbury and got a little too animated. Next thing he knew, he was down on the ground in severe pain with an injury that would require surgery the next day.
He was there Thursday on crutches for Chelmsford’s annual Thanksgiving morning clash with rival Billerica, watching and coaching from the Simonian Stadium press box, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing considering it was 13 degrees outside.
Down below, on the frozen turf, Kaizer’s Lions delivered an inspired performance that led to a 6-0 upset victory over Billerica to close the 2018 season at 3-8.
“Everything went well today and it was just a great win,” said Kaizer, who delivered an impassioned speech to his team on the field after the victory. “Our kids never give up. We were 2-8 coming in, and now we say ‘1-0.’ That’s all that matters, we went 1-0 this season.
“When you’re up there (in the press box), you can’t really coach the way you want to. You’re just kind of a presence. But watching these kids, this is why you coach -- these smiles. This is what it’s all about.”
Billerica, which finished the season at 4-6 and played in the Division 3 North playoffs, had won the four previous Turkey Day meetings with Chelmsford. Thursday’s brutal cold and wind chill made matters difficult for both offenses. This game was about field position and making the most of the few scoring opportunities.
The Lions got a pair of field goals from senior Kevin Hennessey and that was difference. Hennessey, who scored over 100 points in his career at CHS, booted a 29-yarder late in the second quarter for a 3-0 halftime advantage and added a big 33-yarder with 7:18 remaining in the game for insurance.
“It was my last day in maroon and white, I have to execute,” said Hennessey. “I’m never going to wear this uniform again, I’ve got to do it for my team and the players who came before me.
“We hadn’t beaten them in years. This was big.”
Billerica was stymied by the Lions’ defense all game, but did provide some drama in the final seconds.
The Indians took over at their own 10-yard line with 1:38 left and marched all the way down to the Lions’ 12, thanks to some key gains by junior Nick Gualtieri and a couple costly facemasks by the Chelmsford defense. With one second left on the clock, Billerica had one last chance, but quarterback Nolan Houlihan’s (7-for-14, 79 yards) final pass was picked off in the end zone by Chelmsford senior Cam D’Angelo. The Lions then rushed the field in celebration.
“The weather had nothing to do with it, we didn’t show up to play,” said Billerica head coach Duane Sigsbury. “They did, and congratulations to them. It’s a great rivalry.”
Chelmsford forced four Billerica turnovers, including two fumbles deep in the Indians’ own territory in the fourth quarter. Junior Mike Vecchione recovered the first one for Chelmsford, which later resulted in Hennessey’s second field goal. D’Angelo fell on the other, but the Lions failed to convert that one into points, leaving the door open for Billerica.
“Defensively is where we won this football game,” said Kaizer. “Our defensive staff did a tremendous job game-planning. Coach (Eli) Gioumbakis, our defensive coordinator, deserves a plug.”
In his final game at Chelmsford, senior quarterback Chris Rabias managed the game well and finished with 32 rushing yards and 51 yards passing. Vecchione added 61 yards on 19 carries.
Billerica senior running back Rob Moore carried the ball 25 times for 101 yards. Junior Colby Cyrus had four catches for 59 yards.
Chelmsford easily holds the all-time edge in the series, 58-27-4. And while many other games throughout the area and the state were moved to Wednesday night to avoid Thursday’s bitter cold, the players in this game didn’t want that.
“Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving,” said Kaizer. “You can cheat yourself and say it’s Thanksgiving, but it’s not. This is the day you want to play.”
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone