Patriots Run into a Buzzsaw
WESTFORD - This was the type of performance Fitchburg High football coach Tom DiGeronimo knew his team was capable of.
Fitchburg 42 North Middlesex 14
The Red Raiders scored 28 unanswered point over the final three quarters to overpower North Middlesex, 42-14, Saturday night at Nashoba Tech.
“It’s been a long time coming. I think we finally put together three-and-a-half quarters of football,” said DiGeronimo. “We cut down on a lot of mistakes. We played hard. I’m really happy for our kids.”
Senior quarterback Andrew Brooks and freshman running back Anthony Oquendo ignited a Fitchburg offense that had been shut down in a 32-2 loss to Nashoba Regional a week ago. But Saturday night, they were clicking on all cylinders. Brooks threw a pair of touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Ozzy Guy. Oquendo gashed the North Middlesex defense for 134 yards and two scores, including an electrifying 78-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to blow the game open.
″(Brooks) played a great game. He was in total command of what we were doing,” said DiGeronimo. “He made some big plays with his feet, which I think adds another dimension to what we want to do.”
The key to the game was the play of the Fitchburg defense over the final three quarters. Giving up scores on two of the first two North Middlesex possessions (TD runs by Josh LeBlanc and Adam Fournier), the Red Raider defense looked very much like the one that had given up an average of 34 points a game over the first three weeks of the season. After Fitchburg (1-3) grabbed a 21-14 lead early in the second quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by Avery Perry, North Middlesex put together another long drive with little resistance. The Patriots moved the ball from their own 24 into Fitchburg territory, mostly on the legs of Fournier and Mark Thomas.
But then, the Red Raiders did something they hadn’t done very often in 2018. They dug in, bowed their backs and held.
On second and 3 from the 34, Fournier was stopped for a 2-yard gain. On third down, the middle of the Fitchburg defensive line met Fournier in the backfield and dropped him for a loss. On fourth and 3, Patriots’ QB Josh LeBlanc rolled out, only to be swarmed under for a loss, turning the ball over on downs.
That stand seemed to be the confidence boost the FHS defense needed and the Patriots never got that close to the end zone again.
“We made some adjustments. (Assistant coach) Charlie Raft did a great job making some adjustments with our linebackers, reading their keys,” said DiGeronimo. “But the big thing was we just got the kids to settle down, settle down and have fun.”
Up 21-14, Fitchburg took the second half kickoff and marched 65 yards in 12 plays to double their lead. Brooks capped the drive, connecting with Guy on a 4-yard slant for the score.
The best scoring chance for North Middlesex (2-2) came later in the third quarter, when Mark Valente recovered a fumble at the Fitchburg 44.
But the threat went by the boards when Trey Winters intercepted a LeBlanc pass at the 15.
Two plays later, Oquendo blasted over left tackle, broke three tackles and outraced the secondary for a 78-yard touchdown run, making it 35-14.