Leominster bears down in slugfest
FITCHBURG - After an 0-3 start to begin the season, Leominster made it look relatively easy, racking up victories in each of the following seven games.
There was nothing easy about yesterday’s sloppy 21-14 win over rival Fitchburg, however.
“Both teams had trouble moving the ball, but that’s typical when it’s Leominster vs. Fitchburg,’’ Blue Devils coach Dave Palazzi said after his first taste of the rivalry as head coach. “They had trouble with everything and so did we.’’
Still, Leominster outlasted Fitchburg in their 128th meeting in front of over 5,000 at Crocker Field. The Blue Devils have won the last three meetings and hold a 60-58-10 lead in the series, which began in 1894.
Leominster improved to 8-3 and moves on to Tuesday’s Division 1 Central Mass. playoffs. Fitchburg earned a postseason spot with a mark of 6-5.
With 6:30 remaining before halftime, the Red Raiders tied the game at 14 when quarterback Connor Lemieux found Eric Comeau open over the middle for a 33-yard score. The Blue Devils responded by turning the ball over on downs.
Fitchburg’s Quinton Perkins scampered 16 yards to get into Leominster territory with under five minutes left in the half. Perkins got the call again but this time the ball was jarred loose by linebacker Brandon Herrick. Defensive end Jason Valera scooped up the ball and ran 42 yards untouched to give Leominster the lead for good.
“The turnover for a touchdown was a huge play for them,’’ Fitchburg coach Ray Cosenza said.
The Red Raiders opened with a 68-yard option pass from Perkins to Berny Platel to go in front, 7-0. Leominster answered that score on its next possession, capping a 61-yard drive with quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie’s 9-yard run. DelleChiaie’s conversion pass to Kevin O’Connor had the Blue Devils up, 8-7, midway through one.
Early in the second quarter, Leominster expanded its lead to 14-7 on a 7-yard touchdown run by Geraldo Rivera (18 carries, 61 yards).
Over the course of the scoreless final half, Fitchburg grinded out 51 yards, while the Blue Devils managed a mere 14. The Blue Devils intercepted Lemieux three times.