A great finishing kick
Leominster shakes off 0-3 start in title run
FOXBOROUGH - There was a full-fledged party on the Gillette Stadium concourse as Leominster feted its Central Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl victory over St. John’s of Shrewsbury, 21-6, yesterday.
Blue Devils fans left their seats to embrace the Leominster players before and after the trophy celebration. Their cheers were unrelenting.
The championship, Leominster’s 11th in school history, would have been celebration-worthy under any circumstances. But the extent to which Leominster improved en route to its title made the occasion even sweeter.
Under first-year coach David Palazzi, the Blue Devils started 0-3, then won 10 in a row to end the season.
“It’s a great feeling,’’ Palazzi said. “I’m just overjoyed for the kids. The amount of work that they put into it, the change that went on, the difficult start, [they were] just really focusing on what they need to do to be successful. To start 0-3 with a new coach, to overcome that . . . my assistant coaches, hats off to them and the seniors and the rest of the team for really pulling it together.’’
The Blue Devils’ start yesterday began as their season did - slowly. St. John’s took the opening kick and went 74 yards in 13 plays. But on fourth down from the Leominster 2-yard line, Blue Devils sophomore safety Neil O’Connor tackled Pioneers junior running back Shadrach Abrokwah in the backfield.
“We started off a little slow,’’ O’Connor said. “But when it came down to it, we were tough. We got the job done and kept them out of the end zone. We let our offense get a chance to start fresh.’’
Later in the first quarter, O’Connor and his older brother, Kevin, connected to give Leominster a 6-0 lead. It was a trick play the O’Connor brothers said they worked on all week. Blue Devils junior quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie threw the ball to Neil behind the line of scrimmage, and Neil turned and fired downfield to his wide-open brother for a 44-yard touchdown.
“We worked on it a lot in practice,’’ Kevin said. “To tell you the truth, that’s the best we ran it.’’
On the first play of the second quarter, Kevin O’Connor intercepted a pass at the Leominster 5-yard line, setting up the Blue Devils for a 19-play, 95-yard drive that lasted almost the entire second quarter (9:45). DelleChiaie capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Daniel Curley.
In the third quarter, St. John’s quarterback Connor Kurtz had to fall on a bad snap on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
“We had our opportunities,’’ St. John’s coach John Andreoli said. “We were inside the 10-yard line I think three times. We let them out on third down a couple of times. They converted on third down several times. So those are the difference in the game.’’
Senior running back Geraldo Rivera scored from 14 yards with 1:42 left in the third quarter to give the Blue Devils a 21-0 lead. A 17-yard touchdown reception by Pioneers senior receiver Efrain Montalvo cut the lead to 21-6 early in the fourth quarter, but it was the only points St. John’s would score.
With 3:39 left in the game and St. John’s driving, Kevin O’Connor came up with his second pick of the game. As soon as he landed on the turf in Leominster’s end zone, he knew the game was in hand.
“It was amazing,’’ Kevin said. “I can’t even explain it. It was just pure happiness.’’