LEOMINSTER — It all ended nearly the exact way it began.
Different venue. Slightly different score. Same result.
Leominster High closed its 2022 season the same way it opened the campaign, topping archrival Fitchburg High, 40-8, at Doyle Field in the 116th Thanksgiving Day meeting between the programs.
The victory propelled Leominster — which topped the Red Raiders 48-6 in Week 1 on Sept. 8 — into the 800-win club, a group that featured only Everett and Brockton until Thursday morning. The host Blue Devils took control early and the result was never in doubt.
“We knew win 800 for the program was on the line and that’s a historic things, but also knowing this is the last time we’re all going to be together, they wanted to come out strong,” Leominster head coach Devin Gates said. “It’s a special, special group and I’m so happy with the way it ended for them. That’s something they’re going to remember for life.”
With the victory, the Blue Devils finish the season 8-3, snapping a two-game losing streak and rebounding from the losses of former coach Charlie Raff and former LHS standout Ricky White.
“Our guys really haven’t wavered all season. We got a little tired at the end of the season with some emotional wins and emotional losses in the community,” Gates said. “Being able to come to practice every day after some adversity. … These guys took the onus on making it a family atmosphere and fighting for each other. It starts and ends with them. I’m so proud of them. It’s probably one of the best years coaching I’ve ever had and it’s because of these kids.”
The hosts scored three touchdowns in the first half, leading 20-0 at the break and allowing just two first downs to Fitchburg (4-7) before halftime.
Freshman quarterback Osiris Lopez finished the day 10-of-18 passing for 161 yards and four touchdowns, adding 63 yards rushing on nine carries. Classmate Kaiden Drinkwater (four receptions, 73 yards) hauled in a pair of touchdown passes and recovered a fumble by Lopez that landed directly in his hands in the end zone for a third touchdown.
“They both came out to play and did a great job,” Gates said of his freshmen standouts. “They’re great football players and great leaders. They don’t feel like freshmen. I’ve coached college for years and years and I’m not sure I’ve anybody be able to see the field and understand football as well as Osiris does as a freshman.”
Steven Diaz and Ricky Encarnacion also caught TD passes from Lopez, while Ma’Kai Stinson Newton carried the ball 18 times for 120 yards and a score.
Fitchburg broke through in the third quarter, scoring on its second possession of the second half. After Drinkwater’s third touchdown of the day put Leominster ahead 27-0, Fitchburg capped a seven-play, 64-yard drive with Lukas Beaulac finding Harvey Early, Jr. on a 17-yard scoring strike.
Eli Gonzalez added the two-point run and the Red Raiders trailed, 27-8, with 4:22 left in the third.
Beaulac, under constant pressure from Leominster’s defense, finished the day 6-for-20 passing for 44 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. The junior quarterback hung tough in the pocket, often scrambling for yards and was sacked four times.
“I’m very happy and impressed with Luke. He’s a warrior,” Fitchburg head coach Greg Graham said of his junior quarterback. “He comes to battle every time we play the game. He’s the heart and soul of our football team and he worked hard today.”
Leominster responded with a 19-yard touchdown run by Stinson Newton and a 24-yard scoring strike from Lopez to Encarnacion to cap the scoring.
Diaz, Bryan Aguilar and Braden Martin came up with interceptions for the Blue Devils.
On the other side, Doherian Wells picked off a Lopez pass, creating the only takeaway of the day for the Red Raiders.