With the fall sports season coming down the home stretch, here’s a look back at the last few months through the lenses of photographer Gary Fournier.
FITCHBURG — Something had to give.
With neither team having yet to break into the win column this fall, Friday night’s tilt between Groton-Dunstable and Fitchburg High was a huge opportunity for both teams to get a taste of victory.
Unfortunately for the host Red Raiders, the wait for win No. 1 continues.
The visiting Crusaders rallied from a halftime deficit to top Fitchburg, 16-12, at Crocker Field.
The Red Raiders (0-9) fell despite a Herculean effort by Lukas Beaulac. The senior running back tallied 172 yards on 30 carries and scored twice, while also picking off a pass.
Groton-Dunstable went ahead late in the third quarter as Caden Woolfrey scored from a nine-yard run. Johnny Bordes added the two-point run and the Crusaders took a 16-12 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the frame.
Despite trailing, the Red Raiders were in it until the final horn.
With first-and-goal from the nine and 25 seconds left, Fitchburg handed the ball to Devanni Deleon (76 yards on 17 carries), who gained five yards. The Red Raiders then spiked the ball to stop the clock and give themselves two cracks at the end zone.
Both of Nyle Sim’s pass attempts were incomplete, the second of which was batted away from Beaulac on a slant with five seconds left, turning the ball over on downs.
The Crusaders (1-8) opened the scoring on their first possession as a big catch and run by Caden Woolfrey capped a three-play, 58-yard drive. Woolfrey hauled in a pass from Johnny Bordes and went 53 yards down the sideline to the end zone.
Zachary Romich’s two-point run gave the guests an 8-0 lead with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
But Fitchburg wouldn’t be deterred.
Beaulac scored his first touchdown of the night on a 19-yard scamper up the gut, cutting the lead to 8-6 with 4:05 left in the opening quarter.
His second TD run of the evening capped a 14-play, 78-yard drive that took over nine minutes off the clock and spanned two quarters. Beaulac scored from four yards out with 7:23 left in the half to put the Red Raiders up 12-8.
Beaulac and Richard Salomon each recorded interceptions off Bordes in the first half, but the Red Raiders couldn’t convert the turnovers into points.
With the release of the MIAA football pairings, just two teams in the Sentinel & Enterprise coverage area will have a chance to contend for a state title.
And as the lower seeds in their respective opening-round matchups, Leominster High and North Middlesex Regional will certainly face uphill battles.
The Blue Devils, winners of four of their last five to sneak into the postseason, have been seeded 16th in Division 1, with the placement decided by the MIAA’s power rankings. Leominster (4-4) will open the tournament Friday evening in Danvers, drawing a contest with top-seeded St. John’s Prep (8-0) at 6 p.m.
The 11th-seeded Patriots will hit the road to open the Division 5 tournament. North Middlesex (6-2) will travel to Mattapoisett to face No. 6 Old Rochester Regional (4-4) Friday at 6:30 p.m.
That leaves non-playoff games for the remaining local gridiron teams, including a pair of former Thanksgiving Eve rivals squaring off. St. Bernard’s (1-7) and Lunenburg (4-4) once met annually for the holiday clash and will take to the the turf of McCarron Field Friday at 7 p.m.
After winning three straight to close the regular season, Monty Tech (4-4) heads to Barre to play Quabbin Regional (5-3), while Ayer-Shirley (0-6) plays at Abby Kelley (1-7) in a 6 p.m. matchup.\
At Crocker Field, one team will almost certainly emerge with its first win of the season in a battle of 0-8 teams as Groton-Dunstable visits Fitchburg High.
Three local programs will have a chance to vie for volleyball glory when the five-division tournament kicks off.
In Division 2, No. 23 Nashoba Regional (7-13) drew a preliminary round bye and will face 10th-seeded North Quincy (16-4) in the round of 32. Leominster, seeded 36th with a 10-10 record, will play at No. 29 Silver Lake Regional (9-11) in a prelim in the Division 2 pairings.
In the Division 3 brackets, No. 36 Monty Tech (14-6) will travel to No. 29 Blackstone Valley Tech (13-7) for a preliminary round match.
More coming soon
Pairings for field hockey will be released on Tuesday, while boys and girls soccer brackets are scheduled to be announced on Wednesday.
It’s been a tough fall so far for local gridiron crews.
Wins have been hard to come by for area football teams, with North Middlesex Regional and Lunenburg standing out as the only programs in the Sentinel & Enterprise’s coverage area to have winning records this season. Still, there have been bright spots.
Though St. Bernard’s sits at 1-4, every game had been a one-score contest until last week’s 26-12 loss to Auburn at the Bernardian Bowl. That game was St. B’s first on its home turf this season, with its second slated for tonight against Sutton (3-2).
Traditionally a team that keeps the ball on the ground 99% of the time, the Bernardians have aired things out a bit this fall. And senior quarterback Salvi Bilotta’s favorite target has been classmate Quinn Carlson, a receiver with range and height. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Carlson has 16 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Big test for the Patriots
North Middlesex faces its first big test of the season tonight when Maynard (4-1) rolls into Townsend. The 5-0 Patriots have averaged 39.6 points per game so far this fall while allowing a total of 29 points.
The North Middlesex offense has been utterly spectacular, with senior quarterback Michael Reardon Jr. proving to be a dual threat. He’s got plenty of targets to throw to with the likes of Brady Reardon, Cade Callahan and Darien Crawford all capable of hauling in passes and making big plays.
And the ground game, led by senior Jackson Hendley, has been tough to stop.
Outside of an opening-night blowout loss to Uxbridge, Maynard’s defense has been staunch. The Tigers have allowed just 47 points in their four wins.
The programs have had one common opponent this fall in Groton-Dunstable. Maynard topped the Crusaders 39-0 last Friday, a week after North Middlesex routed their rival 40-0.
A chance to turn things around
Following Friday’s loss to Sutton, Monty Tech head coach Anthony Secino was optimistic that his team would be able to pick up some wins down the stretch. Chance No. 1 comes tonight in Worcester.
In a battle of 1-4 teams, the Bulldogs visit Abby Kelley at 7 p.m. It’s the first of three contests to close out the regular season slate prior to the Thanksgiving Eve clash with Nashoba Tech with teams that enter Week 6 with a combined 2-13 record.
Running back Ryan Quinn has been a beast for the Bulldogs, while quarterback Dylan Huntoon has clicked with receiver Aiden LeBlanc. They’ll need to put up some big numbers in the coming weeks if the Bulldogs are going to get things headed in the right direction.
Tonight, Leominster (1-4) heads to Holden to face Wachusett Regional (3-2). … Lunenburg (3-2) is on the road at Clinton (3-2). … Oakmont Regional (2-3) visits Groton-Dunstable (0-5). … Ayer-Shirley (0-5) is at Narragansett (3-2). … Nashoba Regional (0-5) hosts Shepherd Hill (3-2). ….Fitchburg (0-5) travels to Westboro (4-1) Saturday for a 1 p.m. tilt.
TOWNSEND — Rain or shine, home or road, night or day, the North Middlesex Regional football juggernaut has been unstoppable so far this season.
The latest victim was neighboring Groton-Dunstable, a team in search of an upset and its first win of the season. The host Patriots made sure the wait for victory No. 1 would continue until at least next week.
North Middlesex kept rolling, getting out to a big lead early and cruising to a 40-0 victory in the Border War to improve to 4-0 on the season at 1A Auto Field Friday.
“This is a game these guys really get up for,” North Middlesex head coach Jordan Murphy said. “They’re right next door to us, so these guys came ready to play. Weather didn’t matter, they were just ready to go. I’m proud of these guys.”
As rain poured down on the turf in Townsend, the Patriots made a concerted effort to run the ball and play a physical game. The end result? Four touchdowns on the ground in the opening half and a 26-0 lead after two quarters of play.
The Patriots kept the ball on the ground in the second half all while the team’s defense kept the Crusaders in check. By the final whistle, North Middlesex had forced three turnovers and earned its first shutout of the season.
Leading the way offensively was senior Jackson Hendley, who piled up 130 yards on 15 carries, including three touchdowns. Classmate Cade Callahan, normally a threat to make big plays on receptions, scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, racking up 42 yards on just two touches.
Michael Reardon (seven carries, 80 yards) added a 12-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter.
“We kept it on the ground a little more than we normally would, but we still had to keep them honest and keep the ball in the air a little bit,” Murphy said. “We’ve been able to spread out the wealth and keep defenses honest and have to defend multiple positions and multiple guys.
“They bust their butts every week and make it happen.”
Hendley scored the first three touchdowns of the night for the Patriots, opening the scoring just 1:12 in on a 34-yard run. Six minutes later, the senior running back came from four yards out, with the ensuing two-point pass from Reardon to Caden Kehoe running the score to 14-0.
It became a three-score game in the final minute of the first quarter as Hendley again found pay dirt, this time from nine yards out.
“We get up, we grind,” Hendley said of his team’s approach. “We go to work every day and work toward doing our best every week. We know how to handle ourselves.”
Cade Callahan added a fourth rushing for the Patriots with 2:15 left in the half converting a one-yard run on fourth-and-goal to push the advantage to 26-0.
Jordan Murphy’s smile said much more than any words that came out of the coach’s mouth after his North Middlesex Regional football team topped Fitchburg in its season opener on Sept. 7.
The second-year head coach beamed with pride after the Patriots dispatched the host Red Raiders, 42-7, at Crocker Field. He spoke of how years of hard work and struggling through lean times was beginning to pay off for a team loaded with senior talent.
Eventually, his ear-to-ear smile gave way to a smirk that glowed confidence. Murphy wasn’t kidding when he hinted that his Patriots were capable of big things this fall.
So far, the coach’s optimism has been spot-on. The Patriots are 3-0 and putting up points like they’re the Central Mass. version of the 2023 Miami Dolphins (against the Denver Broncos, at least).
In three contests, North Middlesex has posted 119 points while allowing just 22. On Saturday, the Patriots won their third consecutive blowout, winning 35-8 at Nauset.
Ahead 14-8 at halftime, the Patriots quickly put things out of reach in the second half. And while the first two contests of the season saw the combination of quarterback Michael Reardon and wide receiver Cade Callahan step into the spotlight, it was Jackson Hendley’s turn on Cape Cod.
The senior running back carried the ball nine times for 117 yards, scoring three times on rushes while also pulling in a touchdown pass from Reardon.
Reardon completed 12 of his 20 passes for 128 yards and spread the tosses out to a quartet of receivers. In addition to Hendley (two catches for 14 yards), Brady Reardon caught four passes for 58 yards and Darien Crawford (30 yards) and Callahan (26 yards) each had three receptions.
Up next for the Patriots is Friday evening’s border war with Groton-Dunstable (0-3), slated for a 7 p.m. start at John E. Young Memorial Field.
Matson dual threat
Though Lunenburg High suffered its first gridiron loss of the fall on Friday evening, Hunter Matson continues to be a problem for opposing programs.
In a 16-13 loss at Martha’s Vineyard, the senior quarterback posted 101 yards through the air, while also rushing for over 100 yards. Matson ran for a 5-yard score, while finding Eric Smith on a 29-yard touchdown pass.
Effort improving for Fitchburg
Despite coming up on the short end of a 36-12 contest at Shepherd Hill Friday night, Fitchburg High head coach Paul DiGeronimo is beginning to see his Red Raiders improve on the gridiron.
The first-year head coach has told me that with each week, the Red Raiders’ effort has been better as the team comes together. This week’s loss saw Fitchburg put up a season-high in points as Devanni DeLeon and Lukas Beaulac each rushed for scores.
A shift at St. Bernard’s
Losses happen. A look at the box score from St. Bernard’s 7-6 loss at Gloucester might not seem that unique to those not familiar with the Bernardians, but to those who follow the team, a shift what has been effective for St. B’s this fall is apparent.
Normally a run-dependent team, the Bernardians saw senior quarterback Salvi Bilotta complete 8 of 14 passes in the loss, piling up 125 yards through the air. St. Bernard’s lone score came on a pass from Bilotta to classmate Quinn Carlson.
Sure, the Bernardians still put up more yards on the ground (137) than through the air, but it’s likely the first time in a long time that the offensive stats have been that close. Good teams take what the opponents give them and if teams are going to sleep on Bilotta’s passing prowess, the Bernardians will likely try to take advantage.