LEOMINSTER — As the weather had many times over the 24-plus hours it took to play the contest, momentum swung quickly for the Leominster High football team in its season opener.
The Blue Devils looked to be in control early against St. John’s of Shrewsbury, but saw things slip away in a 30-18 loss at Doyle Field which concluded Saturday night.
The game started Friday night, but was postponed due to sightings of lightning and weather concerns throughout the evening. And while Leominster came out on fire early once it was restarted on Saturday evening, several crucial miscues and penalties ultimately cost the host Blue Devils.
“I think over the last year or so, our team has been very good at being disciplined and doing the little things and tonight we weren’t,” Leominster head coach Devin Gates said. “All that stuff adds up and contributes to momentum which contributes to points. It’s a tough situation and obviously, it will be addressed.”
Leominster led 12-0 in the second quarter and appeared to be set to head to the break with at least a two score lead as St. John’s faced fourth and 8 from the Leominster 48 with 1:52 to go. But as the Pioneers were lined up to punt, Leominster was flagged for 12 men on the field, advancing the ball five yards.
St. John’s went for it on fourth and 3, converting on a six-yard pass from quarterback Dylan DiPietro to Liam Mall. Three plays later, DiPietro took off down the right sideline for a 37-yard score that cut the Leominster lead in half.
The Blue Devils struggled to recover from that swing.
Zayn Moselhy booted a 34-yard field goal in the third to cut the lead to 12-9 before the guests closed out the quarter in style as DiPietro found Antionio Wiafe streaking downfield for a 60-yard bomb and a 16-12 edge.
The lead continued to grow early in the fourth after Steve Tstesos picked off a pass from Leominster’s Osiris Lopez which deflected off a receiver. The Pioneers capped a seven-play, 40-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge by Logan Mercer and a 23-12 advantage.
After Leominster pulled to within five at 23-18 on a five-yard touchdown reception by Xavier Cora, the Pioneers regained some breathing room with a bit of luck.
DiPietro unleased a deep pass for Wiafe that was deflected, but found the hands of Mall, who alertly pulled in the pass and went 46 yards for a touchdown and a 12-point lead with 6:25 left.
The guests out the game away with two minutes to go as a bad snap was recovered by Patrick O’Brien at the Leominster 40, ending any chance of a comeback.
Lopez was under pressure all night, constantly scrambling from Pioneer defenders in the backfield. And though he often managed to sneak past oncoming traffic multiple times, he was often throwing on the run and under duress.
“Obviously, we have to protect him better and that’s on me as the line coach. I need to make sure that we shore that up and see who will give us the best chance to win and to protect,” Gates said. “Credit to St. John’s, too. They brought a lot of pressure. They did their homework.”
Leominster put up 12 points in the second quarter to seemingly break open a scoreless game.
Lopez found Juan Miranda on a 5-yard strike with 7:47 to go in the half before the sophomore QB found Jaidis Delgado down the left sideline on a 35-yard touchdown with 3:49 to go in the second quarter.
The game kicked off on Friday night, but was postponed due to thunderstorms with 2:59 on the clock in the first quarter. Leominster had just blocked a field goal attempt by the Pioneers when the action was called to a halt.
The game was briefly delayed Saturday as well due to a possible sighting of lightning.
“You’ve got to roll with the punches. It’s nothing we can control,” Gates said. “In 25 years, I’ve never had to deal with a situation like that. I still felt our coaches did a good job preparing and making sure our kids had the right mindset. St. John’s played a hell of a game and we didn’t adjust the way we needed to in terms of scheme. They had a better game than we did.