Down 25-7 to host Wachusett Regional as halftime neared on Oct. 13, it looked like more of the same thing that had plagued the Leominster High football team throughout the first five games of its season. Fall behind early, show a little life, come up short.
It had been the formula for nearly every game Leominster had played to that point.
Mired in a 1-4 start and set to head into the locker room at Hal Lane Field with another loss looking them square in the eyes, the Blue Devils needed something, anything, to give them a hint of a spark.
The spark came. So did a full-on ignition to a team on fire after halftime.
Quarterback Osiris Lopez broke a 41-yard scoring run to close the opening half, cutting the lead to 25-14 at the break and giving the visitors a surge of momentum that night in Holden. It wasn’t apparent at the time, but that play wasn’t just the catalyst for a 38-32 victory; it was the turning point in the Blue Devils’ campaign.
“It would’ve been easy to just say ‘We’re done’ during that Wachusett game,” Leominster head coach Devin Gates recalled. “But Osiris had that 41-yard run right before the half that gave us life. It was a season-changing moment. All of the sudden, our confidence went up.
“We knew we were close and had been able to stay close with good teams.”
Lopez ran for two scores in that game and threw for three more, two of which were snagged by Domenic Swaine. And Leominster’s defense sealed the win, stopping the host Mountaineers on a potentially game-winning drive as the clock turned to zeroes.
Prior to the win at Wachusett, Leominster’s lone victory was a 21-13 win at Westford Academy. But the team had squandered chances against St. John’s of Shrewsbury, Doherty, North Attleboro and Peabody, all resulting in losses.
It was a slow start. An ill-timed turnover. A dropped pass. Simply running out of time in a comeback bid. Often, it was a combination of any of those things that led to the humbling start.
“I think we really became self-aware. We came in thinking we’d win because we were able to win last year, but we had to replace 19 of 22 starters,” Gates said. “But guys got sick of losing and we’ve played good football in the second half of the season.
“It took some time for the chemistry to be there. You can practice as much as you want, but it takes real games for things to come together sometimes.”
After topping the Mountaineers, Leominster bested Shrewsbury and Algonquin Regional to put together a three-game winning streak that put the Blue Devils at 4-4 and earned the team the 16th seed in the Division playoffs. Falling to top-seeded St. John’s Prep has done little to sully the attitude of the Blue Devils, as indicated by last week’s 41-14 drubbing of Westboro at Doyle Field.
Now, their attention has turned on going out on a high note on a grand stage. The Blue Devils will be the visitors in Wednesday night’s rivalry tilt against Fitchburg High, with the contest being played at Fenway Park.
“It’ll be a cool experience,” Gates said. “We’ll be coming out of the third base dugout at Fenway Park and playing a football game. And with how we’ve played in the second half of the season, I know we’re going to give it our best effort.”