Potent Rushing Attack Leads the Way for Leominster
LEOMINSTER -- In order to gain 335 yards on the ground, everyone has to do their jobs. From blocking up front to the physical handing off of the football, every player has a job to do. One misstep can cause the whole thing to fall apart.
Leominster ran like a well-oiled machine offensive Wednesday night, as sophomore quarterback J.C. Cora and senior tailback Adam Couch each posted 100-yard-plus outings and scored two TDs in a 36-0 win over archival Fitchburg at historic Doyle Field.
Outgoing Leominster head coach Dave Palazzi noted the domination by the Blue Devil offense during his postgame remarks.
But what should also see light shined on it on this Friday morning? Leominster’s Volkswagen-like efficiency with the football en route to 20 first downs, and doing so mainly on first or second down. LHS was also pretty efficient on third down, too, converting 3 of 5 opportunities; Fitchburg was 1 of 9 on third down.
Leominster also took what Fitchburg gave it -- and that’s plenty of space with which to work as Red Raider linebackers were out of position on more than one occasion.
“I just saw holes,” Cora said. “On the first touchdown, I audibled because I saw something open. My line opened up holes for me all game, and my coaches put plays out there.”
Cora utilized the QB sneak as well as the waggle -- his preferred manner of running the football -- to great effect against FHS, en route to 123 yards on 12 carries.
His first TD came four minutes into the game, as he sneaked through the line on his audible call and managed to catch the Raiders napping. A couple of players in the secondary tried to slow Cora down, but he shook them aside and got into the end zone from 23 yards out.
He eased his way into the end zone off ‘B’ gap early in the second quarter, too, this time from 4 yards out to double the Leominster advantage.
With time winding down in the first half, Couch had only touched the ball nine times for 52 yards. And on second down from the Leominster 38, he found a little bit of running room and gained 54 yards down to the Fitchburg 8. But time had run out, and LHS took a 15-0 lead into the locker room.
But when the teams re-emerged into the Priest Street ice box, Leominster embarked on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took off 8:14. The Blue Devils grinded, gaining six first downs including two off third-down conversions, the second seeing Couch dive forward to the Fitchburg 11 to ensure the sticks moved.
On first-and-10, Couch went off the left guard and made his way into the end zone to make it 21-0; he added the conversion run, 23-0.
After Anthony Larson returned an interception 57 yards, the Leominster defense -- which limited Fitchburg to 46 yards on the ground -- forced a turnover on downs to end the third quarter. And with a couple of penalties thrown in, the Devils started their next drive at the Fitchburg 25.
But it asks the age-old question: Can scoring in one play be considered a drive?
Couch (184 yards on 18 carries) took Cora’s handoff and swept the right-hand side, then found an eager seam and slipped through it easily, and untouched, to score from 25 yards away to put the capper on The Classic.
“He’s great. He’s a great athlete,” Cora said. “He’s patient. Once he sees a hole, he waits for his blockers to set up. He took it to the house a couple of times tonight.”
“Our running game was working pretty great, no matter what we were doing,” Couch said, all while shivering in the postgame euphoria. “It seemed like everything opened up for us. And I’m super-thankful for my line.
“The big thing for me is having the vision to get through those holes, and to be able see my linemen blocking for me.”
One of those linemen, of course, is Zach Khallady. Even with his back to the play, Khallady spoke highly of his classmate’s running ability.
“He knows how to read my blocks, and he always bounces to the right side. I couldn’t ask for a better running back to run behind me,” he said.