Thanksgiving Leftovers: Leominster’s Larson Steals the Show
Any football player who has ever put on the Blue and White of Leominster High has dreamed of gridiron glory on Thanksgiving against archrival Fitchburg High School.
The players who are supposed to do big things do just that. The star quarterback or halfback steps up and performs on the biggest stage for the Blue Devils.
But more often than not, an unexpected standout performance will come about, one who makes a big play and has the game of his life. Someone who has contributed in a minor role will find themselves thrust into the spotlight and cemented into rivalry lore for all of time.
On Wednesday night, Blue Devils senior Anthony Larson secured his spot as a hero of The Game with his performance in a 36-0 victory over Fitchburg at Doyle Field.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Larson played like a giant, booting a pair of extra points and effectively kicking off the ball -- including one popped up kick that resulted in a FHS fumble and gave the ball back to the Blue Devils in the first half. But Larson’s biggest contribution came late in the third quarter and put the game on ice on a frigid night when everything else was already there.
Larson broke on a pass by Fitchburg QB Andrew Brooks and snagged the ball, returning an interception nearly 60 yards to push the Blue Devil lead to 29-0 and take away any momentum the Red Raiders had.
The 57-yard pick-six was the third-longest interception return for a TD in the history of The Rivalry, according to local football historian Mark Bodanza, trailing only Leominster’s Nick Mascis (65 yards in 1955) and Joe Sweeney (75 yards in 1911).
It was a dream come true for the senior, literally.
“It’s incredible and an honor to be able to do something like that in this game,” Larson said after being awarded the game ball. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I had a dream that I’d do something like that. I didn’t think it would come true, but it did. It’s amazing.”
Only a sophomore, Leominster quarterback JC Cora looked every bit as composed and ready to play as any senior leader on Wednesday. The young signal-caller set the tone in the first half as the Blue Devils took control.
Cora ran eight times in the first 22 minutes, picking up 74 yards and two scores, as well as a two-point conversion, to give the Blue Devils a 15-0 lead at halftime.
“It felt great,” Cora said. “I can’t ever explain it. The seniors do everything for this team, on and off the field, and I just wanted to give back to them tonight.”
A shifty and quick runner, Cora didn’t have to pass the ball once in the contest as Leominster’s ground game proved unstoppable. And the sophomore pointed to his teammates for opening gaping holes and setting up big plays.
“My line gave everything they had up front, my receivers blocked. They gave me chances,” he said. “We didn’t throw tonight, but I have so much confidence in this team that if we had to, I know my receivers would’ve been open. Everyone did what they were supposed to tonight.”
On the night, Leominster piled up 335 yards of offense, while Fitchburg had just 91 yards, 45 of which came late and courtesy of passes by Brooks.
On a gusty and cold evening across the region, running backs ran wild Wednesday night.
Lunenburg’s Anthony Iannacci had an unbelievable game, scoring a half-dozen touchdowns for the Blue Knights in a 52-14 rout of Quabbin Regional, finding the end zone on nearly half of his 16 carries while racking up 159 yards on the ground.
Not to be outdone, Oakmont Regional’s Justin Jameson found pay dirt five times, setting a new program record for career rushing TDs (52) as the Spartans cruised past Gardner, 56-6. Trailing 6-0, the Spartans rattled off 56 unanswered points, many of which came courtesy of Jameson’s hard running.
Monty Tech back Damitrius Sayarath pummeled the Nashoba Tech line, carrying the ball 27 times for 183 yards. The senior scored a touchdown and punched in a two-point conversion in an 18-14 loss in Westford.
The exception to running games ruling the day? St. Bernard’s.
Sure, the Bernardians ran the ball and did so quite well, but quarterback Domenic Cuevas also tossed a pair of touchdown strikes in a 36-15 drubbing of North Middlesex Regional, showing off an underrated aspect of the St. Bernard’s potent offense. With the wealth of ball-carrying talent the team boasts, Cuevas’ ability to throw accurate deep passes is often overlooked.
The Bernardians still have one game left, taking to the turf of Gillette Stadium on Dec. 1 to square off with the Division 8 title on the line in a tilt against Pope John.
Likewise, Nashoba Regional -- 21-0 winners over Clinton on Thanksgiving morning -- will be making the trek to Foxboro to play for a state championship. The Chieftains will next be in action Friday night, facing Dighton-Rehoboth for the Division 4 crown.
Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter @n_mallard.