By Jared Keene
LEOMINSTER — Known as a prolific passer, Doherty’s Noah Callery couldn’t really get into a rhythm and was struggling Friday night against Leominster.
That — in large part — had to do with the Blue Devils' stingy defense. In fact, with less than a minute left in the game, Callery had thrown for just 66 yards.
But Callery, who has plenty of experience in big games, battled through some frustration and delivered when it counted the most.
He connected with Brandel Orhin on back-to-back plays, netting 63 yards down to the Leominster 1-yard line. After Callery ran up and spiked the ball, Dan Sheeran’s plunge from a yard out and Max Hanas’s ensuing point after gave the No. 17 Highlanders a wild, 14-13 victory over No. 25 Leominster at Doyle Field.
“He’s our guy,” Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said after his squad improved to 2-0. “He’s our leader and he’s our best offensive player. He was getting a little frustrated and the coaches were getting a little frustrated at him. He had a maze of blue coming at him all night and I kept looking at him and reassuring him to stay with it. This is his 24th football game and he’s seen it all.
“He’s about the only one that made some substantial plays for us tonight offensively.”
With the Highlanders trailing 13-7, they got the ball on their own 36 with 41 seconds on the clock following a turnover on downs by the Blue Devils (1-1).
Callery hadn’t thrown to Orhin — a transfer from Worcester North — all night, but he’s got plenty of confidence in all his wide receivers.
And that was quite apparent when he looked Orhin’s way on first down for a 12-yard pickup. After spiking the ball, Callery then hit the speedster in stride down the left sideline, with Orhin nearly finding paydirt.
From there, Sheeran and Hanas did the rest, but Callery and Orhin put them in position to win it.
“I just had to stay calm,” Callery said. “It was a low-scoring game, and at that point, I knew we had to make plays down the field as quick as we could. I just had faith in Brandel. On that long one, I saw they were kind of scrambling around and weren’t really organized. I also saw the corner on Brandel was pressing, so he just did a go route and I got it to him.”
As thrilling as the end was, there was plenty else to talk about. Here are some takeaways from Doherty’s gritty victory.
— At the time, it seemed like a questionable decision for Leominster to go for it on 4th and 7 hanging on to a six-point lead with under a minute to go.
On the play, Blue Devils quarterback JC Cora dropped back to pass and had a man open down the seam, but it fell incomplete.
Had Leominster punted, it had the potential to pin Doherty deep and make the Highlanders go a long way to try and score. But Blue Devils first-year coach Devin Gates had a simple explanation as to why his team went for it in that spot.
“We’re working with a new punter and we thought that if we’re going to win this thing, lets go with the guys that have been in this situation to make plays,” he said. “With a new punter, we thought maybe he could have faced a hard rush, so we thought that wasn’t going to be the best thing to do. Our defense had been playing well. We hadn’t let up really any big plays — for the most — all night. But credit to Doherty, they made the plays when they had to.”
— Doherty’s defense had plenty of moments where it bent, but didn’t break.
The Highlanders pitched a shutout in the second half, as Leominster’s four offensive possessions resulted in two turnovers on downs, a punt, and a fumble recovery.
As it turned out, it was the play of that defense that allowed Doherty’s offense the chance to go out and try to win the game. Following the game, Mulcahy had plenty to say about that side of the ball.
“We’re a solid defensive club,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being tough defensively. This is a good Leominster team and they scored 34 points last week. To hold him to 13 points says a lot. They’re a running team and we didn’t let them chew the clock up, for the most part. We got a lot of three-and-outs and got our offense the ball, but we struggled offensively. We talked about getting a second-half shutout at halftime.
“One of the stats we keep track of is third quarter shutouts, and we got that, and got a fourth quarter shutout as well. If we don’t get those, we don’t win the game.”
— Leominster junior running back Vo’Shon Dixon is a tremendous talent.
Dixon has the deadly combination of speed and power, and that was on display throughout the game.
Sure, there were some plays when Doherty bottled him up, but other than that, Dixon was really steady and consistent. Running behind a line of seniors Anthony Tocci, Micah Stinson, Frank Opoku, and Joe Conlan, as well as junior Kyle Philibin, Dixon finished with 22 carries for 129 yards and a score.
There’s no doubt he’ll be one to continue to watch this season as his team’s season goes on.
“Vo’Shon is a dynamic player,” Gates said. “I think people are just starting to see him really get it going now. He had a year off, so I think he’s still trying to get his game legs back, and I think he’s going to get better each week. Same thing with our offensive live. We have guys that love to play physical and they look forward to getting dirty in the trenches.”