By Michael James LeClair
Before its stop at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough for the Division 2 State Championship game on Dec. 5, the Nashoba Regional football team had some unfinished business to take care of back home on Thanksgiving morning.
The Chieftains welcomed the Patriots of North Middlesex Regional High to Bolton as the two Turkey Day rivals clashed for the 21st time.
With the bigger picture in focus, the Chieftains could have very easily overlooked the NM Patriots as they
prepared for their upcoming bus trip to Tom Brady’s house. However, Nashoba took care of its rivals from Townsend on Thursday morning with a commanding 40-14 victory.
“One reason we’ve been so successful this year is because of our ability to stay focused on our opponent, and not look beyond them,” said Nashoba head coach Jamie Tucker following the win that improved his team’s 2015 mark to 12-0. “This really is a very special group of kids, and winning on Thanksgiving is always fun.”
For Nashoba, the win continues its dominance. The Chieftains have won eight straight years and 17 of the last 18 meetings. Going back even further, Nashoba has triumphed in 18 of the 21 meetings, including a 35-13 victory last year.
The Chieftains were led by offensive MVP Jake Benjamin’s four touchdown performance. Three of those touchdowns came on the ground while one of them came through the air. The senior running back helped the hosts open a commanding 27-point lead at halftime and Nashoba never looked back.
“Jake has been great for us all year,” said Tucker. “More importantly, he’s a tough kid and a very good leader. The kids really respond for him and they play for him.”
Nashoba opened the scoring with a pair of first quarter touchdowns, both courtesy of Benjamin. Benjamin’s first TD came less than three minutes into the ballgame as he pounded his way across the goal line from a yard out. Jonny Gjeltema added the kick to make it 7-0 before Nashoba struck again on its next possession. This time Benjamin found paydirt from six yards away. Gjeltema’s kick was true to make it 14-0 with 3:10 showing on the scoreboard.
The hosts added three more touchdowns in the second quarter to put the game away while the Patriots sandwiched one in between.
Robbie Atwood found Benjamin with a 10-yard touchdown pass and Gjeltema remained perfect on the contest with the kick to make it 21-0.
North Middlesex broke up the shutout with an 80-yard kickoff return by Ryan Macdonald that found the end zone. Macdonald found a seam in the Nashoba special teams’ coverage and was gone. Macdonald, who received the North Middlesex offensive MVP, added the extra point kick to make it 21-7 with 10:37 left.
Benjamin capped his strong first half with his fourth touchdown of the opening 11 minutes. This time he rumbled his way 62 yards to the house to steal the momentum right back for the Chieftains. Gjeltema’s kick made it 28-7.
Nashoba wasn’t finished as it struck for one more TD before the halftime whistle. This time it was Atwood connecting with Jake Watkins for a 62-yard scoring strike with 25 seconds left. Gjeltema’s kick was no good to keep it 34-7.
The two squads traded fourth quarter scores as Macdonald ran it in from five-yards out and added the kick before Nashoba’s Breese Hill ended the game with a 30-yard scoop and score as he recovered a North Middlesex fumble on the final play of the game and ran it all the way back.
Nashoba’s Egan Bachtell received the Chieftains defensive MVP after a solid effort on that side of the football Thursday morning. Also playing well for the Chieftains defense, which made three picks in the contest, were Harrison Ashline and Kyle Hume.
Nashoba will end its season on Saturday, December 5 against Reading High School at Gillette Stadium, seeking the Division 2 state Super Bowl win. The game starts at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 for adults and $14 for students/senior citizens. Children under 5 are free. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or ahead of time through Ticketmaster.