Chieftains Start Season with a Bang

Head coach Jamie Tucker and the Nashoba Regional football team held their traditional post-game huddle on Thursday night in the non-traditional setting of the lower gym, after lightning forced all players and fans indoors and ultimately shortened the game. The Chieftains defeated visiting Westborough 42-21 in the season opener.
Jordana Bieze Foster

By Jordana Bieze Foster

In the locker room, the Nashoba Regional football players paced in their wet uniforms, itching to go back on the field and defend their 42-21 fourth-quarter lead over visiting Westborough. But outside, the lightning flashes continued and the clock remained stopped with 10:43 left in the game.

Finally, Chieftain head coach Jamie Tucker came into the locker room and told his team he had bad news and good news. The bad news was that they wouldn’t get to finish the game. The good news was that the score would stand.

The Thursday night win, Tucker’s first as head coach and the team’s 27th in a row, wasn’t exactly textbook. But none of the Chieftains were complaining.

“This was a very interesting one, but a win is a win,” Tucker said.

With both offenses racking up yards and points through the air and on the ground, turnovers were the difference in the game: three Ranger fumbles led to three Chieftain touchdowns.

“In early season games, special teams and turnovers can win you games,” Tucker said. “That really helped us out.”

Nashoba struck first with eight minutes left in the first quarter, when senior quarterback Matt Mudgett’s 26 yard throw found wide receiver Kevin Connelly in the end zone. Stow junior Casey Elkins, who completed all of his six extra point attempts, gave the Chieftains a 7-0 lead.

The Rangers answered with a big play of their own, a 37 yard strike from senior quarterback Dan Orlando to senior receiver Jack Chuma. A successful extra point attempt knotted the score at 7-7, but the Rangers would not score again until just before halftime.

With just over two minutes left in the first quarter, a two-yard run by senior fullback and captain Frankie Chiodo extended the Chieftain lead to 14-7. Following a Westborough punt, Nashoba found the end zone again with 6:50 left in the half, this time on a five-yard run by Mudgett behind a nice block from Stow senior Nick Tavis.
That’s when things got really interesting.

On the ensuing kickoff, a Ranger player intending to let the ball roll into the end zone inadvertently touched it, and the Chieftain special teams players recovered the ball on the Westborough 1 yard line. Two plays later, Chiodo had his second rushing touchdown of the night, and Nashoba led 28-7.

The next possession didn’t go much better for the Rangers, who fumbled again on their first play from scrimmage. Again the Chieftains recovered, and again found themselves in great field position on the Westborough 21 yard line – which improved further thanks to a Ranger penalty. Stow senior Matt Sabourin (who finished with 77 yards on nine carries) took the ball to the 1 yard line, and on the next play Chiodo once again went in for the score. That made it 35-7 with 3:21 left in the half.

But Westborough wasn’t about to let the Chieftains get too comfortable. The Rangers promptly peeled off a 72 yard scoring drive, with Orlando accounting for nearly all of those yards and ultimately finding leaping senior receiver Michael Gallo for a five-yard touchdown reception with 36 seconds left in the half.

In the third quarter, the two teams traded turnovers before the Chieftains again found their offensive groove, and with 3:19 left in the quarter Mudgett ran it in to the end zone from four yards out to give Nashoba a 42-14 advantage. But with the forecasted rain finally starting to come down, again the Ranger offense answered, and again Orlando connected with Chuma in the end zone, narrowing the gap to 42-21 with 10:53 left in the fourth quarter.

Two plays later, lightning forced the fans and players indoors, until it became apparent that play could not be resumed. Then the two teams were exchanging post-game handshakes in the lower gym, sliding in their wet cleats on the hardwood floor. And Tucker was accepting a congratulatory hug from his proud father, former Nashoba head coach Ken Tucker.

“I think we proved to everyone that we still have the magic,” said Stow senior captain and two-way lineman Mike d’Entremont. “Some people have been doubting us, but I think we showed that we’re still able to continue the Nashoba football tradition. We’ve still got it.”

The Chieftains will play their first road game of the season this Friday, traveling to Shrewsbury. The Colonials are also 1-0 after notching a 33-13 road win at Algonquin Regional, in another Thursday game that was suspended due to lightning but completed the following night. Friday’s kickoff is scheduled for 7 pm.