With the Merrimack Valley Conference’s championship hanging in the balance, the Billerica High football team stopped Chelmsford on four straight plays from the Indian 5-yard line, the last coming with just 39 seconds remaining, and held on for a 20-14 victory in a Thanksgiving Day game played at Chelmsford.
“That’s an ESPN instant classic,” said Billerica coach Duane Sigsbury. “Unbelievable job by both teams. Chelmsford is as good of a team as there is around. They’re well coached and they play hard, our kids just rose to the occasion.”
“Hats off to them,” said Chelmsford coach George Peterson about Billerica. “I think their kids played extremely tough and did a great job. They were ready for us, that’s for sure, and they out-executed us in a lot of meaningful situations.”
The win clinched the league title for BMHS (10-1) while the Lions ended their fine season with an 8-3 overall record.
Down six after a field goal by the Indians with 2:36 left in the third quarter, Chelmsford had four tries to tie the game or take the lead, but Billerica forced a punt at the end of the third quarter, had an interception by Indian junior Mike Murnane at the goal line with seven minutes left, forced another punt with 3:50 to go and finally hung on in the final minute.
Included in Chelmsford’s first drive of the fourth quarter was a 9-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kyle Wilder to senior Ryan Blagg that was called back because of a penalty. Murnane’s interception came two plays later.
Wilder also completed a 42-yard pass to senior Manuel Marsall to set up the Lions at the 5-yard line on Chelmsford’s last possession.
The Indians played most of the second half without senior quarterback JT Green, who was nursing an injured shoulder that he hurt in the playoff loss to North Attleborough, and sophomore running back Dorival Djoodny, who went out during Thursday’s game.
“The defense stuck it out through the whole second half,” Green said. “They pretty much won us the game.”
After a botched snap on a punt by Chelmsford in the third quarter, Murnane came in to play quarterback for BMHS in place of Green and picked up a first down rushing to set up a 27-yard field goal by senior Jason Chaffee.
The kick was the only scoring in the entire second half.
The game looked like a shootout in the opening moments.
The Indians took a 7-0 lead just 1:48 into the game when Green connected over the middle to Djoodny, who ran 67-yards for a touchdown.
It took the Lions exactly 29 seconds to answer when junior running back Malakai Everett busted loose for a 71-yard touchdown run. Junior Michael Bierwirth’s extra point tied the score.
The Indians regained the lead with a long drive that covered 73 yards in 18 plays. During the six-minute trek to the end zone, Billerica converted twice on fourth-and-one, both with keepers by Green.
A 14-yard completion to junior Gus O’Gara helped set up a 4-yard touchdown pass to O’Gara with 9:33 left in the first half. Chaffee’s second extra point made it 14-7.
The Lions used defense to tie the game.
With Billerica facing third-and-long from midfield, Chelmsford senior Joseph Mitri intercepted a short pass by Green and ran it back 55 yards for a touchdown.
“I told coach that I’d try and throw it,” said Green, who threw only one more pass attempt before leaving the game. “It didn’t work out too well, but all that matters is we got the win.”
Bierwirth’s kick tied the score with 2:54 to go in the second quarter.
O’Gara helped create the next Indian score with an 80-yard kickoff return to the CHS 10-yard line as Bierwirth made a touchdown-saving stop.
Chaffee kicked a 26-yard field goal moments later to send Billerica into the locker room up three.
The Indians had trouble moving the ball in the second half against a swarming Lion defense.
In its first four possessions of the second half, BMHS totaled just 24 yards and one first down.
On its final drive of the game, the Indians called on sophomore Steven Gentile at quarterback and he picked up a critical first down that forced Chelmsford to use its final timeout before the Indians punted.
“For Murnane and Gentile to step up and Kyle Breitwieser, that was huge,” Sigsbury said. “I’m so proud of our kids. This is an awesome win for our football program.”
After Chelmsford turned the ball over on downs in the closing seconds, Sigsbury let Green take a knee for the final play of Billerica’s championship season. According to Sigsbury, his signal caller certainly earned it.
“He’s the best,” Sigsbury said. “I’m not disrespecting anyone I’ve ever coached, but JT is the best quarterback I’ve ever had. He’s just relentless.”
“It means everything to me,” said Green. “It was a great season.”