PEABODY, Mass. -- It’s not always easy to stay focused and remain competitive during the sweltering heat of summer, but that’s exactly what the Chelmsford Lions did on Saturday at Bishop Fenwick as the team captured the East Regional title of the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 Tournament.
“Everything we do the whole offseason, from weight lifting, going to clinics to competitions like this, is about preparing us for us the real deal in the fall. It’s all about competition,” said Chelmsford head coach Bruce Rich.
The Lions rolled through pool play with a perfect 4-0 record before advancing past Billerica and Lowell, two Merrimack Valley rivals in the semifinal and final. It was sweet retribution for Chelmsford after going 1-3 last weekend in a similar tournament.
“Our kids really stepped up today. We had a tough weekend last weekend, not even making the playoffs. The kids got together and did a great job this week,” said Rich. “I’m happy with the outcome. We tell the kids, no matter what game it is, even if it’s chess, competition is competition.”
Chelmsford’s defense was in midseason form for most of the day. The Lions’ pass coverage was so stealth in the semifinal victory over Thanksgiving Day rival Billerica, that it forced the Indians three-and-out one possession without a pass even being thrown.
Chelmsford’s defense was up to the task once again in the finals when the Lions picked off three Lowell passes, including two that were run back for scores.
Michael Russo, Alex Palermo and Jackie Jillett were the defensive heroes. Senior quarterback Jack Campsmith didn’t have his best day, but he came up with several key conversions when his team needed it most.
It was an all-Merrimack Valley Conference final four as Chelmsford and Billerica squared off on one side of the field and Lowell and Haverhill did battle on the other half. It was two previews of Thanksgiving Day games, a point of pride for many around the valley.
“It’s impressive. It’s too bad because of the playoff system our league was broken up. It’s what it is. The Merrimack Valley has always been a good league,” said Rich.
Chicopee Comp surprises: Chelmsford wasn’t the only team that had a good day on Saturday. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was from the boys and girls of Chicopee Comp.
Yes, boys and girls. Senior wide receiver Emily Doiron and her teammates went 4-0 in pool play, including a 26-7 victory over Lowell, before falling to Billerica in the quarterfinals.
Spurred on by her family’s interest in the sport, she took up football at the Pop Warner level and has been playing ever since.
“This is my tenth season. I’ve been playing since Pop Warner. I had family growing up with football so I just got into it,” said Doiron. “My mom said I could play.”
Dorion said her teammates have been very welcoming, and that she’s been around many of the same boys for a decade now since pop warner.
“Growing up I had the same team so they were all brothers. It’s been the same thing at Comp. My cousin was two years older than me and all the older guys took me under their wing,” said Doiron.
“I think it’s really good for our team. It’s different, but it shows that not only males can play this game. It shows that females can too,” said captain and senior quarterback Michael Whitsett.
Doiron works primarily as a slot receiver and made several nice catches on short routes through the middle of the field on Saturday.
“That’s my go-to play. I really work on footwork and I have the mental game down,” said Doiron.
Coming off a 3-8 season, expectations for Comp weren’t too high at this event, but the Colts have capitalized on the momentum of winning their final two games of 2013 with a solid offseason.
“We’ve been working together in the weight room. We had the chemistry. We executed well today,” said Doiron.
“We wanted to come together and build some chemistry. We wanted to get some experience for the season,” added Whitsett.
The highlight of the day was the big win over Lowell, a favorite of many to win the state championship, led by star linebacker and Syracuse commit Shyheim Cullen.
“We watched Lowell the first few games and saw that they were definitely a fundamental, good team. We executed that game. We were focused and got it done,” said Doiron.
“It gives us some extra confidence. They underestimated us. We just played our game and came out with the victory,” said Whitsett.
One player that really stood out on Saturday was junior wide receiver and defensive back Cam Kagan, who starred on both sides of the ball. He made several nice breakups on long passing plays for the opposition and came down with a few real nice catches on long balls.
“He did an excellent job on both sides of the ball. He’s a well-rounded player,” said Whitsett.
Doiron and her teammates hope that Saturday’s success is just the beginning of bigger and better things to come for the Colts.
“Hopefully this is a preview of our season. We’d love to put it all together and have a great fall,” said Doiron.
“We have high expectations. We have the same team as we did last year. We have a lot more experience. All the seven-on-seven tournaments have really helped us out and will make us better,” added Whitsett.
Ramming ahead: Lynn Classical, coming off a 5-6 season and having to replace a lot of starters, might not have been a team many were expecting to have an impressive showing, but the Rams had just that. Despite a first round exit in the playoffs, Classical had many positives to take away from Saturday’s tournament.
“We lost a lot of talent last year in key positions. It’s nice to see guys making plays and doing things the right way today. We just need to fill in some gaps and we should be alright,” said Classical head coach Tim Phelps.
Eli McConney did a good job making the deep throws, and showed good composure behind the center.
“This will be his first year as a varsity quarterback starting for us. He throws a really good deep ball, but it will be interesting to see how he transitions from a passing league to when there are guys rushing at him,” said Phelps.
Wide receiver Jakeel Brown made several highlight reel catches and was a player singled out by Phelps for his solid performance on Saturday.
Despite the successful day, Phelps doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“As coaches and players we have to make sure to keep things in perspective. It’s a passing league. We were relatively successful. It was nice making the playoffs, but it doesn’t mean much for our season,” said Classical head coach Tim Phelps.