PEABODY, Mass. -- If you listen to the Billerica football team tell it, the days of 3-8 are long gone.
Last year, under the direction of first year head coach Duane Sigsbury, the Indians lost their first seven games before turning things around a bit after going 3-1 in November, highlighted by a Thanksgiving victory over Chelmsford.
Like any first year coach, it takes time for a team to adjust to new philosophies, strategies and systematic game plans. By the tail end of last season, Billerica started buying into what Sigsbury and his staff were selling.
The hope now is that it will carry over into this season and, in turn, allow the Indians to compete for a Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title.
With a "nowhere to go but up" attitude resonating throughout this program, perhaps Billerica made that initial step in its turnaround after running the table during Wednesday night's Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 New England Championship at Bishop Fenwick's Donaldson Field. The Indians reached the finals before knocking off Stoughton 12-7 to take home top honors.
"Winning this tonight really boosts our confidence," said Indians senior receiver Jeff Trainor. "It gives us an advantage going into the regular season because now other teams know that we are dangerous."
Having earlier captured the 7 on 7 Northeast Regional, the Indians were not ready to stand pat. Last week, they finished in the final four of the North Regional. Knowing their body of work had earned them a trip to the championship round, along with nine other schools, Billerica came out determined from the get-go in its quest to hoist the championship cup.
The Indians showed no mercy during their preliminary round contests by overtaking Milton (21-6), St. John Paul II (30-16), Timberlane (23-6) and Stoughton (24-15). They then proceeded to upend Newton South (22-12) in the semifinal round before meeting Stoughton again in the finale. The Black Knights went 3-1 in the preliminaries before bouncing Foxborough (20-7) in their semifinal match.
In the title game, Stoughton jumped out to an early 7-0 lead before Billerica quarterback Justin Beck drove his club down field for a score. However, the Indians failed in their attempts at a two point conversion. Later, in this 20 minute battle, Billerica had a touchdown waved off by officials after a catch was ruled out of bounds. With just 1:15 remaining, Billerica got the ball back. As the seconds ticked down, Beck was able to find junior Dean Brooks, who had beaten the coverage, down the right sideline for the game-winning score.
"We came out here tonight with confidence and we rolled it," said Beck, a senior. "As a team we are very confident this year and are ready to go. We are not going out 3-8 this year that's for sure. Our offense is looking good and so is our defense. All of us are in the weight room every day. Last year was tough for us and Coach Sigsbury knowing that he has won everywhere he has been and then he comes here last year and starts out 0-7. He knows how to push us and how to talk to us. He only wants the best for us."
Sigsbury was in attendance Wednesday evening for a short time during the preliminaries to watch his team, but had to leave to coach his son's Little League baseball team. He came to Billerica following a marvelous stint at Cathedral, where he led the Panthers to the 2012 Division 4A Eastern Mass. Super Bowl crown. Prior to that, he served as offensive coordinator at Woburn and Reading Memorial where he also enjoyed successful runs.
The Indians have not had a winning season since 2011, when they finished 7-4, and have not sniffed the postseason since 2009. Although these 7-on-7's do not determine a lot in terms of how strong certain programs may be, the fact that Billerica has looked very sharp throughout this event does indicate a team on the rise with unlimited potential.
"We have a lot of experience coming back this year," said Trainor. "That pit in your stomach when you lost nearly every game last year really stunk. We feel that we started things last year with our Thanksgiving win. We had the whole town behind us and we consider ourselves already 1-0 going into the 2015 season because of that game. Give credit to Coach Sigsbury because he has changed us as athletes 100 percent. He has our back and we have his. It's tough when you are out there doing it but you now see it beginning to work like tonight and as it turns out, we are the New England champs."