LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- Jonathan DiBiaso started the night off just as he had in several key moments last season -- sputtering -- and watched from the sidelines as Leominster quarterback Kyle Ford tucked the ball and scrambled around the right side unscatched for a 22-yard touchdown scamper for the game's initial lead.
The remedy? Breathe.
"We told him to keep his head up. The bad passes, we basically blamed ourselves," senior wideout Manny Asprilla said.
And then, DiBiaso turned right around and fired one over the middle to Asprilla, who promptly put on the jets and took off down the left sideline, a 72-yard score to knot it at 7-all and open the floodgates. The Crimson Tide took a 28-16 lead over Leominster into the half, all DiBiaso passing touchdowns, and went away 42-23 winners in the season-opener for both at Doyle Field.
In the nine years the two have been meeting, Everett has outscored the Blue Devils, 275-109. So much for those concerns about transitions to a no-huddle, spread-oriented offense in year two.
"All the criticism said, you know, we averaged what, 21 (points per game) last year? How the offense was gone," head coach John DiBiaso said. "We put up good numbers tonight, so...for the first game, I'm pleased."
On the Tide's first score, on third and short late in the first quarter, the original intent was to give the ball to running back Vondell Langston. But Asprilla saw the middle open, and the Tide switched plays at the line of scrimmage. DiBiaso (278 passing yards, five touchdowns) gave Asprilla a perfect feed over the middle, and the Boston College-bound wideout simply turned on the jets.
"I don't know what happened. I ran straight, and saw it looked empty, so I just ran," laughed Asprilla, who finished the night with 195 yards of offense (145 receiving) and two scores.
From there, the Tide eased further into a groove -- "After that, I think we really started getting into a rhythm," said senior Matt Costello, who one-upped Asprilla with three touchdown catches.
On their next offensive possession, Costello slanted over the middle of the end zone from five yards out, to haul in his first of three touchdown catches. Leominster's Kyle Sanders sandwiched a 74-yard touchdown run in between two more Everett scores in the second quarter -- first Asprilla's second touchdown, then Costello's second -- and the Blue Devils were ready to make this a shootout when Shaunsagh Addo hauled in a lucky Everett bounce for a 42-yard catch that set up 1st and 10 inside the Tide 25.
But the Tide defensive line, led by Shaquille Taylor, stifled the run, forcing the Blue Devils to settle for a 27-yard field goal.
Vondell Langston put the Tide up 35-16 in the third with a Gronkowski-like one-yard run, dragging a defender tugging at his right foot and spinning through a tackle. And from there, Leominster was unable to make a significant rally.
A few more observations:
-- If there was doubt before, let's put this to rest now: Asprilla has some serious burners. When you're 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, you don't average 36 yards per catch in a game going for the deep ball. In the spirit of DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker, this guy is all about the YAC. On a first-and-10 late in the second quarter, Asprilla turned around for a five-yard comeback route, jab-stepped to the inside with his right foot, broke to the left sideline and was shoved out of bounds some 31 yards later.
Asprilla will turn heads this year with his offensive production -- the speedster ran for 50 yards out of motion-sweep handoffs -- but he also grabbed an interception on a jump ball in the third quarter (he figures to fit in at defensive back at BC). That's a welcome change from when we last saw the Tide, at Gillette Stadium in the Division 1 Super Bowl loss.
"Last season, the DB's and everyone was fighting with each other the last game, everybody was confused," Asprilla said. "All the turnovers, everybody was just angry at each other, we weren't on the same page. But this year we told each other that no matter what, even if it was a big play like when the big guy (Addo) caught that ball off Jaleel Wingard, we were going to keep each other up. We all just stayed on the same page."
-- Asprilla's yards after the catch will get the headlines, but Costello ran some very crisp routes tonight. His best catch might have been the one that set up Langston's touchdown run, turning at the left sideline a half-yard short of the near pylon, planting the tips of his toes inches short of the sideline, stretching out and bringing the ball to his chest. Just like they teach you in camp.
Not to mention, these trips to Doyle Field bear sentimental value to Costello, who was a long-time waterboy for the Tide before enrolling at the high school.
"Just growing up and being here, seeing the older kids go through it, and now getting a chance to actually go through it myself, I mean it's awesome," said Costello, who's been here for all five of Everett's trips to the Plastic City. "It's a little kid's dream growing up. And I mean, making the trip out to Leominster, it's not that bad...we've got the coach buses, we get to catch up on some sleep after school, coming on the way up, so it's great."
-- Can't leave out the man they call "Shaq". Taylor is the Tide's emotional leader out there, and when Taylor gets going, as Costello noted, "He's tough to stop. He's a big boy, and when he gets going, we can't even slow him down."
The 5-foot-11, 270-pound Taylor showed his speed with his pursuit of King in the backfield, and serves as the team's lead blocking back when they go to their goal line formation. It's a pretty nifty formation they've got: out of a double-slot Ace formation, Taylor lines up on the line of scrimmage, standing up as a tight end, and on DiBiaso's cadence the skill players switch from an Ace to a Power-I.
"He's an emotional player," the elder DiBiaso said. "That's important to play with emotion. I thought him and (Nick) Chiarello did real well tonight."
-- And by the way, the offensive line -- led by Chiarello and three sophomores -- didn't allow a sack tonight.
"We were sending kids off the edge, and their offensive line and running backs did a great job blocking," Leominster head coach John Dubzinski said. "We never put him (DiBiaso) on the ground at all. We just couldn't put him on the ground. They did a great job blocking."
Everett 42, Leominster 23
EHS 7 21 7 7 --- 42
LHS 7 9 0 7 --- 23
L - Kyle Ford 22 run (Leonardo Trento kick)
E - Manny Asprilla 72 pass from Jonathan DiBiaso (Gilly De Souza kick)
E - Matt Costello 5 pass from DiBiaso (De Souza kick)
E - Asprilla 29 pass from DiBiaso (De Souza kick)
L - Kyle Sanders 74 run (kick failed)
L - Trento 27 field goal
E - Vondell Langston 1 run (De Souza kick)
E - Costello 9 pass from DiBiaso (De Souza kick)
L - Nick Wilford 34 run (Trento kick)