No. 10 Billerica holds off late Burlington charge

WOBURN, Mass. -- Everyone was at Woburn Memorial High Field on Saturday night to watch Nick LaSpada. While the crowd was buzzing over the 2009 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year’s return, it was Billerica’s defensive effort at crunch time that lifted the Indians to a 35-27 victory over Burlington.

Although Billerica (1-0) was up 21-6 at the half, Burlington (0-1) came back with impressive drives in the fourth quarter.

Down 35-19, the Red Devils rallied back with a 12-play, 97-yard drive, culminating with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Greg Sheridan to Bill Murphy with two minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the game. Burlington failed to recover the ensuing onside kick attempt, but the defense stepped up and held LaSpada from converting a third-down attempt, forcing a Billerica punt.

Burlington’s offense took the field again down by eight, with 1:35 to play. It was then the Indians defense showed its true colors, sacking Sheridan on consecutive plays, setting up a do-or-die fourth-down try.

Ryan Donahoe intercepted Sheridan’s last-ditch pass on fourth down to seal the win.

However, LaSpada shone in his return to the field after tearing ACL and MCL in last year’s playoff loss to Everett. LaSpada finished 14 of 24 with 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

His knee looked fine as the 6-foot-2 junior also rushed 15 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was a little shaky in the beginning, throwing the ball and everything,” LaSpada said. “But, as the game went on, I was a little more fluent with my passes.”

LaSpada was poised behind his offensive line and determined to make a good debut. On what he described as a “broken play,” the quarterback took a shotgun-snap, stepped up through the defensive pressure and heaved a 40-yard pass to waiting receiver Matthew Clifford, who walked in for a 69-yard touchdown catch.

The quarterback’s favorite target — Donahoe — had nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a pure thoroughbred,” Billerica head coach Peter Flynn said of Donahoe. “I mean, talk about a burner — we really showcased his talents tonight.”

Burlington’s defense was overmatched for much of the game. However, LaSpada got greedy on a second-quarter play when he was forced out of the pocket. He threw over the middle off his back foot; the result was an interception by Nick Ciardi.

“We didn’t make enough stops and we didn’t capitalize,” Burlington head coach Shawn Maguire said. “But the glaring obvious difference is LaSpada. We just couldn’t stop him enough.”

There were bright spots for the Red Devils in the loss, however.

Sophomore Marcus Odaih finished the game with 10 carries for 157 yards and one touchdown, which came on a 74-yard score on the first play from scrimmage.

But Billerica pulled through and showed mental toughness in key situations—an encouraging sign for their coach.

“We’re excited with this team, the character and the resiliency and everything.” Flynn said. “The mistakes we made out there are coachable, so we can fix them.”