Thursday Night Lights

It was kickoff time in Central Mass., as the 2009 football season got underway with two games. Auburn handed Shrewsbury it’s first shutout since 1998 with a 17-0 win while Nipmuc used a hook-and-ladder play to stun Grafton, 28-26.

I made the trip to Shrewsbury to take some video (see link) and take in a game between two teams I think will battle for titles in their respective divisions. I was out of the car for about 20 steps before I was asked, “Hey, did you hear about Theodoss?”

Right then, I knew it was going to be another long season for Shrewsbury coach Terry Walles. The story is still varied, depending on who was telling it, but the bottom line is their star quarterback, Nate Theodoss, was out from tonight’s game after a dog bite on his right (non-throwing) hand suffered at the team’s pasta dinner the night before. Just when you thought you heard everything. Theodoss was forced to sit while his infection was being dealt with, but he could be back as soon as next week – it’s too early to tell at this point. From what I understand, the Colonials were hoping to have an injured Theodoss play hurt until the infection hit.

So last year Walles deserved praise for bringing a team ravaged by injuries to his skill positions and using a play-calling scheme that was basically thrown into the trash after every game. Shrewsbury has St. John’s this week? Fine, here’s what we’ll do. We have St. Peter-Marian next week? This is what we’ll do in that game. So if you give Walles a few days – like if that injury happened on Tuesday – they might have a better chance. Unfortunately, the Colonials had little under 24 hours to figure something out – and this was after they learned co-captain RB/WR/DB Paul Panarelli was out with an ACL injury (which, frankly, was why I went with Auburn in my picks).

Shrewsbury still was a team to worry about because the Colonials have a pair of dynamic backs in Hunter Beckmann and Adrian Harters. Even if new junior QB Domenic Sassone was a bit wide-eyed against a good Rockets’ defense, he hopefully would be able to hand-off left and hand-off right. However against a tough team like Auburn, they wouldn’t get many breaks.

That much was apparent on the kickoff, as newcomer Brian DeSimone paid dividends his first touch in an Auburn uniform. DeSimone got the ball at the 10, drove into the middle of the field, broke a tackle and found a seam, bursting down the left sideline 90 yards for a touchdown. Some folks think the Rockets might be better now with DeSimone than they were with Corey Roy last year, and while I don’t know if I’d go that far, I don’t think Auburn will miss a beat.

The Auburn defense realized early the Colonials weren’t going to have Sassone air it out, and they were going to rely on the running to get the job done. However with guys like Macy Washington patrolling the area, Shrewsbury had a hard time establishing it.

The Rockets’ didn’t look like world-beaters by any means, either. Aside from the kickoff return at the start, Desimone broke a third-and-long play 75 yards for another score in the first quarter to make it 14-0. New Auburn QB Marcus Backlin fired a long strike to Antonio Leatham that brought the ball to the Shrewsbury 5, but the Rockets had to settle for a field goal after the Shrewsbury defense stopped three straight rushes.

But that was pretty much it for the Auburn offense, as I don’t think either team got into the red zone again. It was a win for the Rockets, but coach Jeff Cormier knows his team has plenty to work on going into Grafton next week, while Shrewsbury has another tough one next week against Westboro.

Meanwhile, over in Grafton there was a thriller. I’m still waiting to see the TV-3 highlights, but Nipmuc drew up a hook-and-ladder play to take a 28-26 win over the Indians.

The Warriors took a time out and drew up a play – which coach Phil Shiloski said they never practiced before. Derek Fernandes found Kevin Roche for a 12-yard gain, then tossed to running back Matt Smith, who took off down the right sideline for a 58-yard score. What an ending.

“I don’t even know what to say right now,” said a smiling Fernandes (12 of 17, 161 yards, 3 TDs). “This just blows my mind.”

So much for my “I have a feeling” pick with Grafton. I thought the Indians – playing for the first time under the lights dedicated to the late Kevin Vulter – would have Fate behind them – and they almost did. Nipmuc fumbled three times, including once in their own end zone. Nipmuc was one of those teams I had a hard time getting a handle on this year, and the Warriors showed they should be okay this year.

What an opening night. Check out our video from the Auburn/Shrewsbury game as well as our video for the HS game of the week, Doherty at Wachusett at 7 p.m. Friday night. All on the Hometeam video player on the right side of the page.


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