Lions Ride Sullivan's Arm to 3-0 Start
Chelmsford High football team tops Lawrence, 36-20, in MVC opener.
The Chelmsford High football team has a brand new look this fall, but so far, the results have been pretty much the same.
The Lions, who went 8-0 in Merrimack Valley Conference play and captured the MVC Division 1 championship in 2011, raised their 2012 record to 3-0 with a 36-20 win over Lawrence Friday night. But this year, instead of hopping on the back of running back Eddie Sheridan (24 touchdowns in 2011), the Lions appear to be lining up behind the passing arm of senior quarterback Bobby Sullivan.
Sullivan, who spent his junior year serving as Cody Emanouil's understudy, completed 11-of-18 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns in leading Chelmsford to a convincing win in its MVC opener at Lawrence's Veteran's Memorial Stadium Friday night. It was Sullivan's second consecutive three touchdown game, putting him among the area leaders in that category. Through three games, Sullivan has completed 34 of 54 passes for 372 yards and six touchdowns, with only one interception.
"Bobby is really coming along," said Chelmsford head coach Bruce Rich. "He's a national ski champion and (that attitude) is kinda carrying over into his football. Maybe he'll even get better when it starts snowing in November."
Much of Sullivan's success can be attributed to his talented corps of wide receivers and tight ends, led by senior wideout Gregory Johnson, who has caught 14 passes for 148 yards and three TDs so far this year. Johnson grabbed six passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns against Lawrence.
But Johnson isn't the only Lion who can snag a pass. Senior wide receiver Eric Van Gelder caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown Friday night, giving him 12 receptions for 145 yards and two TDs on the season. Tight ends Joe St. Hillaire, Deven Lekan and Zach Lattimore are also threats, giving Sullivan more choices than an opposing defense can cover.
"Van Gelder and Johnson are his favorite targets, and (Sullivan) has done a good job finding them," Rich said. "Our tight ends have good hands and our backs have caught a lot of balls in the past, so we do have a lot of weapons."
But if the rest of the MVC thinks it can sit back on its heels and focus on the Chelmsford passing game, that might be a mistake. Running backs Jeff D'Auria (a junior) and Connor Brimley (a senior) have punched holes in all three defenses they've seen so far this year. Brimley led the way against Lawrence on Friday, carrying 17 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. D'Auria came into the game as the team's leading rusher with 164 yards and four touchdowns. And although D'Auria only carried three times for 14 yards against Lawrence, he scored his fifth touchdown of the year on a three-yard run in the second quarter, extending the Lions' lead to 15-0 at the time.
D'Auria carried the load in Chelmsford's first two games (30 carries) while Brimley, who won the state Division 1 championship in the 55-meter dash last winter, recovered from a nagging pre-season injury.
"Brimley's got great speed and (D'Auria) has done a great job for us so far," Rich said. "We'll keep running the ball with those two guys. We'll get a lot out of those two kids."
Between the productive running game and Sullivan's big-play passing game, the Lions have averaged an impressive 37 points per game so far.
But they've needed it. Chelmsford's defense has surrendered 20 points per game so far this year.
On Friday night, the Lions appeared to be in control of the game at Lawrence when they jumped out to a 21-2 halftime lead on rushing touchdowns from Brimley and D'Auria and a 14-yard touchdown pass from Sullivan to Van Gelder. But Lawrence bounced right back with two quick third quarter scores and briefly made a game of it.
"They made a great halftime adjustment," Rich said of the Lancers. "They came out in a three back set and ran power football at us. We had to make a few changes defensively (to stop them)."
Sullivan connected with Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter to restore Chelmsford's lead to a comfortable 29-14, then junior nose tackle Charles Calenda made the defensive play of the night to put the game out of reach. Calenda strip-sacked Lawrence quarterback Nelson Valerio deep in Lancer territory and jumped on the loose ball at the Lawrence nine-yard line with 6:01 to play in the game. Three plays later Sullivan found Johnson open over the middle and Johnson made a leaping catch for his second touchdown of the game, extending the lead to 36-14.
Calenda did a little bit of everything in this game, recording two sacks and a fumble recovery on defense, while connecting on a 28-yard first quarter field goal and kicking the point after touchdown to punctuate another strong offensive showing for the Lions.
Defensive ends Patrick Healy and Devan Lekan, and defensive back Michael Calicchio also had strong games, while senior linebacker Chris Marino was involved in nearly a dozen tackles. Overall, it was a solid start to the 2012 MVC campaign for the Lions, who have their sights set on repeating as league champions once again.
"We graduated a lot of kids and we weren't ranked really high (to start the season)," Rich said. "But the kids are earning respect each and every week. We've got some kids who waited their turn getting some playing time now, and they're doing a nice job."
Chemsford (3-0, 1-0 MVC) hosts Dracut Friday night.