(VIDEO) Gray Helps Lead Leominster to OT Victory
by Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
LEOMINSTER, Mass. – Give a premier athlete enough opportunities to make big plays, and he just might oblige you by changing the fortunes of a football game.
Shepherd Hill (2-4) had Leominster (4-2) and Duke-bound wide receiver Noah Gray pinned down through three quarters. The Rams built a 13-0 lead on the strength of their ground game and looked poised to seal the game with a “four-minute drill,” but uncharacteristically fumbled to give the Blue Devils a chance.
That’s all Noah Gray and sophomore quarterback Pat Gallagher needed. The duo hooked up on a 35-yard touchdown reception to force overtime and put the Blue Devils on top 28-20 when Gray caught a two-point conversion after a touchdown in the extra period.
After Shepherd Hill superstar Kevin Mensah responded with a dramatic 15-yard touchdown catch on third down, it was up to the Leominster defense to make a play, and they came through by stopping Mensah on the conversion attempt to seal a dramatic 28-26 victory.
“[The Rams] are a great football team and a great program,” effused Leominster head coach Dave Palazzi. “This is a tough loss for high school kids. It was a hard fought battle and they played unbelievable, but somebody had to win and our guys just made the plays at the end when we needed them.”
Final (OT): Leominster 28, Shepherd Hill 26. Blue Devils stuff Mensah on 2pt conversion and celebration ensues pic.twitter.com/8Ctl6N7NMG— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 15, 2016
Stars Who Shined
Noah Gray‘ 17 WR/DB – Throughout most of the game, Gray struggled to find any breathing room against the excellent coverage of Kevin Mensah and Shepherd Hill’s safeties.
“Noah [Gray] just causes the coverage to shift his way,” explained Palazzi. “[The Rams] had a great game plan and shut Noah down for pretty much the whole game, but we were able to adjust on the fly and change some routes to get some plays down the field.”
Indeed, Gray came alive down the stretch, hauling in a 34-yard reception to set up a touchdown that made it 20-12, and catching a beautiful lob for a 35-yard score with 18 seconds left in regulation to effectively force overtime.
With a successful two-point conversion in overtime and a solid defensive effort to deny Mensah on the Rams’ two-point conversion attempt, Gray led the Blue Devils to one of the more dramatic comebacks in program history.
“We were just playing football, one play after another,” said Gray. “We love each other on this team, so no matter what the score is we’re going to go out there and keep grinding.”
Noah Gray catches a 35-Yard TD to make it 20-18. Huge conversion attempt coming up with :14 remaining pic.twitter.com/iEEiGa5q9c— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 15, 2016
Pat Gallagher ‘19 QB – The sophomore’s performance under center should not go unrecognized by any means. Gallagher’s ability to play the hardest position at a high level has allowed Gray to move from quarterback to wide receiver, and make game-changing plays as we saw on Friday night.
“I have no worries about that,” Gray said about his positional shift. “Coach [Palazzi] did what’s best for the team and that’s what I’m playing in college. Everyone understands their role on the team and Pat [Gallagher] has embraced his role and I’ve embraced mine.”
And that's why Noah Gray is playing WR. Good throw from Gallagher pic.twitter.com/WTc5pnL0xi— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 15, 2016
Anthony Dandini ‘17 RB/LB – A bruising running back at 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, Dandini scored the Blue Devils first touchdown of the evening, but his greatest contributions were arguably on the other side of the ball.
Leominster simply could not stop the Rams “Double-Wing” rushing attack throughout the first half, but with some coaching adjustments and solid play from the front seven, the Blue Devils were able to come up with stops in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Travis Storm ‘17 WR/DB – Gray made the dramatic plays to complete the comeback, but Storm was certainly a catalyst as well. Serving as the perfect compliment to Gray, the possession receiver broke the Blue Devils first big play of the evening on a 26-yard run, and set up Dandini’s short touchdown with an 82-yard reception on a short screen pass.
Allen Link ‘18 WR/DB – The third read for Gallagher on most passing plays, Link made the most of his opportunities. He caught 2 balls for 16 yards in the first half before making a spectacular grab in the corner of the end zone to put Leominster ahead 26-20 on the first play of overtime.
Kevin Mensah ‘17 RB/DB – A gigantic factor in all three phases of the game, Mensah set the tone early with a 21-yard touchdown run to put the Rams on top. He stymied the Blue Devils momentum after Dandini’s touchdown by bursting up the middle for a 95-yard kick return touchdown to make it 20-6
Playing defense against Gray and Leominster’s other receivers all night, Mensah made another great play with an interception to deny a Blue Devils two-point conversion attempt, and only a great tackle from Gray prevented him from returning that one for two points.
“We’re absolute thrilled to have Kevin [Mensah] back in the fold,” said Shepherd Hill head coach Chris Lindstrom. “Offense, defense, special teams, you can see that he does it all for us and even more importantly he’s a really great kid and a positive force on our team.”
Gray also shared those sentiments for his competitor, who he also said is a good friend of his and a former teammate in offseason competitions.
“[Mensah] is a great player, but an even more phenomenal person,” Gray said. “I have a lot of respect for Kevin [Mensah] and it was a lot of fun coming out here and playing against him.”
Rams take up nearly the entire 1Q and Mensah finishes the drive with a 21-yard TD scamper. SHill up 7-0 at Leominster pic.twitter.com/POldN2kBh3— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) October 14, 2016
Alec Lindstrom ‘17 OL/DL – Leading the Rams complex rushing attack is their standout center. The coaches’ son made the correct adjustments and led his offensive line to a dominating first half performance, as Shepherd Hill averaged 5.95 yards per carry while building a 13-0 lead on the strength of that ground attack.
Lindstrom also played very well on the defensive line and came up with a key sack to torpedo a Leominster drive.
Josh Gelb ‘17 RB/DB – The Rams steady presence at tailback, Gelb did yeoman’s work on short rushes up the middle to open the outside for Mensah and wing back Zach Magdis. He also played very well at safety and often made tough tackles when he was asked to step up against the run.
Bailey Springer '17 OL/DL – Another key member of the Rams offensive line, Springer made a tremendous impact defensively in this close loss, batting down a pass attempt, recording three tackles for loss and taking down Storm before he could break another short screen pass for a huge gain late in the fourth quarter.
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