FITCHBURG -- Internet Explorer 7 was released by Microsoft. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series. Bob Barker announced his retirement from "The Price Is Right" would come the following year. The North Middlesex football team was at .500 this late in the season. It was 2006, which shows how long the road has been for the Patriots to return to respectability, a march that continued with a 34-13 win over Fitchburg on Friday night.
With the win, North Middlesex moved to 3-3 on the season, something that made Coach Sandy Ruggles beam with pride. "We haven't been here in a very long time, so it's certainly a very nice feeling," said Ruggles. "A year ago, we may have faded, but this is a great traditional game and our kids certainly responded to the opportunity of playing here at Crocker tonight."
Things didn't start exactly as the Patriots would have hoped. After picking up a pair of first downs on their opening drive, a first-down carry was fumbled. Anthony DiPrima picked up the loose ball at his own 44 and raced 56 yards untouched down the right sideline for a Red Raider touchdown. The PAT made it 7-0 just over five minutes into the game.
Looking to swing momentum back onto their side, North Middlesex embarked on their first scoring drive of the night. An eight-play, 67-yard march was highlighted by a pair of John-Boutwell-to-Dylan-Woods connections for 24 yards and a 39-yard jaunt by Brandon Lambert. On first-and-goal from the
"That touchdown drive was a big series for us," said Ruggles. "In the past, we have had something go wrong and it tends to snowball. Tonight, we had the setback early, but we answered right back, which was big."
After forcing a turnover on downs, the Patriots got another long Lambert run, this one covering 74 yards to set up first-and-goal from the six. But Fitchburg held, eventually forcing a turnover on downs of their own at the one. However, North Middlesex got the last laugh, as on second down Bryan Croteau stepped in front of a slant pass and came up with an interception, walking into the end zone from five yards out. Ferro's kick was true, making it 14-7 with 3:47 to go in the half.
A three-and-out gave the ball back to the Patriots at their own 21 and they needed just one play to double their lead. Rolling out to his left, Boutwell stopped and lofted a deep ball down the middle of the field to a wide open Ferro, who covered 79 yards on the play for a score before adding his third PAT of the night.
In the final minute of the second quarter, Matt Wetherell came up with a big play on defense to set up another score, picking off a pass and returning it 44 yards down to the Red Raiders nine. Three plays later, Boutwell capped off the short drive with a 3-yard scoring strike to Joe Dolciotto. Ferro made it 4-for-4 on kicks as North Middlesex held a 28-7 lead going into the intermission.
Late in the third quarter, Wetherell was at it again, picking off his second pass of the night to set up the Patriots final score of the night. An 11-play, 70-yard march was highlighted by the running of Dolciotto, who carried four times for 44 yards, including the final five for his second score of the night to make it 34-7.
"We did a lot of nice things tonight on both sides of the ball and we are really becoming a complete team," said Ruggles. "There are a lot of things we can improve upon though, and just getting to .500 can't satisfy us. We want to get better every week and right now we are doing that. But there is a lot of work left to be done."