WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — The winless Westborough Rangers went into the Friday night home game with nothing but pride on the line — but pride, a raucous crowd and unfamiliar lighting turned out to be a winning recipe.
The Rangers (1-7) took down one of the state's elite football programs, 21-20, when an invigorated defense stopped Scott Tupper on a gutsy two-point conversion attempt with 1:22 to play and slammed the door on Wachusett (5-3).
"When the timeout was called, we pulled them in the huddle, went to a completely different defense and just blitzed everyone," coach Mark Ellis said, struggling to contain the ear-to-ear smile sparked by the upset win. "We knew they were going to try to jam it down our throats; that's what they did to march it down."
But the win didn't look promising from the start. Wachusett's Sammy Rivera took the first play from scrimmage for a 55-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game.
"That was not part of the plan," Ellis said.
What the plan did include was a trick play that swung momentum in Westborough's favor just before halftime. With eight seconds left in the first half, and facing a 14-0 deficit, Rangers kicker Jack Chuma lined up for the field goal, but nothing was simple on Friday night.
"We were in field goal range and I just figured 'What the heck,'" Ellis said. "I dreamed about this game all week long. ... On Wednesday I told my coaches we're deferring, and we're going to be down 14-7 at half, we're going to get the ball and punch it in right away. It happened — it's pure guessing and luck — but it happened just the way I dreamed it."
Senior Kevin Sanders picked up the snap and rolled to his left. He waited for Rick Casparriello to clear his defender and dropped a perfect throw into Cassparriello's hands for the 7-yard score and clear momentum shift.
"I had no clue we were doing that," quarterback Dan Orlando said. "To get a crazy play like that to work was a great momentum booster. It really pumped us up."
The junior quarterback, hard-nosed running from senior Anthony Phillips and big catches from the receiving corps set the tone for the Rangers offense. Senior Johnnie Maguire hauled in a 34-yard touchdown to tie the score, 14-14, coming out after halftime, fulfilling Ellis' prophecy.
After a Wachusett fumble, Orlando then slung a 25-yard pass to sophomore Mike Heffernan on a second-and-22 play midway through the third quarter. The play set the table for Orlando's own 4-yard touchdown run three plays later, which turned out to be the game-winner.
The win may have been the first of the year for the Rangers, but that didn't take away from what it meant to senior captain David Tubman.
"I am ecstatic at the moment," he said with a hoarse voice after yelling with his teammates and fans. "I can't believe we finally came through and won a game. And this night, with the huge crowd, everyone coming to cheer us on, I think everyone worked their tail off; I think we earned this win."
Wachusett coach Mike Dubzinski said the loss was difficult, but he won't second-guess his late-game decision to go for the win.
"They made more plays than we did tonight," he said. "Congratulations to Mark Ellis and his team."
It was the first loss for Wachusett since a 46-14 drubbing at the hands of St. John's a month prior. The loss also ended the Mountaineers' three-game winning streak, which included victories over Divisional foes Shrewsbury and Leominster.
"We go to work tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock," Dubzinski said.
The Rangers won't be sniffing the postseason this year, and the win will be the only night home game the Rangers junior and senior class will get to play, but Orlando said it couldn't feel any better on a Friday night.
"It's the best thing so far in my young career in football." he said. "To be the first one in my family to win under the lights is a big deal."
WA - Sammy Rivera 55 run (Trevor MacNeil kick), 10:43
WA - MacNeil 7 run (MacNeil kick), 6:56
WE - Rick Casparriello 7 pass from Kevin Sanders (Jack Chuma kick), 0:00
HALFTIME: Wachusett 14, Westborough 7
WE - Johnny Maguire 34 pass from Dan Orlando (Chuma kick), 7:12
WE - Orlando 4 run (Chuma kick), 3:46
WA - Scott Tupper 10 run (run failed), 1:22
FINAL: Westborough 21, Wachusett 20