FITCHBURG — North Middlesex Regional football coach Sandy Ruggles was extremely concerned about the big-play ability of St. Bernard’s sophomore running back Walter Morales Jr.
Ruggles’ worries became reality on Thanksgiving Eve, as Morales toted the pigskin 23 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns to power St. Bernard’s to a 34-24 victory over North Middlesex in the second annual Thanksgiving Eve showdown at the Bernardian Bowl.
“I just called him ‘Sir Walter,’ ” Ruggles said. “He was the best player on the field and I said that going into the game. He had a great game. I don’t know what his stats were, but they’re going to be earth-shattering.”
Morales scored touchdowns in the first quarter on runs of 12 and 57 yards, respectively, and busted a 17-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He also tossed a 57-yard touchdown pass.
He earned St. Bernard’s MVP award.
St. Bernard’s, which loses only four seniors, finished 7-4. North Middlesex ended at 1-10, but has a roster loaded with sophomores who gained valuable experience.
Both teams put on a show in the first half, combining to score 52 points, as both offenses had little trouble moving the ball.
The first quarter was a run-and-gun affair, as St. B’s scored 28 points and North Middlesex added 12. Morales was a beast in the first half with three touchdowns and 177 yards on 14 carries.
On St. Bernard’s first possession, Morales flexed his muscle with his legs and pass-catching ability. Dazeen Figueroa avoided a sack and hit Morales for 19 yards on a screen pass, and then the sophomore stud finished off the drive with a 12-yard TD run.
The Bernardians added to their lead, as Morales burst off the left edge and the NM defense couldn’t catch him en route to a 57-yard score.
Ben Shaw hauled in Figueroa’s 2-point pass, and St. B’s led, 14-0.
But North Middlesex regrouped and delivered back-to-back scores to pull within two points, 14-12.
Talented sophomore quarterback Josh LeBlanc gave his team life with a 60-yard touchdown run, and added a 77-yard touchdown pass into the arms of Reed Callahan with 2:52 left to play in a wild first quarter.
St. Bernard’s wasn’t done scoring in the quarter, however, and expanded its lead to 28-12.
In the second quarter, Morales busted his third TD jaunt — this time from 17 yards out.
LeBlanc engineered his team down the field in the two-minute offense, connecting with John O’Friel for 27 yards and Ty Clemetson for 19 more, and scored on a 1-yard TD plunge with 32 seconds left in the half.
“That was crazy,” Ruggles said. “Long run, long run, long pass. I don’t know if I’ve been around for that many points in a first quarter.”
St. Bernard’s defense forced three turnovers in the first half.
The only points of the second half came from North Middlesex with 1:02 left in the game. Callahan — another sophomore — leaped high into the air to haul in a 9-yard touchdown pass from LeBlanc.
LeBlanc, who earned the Pats’ MVP award, rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, while throwing for 144 yards and two more scores.
“(LeBlanc) had a great game,” Ruggles said. “He’s got game experience now. From the opening game until now, just tremendous improvement on his part.”
Jean Arevalo earned the lineman of the game for North Middlesex.