BOLTON — On a day where football took a backseat, two proud programs and communities gathered in Bolton to remember a Central Mass. coaching icon.
Ken Tucker, a Leominster High graduate and former head coach at Nashoba Regional, passed away over the summer after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The former football player for the Blue Devils built the Nashoba football program over 24 years before handing the team over to his son, Jamie Tucker.
During Tucker’s tenure, Nashoba won 10 league titles and led the Chieftains to three Super Bowl victories, while compiling an impressive 180-94-1 record.
So it was only fitting on a day when Leominster and Nashoba would meet on the gridiron to pay tribute to one of their own. The two teams played an inspiring football game that ended in overtime when Nashoba freshman Owen Fitzsimmons booted through a 30-yard field goal to send the Chieftains to a thrilling 17-14 victory over the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon.
“It was a total range of emotions today,” said Nashoba Regional head coach Jamie Tucker, whose team improved to 3-0. “Obviously, my dad basically built this program. Maybe there was a few guys before him, but there have only been like six head coaches in program history, so that just shows you the longevity and how much he cared about it.”
On Leominster’s opening possession in overtime, the Blue Devils were able to get the ball to the 5-yard line to set up a 22-yard field goal by Santiago Rodriguez. The kick was short opening up the door for the Chieftains to win the contest.
The Chieftains found themselves going backwards on their possession. Following a 1-yard run from Trevor Schartner to put the ball in the center of the field at the 13-yard line, Fitzsimmons calmly stepped up and booted the field goal attempt through the uprights to send the Nashoba faithful into a frenzy.
“Owen (Fitzsimmons) has been great,” Tucker said. “He kicked two field goals in the first game in the pouring rain, so if you can kick a 35-yard field goal in the pouring rain, I will put you out there anytime. Once we went backwards, I just wanted to get him in the middle and he boomed it right through there.”
Despite the loss, Leominster played a very tough football game against one the area’s perennial powerhouses.
“I learned that our guys know how to battle,” said Leominster High head coach Devin Gates, whose team fell to 1-2. “Not to make any excuses, but we had some key guys go out early. The kids adjusted and played hard against a team that scores a lot of points. If we start the way we are capable of starting then we are a really good football team, but we started slow today.”
Nashoba won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. The Chieftains setup to kick off to Leominster to start the game but went into their bag of tricks and successfully attempted an onside kick. The Chieftains wasted no time turning the momentum into a score as quarterback Josh DiGeronimo sprinted in from 10 yards out.Fitzsimmons kicked through the extra point, giving the hosts a 7-0 lead with 8:29 left in the opening quarter.
The two teams remained tied until the third quarter when Voshon Dixon tied the game up with an electrifying 35-yard touchdown run. Rodriguez booted through the extra point to make the score 7-7.
Nashoba took the lead with 5:21 left when DiGeronimo hooked up with Aidan Lee on a 5-yard scoring strike. After the Fitzsimmons extra point, Nashoba held a 14-7 lead.
Leominster tied things up to force overtime with 1:45 left when Caeden Constant plunged in from two yards out.
While Nashoba may have gotten the win on the scoreboard, both teams were winners on a day when Ken Tucker was recognized for what he did for both communities.
“We are honored to be a part of this,” Gates said. “Ken (Tucker) is part of the Leominster family having graduated from there. He has done so much for Central Mass. football. For them to wait until this day and this game to do it, we are just thankful for that and glad to be a part of it.”