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High School Football Previews: Frontier-Athol: All eyes on South Deerfield

  • Athol QB Keegan Lutz (22) hands off to Ronnie Nelson (44) against Franklin Tech this season. Both will be in action tonight when the Red Raiders invade South Deerfield. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Athol’s Mason Barrieau (41) has South Deerfield on his GPS for tonight’s game with Frontier. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier quarterback Matt Hildreth throws a stiff-arm toward Franklin Tech tackler Spencer Telega on a Friday night in South Deerfield. Tonight, South Deerfield will be invaded by the Red Raiders from Athol. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Thursday, October 26, 2017

There’s a lot at stake in South Deerfield this evening.

A postseason berth is on the line for Frontier Regional School (6-1, 4-1), which enters the last weekend of the regular season in strong shape for both a Western Massachusetts Division VII playoff spot and an Intercounty League North Division title. The Red Hawks sit in a tie for first place with Easthampton High School (4-3, 4-1), and a win at home against Athol High School (2-5, 1-4) this evening would clinch at least a share of the regular-season crown for Frontier.

The bad news for the Hawks is that while they play an Athol team that sports just a 2-5 record, the Red Raiders are playing their best football of the season entering tonight’s matchup. After an 0-4 start, Athol has won two of three games, including an eye-opening 41-14 win over Greenfield High School last week that put the Green Wave’s own playoff prospects in peril.

While Athol opened the season with high expectations, things didn’t go according to plan during the first few weeks of the season. While the Raiders have rebounded, a postseason berth was out of the picture before the end of September.

“It’s just been one of those years where we take two steps forward and one step back,” explained Athol head coach Bill LaRose, whose team also nearly upset Easthampton High School in Week 4. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot of kids out with concussions. Last week (against Greenfield) was really the first time we had a full team together this year.”

While some teams may have gotten down after the 0-4 start, the Raiders never relented, and as a result, they’re in perfect position to potentially play the role of spoiler this evening.

“The kids haven’t lost their will to win and their eagerness to play football, so that’s a good sign,” LaRose offered. “We have a core group of kids who have been fighting through everything this year. They’ve kept a positive attitude and that’s all we can ask for.”

Frontier’s offense has kept a positive attitude this fall, and the Hawks have their double-wing absolutely rolling through seven games. The unit is averaging 37 points per game, helping the squad to a five-game winning streak after falling to Greenfield in Week 2.

“This time of year, you really don’t have to do too much,” said Frontier head coach Don Gordon of motivating his team. “We’ve come a long way in 11 weeks. It’s all just making sure you can block and tackle well. The (offensive) line’s getting it done. They’re getting the backs 2 to 3 yards and they’re taking care of the rest.”

Tailback Aaron Landry went over the 1,000 yard mark in last week’s win over Easthampton, while backfield-mate Stephen Worthley could soon join him, entering the game 844 yards on the ground this season. Landry is averaging over 10 yards per carry, and the two have combined for 26 touchdowns.

“They have two quality backs and they pack everything in,” explained LaRose of the Frontier offense. “They don’t do anything fancy but they come right at you. It’s old-school football. ... You have to stop us.

“I know their offense keeps our defensive coordinator Bob Robertson up at night,” continued LaRose with a laugh. “It feels like they pull their whole offensive line over with the quarterback leading the play, then all of a sudden one of their backs pops out and is off to the races. You have to stop their offense before it gets started.”

Although Athol will need to play its best defensively to contain Landry and Worthley, the Raiders have a solid running game of their own to counter Frontiers. Fullback Robbie Nelson is fresh off his best game of the year against Greenfield, when he carried the ball eight times for 203 yards and four TDs.

“First and foremost, we’ve got to stop their fullback, Robbie Nelson,” offered Gordon of Athol. “He’s a big, strong kid. He runs that trap play up the middle well, runs off tackle. He catches passes, does a little bit of everything for them.”

LaRose said his team’s offensive game plan will continue to focus on its bread and butter.

“We’re going to do what we do best, run the ball,” the Athol coach explained. “I expect Robbie Nelson to have another big game. I’m sure they’re game-planning to stop him but he’s leading our team in yards (576) and touchdowns (10). Our O-line, credit to them last week against Greenfield. They played an outstanding football game and opened some holes for our kids to run through.”

While Athol and Frontier highlight the games in terms of what’s at stake, there are several other interesting games on the Week 8 docket this weekend. Here’s a look at the rest of the contests.

Turners at Easthampton

Turners Falls (3-4, 2-3) travels to play Easthampton tonight at White Brook Middle School (7 p.m.) in a game where the Powertown could play spoiler for the Eagles’ league title hopes. … The Powertown snagged a wild 21-20 victory over neighbor Franklin County Technical School last week, and a win tonight would get them back to the .500 mark. … The two teams last met in 2015, when Easthampton won a 20-2 decision at home in the season-opener. … Turners tailback John Torres rushed for a season-high 143 yards in the win over FC Tech last week. … Junior quarterback Kyle Dodge continued his outstanding run of play a week ago. Dodge reached the 100-yard mark for the fourth consecutive game, and threw a touchdown for the fourth game in a row as well. In his past four outings, Dodge has thrown for 647 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. … Easthampton is currently the No. 5 seed in the Div. V standings, meaning it needs a win tonight coupled with an Amherst Regional High School loss to Mount Greylock Regional High School to have a shot at a playoff berth. … After averaging 38.8 points per game during a four-game winning streak, Easthampton was held to just 14 total points in back-to-back losses to Ware High School and Frontier. The Eagles are hoping to avoid a three-game losing streak.

Belchertown at Greenfield

Greenfield (3-3) hosts Belchertown High School (1-6) tonight at 7 at Veterans Memorial Field in an independent game, and the Wave needs a win and some help to potentially sneak into the Division VIII playoff. … Greenfield enters the final week of the regular season as the fifth-seeded team in the field, and will need either Lee High School or Ware High School to lose to have a chance at getting in. … The Wave has lost three games in a row after a 3-0 start that had them atop the IL North, alllowing an average of 37.7 points per game during the three-game skid. … Despite suffering an injury last week in Greenfield’s loss to Athol, junior tailback RJ Byrd eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. Byrd has 1,070 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. … Greenfield receiver Danny Vega caught three more passes last week, giving him 11 receptions for the season. That’s good enough for fourth in the Recorder-area. … Quarterback Owen Phelps completed better than 50-percent of his passes last week (8-for-14) for the second week in a row. The junior is throwing at a 55-percent clip for the season, compiling 473 yards and five touchdowns. … Belchertown won last year’s meeting between the two teams, 15-12, at Vets. The Orioles have struggled mightily this season, however, as they’ve been shut out three times and other than its lone win, a 42-0 victory over winless Drury High School, they’ve managed just 30 points in total. … Other than the Drury win, Belchertown has allowed 33 points or more in each of its six losses.

Mohawk at Palmer

Mohawk Trail Regional High School (3-4, 3-2) closes out its Tri-County League slate with a road trip to Palmer High School tonight at 7. … The host Panthers (5-2, 4-1) have a lot to play for, as they’re barely on the outside looking in for the D-VII playoffs. … Mohawk last played Palmer two years ago, when the Panthers blanked the Warriors, 29-0. Mohawk won the 2014 meeting, 28-14, and the 2013 meeting, 44-0. … Mohawk dropped a 38-6 decision to Ware last week, while Palmer doubled up Pioneer, 40-20. … The Warriors are 1-1 in road games this year, beating Pathfinder and losing to Pioneer. … Tailback Jordan Grenier scored Mohawk’s lone touchdown against Ware last week, his first TD since Week 3. … Palmer has played the majority of its games on the road this season. The Panthers are 4-1 in away games compared to a 1-1 mark at home. They haven’t played in Palmer since a 41-6 loss to Ware on Sept. 30. … Palmer can still capture a share of the TCL with a win on Friday night and a Ware loss to Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School.

Saturday

Mahar at FC Tech

The lone Saturday game features Mahar Regional School (2-4, 2-3) taking to the road to play Franklin County Technical School (3-4, 2-3) in Turners Falls at 1 p.m. … The host Eagles are looking to rebound from last week’s 21-20 loss to Turners Falls in a game that still saw them post two 100-yard rushers. Bailey Young (166 yards) and Spencer Telega (122 yards) each scored a touchdown, but FC Tech couldn’t hold on at home. … Tech quarterback Seth Aldrich was held without a completion for the first time all season in the loss. … Much-improved Mahar gave Mount Greylock (6-1) everything it could handle in a 22-20 loss last week in Orange. The Senators are 2-2 in their last four games after an 0-2 start. … Tailback John Gariepy’s late-season surge continued against Greylock, as the Mahar back went for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. It was the second straight 100-yard game for Gariepy, who has 583 yards on the year. … Quarterback Sam Paul acquitted himself nicely against Greylock, as he combined for 226 yards through the air and on the ground. Paul threw a touchdown to Jordan Desrosiers. … FC Tech won last year’s meeting, 35-14, in Orange. It was the only meeting between the two teams in the series’ history.