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Green Wave entertains Athol tonight

It has been nearly 10 years since Greenfield High School has played as big a football game as it will play tonight, when it hosts Athol High School at 7 p.m. at Veterans Field.

The Green Wave is currently unbeaten in Intercounty League play along with Belchertown High School and is seeking its first league title since 2004, then playing in the Suburban League. As for the Red Raiders, they’re coming off their first league loss of the season last Friday, when they were surprised by Turners Falls High School, 45-6.

There are five other games highlighting Week 8 of the local high school football season, four others tonight. Turners Falls looks to continue its hot start when it hosts Mohawk Trail Regional High School at 7, while Belchertown tries to remain unbeaten when it hosts Frontier Regional School at 7. Franklin County Technical School travels to the Roberts Complex in Holyoke to take on winless Dean Technical High School at 7, and in the late game at 8, Mahar Regional School travels to Central High School to play High School of Commerce.

Also on tap today at 9 a.m. is the MIAA meeting at Assabet Valley Regional High School in Fitchburg, where it will be determined whether there will be a statewide football playoff.

While Turners Falls High School still remains in the IL title hunt, the league-title discussion has essentially boiled down to three teams: Greenfield, Belchertown and Athol. Tonight’s game is the first time any of the three have met this season, and while the Green Wave (6-0 overall, 4-0 IL) will try to keep pace with the Orioles, Athol (5-2, 3-1) desperately needs a win to stay in contention after it was demolished by the Powertown Indians.

Were there an award for comeback team of the year, the Green Wave would be in line to win it. After finishing dead last in the IL a year ago, Greenfield has done a complete 180 this season. The differences have been noticeable on both sides of the ball, although perhaps the most striking difference is on defense.

While the offense was a shoo-in to improve with third-year quarterback and likely Recorder Most Valuable Player Award frontrunner Zach Bartak at the helm, the defense remained a bit of a question mark. Last season, in eight league games, the Green Wave allowed 212 points for an average of 26.5 points per game. That number tied for the worst in the league and had a lot to do with the fact that Greenfield barely had enough numbers (17) to field a starting lineup. This season, Greenfield has given up 32 points in four league contests (8.0 points per game), which ranks third, behind Belchertown (4.0 points allowed) and Turners Falls (6.8).

“I think that we’re pretty athletic defensively,” Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski began. “I’m pleasantly surprised that we’re playing pretty well defensively, we’ve had our defensive lapses but, overall, we’ve played pretty well.”

This week does mark the first time Greenfield will face a team with the caliber of offense Athol trots onto the field. The Red Raiders will be the first team the Green Wave has faced with a winning record, presenting it with its toughest task of the season.

“It’s going to really be a defining moment for us to see where we’re really at,” Kuchieski said. “We’ll see how good we are and if we’re really a 6-0 team or not.”

Athol, meanwhile, could do nothing more than scratch its collective head after last week’s stunner against the Indians. While the Turners Falls victory was not a huge upset, the fashion in which the Indians did it was. Turners Falls rushed for 309 yards for a gaudy 10.3 yards per rush. Bartak’s likely competition for the MVP award, Indian running back Ryan Wilder, had a monster game with 290 yards on 24 hauls, including five touchdowns, as he simply decimated the Red Raider run defense. While the Green Wave does not have anywhere near the type of running back that Wilder is (Garrett Hudson leads the running backs with 104 yards on 35 carries), Bartak is as good as any running back and is second in the area in rushing with 872 yards on 91 carries (9.58 yards a tote).

The Green Wave offensive line has been a big reason for the team’s success. After scoring just 98 points in eight league games a year ago, the Green Wave already has scored 128 in its first four this season. But opening up holes for Bartak to run through is not the only thing the line has done well; it has also given the quarterback enough time to pass, helping Bartak go 46-for-88 (52 percent) for 774 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

The Athol offense, meanwhile, has had its ups and downs. QB Jerry Parker leads the team in rushing with 374 yards on 66 carries. In the passing department, Parker is 38-for-85 for 720 yards. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes, but he also has 12 interceptions, including five last weekend. That came after Parker threw three TDs and no interceptions in a Week 6 win over Sci-Tech. In a Week 5 win over Mohawk, Parker also struggled with three interceptions and no touchdowns.

This game also has major implications on the WMass Division III playoff picture. Greenfield is currently in third place. Athol sits in fifth place.

Here’s a look at the rest of the games:

Friday

Mohawk at Turners — The Indians (5-2, 3-2 IL) solidified their hold on the No. 3 spot in the Division IV playoff ratings (9.71) and are seeking to overtake second-place Easthampton (10.00) with a win over the Warriors ... Turners’ Ryan Wilder vaulted into the area scoring lead with his five-touchdown performance in last week’s 45-6 rout of Athol. He also ran in a 2-point conversion, which upped his season total to 104 points. ... Mohawk (3-3, 2-3) is reasonably healthy at the skill positions but its line is a different story. Head coach Jim Smith confirmed that senior guard/defensive tackle Jake Lowell is out for the rest of the season due to a separated shoulder, while versatile senior sub Shane Dupont will miss his third straight game with a dislocated shoulder. Smith added that Dupont will likely be ready to return for the Warriors’ Nov. 2 home independent game aganist St. Bernard’s of Fitchburg.

Frontier at Belchertown — The Red Hawks (2-3,1-3) face a daunting task tonight, taking on an Orioles squad (6-0, 5-0) that has surrendered just 34 points all season, just 20 since its opener — a 17-14 win at Easthampton. ... The Orioles are the top-ranked team in the D-III but their last three games are by far the toughest of any D-III team — back-to-back road games at Athol (Nov. 2) and Greenfield (Nov. 9), followed by Thanksgiving Day at home against Pathfinder. Those teams are a combined 18-2 overall. ... Frontier is sixth in the D-III ratings (4.40). ... This is only Frontier’s second night game, after postponements and EEE forced one game to be moved to next month and three others to be changed to Saturday afternoon contests.

FC Tech at Dean Tech — The Eagles (2-5, 1-3 TCL), who have dropped three straight tough games by a combined 16 points, are ready to take out their frustrations on a Hawks squad (0-6, 0-4) that is allowing a whopping 35 points per game in their four league contests. ... Last week’s 16-15 loss to Easthampton was Franklin Tech’s second one-point loss in a row, following its 7-6 setback vs. Ware. The Eagles have been involved in only two other one-point games in their 17 years of varsity football — both 7-6 losses (Nashoba Valley Tech last season, Turners in 2009). ... Franklin Tech is tied for sixth in the D-IV ratings (4.00).

Mahar at Commerce — The Senators (2-5, 1-3) will try to halt a two-game slide against the Raiders (3-3, 2-3), who have quietly ascended to No. 4 in the D-II ratings (8.57) and need a win to maintain that spot on the right side of the playoff bubble. Mahar is seventh in the D-III ratings (4.00). ... The reason this game is scheduled for a late start is because it’s the second half of a doubleheader at Central High School’s Fred Berte Field. Sci-Tech faces Pittsfield in the opener, which is slated to kick off at 5. ... Of Mahar’s four remaining games, only one is scheduled to be played on natural grass — Thanksgiving Day at Athol.

Saturday

Easthampton at Pioneer — After a frustrating 14-6 home loss to TCL co-leader Pathfinder on Saturday, the defending D-IV Super Bowl champion Panthers (2-4, 2-2) now face the league’s co-leader, Easthampton (5-2, 5-0). Pioneer must beat the Eagles to have any chance of defending their D-IV title. A win wold be a major boost for the Panthers, since Easthampton is second in the D-IV ratings. Pioneer is tied for sixth (4.00). ... The Panthers have won the last three regular-season meetings, including 24-0 last season.

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