Athol braces for Belchertown invasion
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Two weeks ago, it looked like a huge game. Now, one team is just trying to save its season.
Belchertown High School invades Thomas J. O’Brien Field in Athol tonight to take on an Athol High School team that is in desperate need of a victory.
That’s just one of five games on a busy Friday night on the local high school football scene during Week 9 of the season. The team battling Belchertown at the top of the Intercounty League, Greenfield High School, looks to remain unbeaten when it heads to Frontier Regional School at 7 p.m. Turners Falls High School will also try to remain red-hot when it heads to the James Woodward Athletic Complex in Orange to take on Mahar Regional School at 7 p.m. Mohawk Trail Regional High School hosts St. Bernard’s High School in an independent tilt at Pollard Field in Buckland at 7, and Pioneer Valley Regional School heads to Ludlow High School at 7 p.m. in a Tri-County League game.
Franklin County Technical School closes out the weekend Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. in Turners Falls, when it hosts Palmer High School.
Two Friday’s ago, Athol, Belchertown and Greenfield were all unbeaten in league play and jostling for room atop the IL standings. The Red Raiders headed to Turners Falls that night and were clubbed by the Indians 45-6, while Greenfield and Belchertown posted wins. Last weekend, Athol had a chance to make up for that loss as it headed to Greenfield, but a 26-8 loss to the Green Wave dropped Athol to two games back and its chances of winning the IL had been dealt a major blow.
The Red Raiders have one final chance to get back into the hunt tonight when they host the other IL leader. Belchertown (7-0) enters the game 6-0 in the league, a half-game ahead of the Green Wave (7-0 overall, 5-0 IL). Athol is 5-3 overall, and 3-2 in the league, meaning a loss tonight would eliminate the Red Raiders from contention. The Red Raiders are also on the outside looking in regarding the WMass Division III tournament standings. Belchertown leads the Power Rankings, followed by Greenfield, Mt. Greylock Regional High School and St. Joseph’s Central High School. Athol sits fifth, one spot out of the playoffs.
The Red Raiders have work to do on both sides of the ball if they are going to halt the two-game losing streak. The Red Raiders have been outscored 71-14 in the two losses, and part of the issue has been first halves in which Athol has been outscored 46-0. In fact, Athol’s only two touchdowns the past two weeks have come during garbage time in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, Athol has been led by first-year starting quarterback Jerry Parker, who not only throws the ball well but also leads the team in rushing. Parker enters the game 42-for-88 for 806 yards and 10 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Two weeks ago, he managed just 8 passing yards on 1-of-12 passing against the Indians with five interceptions. He improved last week against the Green Wave when he went 5-for-15 for 94 yards and no interceptions. Dakota Melanson leads the team in receiving with 15 catches for 351 yards. Andrew Poor has 13 receptions for 170 yards. Jake Lajoie had contributed 10 catches for 240 yards.
The team has struggled to run the ball this season, as Parker leads the team with 67 carries for 369 yards. Matt Summers is second with 74 carries for 340 yards.
Things won’t get any easier this week when the Raiders take on a Belchertown team that is tops in the league in defense. The Orioles have allowed just 28 points in six league games. Offensively, Belchertown ranks third in the IL in scoring, just behind Greenfield and Turners Falls. Quarterback Nick Leduc is second in passing yards at 683 and the junior has at least one touchdown pass in every game this season for a total of 13. James Ryan leads the team in receiving with 14 catches for 369 yards, but Leduc has other weapons in the passing game with Jake Mastorakis and Jake Bradway both heavily in the mix.
The weak spot in the Orioles’ offense this season has been the rushing game. Joe Sarno and Ryan lead the team in rushing, but neither has typically run for more than 100 yards in a game. Ryan is coming off a 12-carry, 99-yard performance, but both runners are usually in the 40-60 yard-per-game range.
Here’s a look at the rest of the schedule:
Greenfield at Frontier — It’s a mismatch in terms of offense, as this game pits the highest-scoring team in the IL in Greenfield (30.8 point per game) against the second-lowest scoring team in the league in Frontier (6.8 points per game). ... Speaking of deficient offense, the second-quarter touchdown Frontier scored last week put an end to an 11-quarter scoreless streak. Frontier (2-4 overall, 1-4 IL) entered last week on a two-game scoreless streak and has not scored more than 16 points in a game. On the flip side, the Green Wave has scored 30 or more points in all but one game — last week’s 26-8 win over Athol marking the lone exception. ... Greenfield enters the game ranked second in the WMass Division III Power Rankings, while Frontier is all but out of the picture in seventh. ... Greenfield has never beaten Frontier in football, going 0-5 against the Red Hawks since making the move down from the Suburban League to the IL in the 2007 season.
Turners Falls at Mahar — Turners Falls High School (6-2, 4-2) rides a four-game winning streak into the game, which has catapulted the team from eighth in the IL (following an 0-2 start to the season) all the way up to third. Mahar (2-6, 1-4), meanwhile, enters the game on a three-game losing streak. ... Indian running back Ryan Wilder has been a major reason for the four-game winning streak with 15 touchdowns and 782 yards in his past four games. The senior easily leads the area in rushing with 1,307 yards and has scored an area-high 116 points on the season. ... Turners Falls may have a little revenge on its mind entering the game. The Senators have beaten the Indians by an average of 33.2 points in the past five meetings, the lowest margin being 26 points. The Indians enter the game ranked second in points per game (25.8 points per game) and second in points allowed (6.7), while Mahar is the third-worst offense (9.2) and the second-worst defense (30.2). ... The Indians have not beaten Mahar since 2000 when they won 14-7.
St. Bernard’s at Mohawk — St. Bernard’s High School (Fitchburg) comes into the game winless 0-7, but the young Saints’ have seen offensive improvement each week. After being held to just six points in each of the first two weeks, the Saints have seen an increase in scoring every week. ... The Saints are coming off a 60-34 loss to Narragansett Regional High School. ... The last time the Saints played a team from this area was back in 2004 when they traveled to Athol High School and suffered a 7-0 loss. The Saints have only played two others teams from western Mass. since the Athol game — Amherst Regional High School and Mt. Greylock Regional High School in back-to-back weeks in 2006 — and St. Bernard’s won both games. ... This marks the fourth straight losing season for St. Bernard’s. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, St. Bernard’s is 10-27. ... Mohawk (3-4, 2-4) is hanging onto the fifth spot in the Division IV Power Rankings, and a big season-ending push could land the Warriors in the tournament for the first time since the 2009 season.
Pioneer at Ludlow — Pioneer (2-5, 2-3) comes into the game on a three-game losing streak, but it hasn’t been all bad. In those three straight defeats, the young Panthers’ team has not lost by more than one possession, the largest margin of defeat a 14-6 loss against TCL-leading Pathfinder Regional High School two weeks ago. ... In fact, Pioneer has been in every game it’s played. The Panthers have not lost by more than one possession in any of their five losses. Of their two wins, the Panthers blew out Dean Technical High School (40-16) and took a two-point victory over Palmer High School (8-6). ... Maybe Pioneer should give a lesson in sharing? Eight different players have scored touchdowns for Pioneer. Ten players have scored points. Lucas Rathbun leads the team with 32 points. ... After starting the season 0-6, Ludlow (2-6, 2-3) enters the game on a two-game winning streak, which is the team’s first streak of that length since it ended the 2007 season with back-to-back wins. The Lions actually extended that winning streak to three games when they opened the 2008 season with a 21-0 win over Amherst. Since that win over Amherst to kick off the 2008 season, Ludlow has won just seven games.
Palmer at Franklin Tech — Franklin Tech (3-5, 2-3) is overdue for a win against Palmer (2-5, 2-3), entering the game on a four-game losing streak to the Panthers. ... The two squads are part of a four-way tie for fourth place in the TCL, as Pioneer and Ludlow also enter the weekend 2-3 in the league. ... Last weekend, running back Jake Earl set a Recorder-area, single-game rushing record when he ripped off 344 yards on 19 carries in the Eagles’ win over Dean Tech. ... Earl scored every point for the Eagles last week in their 38-6 win, marking the fourth time this season Earl has scored every point for the Eagles in a game. Earl has scored all but 10 of the Eagles’ 113 points. Earl is second in Franklin County in scoring with 103 points, leaving him 13 points shy of Ryan Wilder, who resides less than two miles down the road at Turners Falls. ... Earl’s 38 points also mark the second-most points ever scored by one player in a single game, which ties him with Greenfield’s Ryan Leroux, who accomplished the feat on Oct. 30, 2004 in a 52-7 win over West Springfield. Greenfield’s Peter Bergeron still holds the all-time mark of 42 points in a single game when he scored six touchdowns (five rushing, one kickoff return) and added three, two-point conversions to account for all of Greenfield’s points in a 42-37 win over Longmeadow. ... Earl joins only four other players to have rushed for 300-plus yards in a game. The previous high was Athol’s Luke Quigley, who rushed for 342 yards on Nov. 27, 1998. Turners Falls Topher Prondecki (334 yards in 1998), and Mahar’s Brian Beauchemin (332 in 2009) and Pete Spadafora (305 in 1976) are the only other players to rush for over 300 yards in a game.