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Earl carves out legacy in Eagles’ 22-16 defeat

TURNERS FALLS — Franklin County Technical School running back Jake Earl went into the history books Saturday afternoon, right before his team experienced an historic meltdown.

Earl rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries to become the fourth football player in Franklin Tech football history to run for 1,000 yards in a season, a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 22-16 Tri-County League loss to Palmer High School.

“It’s nice to get it,” Earl said after the game. “But it would have felt better had we won the game.”

“It’s great for him,” Franklin Tech coach Joe Gamache said. “It’s a good tribute to him. He’s kind of been our catalyst all season on the offensive side of the ball.”

Earl came into the game needing 83 yards to reach 1,000, a threshold he cleared late in the first half with a 4-yard first-down run during Franklin Tech’s third offensive possession. Earl and junior running back Kyle Laffey (20 carries, 81 yards) had most of the touches in what was an exclusively ground-based attack by the Eagles. They opened up the scoring on their first offensive series, when Laffey capped a 11-play, 66 yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Gamache added a bit of trickery to the point-after attempt, which saw quarterback C.J. Daignault (3 carries, 6 yards) hand the ball to offensive lineman Gerald Richardson, who lumbered into the end zone for the two-point conversion.

“It was something we added this week, just a little trick play,” Gamache said. “It seemed to work pretty well.”

“It was nice to be able to help put some points up on the board,” Richardson said. “You don’t get many chances to do that as a lineman.”

Richardson lent a hand on defense in the second half, intercepting a pass by Palmer quarterback Tyrus Gaynor (5-for-8 passing for 117 yards), which eventually set the stage for Tech’s scoring drive.

Things started to unravel for the Eagles (3-6, 2-4 TCL) shortly after Earl reached his milestone. Palmer recovered a Franklin Tech fumble three plays later at its own 37, and it looked like the Panthers would finish the half in their own end of the field. But thanks to a 20-yard run by running back Joe Roberts and two Tech personal-foul penalties totaling 30 yards, the Panthers managed to get the ball down to the Eagle 11. There, Gaynor hit senior receiver Joe Cormier with a touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone. Gaynor’s two-point conversion pass went incomplete, and Franklin Tech held an 8-6 halftime lead.

Neither team was able to do any damage in the third quarter, but Tech managed to extend the lead early in the fourth when Daignault snuck it into the end zone from the 1. Earl ran in the two point conversion to make the score 16-6.

Palmer (3-5, 3-3 TCL) came right back on the very next play, when senior receiver Demetri Cardenales took a screen pass from Gaynor 70 yards for the touchdown. Nick Sawicki ran in the conversion to make it 16-14.

Tech got the ball back and worked it down to the Palmer 33 where, on fourth and 12, Earl faked the punt and ran for an apparent first down inside the Panther 15. But the play was called back because of holding, knocking the Eagles back to the Palmer 43. This time, Tech had to punt without its regular punter, as Earl chose to remove his helmet before leaving the field, requiring him to sit out the next play.

With Earl on the bench, the punting duties would fall to junior Drew Stebbins, who managed to get the kick off, but right into the hands of a blitzing Palmer lineman. The Panthers recovered the blocked punt at the Tech 35. On the very next play, Gaynor hooked up with Tim Siddle for the go-ahead touchdown pass. Gaynor ran in the two-point conversion to make it 22-16.

Franklin Tech got the ball one more time, but got no farther than its own 47. The Eagles’ comeback hopes were dashed when Earl’s Hail-Mary pass was intercepted by Roberts.

“Obviously, it’s very frustrating. We lacked focus and discipline and we really gave that one away,” Gamache said. “We didn’t make the plays we needed and we made a lot of mistakes when we needed them the least. That’s not how you win football games.”

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