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The Bartak mystery clouds showdown

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  • GHS Zach Bartak PF-Gr-102712

    GHS Zach Bartak PF-Gr-102712

  • GHS Zach Bartak

    GHS Zach Bartak

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  • GHS Zach Bartak PF-Gr-102712
  • GHS Zach Bartak

Will he, or won’t he?

That’s been the big question around Turners Falls and Greenfield for the past couple of weeks. They’re talking about the status of Greenfield High School quarterback Zach Bartak for this morning’s 86th consecutive meeting between the Indians and Green Wave at Veterans Memorial Field in Greenfield. Game time is !0:30.

Bartak suffered a neck injury three weeks ago in the Green Wave’s win over Frontier Regional School and he missed the Wave’s last game, a 35-8 loss to Belchertown High School, Greenfield’s first loss of the season.

Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski was not sure Tuesday night if his stud QB was going to be in the lineup.

“I think it’s going to be a game-time type decision,” the cagey coach said.

Regardless of who plays, the Green Wave (8-1 overall, 6-1 Intercounty League) enters this game with a chip on its collective shoulder. The Wave has dominated this matchup, which dates back to 1927, holding a 59-18-8 advantage, but things did not go according to script last season when the Indians earned a 7-6 victory. That win marked the first time the Indians (8-2, 5-2) ate Thanksgiving dinner as victors since 2006, and it was the first time since 1981 that the Indians walked off their home field as champions in the holiday rivalry.

Last year’s game was played between two teams that had combined for six wins. This season, the teams have combined for just three losses. The two teams both enter this game with winning records for the first time since 1998, when the Green Wave was still in the Suburban League and Turners won its last IL title before going to the Super Bowl.

A much Wilder offense

Both the Turners Falls and Greenfield offenses have seen obvious growth in a year. Senior running back Ryan Wilder has put together a year to remember for the Indians. The running back broke the Indians’ single-season rushing record last time out by gaining 187 yards against Easthampton to lift his season total to 1,673 yards, passing Topher Prondecki’s 1998 mark of 1,643 yards.

Wilder has more 200-plus-yard games (two) than he does games in which he was held to less than 100 (one). He enters the game having rushed for 132 yards or more in six straight games.

“He’s a great kid and a great athlete,” Indians coach Chris Lapointe said. “He’s accomplished a lot and it comes from the hard work and the dedication that he’s put in, both in the offseason and in season.”

Wilder didn’t break the record alone. The Indian offensive line has risen its level of play dramatically. Players like Kramer Patenaude, Tyler Charboneau, Brendan LeDoyt and Kory Ryan have come together to form the best offensive line the Powertown has seen in years.

“They’ve worked hard and coach (Jay) Wonsey has worked hard instilling new techniques and getting them to understand the playbook better,” Lapointe said. “They really put it on their shoulders and they’ve really taken pride in what they’ve been able to achieve.”

Zach’s back?

Whether or not Bartak plays today, the senior quarterback has had one of the best seasons all-time for a Green Wave player. Bartak became only the third player in Franklin County history to pass and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. In eight games this year (all wins), Bartak has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards and passed for 1,165. Those numbers are nice, but a closer look reveals just how impressive they are.

Bartak has gained the 1,000 yards rushing on 114 carries for an average of 8.77 yards per rush. Bartak is also 62-for-124 passing (50 percent completion rate), giving him an average of 18.79 yards per completion. On top of that, Bartak has been mindful of taking care of the ball, with just four interceptions against 16 touchdown passes. Lapointe knows that his defense is going to have its hands full should the quarterback be a go.

“Zach is an incredible athlete, one of the best players in western Mass., if not the best,” he said. “He’s just a leader and a competitor. Having someone of his nature on the field, it just elevates the level of play of everybody else. In order for us to be successful, we’re going to have to take away Zach. That’s every team’s goal. We just have to try to limit the big play from him. The kids around him really do feed off of him.”

Kuchieski concurred.

“I don’t think there are enough words to describe how special a player he has been to Greenfield,” he began. “He ranks right up there with the best ever at Greenfield. You’d like to have a lot of Zach Bartak’s on your team.”

Bartak spreads the ball around when he drops back. Junior Lew Borden is in his first season playing football and has been huge in the passing attack, leading the team with 22 receptions and placing second with 377 yards. Senior captain Mike Lively is right behind in receptions (21) and leads the club with 463 yards. Junior captain Garrett Hudson was also injured in the Frontier game and he is also a huge loss for the Green Wave. Hudson could serve as a backup quarterback, but more than that, he is also second on the team in rushing with 176 yards, third in receptions with 15 for 162 yards. Hudson, who suffered a head injury, appears to be ready to go but is also a game-time decision.

Should Bartak not play, the possible backup will likely be junior Parker Hickey, who filled in against Belchertown and was 9-of-16 for 106 yards, although he did throw three interceptions. Senior fullback Steve Duclos has 69 yards rushing on 15 carries and could see some added production.

Indian weaponry

Although Wilder gets a lot of attention for his remarkable season, the Indians possess a number of other talented players. Junior quarterback Malcolm Smith gives Lapointe a reliable arm and may be the most underrated signal-caller in the league. Smith has completed 50 percent of his passes (35-for-71) and has a strong arm, passing for 556 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

And then there is John Ollari, whose contributions don’t always show up in the box score. Ollari has been one of the top linebackers in the league for the past two seasons, and the game within the game of him vs. Bartak could be an interesting one. Offensively, Ollari is solid from the fullback position, with 200 yards on just 29 carries (an absurd 6.90 yards per carry for a fullback), and his blocking is a big reason for Wilder having massive holes to scoot through. He also leads the team with 11 catches for 211 yards.

“He’s another one of our senior leaders,” Lapointe said. “It truly is how he plays, we play. His competitive nature, his blocking, pass-catching, defense — he’s kind of our utility man. He doesn’t do one specific thing well. He does everything that’s asked of him well.”

Junior Alex Osowski is second on the team in rushing with 378 yards on 51 carries, and he comes into this game after picking up a first down on the game-clinching run in last year’s game. Senior wideout Dan McCormack (eight catches for 129 yards) and junior tight end Brody Markol (six catches, 89 yards) are also big contributors in both the passing game and blocking schemes. The formula has added up to the Indians scoring an average of 39.17 points per game during their six-game winning streak.

D-nying the competition

While there has been all sorts of attention paid to both offenses this season, both teams come into the game with top-ranked defenses, a stark contrast to recent seasons. Turners Falls ranks second in points allowed per game in the IL this season with just 7.6. Greenfield is fourth in the league with 13.86 points allowed per game, although that number skyrocketed after allowing 35 points to Belchertown.

“They are definitely going to have to play well,” Kuchieski said of his defense. “Against offenses like this, it’s a matter of tackling, knowing your role and doing your job. We’ve got to stay away from the big play. Coach Al Dean has done a great job with our defense this season.”

Looking ahead

Both teams have already qualified for the postseason, so thoughts of the next game can creep into the heads of players and coaches, especially regarding injuries. But don’t tell that to either coach. Kuchieski admitted that while making the postseason is important, his team is not looking past this game and is playing it as though it’s the biggest game of the season. And listening to Kuchieski’s opinion of the current playoff format, you get the impression that it really may, in fact, be just that.

“Something we talk about every day is that ‘You are only as good as your next game,’” he began. “I think the seniors and even the rest of the players, they’re going to think more about how they did on Turkey Day than, sometimes, how they did in the playoffs. The way that the system is now, it’s really just a glorified district championship. It’s nice and important to get to the playoffs but I think you need to put the emphasis on the game at hand.”

Ditto the feeling for Lapointe and likely for many of the Turners Falls faithful, who celebrated last year’s win as though it were a Super Bowl.

“Yes, we want to compete for the Super Bowl but we want to win this game and that’s where our focus truly has been,” he explained. “And we know if we can win this game, it can set the tone for what we can do in the playoffs.”

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