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Pioneer crushes Palmer

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School’s 48-14 football rout of Tri-County League rival Palmer High School on Saturday gave the hometown faithful hope that the previous week’s dismal scrimmage against Frontier Regional was an aberration.

“We couldn’t catch anything,” said a player’s parent who was surprised by the team’s newfound precision. Junior quarterback Cole Tognarelli passed for 230 yards and five touchdowns, running back Lukas Rathbun carried 16 times for 134 yards and a TD, and junior wideout Jake Hale caught for four passes for 79 yards and two TDs.

Seven Pioneer players gained yardage for a total offensive output of 477 yards, and five of the players scored TDs. “Coach Felton came up with the offense,” said Wilson, referring to new offensive coordinator Jeremy Felton. “He decided to take what they gave us, and what they were giving us was the pass.”

Consequently, 12 of Pioneer’s first 15 plays from scrimmage were passes that resulted in a 24-0 early-second-quarter lead. During that stretch, Tognarelli threw deep, short and on target. When was asked how far his QB could heave the ball, Wilson replied, “Ask him, he’ll say 100 (yards).”

What Tognarelli actually said was, “I don’t know. As far as the receivers can run, I guess.”

A trio of Pioneer underclassmen also got into the act, which bodes well moving forward, but first things first. Freshman Alexander Tyson caught three passes for 91 yards. Another freshman, Terrell Hicks, had two catches for 42 yards and a score, and freshman Zach Lambert caught a TD pass and a two-point conversion.

But it was the debut of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hale that opened eyes, his presence this season perhaps as significant as an NFL team signing a major free agent. Hale was nowhere to be seen last season because he was recuperating from a non-football-related back injury that left him with three bulging discs and a stress fracture. During pregame passing drills he was whirling 180-degrees to catch balls thrown behind him.

Hale accounted for Pioneer’s first 14 points by catching a 20-yard spiral from Tognarelli on the team’s first possession, then hauling in the two-point conversion pass and grabbing a late first-quarter 4-yard TD lob. “It doesn’t hurt that he’s 7 feet tall,” smiled Wilson, who had his share of nail-biters go against him last season. “He’s an athlete.”

Palmer cornerback Sean Serra had the unenviable task of covering Hale and also trying to tackle him. “It was tough,” said the diminutive sophomore. “The thing about him wasn’t so much his speed but his height and strength.”

There was concern going into the game about how much protection Pioneer’s premier signal-caller would get in the pocket, and how well it would open holes for power back Rathbun, but Wilson was more than pleased with their effort. “I’m gonna trump up the offensive line, they worked hard today,” he said, reeling off the names of Joshia Chase, Trey Raymond, Dakota Swanger, Eric Shutta and Hayden Denny, most of whom worked both sides of the ball.

Nearly a third of Palmer’s 283 offensive yards was the result of return yards after Pioneer TDs. The runbacks gave them good field position with which they could do little but go three-and-out. Palmer QB Aaron Palmer completed seven passes for 106 yards and booted seven punts for 193. By game’s end the vanquished school’s white-and-blue uniforms were covering black-and-blue bruises.

“We missed some tackles, blew some coverages,” first year coach Peter Farr told his players as they huddled together afterward. “Film’s going to show a lot of tackling done with heads down, a lot of arm-tackling going on. We got some sandwiches for the ride home. Relax, it’s not your last supper.”

Asked if he expected such an easy win, Lambert replied, “It’s never easy. We always expect a challenge.”

Coming from a freshman, that’s wise reasoning, especially considering next week’s game is on the road against defending Super Bowl champion Pathfinder Regional.

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