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Raiders sunk by turnovers

SPRINGFIELD — Ask any football coach at any level what, above all else, will kill a team’s chances of winning a game, and the answer would probably be unanimous: turnovers.

You’d get no argument from Athol High School coach Matt Gauvin, whose Red Raiders lost a tough Intercounty League contest to Cathedral High School Saturday afternoon, 32-24, at Fred Berte Field at Central High School.

“Five turnovers by us, four touchdowns for them,” said Gauvin. “We moved the ball, did whatever we wanted with the ball, truthfully, and then we just decided to give it to them five times.”

Actually, only three of the turnovers led to scores, but that turned out to be more than enough to sink the Red Raiders.

Athol’s first drive was a clean one, with senior running back Jerry Parker leading the way for the Red Raiders. Parker had 50 yards on seven carries in the sequence, 13 of them on the game’s first touchdown with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter. Parker also ran in the 2-point conversion, and Athol (1-4, 1-2 IL) had an 8-0 lead.

Cathedral (3-2, 3-2 IL) got on the board shortly thereafter, with quarterback Josh Wyzik hitting Derek Boyd for a 34-yard touchdown with 1:20 remaining in the first. The conversion attempt was no good and Athol was still in the lead.

The day’s troubles started on the third play of Athol’s next drive, with Parker fumbling the ball and the Panthers recovering at the 50. Three plays later Boyd was back in the end zone, this time on a 44-yard run, and Cathedral took a 12-8 lead it would not relinquish.

Athol’s next series started out beautifully, featuring a 39-yard pass from quarterback Andrew Poor to Todd Smith, and a pretty 23-yard run by Parker. It ended in disaster, however, when a hard hit on running back Shane Smart jarred the ball loose at the Cathedral 3, and the Panthers recovered.

Cathedral made the Raiders pay, marching down the field and taking an 18-8 lead when Wyzik lumbered in from 15 yards out on a keeper with 5:20 remaining in the half. Interceptions ended the next two drives for Athol, but the Panthers could not capitalize, and Athol went into the break still breathing, only down by 10.

The third quarter saw the Raiders cut the lead to 18-16 on a 6-yard run by Parker, and things looked good for Athol as a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty had the Raiders kicking off from their own 45. The ball was kicked into the end zone, giving the Panthers a long field, starting at the Athol 20.

Cathedral then shredded the Raiders defense, driving 80 yards on 10 plays, all of them runs. Boyd scored from 4 yards out and the 2-point conversion run by Veshon Sharp made it 26-16 with 6:11 remaining in the game.

“They’re tough to tackle, and then we started dropping like flies and they knew it, so they started attacking some spots that were soft for us.” said Gauvin.

Athol then turned the ball over on the next series with another interception, and the Panthers put on their running shoes one more time, driving 79 yards on seven carries, culminating with a 10-yard score by Wyzik with 1:11 to go.

The Raiders made it interesting at the end, returning the ensuing kickoff to the Panthers’ 2, and cutting the lead to 8 on a 2-yard run by Parker and a Poor-to-Smith 2-point conversion pass. The onside kick attempt was no good, however, and the day was done for the Red Raiders.

“Turnovers.” repeated Gauvin. “Five turnovers.”

The Red Raiders will look to take much better care of the ball when they return to action Friday night at 7 p.m. at IL rival Greenfield High School.

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