Local teams all fired-up for the postseason
Moh 18 Andrew Doty
Moh 5 Bryce MacLeod yardage
FCTS 4 CJ Daignault
Meltdowns highlight the storylines behind all the Western Massachusetts Division VI Football semifinal games this weekend.
The playoffs get under way tonight at 6 in Buckland, where second-seeded Mohawk Trail Regional High School plays host to third-seeded Franklin County Technical School in a rematch of the teams’ memorable regular-season showdown one month ago. The second game of the semifinals kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m., when top-seeded McCann Technical High School welcomes fourth-seeded Turners Falls High School to North Adams.
There are also four other regular-season games on tap for tonight at 7 involving the other area teams that did not qualify for the postseason. Pioneer Valley Regional School heads to Athol High School, Greenfield High School hosts Suburban League foe Amherst Regional High School, Frontier Regional School hosts Dean Technical High School, and Mahar Regional School travels to Pathfinder Regional High School.
While those four games involve some intriguing matchups, all eyes will fall on the two tournament games. The last time Mohawk and Tech met on the gridiron came back on Oct. 11 on Booster Day in Buckland, and the Eagles coughed up a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter as Mohawk reeled off 22 unanswered points in the final seven minutes of play to earn the 32-20 win that pushed the Warriors into the postseason. The outcome of that game leaves both squads with something to prove in the rematch.
“I think it was sort of a comedy of errors in the fourth quarter,” Franklin Tech coach Joe Gamache said of his team’s collapse. “We have a lot of kids from the Mohawk district, and there was a lot of disappointment following that game. There were some guys at the time that said they wanted a rematch and we’ve got it. But sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. It’s going to be another tough game, and hopefully our guys can take advantage of the opportunity because it’s not very often you get a second chance.”
Mohawk coach Doug McCloud said he is looking for his team to play a more complete game, and that starts with protecting the football.
“We gave them a couple of fumbles in that game,” he said. “They’re a good football team and they’ll beat you if you give them those chances.”
In the first meeting, the Eagles held a 20-6 lead early in the fourth quarter but gave up a long passing touchdown, had a punt blocked, allowed Mohawk to recover an onside-kick, and had a couple of inopportune penalties in the final seven minutes of play, allowing the Warriors to come back. It was a sequence that could have broken the team, but instead, the players and coaches have used it as a motivator to push it through the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Franklin Tech went out the very next weekend and handed McCann Tech its only loss of the season, and has won two-straight since the loss.
“We came into the season with some lofty goals,” Gamache said. “We didn’t want to just make it to the playoffs, we wanted to advance. That loss to Mohawk put us at a crossroads and I think the kids realized we could still make a run toward achieving our goals. It turned into a rallying point rather than a folding point.”
Mohawk has quietly won six straight games following a Week 2 loss to McCann, and with every week the team seems to improve. One reason for that success has been protecting the football and sustaining drives, which keeps the defense off the field, while tiring out the opposition’s players, who typically play both ways.
“We’ve got to control the ball,” McCloud said. “If we control the ball, we control the game.”
This marks McCloud’s first season as a head coach at the varsity level, but you wouldn’t know that he was about to coach his first playoff game.
“The kids keep me loose,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not nervous. This is a fun group and you never know what you’re going to get from them. But when that whistle blows, they’re all business.
Franklin Tech will be without starting defensive end Sam Ovitt, who is serving a one-game suspension after removing his helmet on the field during the Eagles’ win over Dean Tech.
As for the other playoff game, if Turners Falls shows up and plays like it has in two of the past three weeks, McCann Tech will be hosting the championship game next week.
After starting out the season with five consecutive wins, the Indians have struggled over the past three weeks, suffering a pair of meltdowns that resulted in blowout losses to Easthampton (46-21) and Cathedral (54-7) high schools sandwiched around a narrow 19-12 victory over Mahar Regional School. Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe admitted that his team needs to play better than it has during the recent stretch, but also pointed out a couple of things he has noticed that gives his team some hope. Namely, that in each loss the opposition had a huge offensive output in one quarter, but that the Indians were close in the other three quarters, and also that both losses came to Division V playoff teams.
“We looked at the film from both losses and we’re really not that far away,” he said. “We told the kids that they can do this if they perform the way they are supposed to. And hanging their hats on the fact that their only two losses came to a pair of Division V playoff teams.”
The fact that the Indians are even in the postseason is reason for the Powertown to celebrate. It’s been much publicized that Turners Falls came into the season without eight starters from last fall’s team that reached the WMass Division IV Super Bowl. Lapointe said that with so many new faces, the Indians came into the season with such low expectations, that they were able to simply go out and have fun on the field.
“I don’t have all the answers for our play of late, but we’ve moved some people around in practice and we’re working it out,” Lapointe offered. “It really has been a confidence thing. Early in the year no one expected much out of us so we were able to go out and just play, but as the pressure mounted, I think it has gotten to us a little.”
While McCann Tech (7-1) earned the top seed in the postseason, the Hornets have done little to prove they are unbeatable. McCann has just one win over a team with a winning record (a 16-6 victory over Mohawk in Week 2), and has already lost to third-seeded Franklin Tech this fall.
As far as injuries go, Lapointe said the Indians are fully healthy, even despite having a few players leave last weekend’s game.
The winners of each semifinal game will meet for the WMass championship next weekend at the site of the higher seed.