Senators start fast, close out Wildcats, 19-16

ORANGE — It’s no secret that the Mahar Regional School football team has had a tough time closing out games this season, and that was nearly the case on this night — with “nearly” being the operative word.

The Senators jumped out to an early lead and managed to hold off a late surge by Lee High School to escape with a 19-16 independent victory at the Woodward Sports Complex Friday night.

Mahar won the toss and came out storming, rattling off what may have been its most efficient opening offensive drive of the season, chewing up 52 yards on ten plays in less than three minutes, and ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Logan Barrett (7 carries, 21 yards, 7-for-14 passing for 121 yards). Drew Patria’s extra point kick made the score 7-0 Senators.

Lee’s offense sputtered in the next two series, the second of which ended with a fumble that Mahar recovered and converted into its second scoring drive, which ended on an 8-yard touchdown run by senior back Troix Adams (10 carries, 54 yards). The Wildcats managed to block the extra-point kick, keeping the score 13-0.

Lee would finally get on the board late in the second quarter, when senior kicker John Graziano nailed a 37-yard field goal. But Mahar would answer on the next series when Barrett hit sophomore wideout Angel Biegen (2 catches, 58 yards) with a 52-yard touchdown bomb. Barrett’s point-after pass fell incomplete, keeping the score 19-3 heading into halftime.

It was a dominant first half on both sides of the ball for the Senators, who held Lee to just 38 yards rushing and three first downs. The Wildcats’ best offensive spark came from the arm of sophomore quarterback Cam Abderhalden, who went 9-for-21 passing for 117 yards, 69 in the first half.

Lee wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the second half, moving the ball quickly on a nine-play, 55-yard scoring drive which ended with Abderhalden hitting senior Heaman Williams with a 33-yard touchdown pass. The two-point pass fell incomplete, keeping the score 19-9.

The Wildcats caught a huge break on the next Mahar series, when head coach Greg Scotland decided to go for it rather than punt on fourth-and-1 from his own 38. Lee’s defensive line read the play perfectly, penetrating the backfield and forcing a Barrett fumble which was recovered by junior back Nick Newton (two carries, 6 yards), who was only able to get back to the original line of scrimmage, giving Lee the ball at the Mahar 38.

The Wildcats took advantage of the opportunity ten plays later when junior back Andrew Finnegan (16 carries, 64 yards) ran it in to the end zone from three yards out. Graziano hit the extra-point kick to make the score 19-16.

Mahar would go three-and-out on the next series, punting the ball back to the Lee 39. But a costly Wildcat illegal procedure penalty stalled their momentum, and Lee was forced to punt the ball back to the Senators, who once again were unable to get anything going offensively.

Another Mahar fourth quarter meltdown appeared to be in the making when a Wildcat defender managed to get a paw on Mahar senior Jake Paul’s punt, giving Lee the ball back at the Senator 39 — just one yard ahead of where Greenfield began their buzzer beating touchdown drive two weeks ago.

Mahar’s defense was equal to the task this time, however, allowing the Wildcats to get no farther than the 23. After three consecutive failed pass plays, Lee rested its hopes of tying the game on Graziano’s right leg. But his kick, which had the distance, sailed just wide left and Mahar was able to run out the clock.

“It was a little scary after what happened two weeks ago, but I’m proud of what they did,” Scotland said of his team. “In the fourth quarter, we played some really solid defense and we were able to shut them down, and that was the difference.”

Mahar wraps up its 2013 season Thanksgiving morning when its hosts Athol High School at 10 a.m.

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