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Lions devour Panthers

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School played host to Ludlow High School in an independent football contest Saturday afternoon, and the beginning looked quite promising for the Panthers.

Then, in the span of 47 seconds over two halves, it all fell apart. The Lions scored a pair of touchdowns in less than a minute and went on to record a 42-20 victory.

After a well-played first half by both squads, the score was all even at 6-6 with under a minute to go in the second quarter. The Panthers struck first on a 15-yard laser from quarterback Cole Tognarelli to Zach Lambert at the 7:33 mark, and Ludlow answered right back. The Lions chewed up yardage and the clock with a 6-plus minute, 12-play, 70-yard drive, capped off by Daniel Rodrigues’ 1-yard quarterback sneak with 1:17 remaining in the half for the tie.

Pioneer then took the ball back at its own 25 yard-line, and decided to air it out and try to get more as the clock wound down. After a quick 5-yard gain on a short pass to Lambert, Tognarelli tried to thread the needle to him again, but Ludlow’s Andrew Conchinha jumped in front of the pass for the interception.

One play later, with 35 seconds left on the clock, Ludlow capitalized with a 36-yard touchdown strike from Rodrigues to Brandon Wheeler. After the 2-point conversion, the Lions (4-6 overall) took a 14-6 lead into the break, and the Panthers were stunned and wide-eyed in disbelief.

On the second-half kickoff, Conchinha would strike once again, returning the kick straight up the middle, shredding his way through Pioneer defenders for 75 yards and a touchdown. All of a sudden, the score was 20-6 for Ludlow, and the shell-shocked Panthers were in a hole that seemed to be getting deeper by the second.

Pioneer took the ball at the Ludlow 47 with just 12 seconds gone off the clock and would answer on a 1-yard run by Tognarelli to make it 20-12, but that’s as close as it would get for the Panthers. On the ensuing Ludlow series, the Lions again drove 70 yards, this time on only three plays in a span of 1:32. It ended abruptly as Rodrigues threw his second touchdown pass of the day, a 59-yard strike to Brian Pacheco. Rodrigues then ran in the 2-point conversion, and it was 28-12.

After a 3-and-out from Pioneer in which it lost yardage and was forced to punt from its own 11, Ludlow would take the ball at the Panthers 40 and showcase its running game. It took only three plays, all rushes, for the Lions to find the end zone again. On a first-and-10 from the 15, Dustin Martin barreled through the Panthers defense for the score, and Pacheco tacked on the conversion for a 36-12 advantage to wrap up the third quarter.

On the second play of the fourth, any dreams of a miracle comeback for the Panthers were dashed. Tognarelli tossed his second pick of the day to the pesky Conchinha, who returned it to the Pioneer 18-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan Smith, who had all four carries on the drive, powered his way in for the score that put the Lions up 42-12.

Pioneer (4-6 overall) would add a late score on 14-yard pass from Tognarelli to Alex Tyson, along with a 2-point conversion between the same two. Ludlow got the ball back with 4:50 remaining and ran out the clock as the Panthers’ offense looked on helplessly from the sideline.

The Panthers will face rival Franklin County Technical School at home at 10 a.m. in the annual Thanksgiving Day showdown.

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