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Panthers lose wild one, 26-22

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Pioneer’s #85, Alex Briggs pulls down a pass from QB Cole Tognarelli during Saturday’s home game against Easthampton; Eagles player is #1, Hunter Leveille.<br/>

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Pioneer’s #85, Alex Briggs pulls down a pass from QB Cole Tognarelli during Saturday’s home game against Easthampton; Eagles player is #1, Hunter Leveille.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Pioneer’s #24 Lukas Rathbun runs for the goal attempting to catch up to Easthampton’s score in the 4th quarter  of Saturday’s game at Pioneer; Eagles #1 Hunter Leveille moves in on Rathbun.<br/>

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Pioneer’s #24 Lukas Rathbun runs for the goal attempting to catch up to Easthampton’s score in the 4th quarter of Saturday’s game at Pioneer; Eagles #1 Hunter Leveille moves in on Rathbun.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Easthampton’s #30, Shane Andrews, tries to get past Pioneer’s defense during Saturday’s game at Pioneer; #25, Zach Lambert attempts the tackle.

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Easthampton’s #30, Shane Andrews, tries to get past Pioneer’s defense during Saturday’s game at Pioneer; #25, Zach Lambert attempts the tackle. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Pioneer’s QB Cole Tognarelli,#11, makes a run for the goal as Easthapton’s #30 Shane Andrews tries for a tackle during Saturday’s game at Pioneer.<br/>

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Pioneer’s QB Cole Tognarelli,#11, makes a run for the goal as Easthapton’s #30 Shane Andrews tries for a tackle during Saturday’s game at Pioneer.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Easthampton’s #39 Lucious Burrell makes gains some yardage down the field with Pioneer’s #85 Alex Briggs in pursuit for a tackle during Saturday’s game in Northfield.<br/>

    Recorder/Geoff Bluh
    Easthampton’s #39 Lucious Burrell makes gains some yardage down the field with Pioneer’s #85 Alex Briggs in pursuit for a tackle during Saturday’s game in Northfield.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Pioneer’s #85, Alex Briggs pulls down a pass from QB Cole Tognarelli during Saturday’s home game against Easthampton; Eagles player is #1, Hunter Leveille.<br/>
  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Pioneer’s #24 Lukas Rathbun runs for the goal attempting to catch up to Easthampton’s score in the 4th quarter  of Saturday’s game at Pioneer; Eagles #1 Hunter Leveille moves in on Rathbun.<br/>
  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Easthampton’s #30, Shane Andrews, tries to get past Pioneer’s defense during Saturday’s game at Pioneer; #25, Zach Lambert attempts the tackle.
  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Pioneer’s QB Cole Tognarelli,#11, makes a run for the goal as Easthapton’s #30 Shane Andrews tries for a tackle during Saturday’s game at Pioneer.<br/>
  • Recorder/Geoff Bluh<br/>Easthampton’s #39 Lucious Burrell makes gains some yardage down the field with Pioneer’s #85 Alex Briggs in pursuit for a tackle during Saturday’s game in Northfield.<br/>

NORTHFIELD — Easthampton High School football coach Joe Kocot rolled out his panzer division Saturday in Northfield, where the Eagles beat Pioneer Valley Regional School, 26-22, in a game that kept the visitors (6-0 Tri-County League, 6-2 overall) atop the TCL standings and the hometown Panthers (2-5, 2-3) mired a bit closer to the bottom.

But the game was an entertaining sort that kept both sides cheering as the two sides combined for 29 first downs (18 by Easthampton) and featured the unveiling of Pioneer quarterback Cole Tognarelli’s strong right throwing arm. The sophomore signal-caller completed 12 of 18 passes with one interception for 257 yards, including touchdown passes of 52 yards to senior wide receiver Tyler Goodnow and an 8 to Alex Briggs, capping an eight-play, 64-yard opening drive during which the senior tight end caught two other spirals that produced first downs.

“If the front five don’t block, the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw and I don’t make the catches,” said Briggs, who helped the cause on defense by recovering an Easthampton fumble inside his own end zone.

Receivers Adam Leblanc, Zach Lambert, and co-captain Brian Llewelyn teamed up for five catches that netted 70 yards. Conversely, Pioneer’s running backs gained only 56 yards on 17 carries.

The Eagles, meanwhile, forsook the aerial route — zero passing yards in three attempts by sophomore quarterback Nate Laplante — in favor of a rushing attack that chewed up more ground than a Sears rototiller, amassing 439 yards on 51 carries. Senior Shane Andrews and sophomore Lucious Burrell lugged the ball 19 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and 16 times for 155 yards and one TD, respectively. Senior Frankie Wier did his share with a 52-yard scamper that opened the second half and gave Easthampton a lead it would never relinquish.

The Kocot play-calling included dives, traps, options, counters, pitches left and right, but what punished the Panthers most was what sounded on the sidelines like the “I-So Reverse,” presumably short for isolated reverse.

“It’s a very nonsensical play,” said the 52-year-old Kocot, who began his coaching at Northampton High School for the late Frank Tudryn when he was 19 years old. He’s now in his 13th season coaching the Eagles. “You get the defense trained to think one thing and do another. It involves faking and giving to the second back. Keep doing it all day and it eventually works.”

Indeed, works to the point where, late in the game, exasperated defensive coordinator Tom Gaffigan yelled to his defenders, “It’s the same damn play!”

Thanks in part to Easthampton fumbling twice on goal-to-go, the two teams were deadlocked 8-8 at halftime. But as has been its wont all season, Pioneer was hurt by the quick strike, this time in the opening minutes of the second half, when the Eagles struck for two touchdowns and a 12-point lead in less than three minutes. The first came on Wier’s long run, then a 5-yard scamper by Andrews that was set up by an onside kick that Kocot said really wasn’t an onside kick. “That was a mistake. It wasn’t on purpose. I wish I was that smart.”

Pioneer cut the lead to 20-16 on the 52-yard bomb to Goodnow, but the Eagles went on a 13-play drive that consumed seven minutes and culminated in Burrell’s 5-yard score. A 60-yard grab by Goodnow and subsequent 14-yard catch by Briggs set up Tognarelli’s 3-yard plunge that put the score within reach with two minutes left, but the Eagles were able to run out the clock.

“We keep coming up one drive short,” said Briggs, who finished with five catches for 75 yards. “Just gotta move on and win the next three.”

“One play away,” agreed Pioneer coach Glenn Wilson. “They play so hard and you want that one “W” and I haven’t figured a way to give it to them. It breaks my heart.”

The Panthers are hopeful the mending process can begin on Friday night at Ludlow High School.

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