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Orioles blank slumping Red Raiders, 21-0

ATHOL — Anyone who judges a football game by looking solely at the final score might think this was a blowout loss, instead of what it really was — a squandered opportunity to knock off a still unbeaten but clearly vulnerable team.

“You can’t have more go wrong in a game than just went wrong for us tonight,” Athol High School coach Matt Gauvin said about his team’s 21-0 Intercounty League loss to Belchertown high school Friday night at O’Brien Field.

“The kids made the effort, they played hard, the defense played great. But you talk about shooting yourself in the foot? We did it tonight,” Gauvin added.

The game started out looking like it was going to be just another blowout by the unbeaten Orioles (8-0, 7-0 IL), who scored on a 10-yard pass play from quarterback Nick Leduc to sophomore wideout Jake Bradway. The touchdown was set up two plays earlier on a 55-yard hookup between Leduc and senior James Ryan. Leduc booted the extra point to make the score 7-0.

Belchertown would get on the board on the next series, blocking an Athol punt and taking over at the Red Raider 3. From there, Ryan would take it in for the touchdown, and Leduc would kick the extra point to make it 14-0.

That would be all the damage Belchertown would be able to do in the first half, as the Red Raiders (5-4, 3-3 IL) controlled the ball and the pace of the game, using a varied running attack including a number of left and right sweeps by backs Matt Summers and Jake Lajoie mixed in with a few wildcat-style formation runs by quarterback Jerry Parker.

But every time it looked like the Red Raiders would turn that momentum into points, something would derail them, usually a penalty. The most damaging call came late in the second quarter, when Athol had the ball on the Belchertown 10, only to get flagged for a 15-yard clipping penalty. The Raiders were penalized nine times in the game, which cost them 100 yards, 60 of which were personal fouls related to unsportsmanlike behavior.

Belchertown didn’t fare much better in the penalty department, committing seven violations worth 55 yards, all in the second half. At one point, the Orioles were flagged on four of their 11 offensive plays in what turned out to be a disastrous second quarter. It might have been even worse had the Orioles’ secondary not intercepted Athol twice, both close to the Belchertown end zone.

The Orioles would put the game away early in the fourth quarter on a bizarre play which saw punter Ryan appear to kick the ball off the back of one of his lineman’s helmets, causing it to bounce back to Ryan, who picked it up and ran it back 42 yards to the Athol 2. Leduc then took it in via a quarterback sneak.

“It went 100 percent off the back of the guy’s helmet,” Gauvin said, even though it appeared that Lajoie was in the area and close to the ball. “But we don’t want to make excuses. It happened and the call didn’t go our way.”

Leduc hit the extra point to create the 21-0 final. Athol would put together one long drive and got as far as the Belchertown 13. A five-yard penalty followed by a missed pass between Parker and Dakota Melanson forced a turnover on downs, giving Belchertown the ball back with three seconds left, and leaving Gauvin and his charges with plenty of time to think about what might have been.

“If we put a TD on the board before the half, and come back and take the ball to start the second half and make something happen, maybe the tone changes a little bit,” Gauvin said. “You know, coulda, woulda, shoulda, doesn’t matter. But this game was a lot closer than 21-0.”

Athol takes on Frontier Regional School next week, while Belchertown heads for its unbeaten showdown with Greenfield High School.

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