Is Powertown Super? Indians go for 1st Super Bowl title vs. Pathfinder
Turners Falls High School has already celebrated its most successful season of the new millennium.
Today the Indians will look to punctuate it with the school’s first-ever Super Bowl title.
Second-seeded Turners Falls will take on top-seeded Pathfinder Regional High School in the Western Massachusetts Division IV Super Bowl this morning at 10 at Westfield State University’s Alumni Field.
The game marks the third time the Indians have appeared in a Super Bowl, the most recent coming back in 1998 when current Indian head coach Chris Lapointe led the Indians to what was then the Central-West Super Bowl. The Indians were thumped by Northbridge High School, 41-0, in that game.
Prior to that the Indians have only appeared in one other Super Bowl, that coming in 1992 when they took on Hoosac Valley Regional High School and suffered a 31-0 loss. If the Indians manage to score a touchdown in Saturday’s game against Pathfinder, it will mark the first time in the school’s history that it registers a point in a title game.
The Indians are also looking to become the fourth area school to win a Super Bowl trophy. Prior to Pioneer Valley Regional School’s victory in last year’s Division IV title game, only Mahar Regional School and Athol High School had won Super Bowls from this area. Mahar is the only area school with a winning record in the Super Bowl at 4-2, while Athol sits at 2-3 and Pioneer is now 1-2. All told, area schools have gone a combined 7-24 in Super Bowls.
The Indians won’t be thinking about any of that, however, when they take the field this morning for warm-ups an hour before kickoff. What they will focus on is stopping a Pathfinder team that has yet to be beaten this season.
The Pioneers (12-0) won the Tri-County League title and are making their second Super Bowl appearance in school history. The Pioneers went to the Central-West Division IIIA Super Bowl in 2004 and dropped a 48-20 decision to Worcester North High School.
On top of winning all of its TCL games this season, Pathfinder also knocked off two Intercounty League opponents, as it crushed Springfield School of Science & Technology, 31-0, in September, and then bested IL champion Belchertown High School, 30-8, on Turkey Day. The Pioneers also defeated Quaboag Regional High School, 40-8, in their other independent matchup during the season opener.
That led them to the top seed in Division IV and on Tuesday night Pathfinder edged Easthampton High School, 8-6, in the other semifinal at the Roberts Complex in Holyoke, marking the second time this season Pathfinder beat the Eagles.
Turners also defeated Easthampton to go along with wins over Dean Technical High School and Sci-Tech as common opponents during the regular season. The Indians did, however, lose their game against Belchertown, 20-8, in the regular season in September, but senior linebacker/fullback John Ollari was injured and did not play.
Since the loss to Belchertown, the Indians have strung together an eight-game winning streak and come into this game as hot, if not hotter, than Pathfinder. The Indian offense has been rolling, averaging more than 35 points per game during their winning streak. The defense has also been getting the job done for the Indians during the streak, holding opponents to 10 points per game.
Pathfinder should present a stiff test for the Indians, especially up front where the Pioneers deploy a number of big bodies that have helped running back Cody Hess rush for nearly 1,200 yards this season. Offensively, the Pioneers don’t do anything tricky, but rather dare defenses to try and stop the rushing attack. The reason for the success is due in part to the massive boys up front. Pathfinder center Devan Beane (No. 67) stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 308 pounds, while tackle Alexander Plechota (66) is 6-2, 240. Both are seniors and both anchor the line. The Pioneers also like to run to the side of tight end Brad Lord (89), who sits at 6-0, 230. Running back Dakota Nadle (24) serves as a lead blocker for Hess. The Indians will have their hands full trying to stop the rush, but Lapointe said if everyone does their job it can be done.
It has all added up to 15 touchdowns for Hess this season, but he has not been the only ball carrier. While Hess has taken over 200 handoffs this season, backup Mike Krzynowek (36) has also been involved, taking 100 handoffs for 757 yards and six touchdowns. Nadle also has over 100 yards rushing and five scores.
“It’s going to come down to gap control for our defensive line and our linebackers filling the holes,” Lapointe said “We need to know what our assignments are and hold them on first and second down and try to force them into third and longs.”
Pathfinder is quarterbacked by Matt Stafford, is 65-for-118 passing this season for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. His favorite targets have been senior Trystan Davis (31), Krzynowek and Lord.
The best defense for the Indians may be their offense, which scored on every possession in Tuesday’s 36-8 semifinal win over Ware High School. If you haven’t heard about Indian running back Ryan Wilder by now then you haven’t been paying attention. The fourth-year senior has already broken every single-season rushing record in area history and sits 86 yards away from reaching the 2,000-yard mark on the season. Reserve running back Alex Osowski has added nearly 500 yards rushing, while fullback John Ollari has rushed for 341.
If teams do get too geared up to stop the run, as Ware tried to do Tuesday, then Lapointe can turn to junior quarterback Malcolm Smith, who has shown tremendous growth in his first season running the offense. Smith is not just the guy who hands the ball off, but rather, has a solid arm and will take advantage of sleeping defenses. On Tuesday, after Ware loaded the box to try and stop an Indian rushing attack that was picking up big chunks of yardage, the Indians turned to Smith and he responded by completing his first three passes for nearly 50 yards. Tight end Brody Markol, wideouts Dan McCormack and Dom Emery, and Ollari are the likely targets for Smith.
Lapointe said that the growth of the offense has come as the players have learned the playbook and gotten more comfortable.
“Having options like we do, loosens up (opposing) defenses,” he explained. “They can’t just stack the box against Ryan. We can go to other options and it’s a fun offense for the kids.”
No matter what happens, for the 13 seniors on the Turners Falls roster, today’s game will mark a long road that saw the program go from a one-win team as freshmen in 2009 to now, as they sit just one win away from winning a Super Bowl.