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Pioneers deny Indians

WESTFIELD — It might not have been the prettiest pass of the game, but it wound up as the most important offensive play in a game that featured two teams that like to run the ball.

Pathfinder Vocational High School quarterback Matt Stafford hit Mike Krzynowek with a 23-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to put the top-seeded Pioneers up for good, and the team’s defense did the rest to lead Pathfinder to its first-ever Super Bowl title, 12-8 over Turners Falls High School, in the WMass Division IV Super Bowl Saturday morning at snowy Alumni Field on the campus of Westfield State University.

The only good news for Turners Falls fans on the day was that senior Indian running back Ryan Wilder finished with 15 carries for 93 yards, giving him 2,007 yards to become the first player in area history to register over 2,000 rushing yards in a single season.

Stafford’s touchdown pass came on the ensuing drive after the second-seeded Indians’ opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive for their only points of the day, giving them an 8-6 lead. Pathfinder (13-0) responded with a scoring drive of its own to quash any momentum the Indians momentarily had.

The Indians (10-3) squibbed the kickoff following their touchdown and Bradley Lord picked up the ball at the 31, returning it 18 yards to the Pioneers’ 49. Pathfinder then went on a methodical drive, with only two plays of more than six yards, as the Pioneers took over five minutes off the clock.

Pathfinder looked like it might stall on the drive as it faced third-and-13 from the Turners Falls 23. Stafford (6-for-9, 80 yards, touchdown, interception) took the snap and tossed a ball toward the left side of the end zone that was a bit of a wobbly duck. Krzynowek (12 rushes, 102 yards; two receptions, 52 yards) was running down the field with Indian defender Malcolm Smith in hot pursuit, and the receiver bailed out the quarterback as he outleaped Smith to haul in the touchdown pass and set the Pathfinder crowd into a loud cheer with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the third quarter. The conversion pass was no good.

“That was a key drive for us. We needed to make a stop, and we didn’t do that,” Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe said of the touchdown. “We made some plays that we shouldn’t have. Again, they made the plays and we didn’t.”

That gave the Pioneers a 12-8 lead and left the Indians needing another touchdown. Dan McCormack took the kickoff and returned it to the Turners 49, giving the team some life. The Indians went three-and-out on the drive, however, including a fourth-down play when Smith (5-for-13, 47 yards) threw a pass too low for Ollari to haul in as it hit his shoetops.

Pathfinder took over with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter and proceeded to go on a 12-play drive that burned nearly six minutes off the clock. The Pioneers had a chance to put the game out of reach when they marched inside the Turners 10, but the Indian defense held on fourth-and-1 from the 6, keeping Cody Hess (12 carries, 61 yards) six inches short of the first-down marker and giving the Indians the ball back with 3:59 left in the game for one final drive.

Things started out well for the Indians, as Smith found tight end Brody Markol for a 16-yard gain that moved the ball out to the 25, but Turners found itself in a third-and-7 from the 28 when disaster struck. Smith dropped back to pass, but was pressured on the play and he threw an ill-timed pass that hung up and was easily picked off by Krzynowek at the Turners 43 with 1:45 left in the game. Pathfinder picked up one final first down and ran the rest of the time off the clock.

The loss drops the Indians to 0-3 all-time in Super Bowls, while Pathfinder improved to 1-1. The Indians did manage to score their first-ever points in a Super Bowl.

Pathfinder took a 6-0 lead into halftime, but the Indians took the second-half kickoff and proceeded to drive the ball 63 yards in seven plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. The big play on the drive came when the Indians faced fourth-and-1 at their own 46. Smith’s handoff went to Wilder, and he hit a gaping hole on the left side of the line for a 47-yard pickup down to the Pathfinder 7. Three plays later, Smith found Ollari wide open out of the backfield and the senior fullback walked into the end zone. Smith then rolled to his right on the two-point conversion and found Ollari running across the back of the end zone, where the fullback outworked the Pathfinder defender to come up with the ball and give the Indians an 8-6 lead with 6:37 to go in the third quarter.

“At halftime, we told the guys that they had 20 minutes,” Lapointe explained. “We told them that they didn’t play a great first half and they were only down by six points. They took that on their shoulders and they wanted to make some plays.”

That would be the only touchdown the Indians managed to score on the day, however, although it was not their only opportunity.

Pathfinder actually scored on the game’s first possession with the snow falling at a steady clip and blanketing the field so that the yard lines were tough to see and the footing was not the best. Players from both sides seemed to be tip-toeing at times due to the poor footing, although it did not affect the Pioneers as they took the opening kickoff and went 66 yards in 10 plays. Krzynowek ripped off a 34-yard run after breaking a tackle attempt by Ollari to help set up the touchdown, and Hess did the honors with a 3-yard run with 5:21 left in the first quarter for a 6-0 edge.

Turners went right back to work and drove down to the Pathfinder 31, but a fourth-down pass by Smith to Alex Osowski was off target and Pathfinder took over on downs. Turners held Pathfinder to a three-and-out and a punt left the Indians on the Pioneers’ 41. Turners drove back to the Pathfinder 30 and faced another fourth down two minutes into the second quarter. This time Smith’s pass was right on the mark across the middle to Ollari, who had gotten open behind the Pathfinder defense, but the ball hit Ollari in the hands and bounced away, nullifying what appeared to be a touchdown.

It was that kind of a day for the Indians, who struggled to come up with a big play on both sides of the ball when they needed it.

“It came down to they made the plays and we didn’t,” Lapointe said. “We had a couple of open receivers and we dropped some passes. But hey, hats off to them.”

The Pioneers finished with a 266-173 edge in total yardage.

Both teams will lose a number of players from the game. Pathfinder has 14 seniors, while Turners Falls loses 13 players to graduation. Ollari finished with 27 yards on six carries and added another 23 receiving yards in his final game for the Indians. Osowski, next year’s starting running back, finished with 9 yards on three carries and caught a pass for 8 yards.

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