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Indians remain unbeaten

ATHOL — Turners Falls High School scored just over a minute into the action Friday night, beat the clock with a touchdown on the final play of the first half, and then protected its shutout until the final minute of the game to post a 22-8 road victory over Athol High School in Intercounty League football at Thomas J. O’Brien Field.

Malcolm Smith threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for a third, while picking off a pair of passes defensively, and Trent Bourbeau filed 114 yards on 22 carries for the unbeaten Indians (4-0, 4-0 IL), who maintained a full one-game lead in the league standings.

Athol’s Jerry Parker also topped the century mark with 109 rushing yards and threw a TD pass to Andrew Poor with 48 seconds remaining in the game, but the Red Raiders fell to 1-3 overall and 1-1 in IL play.

“We’re happy with the four wins, but not satisfied — we don’t want to just end the season with four wins,” said Indians coach Chris Lapointe. “We try to spread it out offensively so you can’t focus on one thing, and I think it’s helping us.”

Jalen Sanders set up Turners in fine field position with a 23-yard return of the opening kickoff to the Indians’ 49, and three plays later, after 15 yards in gains by Bourbeau, Smith (6-of-13 passing, 128 yards) found Melvin Moreno open down the right seam for a 36-yard TD connection just 1:11 into the game. Moreno’s point-after try went wide right to keep the score at 6-0.

Athol looked primed to answer by driving to the Turners 28, but Smith’s tackle forced a fumble by Parker and Bourbeau recovered at the 19. That got the Indians started on a drive that ended when Smith bobbled the exchange from center and the Red Raiders’ Matt Drazek covered the ball at the Athol 38.

After an exchange of punts, Poor’s 25-yard return put Athol at the Turners 40 and the Red Raiders moved it down to the 18 before Parker threw incomplete to Todd Smith in the back right corner of the end zone on fourth down. Turners took over at its own 18 with 4:39 left in the half and went long-field in 15 plays, including six first downs. On third-and-goal from the Athol 5, and with 2.5 seconds showing on the clock, Malcolm Smith took the shotgun snap, rolled right and cut upfield along the right sideline to dive across the goal line as time expired. Bourbeau then ran in the two-pointer despite a jarring hit from Athol’s Sean Lacki at the goal line, giving the visitors a 14-0 edge at the break.

First-half offense favored Turners with 182 total yards to Athol’s 68.

The third quarter seesawed with Athol punting twice around an interception (Malcolm Smith’s first of the night) and Turners drives ending in an interception (by Poor) and a punt. On the Indians’ third series, beginning at their own 35, Smith hit Moreno for a 49-yard gain to set up first-and-goal. The Raiders held firm to force fourth-and-goal from the 10, when Smith threw over the middle to Brody Markol, who absorbed a hit just outside the goal line, bounced off and surged forward again into the end zone with 6:30 left in the game. Smith’s two-point conversion pass to Sanders put Turners up 22-0.

With his team down three scores, Red Raiders coach Matt Gauvin dialed up the tempo with a no-huddle offense, and got a big fourth-and-10 conversion when Parker scrambled for 21 yards to the Turners 34. Smith came up with his second pick of the night, however, two plays later.

The Red Raiders would get the ball back with just over two minutes to play and managed to jam it into the end zone when Parker hit Poor on a post pattern for 30 yards and Athol’s lone score with 48 seconds left. Parker’s two-point run created the 22-8 final, and all Turners had to do was recover the ensuing onside kick.

“Truthfully, we haven’t played a full 40 minutes yet this season, and we’re trying to accomplish that,” said Lapointe. “It’s a coaching point. We’re a young team, we’re going to learn, and these mistakes are only going to make us better down the road.”

Bourbeau, with 99 yards on 21 carries to that point, snapped off a 15-yard run in the waning seconds to reach triple digits for the evening.

Moreno (85 receiving yards) and Markol (23 yards) each caught two passes from Smith. Parker, who split time with Poor at quarterback for Athol, completed 3-of-10 passes for 58 yards with the one touchdown and two picks.

“Their passing game sets up their running game,” said Gauvin of Turners. “I think No. 8 (Smith) is one of the better players around. Always having to worry about him on the edges, that really got them going. They’ve got good players and a good team, and we’ve just got to get better.”

Athol takes on Intercounty League newcomer Cathedral High School Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. at Central High School in Springfield, while Turners Falls steps out of IL play Friday night at 7 p.m. to host an independent game against Pioneer Valley Regional School.

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