Jaywalking: Grid picture
Someone asked me an interesting question two weeks ago while I was waiting for the opening kickoff between Franklin County Technical School and Mohawk Trail Regional High School.
Which football team is the best football team in the area?
This is my seventh consecutive year covering high school football in the area and there has not been a more unclear picture at the top than this season. You ask me about any of the past six years, and you can usually point out which team is tops in the area by this point. Frontier had its heyday in 2007 and 2008, Mahar reigned supreme in 2009 and 2011, and Turners Falls was the top team last season. The only year that was really in question was 2010, when Pioneer and Athol both went to Super Bowls and Pioneer won the Division IV title. That said, Athol lost to a Mt. Greylock team that would have also beaten Pioneer, so that season may be a split between those two squads for top team. Hard to say who would have won if those teams met, although I’d probably have given a slight edge to the Red Raiders, if only because they played a tougher regular-season schedule.
That brings us to this year, where trying to decipher the top team is about as clear as the NFL officials trying to interpret the rule on the field goal that cost the Patriots a chance to win Sunday. There are currently four teams that can each make a strong case for the right to call itself Franklin County king. And to be honest, I don’t know that there is a clear favorite. And nothing gets local football fans riled up (especially those in the Powertown) quite like breaking down the case for each of the four teams right here.
So who is in the running? You have Greenfield and Turners Falls out of the IL, and Mohawk and Franklin Tech from the TCL. And don’t get confused about toughness of league this season. The IL is not nearly as strong as it once was. And while the TCL does include the three worst football teams in the Pioneer Valley, it also has some strong teams at the top.
Franklin Tech — As 5-2 overall, 5-1 TCL, Tech is the only team on the list with two losses, and one of those does come at the hands of Mohawk. So you might think that would eliminate the Eagles from the running. But wait just a minute. This past weekend the Eagles vaulted themselves right back into the WMass Division VI playoff picture with a 14-12 win over previously unbeaten McCann Tech, the same team that beat Mohawk 18-6 this season. And in their 32-20 loss to Mohawk 10 days ago, the Eagles had a 20-6 lead with just over seven minutes remaining. A series of mistakes, including a pair on special teams, resulted in one of the worst fourth-quarter collapses I have witnessed. So give Mohawk credit for that win but I’m not going to just forget that the Eagles were only a couple of mistakes away from holding on to that game. Following Franklin Tech’s win Saturday over McCann Tech, I stopped coach Joe Gamache and chatted with him for a moment. He talked about the difficulties a team has overcoming the type of loss his team suffered to Mohawk, especially with a team the likes of McCann as your very next opponent.
“We had our backs against the wall after giving away that game last week,” he began. “But it’s a great credit to our kids to come back and get this win. They could have gotten down, but the kids showed a lot of emotion.”
Franklin Tech is securely in the fifth spot in the WMass Division VI standings and will need help to get into the tournament. But the teams above it still have some tough games in the final two weeks, so anything is possible.
Greenfield — The Green Wave (5-1, 4-0 IL) has suffered just one loss this season, that coming to Lee High School on Week 2. Aside from the blip on the radar, the Wave has been very good. The Green Wave is the only remaining unbeaten in the IL and has outscored opponents, 125-24. And there might not be a team in the area that has more offensive weapons than Greenfield, also currently fourth in the WMass Division VI rankings.
What remains to be seen is how Greenfield fares Friday night against Easthampton. The Eagles handed Turners Falls its first loss of the season in resounding fashion Saturday. If Greenfield beats Easthampton, it should leave no doubt who is the top team in the area. But a loss to the Eagles Friday at 7 p.m. in Greenfield will not only knock the Wave back down, it will also likely knock the Green Wave out of the Division VI playoffs. And Greenfield is 5-1 on the season, but it has not beaten a team with a winning record. In fact, Drury High School is the only team it has beaten with more than one win. And the Blue Devils are 2-5.
Mohawk — The Warriors (5-1, 5-1 TCL) may be the toughest team to figure. Yes, they came back to earn that dramatic win against Franklin Tech. But aside from the Eagles, Mohawk has not beaten a good team. The Warriors have a big offensive line and a lot of weapons in the backfield, and quarterback Andrew Doty is one of the best athletes in the area. Mohawk is also the top area team in the WMass Divisin VI rankings, sitting in second place, just back of McCann Tech.
It’s just difficult to get a read on the Warriors. I thought Mohawk was outplayed by Franklin Tech for most of that game. That said, a team that guts it out like the Warriors is not to be ignored. Plus, fullback Brian Sullivan will kill me if I don’t give his team credit, something he jokingly has accused me of on multiple occasions this season. So yes, Mohawk is in the conversation, and just like all the teams here, I believe they can beat anyone on any day. It’s already proved no lead is safe.
Turners Falls — The Indians (5-1, 4-1 IL) have already exceeded all of my expectations. To lose all but three starters from a year ago, including a 2,000-yard rusher and four of the five linemen he ran behind, is nearly impossible to do without at least one down season. But Turners Falls has managed to do just that. And while the Indians did suffer their first loss of the season to Easthampton this weekend, they remain in the running, because Easthampton is probably the best team any of the four area squads will play. And Turners Falls is third in the Division VI standings.
So which team is best? The problem I keep running into is that there are so many weak programs in the IL and TCL this season, it’s hard to distinguish which team is best. Mohawk and Franklin Tech have the two best wins of the top four teams by virtue of Mohawk beating Tech and Tech turning around and beating McCann, but Greenfield and Turners Falls both make strong cases. A Greenfield win on Friday will leave little doubt as to which team is best, and for now I’d put the Wave at the top because it currently sits alone at the top of the IL. But Mohawk and Franklin Tech are both nipping on the Green Wave’s heels. And Turners Falls is in the conversation as well, but needs a better win to jump to the top. And before I get called a homer, should Greenfield lose to Easthampton, I’d move them all the way to the bottom. And three of these four teams are likely to make the postseason, setting up what should be an exciting rest of the fall.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is email@example.com.