Eagles rally to overtake Pioneer
FCTS 52 Caleb Baranoski breaks up paass to PVRS 81 Tyler goodwin in end zone
PVRS 11 Cole Tognarelli evades FCTS 79 Josh Hall
PVRS 11 Cole Tognarelli FCTS 66Sam Ovitt
FCTS 7 Jake Earl PVRS 25 Zach Lambert
FCTS 4 CJ Daignault scores 2 pt conversion PVRS 64Nick Lawrence
TURNERS FALLS — When Franklin County Technical School needed Jake Earl most, he was there to answer the call.
The senior came up with all the big plays down the stretch Thursday, leading the Eagles to a 15-14 victory over Pioneer Valley Regional School on a picture-perfect Thanksgiving Day.
Earl only had 29 yards on nine carries for the game, but with just under 2:45 to play, Earl connected on a pass with quarterback CJ Daignault that went 47 yards for a touchdown.
But it wasn’t Daignault (1-for-4, 10 yards) hurling it to Earl, it was Earl feeding Daignault.
On fourth-and-four from the Pioneer 47, Tech coach Joe Gamache went with a trick pass play to try and get the first down. But the play call looked like it was going to fail miserably.
The snap was low, so low that it got past Earl. But Earl made a heads-up play to scoop up the ball up, and turning to his left, he saw Daignault wide open. Earl hit Daignault in the flat, and Daignault followed his blockers up the field, across the field, then into the right side of the end zone.
“When (the ball) first hit the ground, I was thinking the whole play was going downhill from that,” Earl said. “But our quarterback made a good read, saw it go behind me, so he ran towards me. I caught him out of the corner of my eye, then he made some good moves to get to the end zone.”
But the touchdown left the score tied at 14-14. The Eagles still had to attempt the extra point, and it was far from guaranteed.
First, the Eagles were flagged for a penalty, sending the ball back five more yards. Then, when the Eagles snapped the ball and Earl drilled it through the uprights, the referees hadn’t signaled play to start.
So Earl reset himself. The snap came for a second time, and he drilled it again.
“It threw me off,” Earl said of the waved-off kick. “I didn’t think I could make the next one. But I put my head down and put it in.”
And even after the kick, Earl’s day still wasn’t done.
With 2:30 still left in the game, Pioneer started driving. Led by sophomore quarterback Cole Tognarelli (10-for-23 passing, 138 yards, one TD), the Panthers moved from their own 30 to the Eagle 35. On third-and-five, Tognarelli tried to hit Adam LeBlanc down the field. Earl was there to get a hand on it.
Then, on fourth down, Tognarelli tried going to Alex Briggs (three catches, 52 yards, one TD) in the end zone. But Earl was there again. Incomplete pass, game over.
“He (Earl) played his heart out,” Gamache said. “He gives maximum effort game in and game out, and today was no different.”
The last three minutes of the game ended what had been a defensive battle with a bang. In the opening quarter, the Panthers forced an Eagle three-and-out, and then promptly started driving down the field. From the Tech 15, Tognarelli dropped back looking to the right side of the end zone. But Earl stepped up and read the pass, making the interception at the 1-yard line.
“They (Tech) made some great plays,” said Pioneer coach Glen Wilson. “They made big plays when they needed to.”
But the Panthers responded quickly. The Eagles went three-and-out, and Pioneer got the ball back in Eagles territory. Hayden Manson (nine carries, 61 yards) punched it in from the 5, then converted the two-point try on a run up the middle.
“Our backs ran great today,” Wilson said. “We had some great blocking up front.”
It would be late in the second quarter before the Eagles could respond, putting together an 11-play drive. Daignault had a run of nine yards, a third-down-converting one-yard run, his only pass completion, to Earl, for 10 yards, and capped it off with a 1-yard keeper for the score. Daignault rushed in the two-point try to bring the teams level.
The Eagles had to fend off the Panthers before they could get to halftime, though. Tognarelli marched his team downfield with some big throws, but on the Eagle 11-yard line with 30 seconds left, Tech’s Caleb Baranoski stepped up and batted the ball out of the hands of Pioneer’s Tyler Goodnow.
Pioneer opened the second half with a score. Tognarelli hit Briggs on a corner route for the 12-yard TD pass.
“He’s learned and made advances,” Wilson said of Tognarelli. “He’s only going to get stronger in the offseason.”
The game fell into a lull for the rest of the third and the start of the fourth quarters, then exploded to life with a controversial decision.
On third down deep inside Tech territory, Pioneer’s Noah Rathbun, a havoc-starter all day, burst through the Eagles’ offensive line. Daignault rushed out to his right to avoid the pressure, but Rathbun chased him down and stripped him of the ball.
It looked like the Panthers had fallen on the ball, so the officials blew the whistle. But when the whistle blew, neither team had possession. To make things more confusing, the Panthers scooped up the ball and had a wide-open path to the end zone as the whistle blew. The referees huddled to discuss the play and ruled that the whistle was inadvertent, and the down would be replayed.
Four plays later, Earl made the connection with Daignault for the deciding score.
“I’ve always taught the kids it’s a game of life, you have to fight through adversity,” Wilson said. “That was adversity staring at us in the face.”
But even with that play, both coaches agreed that the game was one that fit the Thanksgiving billing.
“The kids stuck it out, they played their hearts out today, both sides,” Gamache said. “It was a true battle and it’s a testament to these kids. We knew it was a battle going in and the game didn’t disappoint.”
“Everybody talks about Thanksgiving games, and this one lived up to it,” Wilson said. “It was a good game and a great 40 minutes.”
The Eagles end the season with a 4-7 record (3-5 Tri-County League), while the Panthers finished at 3-7 (3-5 TCL). Daignault was named the game’s most valuable player.