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Warriors blank Pathfinder, 16-0

THORNDIKE — Mohawk Trail Regional High School head coach Doug McCloud is all about defense. The 19-year assistant and first-year head coach couldn’t help but be overjoyed Friday night as his defensive unit came up huge, and delivered both touchdowns for the playoff-bound Warriors.

Mohawk blanked Tri-County League foe Pathfinder Vocational High School, 16-0, at St. Joseph’s Park to secure a home game next week in the Western Massachusetts Division VI Football Tournament. McCloud couldn’t be happier.

“God, I love this ... I do, I love this.” he said. “The defense was outstanding, just outstanding. That’s what I stress, and tonight they really stepped up.”

The Warriors showed their defensive philosophy from the get-go, winning the coin toss, but deferring the ball to the Pioneers. It was a move that paid dividends, as after taking the ball on its own 29-yard line, Pathfinder could only muster 12 total yards on a 12-play drive that took over eight minutes off the clock. For the Pioneers, it was one step forward, two steps back.

The Warriors offense first touched the ball with just under two minutes to go in the first, and looked poised to make a statement. Before the end of the quarter, they recorded two first downs, one on a 23-yard run by Luke Bissell, and the other on a 29-yard scamper by Billy Gray.

Stephen Reynolds added a 20-yard run on the third play of the second quarter, but on the next play, a first-and-10 from the Pathfinder 15, a hard hit in the backfield on fullback Keith Whitaker put the ball on the ground, and the Pioneers recovered at their own 18.

Running back Shane Neto and quarterback Michael Kryznowek got the Pioneers’ ground game going, albeit briefly, picking up a couple of first downs, and moving the ball as far as the Warriors’ 32. The Mohawk defense then stood tall and, on a third-and-7, sacked Kryznowek for a seven-yard loss.

After a punt, the Warriors offense was stymied, and with under two minutes to go in the half, had to punt the ball back to the Pioneers, who took over on their own 28.

At the 1:15 mark, after a run for no gain by Kryznowek, Pathfinder called a pass, and would live to regret it. Bissell, a linebacker on defense, saw the ball all the way and made a beautiful catch with his body fully extended, then managed to keep his balance as he ran 30 yards, untouched, into the end zone. Warriors quarterback Andrew Doty then hit Alex Dekoschak for the two-point conversion and Mohawk took an 8-0 lead into the break.

“I had just told my defense, get me a touchdown, that’s all. Get me a touchdown. And they did.” quipped McCloud.

“I read contain, and the guy came across through a screen, and I picked it up, and got it for six.” said Bissell.

The second half looked a lot like the first, with both offenses struggling to sustain drives. The Warriors created a golden opportunity toward the end of the third, when the defense forced Pathfinder to punt, and after a fumbled snap, The Warriors Javius Johnson got his hands up for the block, and Mohawk took the ball at the Pioneers’ 20 with just over a minute to go in the frame.

The Warriors’ offense could not take advantage however, and entered the fourth protecting the precarious 8-0 advantage. The defense was more than up to the task.

At the 6:21 mark, with Pathfinder at its own 46 yard line and a first down, Kryznowek fumbled a shotgun snap, and a wild scrum for the ball ensued. Players from both sides dove at the ball, and it kept rolling backward. Finally, Reynolds was able to pick it up at the 14-yard line, and scamper into the end zone for the touchdown. Doty then completed the 2-point play with a pass to Whitaker, for the 16-0 cushion.

“I saw it right from the beginning,” said Reynolds “I used my baseball skills to pick it up, on the [dirt of the] baseball field, actually, and took it for six.”

Pathfinder had one last gasp in them, but Mohawk would have none of it, and effectively sealed the game when Gray picked off a desperation pass from Kryznowek with under two minutes to play, and set the Warriors up for a kneel down inside the Pioneers’ 30.

When asked about clinching a tournament home game, McCloud was beaming.

“I stressed how important home field was all week. You want to come out of your own locker room, not someone else’s. You want to eat at your favorite restaurant after school, keep to your routine, and be ready. We made that happen tonight.”

Mohawk will host either Turners Falls High School or Franklin County Technical School Friday night at 7 p.m.

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