Barrieau, Selanis help Athol edge Mahar, 24-22

  • Athol running back Mason Barrieau scored a pair of long touchdowns on Thursday morning as his Red Raiders held off rival Mahar for a 24-22 victory in the annual Turkey Day game at the Woodward Complex in Orange. FOR THE RECORDER/MIKE PHILLIPS

  • Above, Mahar quarterback Sam Paul (7) hands the ball off to running back Jon Gariepy (20) with receiver Aaron Hendry (25) also in the picture during the Senators’ 24-22 loss to Athol Thursday in the annual Turkey Day game at the Woodward Complex in Orange. Below right, Athol’s Mason Barrieau runs for a chunk of his team-leading 145 yards in the Red Raiders’ victory. for the recorder/mike phillips

  • Athol running back Mason Barrieau rips off a big gainer during the Red Raiders’ 24-22 Turkey Day win over rival Mahar Thursday at the Woodward Complex in Orange. for the recorder/mike phillips

For The Recorder
Thursday, November 23, 2017

ORANGE — Athol High School dominated the first half, Mahar Regional School did likewise in the second half, and yet it was a local football rarity that eventually decided their Thanksgiving morning matchup Thursday at the Woodward Complex.

Senior Kris Selanis drilled a 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter to put visiting Athol ahead 11-0. After many subsequent twists and turns, that rarely-seen field goal represented the winning margin in the Red Raiders’ 24-22 victory over the Senators.

Athol (5-6, 1-5 Intercounty League North) would push its lead to 18-0 at halftime and 24-6 early in the fourth quarter before Mahar flew back in contention, thanks to the nonstop gunslinging of quarterback Sam Paul. The Senators’ senior threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns, while running for a third score. Paul (16-of-35 passing, one interception) gunned a 28-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Jon Gariepy with 21.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter, followed by Gariepy’s two-point conversion run, to pull Mahar from 10 points down to within two.

The Raiders’ Joe Ricchiazzi recovered the onside kick, though, allowing the visitors to come off the field with their fourth straight Turkey Day win.

“We’ve made a lot of strides since 0-4,” said Athol coach Bill LaRose, thinking back to his team’s rough start to the 2017 season. “It’s been a long journey this year. We were kind of the most unlucky team around, but those things happen. We finished it off with a win against our arch-rival, so it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Athol also exacted a measure of revenge for its 18-16 home loss to Mahar in their Sept. 29 meeting.

The Red Raiders got big rushing days from junior Mason Barrieau (nine carries, game-high 145 yards, two touchdowns) and senior Robbie Nelson (14 carries, 101 yards, TD), helped out by junior Dylan Castine (50 yards). Between them, the three rang up 296 yards on the ground, which, when combined with several losses, more than accounted for Athol's grand total of 289 yards of offense.

All three Athol touchdowns came as the result of chunk plays. Nelson got the Raiders started with a 50-yard burst less than three minutes into the game, while Barrieau snapped off a 48-yard run midway through the second quarter and added a 75-yard scoring slalom on the first play of the fourth quarter. That put Athol ahead 24-6 and seemingly out of the woods, before the Senators' hard fourth-quarter charge.

"We went in the locker room, it's 18-0, I said, 'Guys, it's 18-0, it's not 40,'" said Mahar coach Chris Bailey. "We made our own mistakes, and if we clean up those mistakes, we'll be in pretty good shape. I had confidence in them. The kids, to their credit, didn't roll over. They came out and played hard.

"All we can ask for is their best effort, and we got that. Are we disappointed? Absolutely, but we're not disappointed in their effort at all."

Mahar wrapped up at 4-6 overall and 2-4 within the IL North. The Senators ran 75 offensive plays to the Red Raiders' 35 and bossed the total offense with 463 yards, including a team-high 137 yards on the ground by Gariepy. In the second half alone, Mahar outgained Athol 305-104 and held the ball for nearly 16 of the 22 minutes.

Athol broke on top right away, after Castine's 19-yard gain put the ball at midfield. Two plays later, Nelson took a handoff from quarterback Keegan Lutz and swept the left side for the 50-yard score just 2:40 into the game. Lutz then turned a bad snap on the extra-point kick into a scramble for the two-point conversion run, giving the visitors an 8-0 lead.

Mahar then drove to the Athol 19 before Gariepy lost a fumble after an 11-yard gain and Ricchiazzi covered the ball at the Athol 8. That launched the Raiders on a 15-play drive that consumed almost eight minutes, keyed by gains of 17 and 14 yards by Castine and 26 yards by Barrieau. After Lutz was trapped for a 15-yard sack by Mahar's Hugo Frost, Athol faced fourth-and-19 from the 25 and LaRose turned to the area's best kicker, Selanis, for the 42-yard boot that made it an 11-0 lead.

"I don't want to claim that I'm a genius there," said LaRose, when it was pointed out that Selanis' three points proved the difference in the game. "The kid can kick, he's the most gifted kicker I've ever seen. He's kicked a 46- and a 42-yard field goal this year. When you have that weapon, use it."

The Raiders then took over on downs when Mahar failed on fourth-and-8 at its own 48, and Barrieau made the Senators pay instantly with a 48-yard TD run on a jet sweep. Selanis' extra-point kick lifted Athol into an 18-0 lead with 6:16 to play in the half.

Mahar's next series ended when Paul was picked off by Nelson at the Athol 31, and Nelson returned it 17 yards to the 48. That series ended in a Raider punt and the Senators took over at their own 16 with 2:12 left, and narrowly missed cracking the scoreboard before the half. Gariepy had pickups of 16 and 19 yards during the drive while Paul threw completions of 20 yards to Ryan Donaldson and 27 yards to Aaron Hendry, the last setting up first-and-goal at the Athol 2 with only 33 seconds on the clock.

Two rushes by Gariepy totaled a yard, and after an incompletion in the end zone, Paul was dropped by Castine for an 8-yard sack on fourth down to close out the first half.

Trailing by three scores, Mahar then began the second half with a 22-yard rip by Gariepy and later got a 17-yard keeper by Paul and a 17-yard pass from Paul to Charlie Barnes (six catches, game-high 117 yards). Paul did it himself on a quarterback dive from the 1, but Gariepy was stopped short on the two-point try, leaving the score at 18-6 with 7:26 to go in the third.

Mahar got the ball right back when Donaldson recovered a Nelson fumble at the Senators' 46, and drove as far as the Athol 10 before Paul was strip-sacked on fourth down by Joey Lehtomaki, who ran the ball back to the Raider 25. One play later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Barrieau swept around the right edge and took off for the apparent back-breaking 75-yard score. Selanis' extra point slid wide to the right, but Athol led 24-6, and would eventually need every one of those points.

"You got two different kinds of backs, the big rumbler in Robbie, and Mason is a state-level hurdler. That's a great combination to have," said LaRose of the Raiders' rushing tandem.

From there, Mahar swung the momentum all its way, thanks in large part to Paul having to throw on practically every down. He connected with Barnes for 29 yards and with Lucas Seney for 30 more, then picked out Barnes in the back left corner of the end zone for an 11-yard score. Gariepy's two-point run made it a 24-14 game with 8:14 left.

After a pair of Athol punts sandwiched around a Mahar turnover on downs, the Senators faced first-and-95 from their own 5-yard line with only 3:08 on the clock, and somehow managed to fit a 15-play scoring drive into that space. The biggest gains came on a 30-yard pass from Paul to Hendry and 23 yards from Paul to Seney. On fourth-and-15 from the Athol 28, Paul scrambled to find Gariepy wide open in the right back corner of the end zone. Gariepy then took an option pitch in for the two-pointer, pulling Mahar to within 24-22 with 21.7 seconds left -- as close as the hosts would get, after Athol jumped on the ensuing onside kick.

"Sam's a leader, we've put the game on his shoulders many times, and he comes through," said Bailey of Paul. "I can't believe that he's 0-4 in this game. A quarterback of his caliber, I feel for him. He gave everything he had. I can't imagine Mahar football without him, he's such an integral part of what we've done here. We wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are without him."

Thursday's individual offensive outbursts allowed both teams' standouts to post impressive season totals. With 323 passing yards, Paul finished the year with 1,165 through the air. Gariepy ended with 1,143 rushing yards. Nelson capped off his senior campaign with 907 yards on the ground.

For the second time in three years, Nelson was named the Athol Boosters Most Valuable Player, and Paul took home the Senators Boosters MVP award for the second straight year. Selanis and Mahar's Quinn Gervais won the O'Brien Family Awards as the game's outstanding linemen.

LaRose thought back to his team's Week 6 loss at Franklin County Technical School as the real turning point that sparked a 4-1 stretch over the Red Raiders' final five games.

"We didn't play a very good first half (against Franklin Tech), and as I was walking off, I said to one of my assistant coaches, 'What do we have to do?' He said, 'We gotta get out of here healthy and not lose this team.' I walked in and I had a nice little heart-to-heart conversation with my team. They came out, came back, and almost won that game after being down 28-0. Since that conversation, this team has done everything that I've asked. I'm very proud of those guys. They dug in their heels, rolled up their sleeves, and we've finished the season on a very positive note."