Panthers out to stop losing streak, avenge last year’s rout

  • Pioneer’s Wyatt Keith will be shooting for a 1,000-yard rushing season on Thanksgiving against Franklin Tech. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Pioneer QB Scott Perlberg can make things happen through the air. Recorder file Staff/Paul Franz

  • Franklin Tech’s Bailey Young (24) can make things happen with the ball in his hand. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Franklin Tech ballhawk Jared Bergmann (7) is always a threat to intercept a pass RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Franklin Tech QB Seth Aldrich (4) can hurt a team with his arm or legs on any given day. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Pioneer receiver Karl Wheeler (88) is a good target and a tough man to bring down once he makes the catch. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Franklin County Technical School is focused on a sixth consecutive Turkey Day victory, as the Eagles travel to Northfield Thursday morning at 10 a.m. for a Thanksgiving football matchup against host Pioneer Valley Regional School.

The visiting Eagles (5-6) hold a 7-5 edge in the all-time series, dating back to the first meeting in 2005. They’ve won five Turkey Day games in a row, including last year’s 50-30 romp in Turners Falls.

“To our kids it means a ton,” FC Tech coach Joe Gamache offered. “It’s important for our kids to play Thanksgiving football because every other school in our region plays on Thanksgiving. Our game might not get the hype the other local games get but it’s something for them to look forward and feel a part of.”

Pioneer hasn’t won on Turkey Day since 2011, though the Panthers had won four straight prior to that in what has been a series of streaks.

“We’ve been on a nice run here the last few years. Prior to that, Pioneer was on a nice run,” Gamache explained.

Pioneer coach Paul Worth will take part in his second year of Thanksgiving football, and he hopes his team can bounce back from last year’s tough showing.

“Last year left a bad taste,” admitted Worth of the defeat in Turners Falls. “We went into the game with some suspensions. Really we just had a bad time of it last year and they put 50 (points) on us. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The pursuit for 1,000

A lot of Recorder-area running backs are in striking distance of the 1,000-yard mark with their Thanksgiving games.

The Tech-Pioneer contest has three players looking to reach that mark.

Let’s start with the Eagles, who have a shot at posting a pair of 1,000-yard backs this season. Senior Spencer Telega leads the team with 984 yards, while sophomore Bailey Young enters with 905. If the pair can amass the yards needed, it would be the first time in program history with two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

“The hope is we have two backs really close to going over 1,000 yards and if they have a decent game on Thanksgiving, that’s probably going to happen,” Gamache said.

The two-headed rushing attack has prevented teams from keying on one back in terms of game-planing.

“We wanted to be a little bit more versatile, wanted teams to not be able to just focus in on one guy,” said Gamache. “We wanted to have a multi-faceted attack. We took some steps in the right direction. Hopefully in the future that’s going to continue.”

On the other sideline, Pioneer junior Wyatt Keith has rushed for 901 yards this season despite not opening the year as the starting tailback. His emergence has enabled the Panthers to be more well-rounded offensively.

“It’s allowed us to run the football,” said Worth of the move to insert Keith as the main running back. “If you looked at us early on, we threw more than we ran and with that comes interceptions, especially with a first-year quarterback. When Wyatt has been able to run the football, we’re balanced. It’s worked out for us.”

Gamache knows trying to slow down Keith is going to be a key in Thursday’s game.

“He’s a tough runner. He’s a good-sized kid who doesn’t go down easily,” Gamache said of Keith.

Another shootout?

Both teams have scored their share of points this year, though it’s hard to imagine the final score will feature a total of 80 points like it did a year ago.

“Defensively, we’ve played physical but we’ve still given up our fair share of points,” admitted Gamache. “Our primary concern on defense will be to limit our mistakes and continue to play physical as we have all year. I believe if we can find a way to limit our mistakes, hopefully we won’t surrender as many points. Our biggest scare tends to be in our secondary. We sometimes struggle to cover receivers and they have a couple of capable ones.”

Passing attacks

Speaking of receivers, the passing attacks on both teams have shown an ability to get the job done at points this season.

Pioneer QB Scott Perlberg has the most passing attempts in the Recorder-area this year (128), and he’s totaled 856 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions. Receivers Karl Wheeler (16 receptions, 319 yards, four touchdowns) and Jake Wallace (11 receptions, 138 yards) are the top pass-catchers on the outside, while Keith leads the team with 18 catches for 242 yards.

“I think they’re pretty balanced,” said Gamache of the Pioneer offense. “The QB is a good athlete, throws a pretty good ball and has a couple solid receivers. He’s got the Wallace kid and Wheeler; they’re both solid receivers.”

FC Tech quarterback Seth Aldrich has thrown for 620 yards this season, hitting for four touchdowns and eight INTs.

“For us, we were a little more versatile offensively this year,” Gamache explained. “Seth, when dialed in, he makes some good decisions. We have a couple capable receivers; a good-sized tight end in Colby Mailloux and a capable guy in Jared Bergmann. Both of our backs do a good job catching the ball out of the backfield.”

Bergmann and Mailloux have 10 catches apiece this season, and Mailloux has hauled in three of Aldrich’s four touchdown passes.

Just 18 players

The overriding theme in Northfield this season has been the fact that Pioneer posted a winning record despite just 18 players on the roster.

Worth said the effort has been there all season, and despite a small squad, the team has been dedicated since preseason practice began in August.

“I think that speaks to the kind of kid we have on our team,” lauded Worth. “They took to coaching, never gave up and kept playing. I just think that the kids that came out, led by five seniors and a good junior class, they love the game. They took to it and played really hard.”

After a great first half of the season saw Pioneer post a 5-1 record, the team enters Thanksgiving on a three-game losing streak, with defeats coming to Palmer High School, Greenfield High School and Turners Falls High School.

“When you only have so many kids and go up against good, experienced teams, those veteran teams make you pay,” he admitted. “(FC Tech) is going to be a challenge. They’re good. They have strong numbers and they’re good sized.”

Gamache has been impressed with what Worth and his staff have done with the Panthers this fall.

“It’s his second year and he’s done a nice job,” Gamache said. “They were playoff-eligible this year. I think he’s getting some kids to buy in. They’ve got some athletes as well.”

Tech playing through pain

It’s been a busy season for FC Tech, which was the only local team to play last weekend and will take part in its 12th game of the year on Thanksgiving.

The Eagles dropped a 41-6 decision to Lynn Vocational-Technical High School Saturday in the semifinals of the State Small School Vocational Football Tournament at Manning Field in Lynn.

“We’re pretty banged up,” admitted Gamache. “It was a physical game Saturday. We tried to match a team that was a little more physical than we were.”

Still, Gamache has no fears that his team won’t come to play despite another contest coming just five days removed from the loss.

“Thanksgiving is a motivator in itself,” he offered. “We could probably have played on Tuesday and the kids would be ready to go on Thursday from a mental state.”