High School Football Previews: Frontier awaits South Hadley in playoff showdown

  • Frontier’s second leading rusher Stephen Worthley scores one of his 15 touchdowns this season in a win over Easthampton South Deerfield. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Although Frontier’s Bryce Dobosz doesn’t get a lot of carries, he is capaple of putting up big rushing numbers when called upon. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Frontier’s Kiernan Freeman is all alone in the end zone after scoring a TD against Easthampton in South Deerfield. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Frontier’s leading rusher Aaron Landry takes one of his team-high 15 scoring runs to the house against Turners Falls this season. Recorder File photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Thursday, November 02, 2017

After three fruitless trips to the postseason in the past three years, Frontier Regional School is hoping that this season can finally be the year it plays for a WMass title.

The Red Hawks took the first step toward making that goal reality as they parlayed a strong regular season into the second seed in the WMass Division VII playoffs. That has led them to tonight, when they will host third-seeded South Hadley High School at 7 in South Deerfield, with the winner punching a ticket to next weekend’s WMass championship game.

The Red Hawks are a senior-laden group with many of the players veterans from the past three years. Each year was marked with plenty of success, as simply qualifying for the postseason is no easy feat, but each berth has ended with a disappointing loss in the semifinals.

“Everybody is up for this,” Frontier coach Don Gordon said.

Gordon said that the semifinal losses are certainly something that is in the minds of his players, including last year’s 54-8 loss to top-seeded and eventual WMass champion and state runner-up Wahconah Regional High School. Frontier went into that playoff game extremely banged up, missing several key players to injury, and the result was a lopsided loss. Gordon said that performing well tonight would help make up for last year’s loss. Plus, it would set the Hawks up for a potential championship game against Wahconah, the top seed in the field taking on fourth-seeded Palmer High School.

“They would like a little redemption because we didn’t have our team last year,” Gordon said. “We were missing two running backs and two linebackers who were critical. This year, we are healthy and there will be no excuses.”

The contest figures to be whichever team can slow down the running game of the other, as neither squad throws the ball much. South Hadley did not attempt a pass in last week’s win over Chicopee High School, while Frontier has not attempted more than six passes in a game in the past six weeks.

Frontier enters the game with its two-horse attack of seniors Aaron Landry and Steven Worthley, both of whom have surpassed the 1,000-yard mark this season. Landry leads all area rushers with 1,126 yards on 115 rushes, giving him a 9.79 yard per carry average, while Worthley has rushed for 1,021 yards on 124 carries, giving him an 8.23-yard average. Both backs have reached the end zone 15 times this season, making them a dangerous combination.

“They know that the other guy is blocking for them when they are carrying the ball,” Gordon said. “They both have the mentality that if they are blocking, it’s their chance to hit instead of get hit.”

The Frontier offensive line and fullback Bryce Dobosz are also keys to the running game, and all have done such a good job at their assignments this season that Gordon said they really don’t need to try to use gimmicks to disguise what they are doing.

“We just put pads on people and run the ball,” he said.

The strength of Frontier’s defense this season has been stopping the run, something it will have to continue to do against a tough Tigers’ ground game. The Tigers do not have anyone with the kind of yards that Landry and Worthley come into the game with, but Liam Dawson leads the team with 609 yards on 86 carries for a 7.1 average per carry, and he has nearly equaled the Frontier backs in touchdowns with his team-leading 14. Hunter Carey (194 yards rushing), Ben Watkins (172 yards) and Hunter Borowski (157 yards) are also threats in the running game.

“Offensively, they’re pretty good, but we’ve seen similar offenses this year,” Gordon said. “They run a shotgun, Wing-T offense with a lot of outside runs and counters.”

South Hadley will throw the ball if it needs to, as evidenced by quarterback Michael Pratt attempting more than 10 passes three times this season. Pratt enters the game 31-of-70 for 312 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Frontier quarterback Matt Hildreth has done a solid job when his name has been called to throw the ball, completing 23-of-48 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns, with three interceptions.

South Hadley enters the game on a four-game winning streak, while Frontier comes in on a six-game streak. The Tigers are also looking for some redemption this season after they earned the second seed in the tournament last year but were upset by third-seeded Palmer High School.

Frontier and South Hadley have not met since 2001 when South Hadley beat the Red Hawks, 20-6.

The Week 9 non-qualifier schedule includes five games featuring local teams, all of which take place tonight. Greenfield High School, which narrowly missed qualifying, will host Pioneer Valley Regional School at 6 at Veterans Memorial Field, while Turners Falls High School will host Mohawk Trail Regional High School at 7 at the Bourdeau Fields Complex. Athol High School hosts Belchertown High School at 7 at O’Brien Field, and Mahar Regional School travels to Ludlow High School at 7. Franklin County Technical School heads south to Northampton to face Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School at 7 in a game with Vocational Playoff ramifications.

Here’s a look at each of those games:

Pioneer at Greenfield

The Green Wave (4-3) will once again be without 1,000-yard rusher RJ Byrd, although coach Mike Kuchieski certainly found someone to fill the load last week when senior lineman Colin Cloutier toted the ball 26 times for 213 yards and a touchdown in the Wave’s 30-6 win over Belchertown. … The local squads did not meet last year but played in 2015 during a non-qualifier contest won by Greenfield, 27-12, in Northfield. … Greenfield has a modest two-game winning streak in the series. Pioneer’s last win came in 2010, a season-opening 16-12 victory. … Green Wave quarterback Owen Phelps is 35-of-66 for 539 yards, with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Pioneer QB Scott Perlberg has thrown nearly twice as many passes, going 57-of-114 for 812 yards, with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. … Since rushing for over 100 yards in back-to-back games in the middle of the season, Pioneer back Wyatt Keith has been quiet of late, rushing for 64 and 71 yards in his past two games. The senior has still managed to score two touchdowns in each of those contests, but Pioneer (5-2) has used running back Tristan Dresser a bit more (64 and 73 rushing yards in the past two games) to offset some of the workload.

Mohawk at Turners Falls

It’s been a few years since the two former Intercounty League opponents have met. The last time was in 2014 in the WMass semifinals when Turners Falls won 26-2. The year before that the teams played in what was a thrilling WMass championship game that Turners Falls won, 36-22. Turners owns a four-game winning streak in the series. ... The last time Mohawk beat Turners Falls was a 42-7 win in 2010. … Turners Falls is coming off perhaps its best win of the season one week ago when it beat Easthampton, 27-14, to eliminate the Eagles from the postseason. … The Mohawk offense has struggled over the second half of the season, scoring eight points or less in three of its final four games. The Warriors rely heavily on the running game, and a slew of quarterbacks have thrown a total of 17 passes all season, completing just five for 123 yards. … Despite the lack of a passing game, the Mohawk rushing attack has had just one 100-yard rusher in the past four games. … Jordan Grenier leads the Mohawk offense with 699 yards this season. Backfield mate Seth Hoynoski, who made the move to football after previously running cross country, has rushed for 302 yards in three games.

Mahar at Ludlow

Mahar (2-5) and Ludlow (2-6) were previously in the former Intercounty League before it split up. The teams did play an independent game last season, which Mahar won 20-7 for its only victory of the season. Ludlow defeated Mahar, 20-19, in 2015. … This is the fifth straight season that the teams have met, and Mahar has won four of the five meetings. … Mahar quarterback Sam Paul has been one of the most active quarterbacks in the area this fall, throwing the second most attempts among area QBs (98), completing 38 for 647 yards. … Despite the heavier than average usage of its quarterback, the Mahar running game has gotten stronger over the course of the season. Jon Gariepy has rushed for 417 yards and four touchdowns in the past three games, and each of those contests was against tournament-eligible teams in Turners Falls, Mt. Greylock and Franklin Tech.

Belchertown at Athol

Athol (2-6) welcomes Belchertown (1-7) to O’Brien Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight in a matchup of two teams looking to tack on some victories late in the year after slow starts. … The Red Raiders had looked better late in the regular-season, knocking off Greenfield High School, but dropped a 49-17 decision to Frontier last week. … Belchertown’s one win came against Drury High School, and the Orioles fell on the road at Greenfield last week, 30-6. … The two teams last met in 2015, when Belchertown captured a 34-28 win. … Athol’s last win in the series came in 2014, when the Raiders captured a 7-0 victory at home. … Athol featured back Robbie Nelson scored a touchdown for the fourth consecutive game in the loss to Frontier. Nelson is up to 646 yards and 11 touchdowns, with 10 of those scores coming in the last four weeks. … Belchertown’s offense was limited to just 54 yards in total against Greenfield. The rushing attack gained a paltry 39 yards on 23 carries.

FC Tech at Smith Voke

An intriguing matchup in Northampton tonight will see FC Tech (4-4) play at Smith Voke (3-5). … The game has significant postseason implications, as the Eagles are currently the No. 4 seed in the Small School Vocational Tournament, just edging out fifth-seeded Old Colony for the final spot. Tech needs to keep winning to have a shot at qualifying for the four-team tourney. … The FC Tech backfield tandem of Spencer Telega and Bailey Young continues to lead the way, combining for 1,397 yards and 16 touchdowns. … Quarterback Seth Aldrich threw his fourth touchdown of the season in last week’s 24-20 win over Mahar. Aldrich completed 5 of 11 passes for 104 yards. … Smith Voke is 0-2 against Recorder-area teams this year, falling to both Mohawk and Pioneer. … The two teams last met in 2015, when FC Tech captured a 33-8 win in Turners Falls. … The Eagles are 3-0 all-time against the Vikings, outscoring them by a whopping 109-8 margin in those three victories.