Frontier marches on, 28-21

  • Above, Frontier receiver Kiernan Freeman hauls in a touchdown pass Friday as his Red Hawks held on for a 28-21 win over South Hadley in WMass Division VII semifinal action in South Deerfield. Below, Frontier running back Aaron Landry looks for running room through the South Hadley defense. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Frontier quarterback Matt Hildreth throws a touchdown pass on Friday night and his Red Hawks advanced to the WMass Division VII championship game with a 28-21 victory over South Hadley in semifinal action in South Hadley.. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Frontier running back Stephen Worthley scoots around the end during the Red Hawks’ 28-21 semifinal victory over South Hadley during WMass Division VII playoff action Friday night in South Deerfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • South Hadley's Hunter Carey is upended by Frontier defender Garrett DeForest during the Red Hawks’ 28-21 WMass Division VII semifinal victory Friday night in South Deerfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Frontier's Aaron Landry carries the ball Friday night during the Red Hawks’ 28-21 WMass Division VII semifinal victory over South Hadley in South Deerfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Frontier's Aaron Landry is led by a host of blockers Friday night as the Red Hawks advanced to next week’s WMass Division VII championship game with a 28-21 win over South Hadley in semifinal action in South Deerfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Friday, November 03, 2017

SOUTH DEERFIELD — With three consecutive semifinal losses hanging in the air over a muddy, torn-up field, the Frontier Regional School football team seized its opportunity Friday night.

Playing at home for the first time in the Western Mass. Division VII playoffs, the Red Hawks built a three-touchdown lead and survived a furious fourth-quarter comeback bid by visiting South Hadley High School. The gap proved just wide enough for Frontier to march on, and the second-seeded Hawks captured a 28-21 victory over the third-seeded Tigers in a Div. VII semifinal.

Frontier (8-1) advanced to its first WMass title game since the current statewide format was adopted. The Hawks will meet top-seeded and defending champion Wahconah Regional High School (8-1) in the Div. VII title game, slated to be played next weekend at a time and place to be determined.

“It’s been a long time coming,” offered Frontier junior quarterback Matt Hildreth of the postseason victory. “It’s been my goal since our freshman year to win this game. To get here and get a win, we really accomplished a lot to make it happen. It means a lot to us and a lot to the guys who graduated and were back here to watch this tonight.”

The path to victory took a rather circuitous route for Frontier. The hosts built a commanding 28-7 lead entering the fourth quarter only to watch as South Hadley (5-4) clawed back.

Liam Dawson (12 carries, 109 yards) got things started with a 74-yard touchdown scamper with 8:50 remaining in the fourth, pulling the Tigers within 28-14.

Frontier’s offense was rendered ineffective in the fourth quarter, as South Hadley’s pressure on the outside enabled the Tigers to stop the Red Hawks’ ball carriers for zero or negative yards on eight of the team’s 12 plays in the frame.

Despite employing a run-heavy offense, South Hadley took to the air with its season hanging in the balance. Quarterback Michael Pratt (10-of-26, 111 yards) attempted 18 passes in the fourth quarter, and he made it a one-score game with 1:56 remaining when he connected with hulking tight end Marcus Larrier on a 13-yard fade in the back corner of the end zone. Shawn Mitchell’s extra point had the Tigers down just 28-21.

“We went to sleep in the fourth quarter,” admitted Frontier head coach Don Gordon. “Their defense was just teeing off on us.”

South Hadley held Frontier to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, though a big punt landed the Tigers back to their own 14-yard line with just 45 seconds remaining. Without timeouts, after having burned them on defense, South Hadley managed to move the ball to its own 35 before stalling out. On fourth down, Pratt’s pass fell incomplete, and Hildreth took a knee in victory formation to seal the deal and the 28-21 win.

While the Frontier offense struggled for most of the second half, that certainly wasn’t the case early. The Hawks needed just three plays to get on the board, as senior tailback Aaron Landry (nine carries, 82 yards) took a counter, broke a tackle and took off for a 50-yard touchdown that staked the hosts to a quick 7-0 lead.

South Hadley tied the game with its lone touchdown of the first half just 24 seconds before the end of the first quarter. Stephen Worthley’s carry on first down was knocked free by a South Hadley defender, and Larrier scooped the fumble up at the Frontier 18 and returned it untouched for a game-tying score.

The Hawks regained their lead late in the second quarter, when Hildreth hit a wide open Kiernan Freeman down the left sideline on first down. Freeman dove across the goal line to just get in for a 38-yard touchdown, and Frontier took a 13-7 lead with 3:35 left before the break.

“They’re ground and pound,” said Dawson of Frontier’s offense, “They’ve got a great system going here, we just didn’t expect that, coming right off the bat like that.”

Looking to nab the tying score just before halftime, South Hadley instead gifted the ball back to Frontier just two plays later. A bad snap over the head of Pratt was pounced on by a gaggle of Red Hawks at the South Hadley 28. Five plays later, Bryce Dobosz (11 carries, 48 yards) made the turnover hurt when he bulled in from one yard away. Hildreth’s two-point run put the home team up, 21-7, at intermission.

“Our power play (offense) was really working,” said Hildreth of the opening half. “They couldn’t stop our running game. They made some adjustments in the second half but we were able to jump on them early.”

Dobosz scored his second touchdown of the game, a nine-yard scamper, with 6:45 left in the third quarter to give Frontier a commanding 28-7 lead.

The three-score cushion would seem like plenty with the way the game was going, but South Hadley’s late flurry made the rowdy South Deerfield crowd restless until the very last drive of the chilly evening.

Next up is the WMass title game against Wahconah, which went to the Div. VII state final a year ago before falling to Mashpee High School. The Warriors thumped fourth-seeded Palmer High School, 37-6, in the other semifinal Friday night.

“We’re excited for it,” said Hildreth of the matchup with a Wahconah team that beat the Hawks, 54-8, in last year’s semifinal round. “We’re going to take it to them.”

Worthley finished with 54 yards on 14 carries in the win. It was the first time since a Week 2 loss to Greenfield High School that the Hawks finished without a 100-yard rusher.