Mohawk faces long odds against Frontier

  • Frontier’s Aaron Landry (28) is always a threat to take it to the house when he isn’t lowering his shoulder and running over a tackler. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s versatile running back Stephen Worthley (29) can do do damage by running the ball or catching passes out of the backfield. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier QB Matthew Hildreth (7) can do damage throwing the ball downfield. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier QB Matt Hildreth is also a capable ballcarrier when for one reason or another he decides to run. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Mohawk’s Jordan Grenier can make things happen out of the Warrior backfield. Recorder file photo/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mohawk’s Jordon Grenier (32) lowers his shoulder to absorb a hit against Pioneer. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk coach Doug McCloud talks with quarterback Ryan Walker (7) against Pioneer this season. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk all-purpose back Jordon Grenier is dangerous as a runner and pass catcher. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk QB Ryan Walker (7) will tuck the ball away and run when needed. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/21/2017 10:50:12 PM

Frontier Regional School has already played a championship game this season.

For Mohawk Trail Regional High School, tonight is its championship. An upset win over Frontier in tonight’s annual Thanksgiving Eve rivalry would be a great way to finish off the season.

The teams will tango in South Deerfield at 6 p.m. in a game pitting the heavily favored, WMass Division VII runners-up Red Hawks (8-2) against a Mohawk team that started the season 3-3 overall but has dropped four straight games heading into tonight to drop to 3-7.

That matters little this time of year, and Mohawk head coach Doug McCloud said he knows his team is not favored to win, but that has not stopped it from working hard to prepare itself to give its best against the formidable foe.

“Anything can happen,” McCloud said. “I know they are a great football team. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses, do they? But I told our guys, ‘If you go out there and be your absolute best, you will never have to question yourself.’”

Frontier takes a two-game rivalry winning streak into tonight’s matchup and both recent victories have been blowouts. Frontier has outscored the Warriors, 87-22, over the past two years, including last year’s 41-16 victory. That win helped push Frontier’s all-time record against Mohawk to 45-32-6 dating back to 1933 when the teams — then Deerfield High School and Arms Academy — played for the first time and played to a 0-0 draw. Mohawk has won three of the previous seven meetings, including back-to-back wins in 2013 and 2014, and a historic win in 2010 that helped put an end to a 22-year winning streak by the Red Hawks dating back to 1988.

The game will be broadcast on Bear Country (95.3-FM) as Shawn Hubert and Jeff Tirrell call their 367th game together in the booth.

Ready Hawks

Frontier is less than two weeks removed from playing in the WMass Division VII title game, where it fell to Wahconah Regional High School, 45-20.

That could lead a person to wonder if the Red Hawks will be mentally checked in to now turning around and playing one final game in which they must know they are heavily favored. Coach Don Gordon said that there has been no signs of any player not taking Mohawk seriously, and that his players, especially the seniors, want to end such a positive year on a winning note.

“There are no problems whatsoever,” Gordon began. “We had set goals to win the league, make playoffs and host a game and we did that. I think we improved as the season went along. This week is icing on the cake. For the seniors, this is their eighth home game and they just want to go out there and have some fun and finish this season with a win.

“And we have seen Mohawk and they can move the ball,” Gordon continued. “They run a similar offensive formation to ours and have weapons.”

Frontier has had as nice a fall as any local team. After suffering what was considered an upset loss in early September to Greenfield High School, 22-20 in overtime, the Red Hawks went on a seven-game winning streak, which helped Frontier not only qualify for the postseason, but lock up the second seed and host the semifinal game. That paid off as Frontier topped third-seeded South Hadley High School, 28-21, for the program’s first postseason victory since it defeated Athol High School, 18-7, in the WMass Division III playoffs back in 2009, before the current statewide format was created. Frontier wound up falling to Mahar Regional School, 34-19, in the Super Bowl that year.

This season culminated in the WMass Division VII championship game, where the Hawks fell to top-seeded Wahconah.

Now Frontier gets a Mohawk team that had a sniff at the postseason after the first month of the season, as a 2-1 start had hopes up for a program that had won just five games over the past two years. Even after the sixth game of the year, Mohawk was 3-3 overall, which made the Warriors eligible to qualify for the WMass Division VIII field.

Unfortunately, Mohawk dropped its final two games of the regular season and then lost its two non-qualifier games to Turners Falls High School and Greenfield High School. Mohawk is in danger of posting its second consecutive 3-8 record. McCloud said that his team has struggled on the defensive side of the ball this season, because a lack of experienced veterans has shown up.

“We’ve just given up too many touchdowns,” he said. “It’s not for lack of effort. The kids are working very hard. We are just inexperienced in a lot of places and it always seems to jump out at you at the wrong time.”

Offensive explosion

Mohawk’s defensive struggles do not bode well for a team coming up against Frontier, the most dangerous offensive team in the Intercounty League North Division this season.

The reason for the success has been simple. Take one extremely talented offensive line, add three 1,000-yard rushers and that equals the ability to score seemingly at will and from anywhere on the field.

The Red Hawks have three players who have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season lining up in the backfield. Former 1,000-yard rusher at Pioneer Valley Regional School, senior Bryce Dobosz, transferred to Frontier this season and transitioned into a fullback. Dobosz has seen his rushing totals drop this season, as he comes into the game with 400 rushing yards, but he has scored 10 touchdowns and has done a nice job blocking for Frontier’s two running backs.

Seniors Aaron Landry and Steven Worthley line up in the double-wing offense and their numbers speak for themselves. Landry enters the game as the team-leader in rushing with 1,259 yards and 17 touchdowns while lining up on the right side of the wing, while Worthley is right behind him with 1,206 yards and 16 touchdowns while lining up on the left. Gordon has praised the backs all season long for their unselfish play.

“Despite their statistics, they are both unselfish,” Gordon said. “They know that when the other guy is getting the ball, their blocks are going to make the difference. Add Bryce in there with carries a few times, and that just makes those two guys even stronger.”

Frontier has only played two games this season in which it did not feature a 100-yard rusher, that being the Week 2 loss to Greenfield and the semifinal playoff win against South Hadley. Compare that to the team having had four games in which it had a running back rush for over 200 yards, and of those four, two featured a second running back rushing for more than 100 yards. Each of Frontier’s Big Three backs have gone over 100 yards at least once this season, as Landry and Worthley each have five games over 100 yards, and Dobosz has one. Worthley rushed for 131 yards in the loss to Wahconah, while Landry has not had a 100-yard game in the past three games.

Unsung heros

Senior quarterback Matt Hildreth has put together a solid season as well, completing 28-of-61 passes for 466 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has 248 rushing yards on the season.

“He doesn’t get a lot of recognition in the backfield, but he has to get all those handoffs and pitches right, and he’s run for crucial yards himself,” Gordon offered.

Landry leads the team in receptions with 10 catches for 142 yards. Tight ends Kiernan Freeman and Cole Price have combined to haul in six passes for 144 yards as well.

Another unsung hero of the Frontier offense has been the O-line, which features seniors Matt Carlson (right tackle), Joe Hildreth (right guard) and Brandon Trueswell (left guard), as well as juniors Xavier Santiago (center) and Nate Austin (left tackle).

Getting defensive

Both teams have struggled on defense at times. For as good as the Frontier offense has been, it’s defense has not been as solid. Despite the success, Frontier’s defense has allowed 224 points. The Red Hawks have held opponents to under 20 points just four times this year, and under 10 points just twice. Frontier’s best defensive effort was holding Easthampton High School to just eight points in a 34-8 victory that helped Frontier win the IL North title.

The problem has been Frontier’s passing defense, which has allowed several big games to opponents. Wahconah torched the Frontier secondary in the WMass finals, but even non-playoffs teams had success throwing on Frontier. Mahar’s Sam Paul threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns, Turners Falls’ Kyle Dodge threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and Greenfield’s Owen Phelps threw for 175 yards and three touchdowns. For each of those quarterbacks, the Frontier game marked their season-best passing game.

While Frontier has generally been able to make up for the defensive struggles, Mohawk has not. The Warriors have allowed 260 points this season and have held opponents to under 20 points just twice. Those opponents — Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School and McCann Technical High School — were two of the worst offenses in western Mass. this season.

It has not been just one issue for Mohawk as the Warriors’ past two games can attest to. Last time out against Greenfield, Mohawk held Phelps to just 35 yards on 4-of-5 passing, but Wave running back RJ Byrd rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns. The game before that against Turners Falls, Mohawk held the Turners running game mostly in check (171 yards on 43 carries), but Dodge torched the secondary for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Mohawk winging it

Like Frontier, Mohawk runs out of the double-wing offense with a slew of running backs. The top Warrior back is Jordan Grenier, who has put together a memorable season and enters the game with 955 yards on the ground. He was a complement in the Mohawk backfield one year ago, with Johnny Herbert getting the bulk of the workload, but he has been the lead dog this season and leads the team with seven touchdowns.

“He is not very big — I don’t think he is 140 pounds — but he is quicker than hell,” McCloud said.

Another player to keep an eye on for Mohawk is first-year player Seth Hoynoski, a senior who made the transition from cross country to football this fall. That was just fine with McCloud, who placed Hoynoski in the backfield and in just five games, the senior has been just as effective running with a ball in his hands on the gridiron, as he was running without one on a cross country course. Hoynoski has 420 yards on 51 carries (8.2 yards per carry) and three touchdowns this season.

“He is tough and he runs hard,” McCloud said.

The Warriors will also use London Summers, David Hobbs and Cam Lococo to spell the two backs, and they enter the game with over 100 yards this season. Evan Shippee will start at fullback.

One area Mohawk has struggled in this season is the passing game, where the Warriors as a team have been just 9-of-28 for 142 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Ryan Walker has settled in as the starter late in the season and will start tonight.

The offensive line has played well for Mohawk and consists of Zachary (center) and Brady McCloud (right tackle), the twin sons of Coach McCloud, Jonathan Schuetze (left guard), Jameson Bailey-Pecor (left tackle) and Andrew Hicks (right guard). Kaleb Fitzgerald and Brian Allen will line up as the tight ends.

The only player listed out of tonight’s game is Frontier tight end/defensive lineman Donovan Hoffman.

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