Byrd’s return sparks Wave past Pioneer, 38-21

For The Recorder
Friday, November 03, 2017

GREENFIELD — Reports of R.J. Byrd’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The junior tailback returned from a knee injury in a big way, rushing for two touchdowns and 177 yards on just nine carries to lead Greenfield High School to a 38-21 independent football win over Pioneer Valley Regional School at Veterans Field Friday night.

“I really wanted to play and my coach was debating it,” Byrd said. “But I’ve been practicing a lot and I had to show him I was ready.”

It was the first game action Byrd has seen since he was injured in the Green Wave’s lopsided loss to Athol, an experience it looked like Greenfield was getting ready to re-live based on Pioneer’s opening drive, which saw the Panthers march 66 yards on six plays before Wyatt Keith (14 carries, 237 yards) ran it in for a 25-yard touchdown. Keith finished it off with an extra point kick to make it 7-0.

That would be the last time Pioneer’s offense would see the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. Greenfield got on the board in its second series, when an Owen Phelps interception of Pioneer quarterback Scott Perlberg set the Wave up on the Pioneer 23. Three plays later, Phelps hooked up with junior Daniel Vega for an 18-yard touchdown pass. Phelps followed up with a two-point conversion run to make it 8-7.

The Wave scored again on the next series when Phelps threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to junior Dionn Casanova to make it 14-7. Byrd’s two-point conversion run up the middle made it 16-7.

It looked like the half was going to end that way, but Byrd had other ideas. A sack of Phelps dropped Greenfield back to its own 34 with about 20 seconds left — plenty of time for Byrd to take a handoff and run it up the left sideline for a 66-yard touchdown as the clock ran out. Colin Cloutier nailed the two-point conversion run to make the score 24-7 at the half.

Greenfield came out storming in the third quarter, marching 68 yards on six plays before Byrd converted on an 8-yard touchdown run, set up by a 41-yard screen pass from Phelps to Cloutier, who took in the two-point conversion run to make it 32-7.

The Wave caught another break on the next series, recovering a Pioneer fumble at the Panther 45. That set up another sustained drive, manned mostly by Greenfield’s reserves, which ended with a 1-yard touchdown by sophomore Anthony Hurd. Phelps took a knee on the point-after attempt, keeping the score 38-7.

It looked like it was all over at that point, but someone forgot to clue in the Pioneer offense, and Keith, who ripped off a 55-yard run, which set up a 9-yard touchdown run one play later. Keith’s point after kick sailed right to keep the score 38-13.

Keith busted another long run on the next series, this time for 50 yards, to set up his third touchdown run of the night from 22 yards out. Karl Wheeler hit Tristan Dresser with the two-point conversion pass to create the 38-21 final.

Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski said his guys locked in after giving up the opening touchdown.

“We didn’t play the first eight or nine minutes of the game, but credit to them, they overcame adversity and snapped back,” Kuchieski said. “It’s not about making changes, it’s just about playing good football.”

“They are better than us, it’s that simple,’ Pioneer coach Paul Worth said. “They are bigger, and the Byrd kid made a huge difference.”

Greenfield didn’t come out of the game unscathed in terms of injury. Sophomore linebacker Camrom Lackey left the game in the second half with a suspected broken wrist.