H.S. Football Notebook: Local teams gain momentum heading into league play

  • Greenfield’s Krish Patel makes a reception against Frontier in South Deerfield on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2023 8:04:46 PM

The independent portion of the high school football schedule has drawn to a close, and now the heart of the season gets underway Friday when league play begins. 

The Mahar football team couldn’t have asked for a better way to enter Intercounty League North play. 

The Senators wanted a challenge during the independent portion of the schedule and found that when Northampton came to Orange on Friday. The Blue Devils — a Div. 4 schools that made the state tournament a season ago — entered as the heavy favorites on paper against the Sens, a Div. 8 school. 

If you hadn’t known that going in, you’d have had no idea Mahar was the underdog team that was given no chance. The Sens were the more physical team on both sides of the ball, winning the battle on the line of scrimmage while opening up running lanes for sophomore back Ronnie Stone, leading to a 20-6 victory at the Woodward Complex. 

“The whole school doubted us,” Stone said after the game. “We came in here hoping we could get this win, brought the energy and got the win. It took the whole team. Blocking, run game, pass game, pass defense, run defense. It took everything. We’re a Division 8 team and they’re a Division 4 team. We’re feeling confident.” 

If you had talked to Mahar coach Percy Eady after last Monday’s practice, a win might have seemed even more unrealistic. According to Eady, the Sens had a poor practice to open Northampton week, and he wasn’t happy about it. 

He let them know he wasn’t pleased, and for the rest of the week, his players were locked in at practice and in the film room. 

“Boy did they ever respond,” Eady said. 

Eady has Mahar believing heading into league play, with the energy around the program noticeably higher under the first year head coach. With Morgan Softic running the offense at quarterback and a defense that has given up a mere 13 points in its last two games, the Senators are a team on the rise entering the most important stretch of the season. 

Frontier snaps losing streak to Green Wave

Friday night was the first time Frontier seniors like Aiden Dredge tasted victory over Greenfield, as the Redhawks last beat the Green Wave in 2019. 

Frontier, which had preseason aspirations of winning the Intercounty League South, has put itself in a position to do so with a strong close to independent play. 

After falling to Lunenburg in the opener, the Redhawks responded with a thrilling victory over Franklin Tech in Week 2, with Dredge finding Kaden James for the game-winning score with under a minute to play. They followed that up with a 38-16 win over Greenfield last Friday, with Dredge scoring four touchdowns in the win. 

“I’m super pumped. They’re our rivals and ever since I was a freshman, I’ve lost to them,” Dredge said after the win. “So finally, senior year, I get to win with my team. We’ve been working for this moment all week.”

Between Dredge, Ian Burt and James, the Redhawks have plenty of horses to ride offensively to make a run at the league title. Easthampton (2-1), Hoosac (3-0), Belchertown (2-0), Commerce (2-1) and Lee (2-1) have all shown well, with the title chase set to be a good one in the coming weeks. Frontier opens league play on Friday when it travels to Springfield to take on Commerce (5:30 p.m. kickoff). 

As for the Green Wave (1-2), things won’t get much easier this week. Greenfield got banged up in the losses to South Hadley and Frontier the last two weeks, and things won’t get any easier on Friday when Ware — the defending IL North champs — come to Vets Field. 

Ware has opened its season with wins over Easthampton, Narragansett and Drury. 

“It’s going to be, who’s ready to practice Monday?” Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski said after the Frontier loss. “Unfortunately, the numbers that we have, we have a lot of guys playing both sides of the ball. Hopefully some other kids now are going to have to step up and get ready to play.”

Athol and Franklin Tech each went 2-1 in their non-league slates, and will get a chance to build on that when they square off on Friday at O’Brien Field (more on that matchup later this week). 

The Eagles picked up their second win on Friday with a 14-7 victory over Pathfinder, a game in which Tech ran the ball 52 times for 239 yards. The Eagles have featured Josiah Little all season and he’s delivered, as the junior is already up to 402 yards rushing this season. 

The Franklin Tech defense has been stout all season, holding opponents to an average of under 10 points per game thus far. 

“Our defense played phenomenal tonight,” Eagle coach Joe Gamache said after the Pathfinder win. “They really stepped up and did a lot of good things for us. We had some offensive miscues. Yardage-wise, we did OK, but a couple of costly turnovers. We challenged everybody to step up. We stayed on our blocks, chewed up the yardage, and we finished the game tonight.”

After a pair of wins over Murdock and Pathfinder to open the season, the Bears nearly made it a third win in a row. Athol got the ball back with 10 minutes to play trailing 9-6 and proceeded to march down the field, ultimately earning a first-and-goal with 30 seconds to go. A late pass was intercepted, however, with Lee holding on to win the game. 

“It was a heartbreaking end,” Bears coach Josh Talbot said. “Our kids really gutted it out and made many big plays in the second half, but unfortunately we could not make the money play in the end.”

Sawyer Lefsyk continues to be a problem for opposing defenses while the Athol defense itself hasn’t allowed an opponent go score over 10 points in the three games this fall. 

“Our defense continues to play great football,” Talbot said. “We are really proud of the way that group prepares and executes each week. They were really able to limit the Lee offense and forced a couple of turnovers for us.

“This one stings, but we did learn that this team has a lot of fight in them,” Talbot continued. “We battled through the adverse first half and totally controlled play in the second half. Unfortunately, we fell a little short.”


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