High school football preview: Gridiron count drops to six schools

  • Franklin Tech’s Colby Mailloux runs through a tackle from a Belchertown defender during a scrimmage last month. Mailloux is a top returning player for the Eagles at tight end. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier should be at the top of the food chain in the Intercounty League North this fall, according to area coaches. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier varsity football players run though handoff drills during their first practice of the season Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Brendan Driscoll puts a Mohawk Trail practice jersey over his Turners Falls T-shirt during the Turners-Mohawk cooperative’s first practice together last month in Buckland. Staff FILE Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2019 1:32:07 PM

The first week of preseason camp was clouded with uncertainty in Franklin County. How would an overall dearth of football players affect the 2019 season?

The answer came in late August, when Turners Falls High School announced it was suspending its football program due to low numbers. The Powertown applied for a hardship co-op waiver with Mohawk Trail Regional High School, and the two schools were expected to move forward as one team under the Mohawk banner for the fall season.

The shocking decision — the suspension of one of the traditional powers in Franklin County — elicited a strong reaction from area coaches.

“It’s pretty sad to see a program with such rich tradition and history not be able to fill a team,” Franklin Tech head coach Joe Gamache said. “It’s not only a loss to the league, but it's a loss to the area.”

Turners Falls’ late departure has the Intercounty League North Division with one fewer team. The league will operate with seven schools — Franklin Tech, Greenfield, Mahar, Frontier, Athol, Easthampton and newcomer Monument Mountain — while the Mohawk-Turners cooperative will compete in the seven-team Tri-County League alongside Ware, Smith Voke, Palmer, Pathfinder, Drury and McCann Tech.

“Hopefully it’s only temporary,” Mahar head coach Jim Woodward said of the Turners’ suspension. “I’m hoping they come back next year because it’s really too bad. Every one of us could be in that situation any given year.”

Count Athol head coach Bill LaRose among those sad to see Turners’ departure.

“As a coach who has always respected the Turners Falls program, it’s a sad day when a perennial league champion, only a couple years years removed from a state semifinal berth, it’s a sad day to see there’s no Turners Falls football game on the schedule,” LaRose said.

Players to watch

As for the play on the field, Frontier senior Garrett DeForest is the most productive returning player in the Recorder area. As a junior in 2018, the tailback rushed for 1,368 yards and 24 touchdowns to lead the Red Hawks into the postseason. He’ll shift to quarterback in the team’s run-heavy offense, but expect him to have the ball tucked under his arm quite a bit — either under center or out of the shotgun.

DeForest is the area’s only returning 1,000-yard rusher, as Athol’s Mason Barrieau (1,055 yards), Greenfield’s RJ Byrd (2,092) and Turners Falls’ Wyatt Keith (2,355) all graduated.

Greenfield’s Jake Sak takes over at quarterback, and the competitive junior is going to be worth the price of admission. Franklin Tech gets its top pass-catching option in Colby Mailloux back after missing all of 2018 with a torn ACL. He’s a big target over the middle of the field. It could be a good year for receivers around the area, with Mahar’s Charlie Barnes back after finishing in the top five in Franklin County in receptions (24), yards (364) and touchdowns (four) last year.

A new uniform won’t help Jaden Whiting hide from opposing defenses this fall. The Turners Falls senior receiver now takes his talents to the new Mohawk cooperative, where he’ll be looking to catch targets from big-armed quarterback Shawn Davenport. Whiting posted almost identical numbers to Barnes, with 24 receptions for 341 yards and four TDs as a junior. Davenport threw for eight touchdowns and nearly 600 yards last year, and he’s one of the few returning starters at the QB position.

Cold turkey

One of the toughest blows to the 2019 season won’t be fully felt until Thanksgiving.

There will be no Greenfield-Turners Falls football game on Turkey Day for the first time since 1927, and that’s sad news for area gridiron fans. Many in the community begin their holiday watching the community rivals duke it out, before settling into their Thanksgiving with the rest of their traditions to follow.

“It’s going to be almost like a bad dream where you wake up and it’s not there,” explained former Turners Falls head coach Chris Lapointe, who would’ve entered his 10th season as head coach this fall. “I’ve only missed one Thanksgiving game my entire life, when I was coaching at Ludlow. Not to have it, with the community and everything that takes place, Thanksgiving won’t be the same. Because when you grow up in Turners, you want to play football but you want to play in that Thanksgiving game.”

Greenfield and Turners have played some epics over the years, and last year’s game was one of the most memorable in recent years. Host Greenfield held on for a 40-38 victory in one of the colder games the rivalry has seen.

“It’s a traditional rivalry and unfortunately, there won’t be a Thanksgiving Day game this year,” said Greenfield head coach Mike Kuchieski. “It’s sad.”

The rest of the holiday scene will be busy. Mohawk, with Turners players, will travel to play at Frontier in its annual Thanksgiving Eve contest at 6 p.m.

On Thanksgiving morning, there are still two games with local interest. Athol visits Mahar in the oldest Thanksgiving rivalry in the area, and the teams will meet in Orange at 10 a.m. Franklin Tech is set for Year 2 of its new holiday series with Smith Voke, and the Eagles are hoping to get into the win column for the first time after losing last year. That game is also set for 10 a.m.

“I know how special the Athol-Mahar rivalry is so I can’t imagine how the Greenfield and Turners people are feeling about losing one of the oldest rivalries out there,” LaRose said.

The Replacements

With Turners Falls suspending its program in late August, teams with the Powertown on their schedule were forced to scramble.

Five of the six local programs in the Recorder area had Turners on their schedule, all as league opponents in the Intercounty North. Coincidentally, Mohawk did not have a game scheduled against its now-cooperative partner.

All five schools were able to find a replacement for the Thunder. Greenfield actually jumped into the Week 1 spot originally occupied by Turners, as the Green Wave opened against Lee High School. Their bye week is now Week 4, where the first Greenfield-Turners game had been scheduled.

Franklin Tech was set to play Turners in Week 3, and the Eagles will now meet Chicopee High School in a game to be played on Thursday night (Sept. 19) in the Powertown.

Frontier also swapped in Chicopee as an independent game after losing Turners, and the Red Hawks will host the Pacers in Week 8.

Mahar will travel to play the aforementioned Lee in Week 5 as an independent game, while Athol is filling its Week 7 hole in the schedule with a road trip to play at Drury.

 Athol

COACH: Bill LaRose, 6th season

LEAGUE/DIVISION: IL North/8

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 3-8

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: (2010) Lost to Mt. Greylock 34-14 in WMass Div. 3 Super Bowl

ROSTER: Seniors — Issach Bastine (WR/CB), Derek Erali (RB), Logan Wing (OT/DT), Riley Paine (QB/LB). Juniors — Jacob Smith (WR), Keegan Lutz (RB), Christian Casillas (G/LB), Manny O’Lari (OT/DT), Tim Casavecchia (utility). Sophomores — Caleb Cox (QB), Nick Deleo (RB/OLB), Josiah Gauthier (G/LB), Robert Wright-Day (G/LB), Lucas Saisa (C/DT). Freshmen — Jacob Rathburn (G/LB), Damien Menigan (OT/DT), Thomas Seamans (RB/LB), Shea Brennan (WB/S), Vincent Gordon (TE/DE).

OUTLOOK: The Red Raiders must replace the loss of 1,000-yard rusher Mason Barrieau. Lutz had nearly 500 yards and six rushing touchdowns last year as a sophomore. ... Paine opens the year as the starting quarterback. ... The Raiders are off to a tough start to the season with injuries and other issues derailing preseason camp. “It’s going to be a year where we’re going to have to use players creatively,” LaRose said. “We’re going to have to band together as a team and do things we normally don’t have to do.” ... Wing and O’Lari are two-way contributors on the line who will be key figures.

FC Tech

COACH: Joe Gamache, 18th season

LEAGUE/DIVISION: IL North/8

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 3-7

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: (2015) Lost to Lee 25-19 in WMass Div. 6 semifinals

ROSTER: Seniors — Hunter Wozniak, Jacob Gadwah-Alonson, Lucas Upham, Kyle Snyder, Donte Rosewarne, Ian McClure, Colby Mailloux. Juniors — Samuel Lapine, Cameron Tuttle, Brianna Snyder, David Grover, Noah Fuess, Hunter Drost, Austin Demers, Dylan Demers, Joe Boyden, Owen Bashaw, Dylan Houlberg, Ryan Bergmann, Brooks Medeiros. Sophomores — Dylan Mathieu, Christopher Alonson, Jason Zingler, Tyler Whitney, Noah Uzdavinis, Matthew Jordan, Logan Call, Max Bastarache, Robert Arsenault, Chad Adams, Redi pollock. Freshmen — Charlie Boyden, Ryan Demers, Nathaniel Fuess, Dillon Gagnon, Thomas Pekarski, Tanner Rowe, Chris Taylor, Carl Warchol, Brody Williams.

OUTLOOK: The return of Mailloux after tearing his ACL in the opening week of 2018 is a welcomed addition. The 6-foot-3 senior tight end is a game-changer who will give junior quarterback Owen Bashaw a reliable target and security blanket over the middle... Bergmann should see the bulk of the carries in the Franklin Tech backfield, but Gamache said his team will need to gel up front in order to see a step forward offensively. “We’re very inexperienced on the offensive line so how quickly can they adapt to playing at the varsity level,” he said. “Last year we struggled at times to put points on the board. We need to do a better job being a little more consistent.” ... The other side of the ball should be a little more consistent, especially to start the fall. “Defensively, we feel like we have kids that are fairly experienced on that side of the ball,” Gamache said.

Frontier

COACH: Don Gordon, 7th season

LEAGUE/DIVISION: IL North/7

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 6-5

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: (2018) Lost to South Hadley 44-13 in Div. 7 semifinals

ROSTER: Seniors —Rearkeous McMillan (RB/DB), Garrett DeForest (QB/DB), Sam Hebert (RB/LB), Dylan Apanell (OL/DL), Andrew Logan (OL/DL), Jeff Stiles (OL/DL), Hunter Wolfson (OL/DL). Juniors — Ethan Machon (QB/LB), Jake Dodge (RB/DB), Kenny Moulton (RB/LB), Alec Kirkendall (RB/LB), Ethan Russell (OL/DL), Jacob Bryant (OL/DL), Jackie Phong (OL/DL). Sophomores — Iain Spearance (RB/DB), Jack Vecellio (RB/DB), Josh Semaski (RB/DB), Ben Lizotte (RB/DB), Sam Schrieber (QB/DB), Dan Diemand (RB/DE), Brooke Pierce (WR/DB), Mekai Anthony (OL/LB), John Semaski (OL/DL), Gavin Trott (OL/DE). Freshmen — Aiden West (WR/DB), Sean Kirkendall (RB/LB), India Lewis (RB/LB), Ethan Bryant (TE/LB), Conner Hoffman (OL/LB), AJ Mihalak (OL/DL), Matt Stiles (WR/DB), Kyle Baker (WR/DB).

OUTLOOK: DeForest moves under center, and he’ll run the show in the middle of the offense during his senior campaign after amassing 1,368 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground as the primary rusher a year ago. “He’s the playmaker,” said Gordon of DeForest. “We’ve got to get him the ball. But he can throw it, too. He can drill it when we need him to.” … In addition to DeForest, several of last year’s top rushers also return with McMillan, Josh Semaski and Kirkendall all seeing their share of the ball in 2018. “We can spread it around, it’s not a one-man show,” Gordon said, adding that newcomers Vecellio and Dodge could be in the mix. … Phong keys the offensive line at tackle, with John Semaski, Apanell, Logan and Bryant all familiar faces there. Hoffman returns after missing last year with an injury and offers an intriguing target at tight end. … Defensively, Frontier will look differently this fall. “We retooled the whole thing,” said Gordon of the unit. “There’s a lot of new kids learning what they need to do. We’ve been trying a lot of things.”

Greenfield

COACH: Mike Kuchieski, 16th season

LEAGUE/DIVISION: IL North/8

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 7-4

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: (2012) Lost to Mt. Greylock 62-0 in WMass Div. 3 semifinals

ROSTER: Seniors — Kenny Adams (OL/DL), Colby Avery (OL/DL), Esteban Cruz Valentin (RB/LB), Israel Gallardo (WR/DB), Jared Hart (RB/LB), Cam Lackey (OL/DL), Dylan Carlo (OL/DL). Juniors — Brody Baird (OL/DL), Nicholas Bresciano (WR/DB), David Escalona (RB/LB), Shane Kilgour (RB/LB), Elijah LaMagdelaine, Nick Lyons (OL/DL), Mason Meadows (WR/DB), Emanuil Rahubenco (OL/DL), Jake Sak (QB/DB), James Seuffert. Sophomores — Carlos Cardenales (WR/DB), Drew Conant (QB/LB), Aiden Fulton (OL/DL), Trevor Gibb (WR/DB), Andrew Hanley (OL/DL), Andres Hernandez (RB/DB), Dylan Mahar (OL/DL), Robert Provost Jr. (RB/LB). Freshmen — Khalil Bown (OL/DL), Deion Brewington (OL/DL), Xavier Carlo (TE/LB), Eric Duong, Trevor Kuchieski (QB/DB), Ryan Pulizari (WR/DB), Joseph White (WR/LB).

OUTLOOK: After graduating its trio of standout skill-position players from last year (QB Owen Phelps, RB RJ Byrd and WR Danny Vega), the Green Wave will rely on a strong and veteran offensive line to help ease the transition into a batch of new starters behind them. “Experience starts with the offensive line,” Kuchieski said. “Those kids have been there awhile. We’re going to have some growing pains, no doubt about it. But it’s a learning experience. I have all the confidence in the world that we’ll get better day by day, week by week.” … The offensive line is loaded with veterans, with the likes of Avery, Adams, Baird, Dylan Carlo, Lackey and Lyons all in the mix. … Sak takes over as the starting quarterback. “He’s going to be the guy that makes some big plays but we aren’t going to ask him to do too much,” Kuchieski said of Sak. “He just has to go out and do what he’s capable of doing.” … Hart and Provost are in the backfield mix, with Meadows, Pulizari, Cardenales, Bresciano and Xavier Carlo in the wide receiver mix. “That whole backfield and the receivers we’ve got are all first-year varsity players so they’re learning on the fly,” Kuchieski said. “But the work ethic is great. We’ll make mistakes but we’ll try and learn from them.”

Mahar

COACH: Jim Woodward, 2nd season (34th overall)

LEAGUE/DIVISION: IL North/8

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 4-7

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: (2011) Lost to Mt. Greylock 30-6 in WMass Div. 3 semifinals

ROSTER: Seniors – Charlie Barnes (SE/S); Todd Chiasson (G/LB); Peter Tattan (G/LB); Juniors – Colin Boyle (T); Jakob Carron (T); Noaha Chabot (QB/S); Matt Lyesiuk (G/DE); Luke Melanson (TE/DE); Jacob Murphy (G/C/LB); Jake Tenney (HB/C); Ayden Sevigny (HB/C); Eli Spencer (HB/C); Brian Scorb (C/T).  Sophomores – Austin Matthews (FB/LB); Kyle Notre (E/S). Freshmen – Dominic Cacciolfi (HB/C); Jayden Carey (FB/LB); Sam Dejackhone (E/LB); Jeff Kidwell (T); Connor Knetchel (HB/C); Kaleb Lemcke (HB/C); Xander Roberts (T); Connor Sluder (C/DE).  

OUTLOOK: Chabot returns at quarterback after becoming the starter during Week 4 last year. … The Senators graduated their top three rushers from a year ago in Jon Gariepy, Lucas Seney and Joey Brozell. Tenney will get his share of the carries, with Matthews at fullback. Barnes is a top returning skill-position option after catching 24 passes for 364 yards and four TDs a year ago. … Up front, Chiasson sets the tone with Tattan a nice addition after not playing a year ago. … Luke Melanson is the tight end, with Sevigny and Spencer others to watch. … Mahar won its final four games a year ago after an 0-7 start. Woodward hopes the momentum can carry into 2019. “I think they started to buy back into my system, started to figure it out,” he said of the late-season surge. “We gave a couple away early, took us a while to rebound from that. Once we started winning, that was exactly what the doctor ordered.”

Mohawk Trail

COACH: Doug McCloud, 7th season

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County/8

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 1-9

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: (2014) Lost to Turners Falls 26-2 in WMass Div. 6 semifinals

ROSTER: Seniors — Cullen Brown, Aidan Dunca, Robert Goodell, Jaden Kitchen Lipski, Zane Kitchen Lipski, Logan Platek, Evan Shippee, Jaden Whiting, Liam Driscoll, Jaeden Ausikaitis. Juniors — Reese Basara, Shawn Davenport, Cam Lococo, Matthew Pollen, Cody Ryder, Ryan Duclos, Brendan Driscoll. Sophomores — Tyler Matteson, Nathan Woolridge, Anthony Kerivan. Freshmen — Deven Buchanan, Owen Lake, Levin Prondecki, David Damkoehler, JJ Charles.

OUTLOOK: With the addition of nine players from Turners Falls, the Warriors have the potential to compete in the Tri-County League race this fall after capturing just one victory in 2018. ... Davenport sets the tone at quarterback, and he’s got one of the biggest arms in Franklin County. He took all the reps at the position as a sophomore. Davenport was under fire a year ago from opposing defenses but should have an improved line in front of him with the addition of some Turners players. ... Whiting and Lococo are intriguing outside threats and should be dangerous targets for Davenport, while Shippee ran for nearly 500 yards on the ground. Pollen caught eight passes a year ago.


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