H.S. Football: Sawyer Lefsyk’s game-winning OT touchdown lifts Athol past Franklin Tech, 34-28

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For the Recorder
Published: 10/28/2022 11:24:05 PM
Modified: 10/28/2022 11:23:50 PM

TURNERS FALLS – One certainty has emerged from Athol football's difficult season: Just push the game into overtime, and watch the Bears do their best work.

For the second time this fall, Athol went on the road Friday night and went extra downs to pull out a bang-up 34-28 victory over Franklin Tech in the Intercounty League North finale.

The first time around, at Greenfield on Sept. 30, the game was scoreless after regulation before Sawyer Lefsyk's 10-yard touchdown run secured a 6-0 Athol win. Friday, it took a Bears' comeback from a pair of 16-point deficits, but Lefsyk, a sophomore, was the hero once again with his third touchdown of the evening coming on a fourth-down 1-yard plunge at the end of overtime.

"I'm proud of the team, proud of the blocking, and I'm really happy to get that win," said Lefsyk, who capped off a 34-carry, 163-yard rushing performance. "I was disappointed with those fumbles early, but I think I made up for it. The line was phenomenal. Everyone worked and did their job, and everyone was keeping up their energy."

Aidan Melanson threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jacob Knowles covering 55 and 15 yards. But the Bears didn't have to throw a single pass in the second half or overtime period. Athol held the football for 19 minutes, 37 seconds of the second half's 24 minutes, compared to a mere 4:23 for Tech.

"Offensively, this was as good a rhythm as we've been in," said Athol coach Josh Talbot, whose team improved to 2-6 overall and 2-3 within the IL North. "We missed a bunch of opportunities in the first quarter. We really felt like we could do whatever we wanted. It came down to managing the clock, pounding the football, and our guys up front were incredible tonight. The guys were hungry, they battled, and it was a gutsy effort.

"It's been tough. We've played some good football at times, we've played some really bad football at times, and I'm glad that this group of kids gets to have this experience."

Franklin Tech dropped to 2-6, 1-4 in the IL North, and still has a State Vocational Tournament possibility to shoot for.

The Eagles went out to a 16-0 lead with a pair of touchdowns less than three minutes apart, wrapped around a lost fumble by Lefsyk. Gabe Tomasi threw a 22-yard TD pass to Ethan Smarr, followed by Tomasi's two-point conversion run, for an 8-0 Tech lead with 2:52 left in the first quarter.

Josiah Little (23 carries, team-high 120 yards) then added a 1-yard scoring run with another two-pointer by Tomasi to jump the score to 16-0 only five seconds into the second quarter.

Athol hit back with the first TD connection between Melanson and Knowles with 9:39 left in the half, pulling the Bears to within 16-6. Tech answered with a 60-yard drive, keyed by a 24-yard gain by Little, and Tomasi's 1-yard dive made it a 22-6 game with 4:17 remaining.

The Bears had an apparent 21-yard scoring pass from Melanson to Shea Brennan nullified by an illegal block. Athol stayed with it, though, and Melanson found Knowles in the back left corner of the end zone for 22 yards with only 20 seconds left on the clock.

With a 10-point halftime lead, Franklin Tech also held a slight edge in first-half total offense, 167 yards to 150.

On its first try of the second half, Athol turned the ball over on downs at the Tech 48, but got the ball back one play later when Tomasi fumbled and Anthony Lopez-Hippler recovered at the Athol 48. Eleven running plays later -- with Lefsyk carrying on nine of them -- Lefsyk went in from a yard out, then added the two-pointer, to make it 22-20 with 1:10 to go in the third.

Little carried for 37 yards on Tech's next drive and Tomasi finished it with a 2-yard TD run to open up an eight-point lead for the Eagles, 28-20, with 9:17 to play. The hosts wouldn't see the football again until only 17.9 seconds remained.

In between, Athol mounted a 16-rush, 55-yard drive, all started when Brennan put the Bears in fine shape with a 22-yard kickoff return to their own 45. Lefsyk went the final two yards for the score to draw Athol to within two. The Bears then worked around a Franklin Tech timeout before their two-point attempt, cashed in by Lefsyk to knot the game at 28.

Tech then won the coin toss for overtime and went first on offense from the 10-yard line, but lost a yard over the first three downs and then Tomasi threw incomplete to Nate Fuess in the back of the end zone on fourth down. Athol took over and Lefsyk carried for gains of 2, 3, 4 and finally 1 for the game-winner.

"We had a lot of things clicking for us early. From about halfway through the second quarter, they were just more physical than us. They dominated us on the offensive side," said Eagles coach Joe Gamache. "(Lefsyk) is a tough runner, their linemen got on blocks and stayed on blocks, and blew open holes. Our kids didn't meet their physicality. That's not characteristic of us, but it was tonight."

Athol rushed for an even 200 yards on 50 carries and Melanson added 84 yards on 5-of-8 passing, with Knowles grabbing four catches for 75 yards.

Tomasi completed 4-of-9 passes for 58 yards and added 56 yards on the ground. Smarr had three receptions for 45 yards for the Eagles.


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