Can new alignment derail Turners Falls?

  • Frontier senior captain Seth Gewanter (44) will be a two-way force on a Red Hawks team that should be right in the thick of the Intercounty League title race. Recorder file photo/Micky Bedell

  • Hard-hitting Frontier cornerback Aaron Landry (28), shown tackling Ludlow’s Andrew Conchinha last season, will be back as a fine-tuned senior to wreak havoc upon opposing offenses in the new-look Intercounty League. Recorder file photo/Micky Bedell

  • Frontier Regional High School Redhawks watch defense against Ludlow High School on Friday night at Frontier Regional School. Recorder staff/Micky Bedell

  • Running back R.J. Byrd (34) is still a youngster but should give Greenfield options out of the backfield this season as a sophomore. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Max Pirozhkov of the Greenfield High School football team, intercepts a pass to Steve Lively during practice drills Tuesday September 1. Recorder/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Mahar 33 Clay Richardson. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Turners Falls all-purpose back Tionne Brown (11) is back for his senior year and will be a going concern for opposing Intercounty League defenses whether playing quarterback or anywhere else where he can make a difference with his breakaway talents and versatility. recorder file photo/paul franz

  • TF 11 Tionne Brown. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/2/2016 5:53:51 PM

It’s a brand new Intercounty League this season ... with plenty about which to be excited.

The IL has been transformed into a three-division league, with a pair of five-team divisions (the IL South and IL West) and one including six (the IL North). The makeover was part of western Massachusetts football realignment, which saw the Berkshire League disband and all of its teams move into leagues featuring Pioneer Valley teams. The move was made to try and even the playing field when it comes to postseason qualification and is currently under a one-year trial basis.

“If we have leagues that can be competitive, it’s going to give every team the opportunity to make the playoffs and there should be good competition in the leagues,” Greenfield High School coach and athletic director Mike Kuchieski said back in the spring when the alignments were approved.

The IL North is made up entirely of Recorder-area teams, setting up an exciting time for local rivalries. Frontier Regional School, Greenfield, Turners Falls High School, Mahar Regional School and Athol High School remain in the IL and slot into the North Division, while Franklin County Technical School moves up from the TCL to fill out the six-team division.

The only area team not in the IL North is Mohawk Trail Regional High School, which returns to the IL after a two-year stint in the Tri-County League. Mohawk is in the IL West along with three former Berkshire teams (Drury, Lee and Mt. Greylock Regional high schools), as well as McCann Technical School, which was a perennial TCL power. The IL South contains Amherst Regional, Belchertown, Easthampton, Ludlow and Monument Mountain Regional high schools.

One thing that the new alignment has accomplished is forcing two of the longest tenured Turkey Day rivalries to be played during the regular season. Football fans will want to mark Sept. 30 on their calendars as both Greenfield High School and Turners Falls High School, as well as Mahar Regional School and Athol High School will meet as “regular-season” night opponents. Both of those rivalries will be played again on Thanksgiving Day.

“A lot of the people in town are not so happy because it’s a break in tradition,” first-year Mahar Regional School coach Chris Bailey said, echoing the sentiment of several other area coaches. “We will play whoever is in front of us and we will do the best to win that game. I’m telling the kids, ‘Look, you have the chance to be the first team in history to beat Athol twice in one season.’”

Frontier, Turners Falls and Easthampton tied for the now defunct IL title last season, so Frontier and Turners Falls will have a target on their backs entering IL North play. Both teams will endure some key losses from a season ago, but both do bring back good enough numbers to keep them viable title contenders. Athol High School is an interesting team, having won just one IL game a season ago but returning a lot of players and finishing the year on a four-game winning streak that included a Turkey Day win over Mahar. Franklin Tech has good numbers and should also compete, but the Eagles are moving up from the TCL and many people are looking to see how the Eagles will fare. Mahar has a new coach in Bailey and the former Fronier player has his hands full trying to replace not one but two 1,000-yard running backs from a season ago. Meanwhile, Greenfield struggled with numbers early on (20 players suited up during the first week) and the Wave will have to avoid injuries to be successful.

The regular season kicks off Friday night with independent games, and the league opens on Sept. 23.

Athol (5-6)

This could very well be the year that Athol finally pulls its head above water following three straight sub-.500 seasons. The Red Raiders are also coming off back-to-back 5-6 campaigns, both of which featured late-season magic.

Athol finished the 2014 season with a 5-2 record after losing its first four games and finished the year 5-6. Last fall, Athol again came out sluggish and went 1-6 over its first seven games before rattling off four straight wins to close out the season. Third-year coach Bill LaRose said he is looking for his squad to build off the momentum from last season.

“I think we are still feeding off the energy from that Turkey Day win and that four-game winning streak,” LaRose said. “We had a great winter in the conditioning room, and the summer was well-attended. Our kids are excited and they are gelling as a unit, which is great to see.”

Senior Trevor Mousseau returns to quarterback after taking the reigns early last season. Mousseau finished with 24 completions in 46 attempts for 392 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions. LaRose said his quarterback is looking strong in camp and could have a bigger role in the offense this season. That may not have to happen if LaRose gets production from his four returning backs in senior Tyler Lutz, juniors Nick Casella and Robbie Nelson, and sophomore Mason Barrieau.

“You have to spread the ball around and we have four kids who have all seen time,” LaRose said. “Each player brings a different skill set to the table.”

Nelson is a fullback who pounds the middle and last season led the team with 81 attempts for 630 yards. Casella is more of an all-purpose guy and finished with 370 yards on 50 carries. Lutz and Barrieau are the breakaway threats, and Lutz finished with 301 yards on 66 carries, Barrieau 195 yards on 42 totes. The four backs also combined for 21 receptions for 258 yards. Junior Sean Fisher will also see time after tearing his ACL on a non-contact play on the very first play of 2015 practice.

Senior Isaac Raulston and junior Joey Ricchiazzi will start at receiver this year, and junior Evan Saisa will play tight end and give the team another solid blocker up front.

The line is laden with upper-classmen. Senior Greg Moore will handle the snaps, and classmates Jordan Chapalonis and Jared Cormier will line up at guards. Juniors Kris Selanis and Noah Giuffre will play the tackles.

Defensively, Chapalonis and senior Trevor Curtis will play the tackles, while Saisa and Ricchiazzi will play the ends. Nelson and Casella will be at outside linebacker, and Moore and senior newcomer Duane Smith will man the inside. Barrieau and Lutz will use their speed on the corners, and Raulston will play safety. The defense allowed just 28 total points over the final four weeks of the season.

“I think our kids are ready to accept the challenge,” LaRose concluded. “They are very upbeat and positive.”

FC Tech (8-3)

There’s a new kid on the IL block, and it’s a team that actually has players who play in many of the districts of the other teams in the league.

Franklin Tech, which draws players from throughout the county, makes the move up from the Tri-County League this season after stringing together three consecutive winning seasons, each of which culminated in tournament appearances. Coach Joe Gamache said he is excited for the opportunity to see how his team compares to the other area teams.

“We had a couple of possible destinations when they were restructuring and we’re very happy that we get to play in the IL North for a variety of reasons,” the 15-year coach said. “It’s nice to see how we stack up against Franklin County teams, and it’s also going to be nice not to be spending more time on a bus than on the football field. It’s certainly going to make scouting trips easier.”

Gamache also admitted to some jitters about the move.

“When you are entering a new league and facing some tougher competition, there is a small amount of anxiety,” he said. “But it’s exciting as coaches to up our game a little bit and challenge our kids to up their game, too. This group has been eager for challenges and they’re working hard in practice. They are more of a cohesive unit than what we’ve had, and I think they are very excited for the opportunities. The Tri-County League is a great league, but I think us and McCann had outgrown it.”

Another factor lending to Gamache’s anxiety is that he’s searching for a new quarterback for the first time in a while, after four-year starter C.J. Daignault finally graduated. Daignault rushed for 648 yards last season and passed for nearly 400. Taking over for him is junior Seth Aldrich.

“Aldrich is very athletic and throws the ball well,” Gamache said. “He has a lot of potential to be a solid quarterback. He just needs experience. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts at the varsity level when he meets adversity.”

Making Aldrich’s ascension to varsity a bit easier is the return of senior running back Dylan Mailloux, who rushed for 1,000 yards as a sophomore, despite being derailed by a hairline fracture and later a knee injury. He wound up with just 333 yards last season but those came on just 36 carries for an impressive 9 yards per carry.

“If he was healthy last year, Dylan would have been our workhorse and I’m sure he will get the bulk of the carries, but it’s a shared responsibility,” Gamache said. “He still has to gain a little more confidence in his knee.”

When Mailloux went down last fall, the running duties fell on the shoulders of Tim Momaney and Nate Crocker, who wound up combining for nearly 1,000 yards. They are both gone to graduation.

Junior fullback Spencer Telega should see more carries this year after hauling the ball 15 times for 45 yards as a sophomore. Senior Tyler Sakowicz is more a of scat back, and sophomore Chris Urgiel is also in the mix.

When Aldrich goes to the air he’ll look to senior tight end Caileb Milton and senior receiver Dalton Wesoloski.

Sophomore Sam Trudeau is back at center while senior Jordan Bashaw and junior Dan Momaney return at the guards. Juniors Kurtis Kuenzel and Mike Dobias will start at the tackles, and sohpomore Deven Goshea is in the mix after returning this season from an ACL injury.

Bashaw, Trudeau, Dobias and sohpomore Zachary Taylor will play the defensive tackles, while Milton, Kuenzeland and freshman Colby Mailloux will play the ends. Momaney, Dylan Mailloux and Bashaw will play at inside linebacker, and Wesoloski and Telega will play outside. Sakowicz and Aldrich will by joined by sophomore Jared Bergmann, senior Avery Haskins and freshman Hunter Wozniak in the secondary.

Frontier (8-2)

Frontier met expectations last season.

The Red Hawks came into the season with lofty goals and put together an 8-2 campaign, tying for the Intercounty League title with a 6-1 record.

Frontier found itself in a number of close games early in the season, with the first five games of the year decided by a score or less. The Red Hawks managed to win four of those games, then cruised over the final three games of the regular season to sit at 7-1 going into the postseason. Frontier wound up with the fourth seed in the WMass Division V Tournament and gave Hoosac Valley High School a game before falling 28-6 to the eventual WMass. champ.

The Red Hawks return many of the key pieces that brought them success, and fourth-year coach Don Gordon is looking for his third consecutive winning season.

“We’ve got some kids who have to step up just like some kids stepped up last year,” Gordon said. “We need to rebuild our defense. It looks like we will be giving a lot of different looks on defense.”

Brandon Bryant anchored a Frontier defense that allowed just 49 points in seven IL games last season. With him gone to graduation, the unit will have to rebuild, although bringing back a number of other linemen should make that easier.

Seniors Kade Gewanter and Jon Delaney join junior Matt Carlson as the anchors of the D-line. Juniors Joe Hildreth and Brandon Trueswell also return from last season and will see time up front on defense. Juniors Andre Pribyshchuk, Miguel Aguilera and Nathan Austin are all new to varsity line play.

Seniors Seth Gewanter, Joe Morawski and Luke Parsons will be joined at linebacker by junior Steve Worthley, a unit a that has the makings of strength. Senior Dalton DeForest and juniors Pat McGranaghan and Kiernan Freeman also return and will see time at linebacker. The secondary returns senior Myles Freeman (safety) and junior Aaron Landry (corner), while seniors Ryan Olmstead and Alperen Yildiz both return to the team and will compete with junior Matt Hildreth.

Myles Freeman gets the nod at quarterback this season after starting the year as the starter last fall. Freeman broke his shoulder in the second game and did not return until after the postseason. He completed 12-of-20 passes for 103 yards and two TDs to start the year and is looking to have a productive senior season.

“He’s a good leader, he can throw and he’s got some good wheels, too,” Gordon praised.

Cole Price and Matt Hildreth will back up Freeman.

The team also returns three top running backs in senior Seth Gewanter and juniors Landry and Worthley. All three finished with over 500 yards last season, giving the Red Hawks the ability to keep their legs fresh.

“We stress team here. We don’t have a feature back. We take what the defense gives us,” Gordon said.

Gewanter did lead the team in carries (147) and rushing yards (857) last season, but Landry (100 carries, 684 yards) and Worthley (87 carries, 542 yards) were not far behind. DeForest will also see time in the backfield.

Senior Morawski moves from the offensive line to tight end and will give the team another solid blocker up front. Kade Gewanter joins Delaney, Parsons and Carlson as the four returning starters up front. McGranaghan, Joe Hildreth, Trueswell, Pribyshchuk, Aguilera and Austin are all in the mix. Price and Kiernan Freeman will also play tight end for the team. Seniors Olmstead and Yildiz will play at receiver

Greenfield (3-8)

There will be plenty of space on the Greenfield sideline this season.

The Green Wave dressed just 20 players for practice last week, making them the IL’s smallest team in terms of numbers. That does not bode well for a team that finished at the bottom of the IL last season with a 1-6 record. Greenfield did finish strong, beating Pioneer in its second-to-last game before narrowly losing to Turners Falls, 14-13, on Turkey Day.

Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski, who enters his 13th year with the team, said that despite the low turnout, he expects his team to be competitive every week.

“I think we’ve got the best we have in the school,” he said. “We have great kids and they’ve had great practices. These kids want to be here and they are working hard. They are on time and they are good, young men. We also have eight freshmen out, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, we might have to ask some of them to get in right now.”

Senior Tyler Miner and sophomore Owen Phelps are battling for the starting quarterback job after Max Pirozhkov graduated from a season ago. Miner did see limited action last season, completing 4-of-10 passes.

“They don’t have any varsity experience and are being thrown into the fire,” Kuchieski said. “It’s going to be a grind for them, but we are asking them to take care of the ball, become leaders and make good decisions.”

Seniors Elijah Brown and Tyler Townsley will start at running back. Pirozhkov led the Wave in rushing last fall, but Townsley was the leading back with 50 carries for nearly 200 yards. Sophomores R.J. Byrd and Nate Haselton will join freshmen Jared Hart and Cam Rice as other options in the backfield.

Seniors Jesus Rodriguez and Collin Kosuda will start at wide receiver. Kosuda is a transfer from South Hadley High School and will furnish immediate help.

The offensive line is still being juggled around, but Kuchieski said he figures to use a number of players. Sophomores Dylan Duclos and Vincent Brown join juniors Laz Santiago, Marty Brown, Colin Cloutier and Matt Griswald up front. Freshmen Anthony Hurd, Kenny Adams, Cam Lackey and Colby Avery are also in the mix.

“We have some offensive linemen who can play and I think the offense is going to come,” Kuchieski said. “Colin Cloutier is going to be a leader on the line, and we might be able to get some push up front, which will help us do some great things. I think we can do some good things if we don’t get injured.”

Defensively, Greenfield was not terrible last season, holding eight of 11 opponents under 20 points. That included holding down eventual WMass Division IV champion Lee in a 12-6 loss, and holding Turners Falls to 14 points on Turkey Day.

“Defense was not our problem,” Kuchieski said. “Coach (Al) Dean has been doing this forever. He gets the right people in the right spots and we’ve done a nice job defensively.”

The offensive linemen will also play defensive line, while Cloutier, Townsley, Haselton and Bird will play at linebacker. Kosuda, Rodriguez, Miner, Phelps and Rice will play in the secondary.

Mahar (7-4)

Chris Bailey takes over as varsity coach at Mahar this season and he has his work cut out.

The 1999 Frontier graduate has been teaching English at Mahar for the past eight years, spending one year at the high school and the previous seven in the middle school. He is moving back to the high school this season.

He also served as middle school football coach for a couple of seasons before moving to the varsity team as an assistant when Greg Scotland took over four years ago. Scotland retired from coaching after last season and Bailey, a running back and linebacker for Dick Howe at Frontier, takes over.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Bailey said. “Greg had known he was going to do it for only a couple of years and he approached me and told me to start thinking about it. They wanted someone invested in the school and I want to stay here.”

Bailey takes over a team in transition with a number of losses in the backfield, at receiver and on the line. With only 26 kids out for the team, Bailey has some holes to fill.

The most glaring losses come in the form of Malik Adams and Clay Richardson, both of whom rushed for 1,000 yards last season.

“Those two guys have been playing those positions for a couple of years and it leaves a giant hole,” Bailey said.

Bailey has a number of backs competing. Junior Ryan Donaldson and sophomore Lucas Seney are both competing for time along with sophomore Jordan Desosiers and senior Miller Richardson. Sophomore Dylan Castine is in the mix as well, and so is classmate John Gariepy, a Narragansett Regional High School transfer who’ll see time.

“I have five or six sophomores and juniors who are all athletic kids, so we’ll see who earns time there,” Bailey said of the crowded backfield. “Greg ran a lot of multiple sets, but with me it’s more power football. When you have a lot of similar guys, you can keep fresh guys in there and that gives you an advantage.”

Junior Sam Paul returns to quarterback this season and will be backed up by Desrosier and Richardson. Junior Hugo Frost will start at tight end, and senior Jake Lacasse will start at wide receiver.

Senior Brandon Burke will anchor the offensive line, which lost three starters from last year. Classmates David Dexter, John Nye and Chad Marcoux will also start up front, along with junior Cole Emery. Junior Nick Sharp is a newcomer but is a strong, athletic player with proven track & field success. Freshman Peter Tatton is also in the mix.

The defense still has question marks. Sharp and Tatton will start at tackle, with Marcoux and Frost at the ends. Donaldson and Seney will line up at inside linebacker, while any of the other running backs could see time outside. Paul and Castine will play the corners, and Lacasse will start at safety.

Turners Falls (7-4)

Turners Falls has been the consistent favorite to win the IL in recent seasons, and there is no reason to bet against the Indians hanging another banner this fall.

With a tie for the IL crown last season, the Powertown clinched its third straight IL crown and made its fourth appearance in the WMass Tournament. One aspect that did not go the Indians’ way last fall was failure to play in the WMass Division IV championship game for the first time during their current tournament run, suffering a 14-13 loss to McCann Tech.

“That has been our drive-through camp,” Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe said as he enters his seventh season. “The kids understand that stuff was left on the field last season and we could have done better. They know last year was last year, but they do use that as a driving force during camp when they maybe don’t feel like doing something.”

The Indians did close the season on a high note, beating cross-town rival Franklin Tech and then earning a 14-13 win over Greenfield on Turkey Day.

The Indians lost just five players from a season ago, including linemen Cullen Wozniak and Colby Dobias, as well as all-purpose player Jalen Sanders, who finished with over 1,000 combined rushing and receiving yards.

The good news is that the Indians do return 1,000-yard rusher Quinn Doyle, a senior who led the team with 1,162 yards on 226 carries. He capped a fantastic season with a 215-yard Turkey Day performance that earned him MVP honors.

“If we are going to have any success, we know Quinn is going to have to have another big year,” Lapointe said. “He really grew last year and he is having a great camp. He is seeing holes better and it’s great to see his continued growth.”

Junior John Driscoll returns to fullback, while senior Jack Darling will be a utility back after gaining nearly 300 yards rushing last season as well as catching three passes for 128 yards. All three of his catches went for touchdowns. Senior Will Roberge and sophomore John Torres will also see backfield duty.

The quarterback job is once again up for grabs between incumbent Tionne Brown and Ricky Craver, who has been in the mix to win the job each of the past two years but has been derailed by injuries. Both are seniors. Brown finished with 23 completions on 71 passes last season for 448 yards with seven touchdowns with seven interceptions and was replaced by Trevor Mankowsky late in the season.

“Tionne and Ricky are both great kids and great athletes and they are taking this in stride,” Lapointe said. “They are pushing each other and helping each other, and they both know that whoever doesn’t get the QB job will fit in elsewhere.”

Seniors Nick Croteau and Owen Ortiz return as receivers and both should see more targets with Sanders out of the picture. Senior Mike Babcock will also see time out wide. Driscoll, Darling and Torres will all see time at tight end.

The offensive line has three returnees in seniors Ricky Smith (center), Tahner Castine (guard) and Kyle Bergmann (guard). Sophomores Reilan Castine and Dominic Carme will start at the tackles.

Defensively, the Indians allowed the fewest points in league play, allowing 45 in seven games. Smith, Reilan Castine and Carme will play defensive tackle, and Bergmann and Ortiz will play the ends. Darling and Doyle will play outside linebacker, and Tahner Castine and Driscoll will line up inside. Craver and Croteau will start at corner, and Brown will start at safety. Sophomore Kyle Dodge will also see time at corner.

IL West

The IL West figures to be a competitive league with three former Berkshire teams (Mt. Greylock, Lee and Drury) joining TCL upstarts McCann Tech and Mohawk.

Mohawk figures to struggle a bit this season after struggling last fall in the TCL with a 2-9 record. Things won’t get any easier for the Warriors in the IL West.

Mt. Greylock and Lee High School enter the season as the favorites in the West despite both teams having to replace three-year starting quarterbacks. Lee has to replace Cam Abderhalden, who helped lead the Wildcats to the WMass Division IV title last fall. The Wildcats will start Homer Winston in his place this season and still have running back/wideout Mike Hurley, and wide receiver/tight end Patrick Finnegan.

Greylock has to replace quarterback Brodie Altiere but is strong at the other skill positions. Still, in an offense that runs the spread offense and likes to throw, replacing Altiere will not be easy. Pat Storie returns at running back, while Sean McCormack and Brandon Condon are both back at wide receiver.

McCann Tech also has to replace a quarterback, as Mike Ferrara will take over for Nick Lincoln under center. The WMass Division IV runner-up Hornets do return running back Dakota Volpe to help Ferrara make the transition.

Drury could struggle this season. Top players are wide receiver Hayden Bird and linebacker Alex Griffis.

Mohawk (2-9)

After a three-year hiatus, Mohawk is back in the IL.

The Warriors spent the past three years in the TCL and the first two ended in tournament appearances. Last season was not as kind to Mohawk, which underwent a lot of turnover from the previous year and struggled to a 2-9 finish. Thanksgiving Eve was not very kind to Mohawk, either, and the team suffered a 46-6 loss to Frontier.

Things don’t plan to get much easier this year in the top-heavy IL West, but fourth-year coach Doug McCloud said that crying about his schedule isn’t going to get him anywhere.

“When I was in high school, Lee and Mt. Greylock were in the IL so it’s not new territory,” he began. “The Berkshire Division has always been a much stronger division, but they put Mohawk in this division and we are going to play them. I am going to do my homework, prepare my guys, and play whoever is on our schedule.”

Mohawk does start the season with three former TCL foes, and also has Pioneer on the schedule late in the season.

The Warriors will start the third different quarterback in three years, as junior Kameron Hoff takes over under center. Hoff saw a tiny bit of time at the position last fall but will assume the starting role this year.

“He has stepped up and done a nice job in practice,” McCloud said. “He’s a smooth kid. He’s learning and doing everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s really come a long way.”

Hoff will hand the ball off to primary back Johnny Herbert, a senior who saw time last fall with 153 yards on 19 carries.

“He is not too big but he runs really well,” McCloud said.

Junior David Hobbs and sophomores Jordan Grenier and Ryan Walker will also see carries, although the three combined for zero carries last season, as each is new to varsity. Junior Kaleb Fitzgerald and sophomore Mason Biagini will handle the fullback position.

“We have to be able to run off-tackle,” McCloud explained. “That’s our offense. If we can’t run off tackle, we are going to be in trouble.”

Junior Brady McCloud, the coach’s son, will start at center, while seniors Adam Hallenbeck (guard), Bruin Pratt (tackle) and John Demich (tight end) will each line up on the right side of the line. Juniors John Schutze (guard), Jameson Pecor (tackle) and Dominic Ramachi (tight end) will line up on the left.

Mohawk will use many of the same players on defense, where McCloud had just 21 dressed last week. Pratt and Brady McCloud will play tackle, while Pecor and Demech will play the ends. Schutze and Fitzgerald will play outside linebacker, and Hallenbeck and Biagnini will play inside. Herbert and Hobbs will play the corners, and Hoff will start at safety.

“Everything is won and lost at the line,” McCloud concluded. “If we can’t block and can’t tackle, it’s going to be a long year. I think we are going to get stronger as we play more.”

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