Late score lifts Mahar over Ludlow, 44-36

For The Recorder
Friday, November 03, 2017

LUDLOW — The Senators may not be the best team in Western Massachusetts, but they sure as heck are one of the most exciting.

In an MIAA-assigned matchup between former league rivals, the Mahar Regional School football team took to the road Friday night and beat host Ludlow High School, 44-36, in a down-to-the-wire thriller.

With the contest all knotted up at 36, the Senators started their last drive of the evening in good field position at the Ludlow 46, thanks to a nice return of a short kickoff by Sam Paul.

With just a tick under three minutes remaining in regulation, Mahar would turn to featured running back Jon Gariepy, who carried the ball on the drive's first five plays, tallying 40 yards and setting up first-and goal at the 6. Paul, the quarterback, would do the rest, carrying it to the 1 on second-and-five and finishing it off with a 1-yard keeper with just 37 seconds remaining. He would also add the extra two points on the conversion for the 44-36 lead and final.

Mahar's second-year head coach Chris Bailey returned to the scene of his first career victory, a 20-7 win last September, and was pleased with the way his team played Friday, even more so with the growth he's seen in the squad over the course of the season.

"Wow, we're certainly a team that has to come out and play a full 44 minutes every week," said Bailey. "I'm so proud of these guys. They come out and give it all they've got every time they take the field."

Things did not look good for the Senators early. Gariepy took the opening kickoff for a 15-yard gain, but fumbled the ball after a hard hit by Ludlow defenders. The Lions recovered at the Mahar 35, and four plays later, led 6-0 when Justin DeBarge hit Tod Holloway with a 20-yard touchdown strike.

The Lions would take that lead into the second frame, but it would not last for long. On the fourth play of the quarter, Paul found Lucas Seney out of the backfield for a three-yard score. Aaron Hendry hauled in the two-pointer, and Mahar had an 8-6 advantage.

After trading scoreless drives, Ludlow started its next possession at its own 15. DeBarge handed the ball to Jamonte Beckett, who was forced to run backwards by the swarming Mahar defense, and was ultimately taken down in the end zone by Hugo Frost for a safety.

With a 10-6 lead, the Senators got the ball right back on a free kick, and Gariepy returned it 55 yards to the Lions’ 5. Paul would plunge in from a yard out three plays later, and it was 16-6 Senators. 

Ludlow (2-7) closed the gap on a 44-yard touchdown pass from DeBarge to Holloway, and after the successful two-point play, it was 16-14 Senators at the half.

The Lions would strike quickly in the third, with DeBarge taking in a four-yard keeper with 8:37 showing on the clock. The point-after failed, and it was 20-16 Lions.

Mahar answered right back, with Paul finding Frost open over the middle, and Frost rumbled in for a 40-yard touchdown. The two-point try failed, and Mahar was up 22-20.

The teams would trade touchdowns before the quarter was over, first another connection between DeBarge and Holloway, this time for 13 yards. Robert Gregory ran it in for the extra two, and it was a 28-22 Ludlow lead. 

Gariepy would answer right back, adding six points on a 29-yard run down the left sideline. The two-pointer failed, and the teams entered the final stanza tied at 28.

Mahar took a 36-28 lead on Frost’s second touchdown reception of the evening, this one for 54 yards, followed by a Gariepy two-point play.

Ludlow would not go quietly, however, as DeBarge again found Holloway for a three-yard score with just over three minutes left. DeBarge then hit Carson Kowalski for the tying two-point conversion, tying it up at 36 and setting up Mahar's last-minute heroics.

With two games remaining, Mahar sports a 3-5 record, and was competitive even in its losses. If the Senators can win out, they would end up with a .500 record, something Bailey and his squad will strive to attain.

"It's definitely a goal of ours," said Bailey. "Obviously you don't go into a season looking to go .500, but as the season goes on, you readjust your goals. We’ll continue to give all we've got in these last two games."

Mahar will find out next week's opponent Sunday, when the MIAA announces non-playoff contests. The Senators will finish their season against rival Athol High School in their annual Turkey Day battle.