Turners Falls’ Driscoll, Dodge recipients of Anthony ‘Cannon’ Novak Award

  • Turners Falls High School senior John Driscoll (left) and junior Kyle Dodge took home the 59th presentation of the Anthony “Cannon” Novak Award on Sunday at St. Kazimierz Society in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This year’s Turners Falls High School football team may not have won any western Mass. titles. It didn’t even make it to the postseason.

What it did do was lose nearly every starter from the 2016 WMass-title winning team and still manage to come back in 2017 with just 17 players on the roster and win six games. That feat may not be remembered in the same light as the two WMass titles that the team won the past five years, but it was an impressive season nonetheless.

The team wrapped up its season on Sunday at St. Kazimierz Society in Turners Falls with the 59th presentation of the Anthony “Cannon” Novak Award. Senior linebacker/fullback John Driscoll and junior quarterback Kyle Dodge took home the prestigious honor.

Each year the award is presented to at least one football player in honor of Novak, who grew up in the Patch section of Turners Falls and was a standout in four sports — football, basketball, baseball and track & field. Novak graduated in 1936 from Turners Falls and earned the nickname “Cannon” for his speed and strength. He took those traits with him when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and following his career in the service, he moved back to the area before marrying and settling in Connecticut. It was there that he passed away 17 years to the date of the Pearl Harbor bombing, on Dec. 7, 1958, following a battle with leukemia. Turners Falls created the award in his honor and now hands it out to the player or players who exemplify the character and athleticism attributed to Novak during his career.

It is easy to see why the Novak Committee chose the players it did. Any time a team loses players to graduation it looks to the up-and-coming faces to fill in the gaps, but this year’s team had to fill in nearly every gap on the field following a massive graduating class that helped take Turners Falls to last year’s MIAA Division IV-A state semifinals.

Driscoll was a key contributor on both sides of the ball. On offense, the senior served as the blocking back for much of the season but was thrust into a bigger role carrying the ball over the final two games after running back John Torres was lost to injury. Driscoll responded with a 119-yard effort in a win over Pioneer and then rushed for 46 yards and three touchdowns on Turkey Day. He finished the season with 397 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, he was a leader on the team at middle linebacker and finished the season with 173 tackles and two interceptions. He was voted to the Intercounty North All-League team as a linebacker and helped the Turners Falls defense allow the fewest points of any team in the IL North this season. Had Turners Falls hung on to beat Greenfield on Turkey Day, Driscoll also would have certainly collected MVP honors that day as well for his superb two-way play.

“John Driscoll is a true football player, one of the most dedicated players I have ever had the pleasure to coach,” Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe said. “He was a true teammate and would do everything that he could for his team. He was truly a great fullback who enjoyed and took pride in setting the blocks just as much as he did running the ball. On defense, everyone had to know where No. 40 was on the field.”

There may not have been a player who made more of a leap this season from beginning to end than Dodge, who took over as the starting quarterback this season. With a new cast of characters surrounding him, there was no security blanket for the junior to rely on as he adjusted to varsity life, and he struggled a bit early in the season. Dodge completed just 3-of-17 passes for 38 yards through the first three games of the season. That makes the fact that he finished the season 56-of-124 for an eye-popping 1,247 yards all the more impressive. That includes 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions. In the final eight games of the season, Dodge passed for over 1,200 yards and threw 12 touchdowns against one pick.

“Kyle is a good athlete who worked hard early in the season on his throwing motion,” Lapointe said. “He truly became a student of the game and worked hard watching film and trying to find what the defenses were going to give him. He developed into a great leader and motivated his team throughout the practice week and the games. As the season went on, his confidence grew and he was able to lead the offense in the manner that we thought he could.”

The Turners Falls coaching staff also handed out their awards on Sunday. Dodge was named Offensive Player of the Year, while Driscoll took home Defensive Player of the Year honors. Tyler Lavin, who developed into a sturdy offensive and defensive lineman as well as a reliable kicker, was named 12th Man of the Year. Ryan Campbell, who finished the year with 12 catches for 224 yards and also rushed the ball for nearly 100 yards on the season, was named Rookie of the Year, and Hayden Patenaude was named Lineman of the Year.

Tom Gaffigan, the former Mohawk coach and later Pioneer assistant coach, was the guest speaker at the luncheon.