Ludwig theft brings Tech back for thrilling 24-20 Senior Day win

  • Franklin Tech’s Chris Ludwig (54) recovers a loose ball and runs it back for a game-winning, 53-yard touchdown against Mahar in fourth quarter of Tech’s 24-20 football win Saturday in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Franklin Tech’s Jared Bergmann (7) intercepts a pass intended for Mahar’s Hugo Frost (85) at the end of the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Mahar quarterback Sam Paul (7) runs past Franklin Tech defender Dan Momaney (75) for a touchdown in the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Mahar’s Aaron Hendry (25) stretches out for a tackle with Charlie Barnes (5) against Franklin Tech’s Bailey Young (24) in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Mahar running back Jon Gariepy (20) runs past Franklin Tech defender Tim Fritz (11) during the second quarter Saturday, Oct. 28, in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Franklin Tech’s Bailey Young (24) attempts to break the hold of Mahar defender Nick Sharp (77) on a run in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Mahar quarterback Sam Paul (7) throws down field against Franklin Tech in the second half on Saturday, Oct. 28, in Turners Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

For The Recorder
Sunday, October 29, 2017

TURNERS FALLS — Chris Ludwig got to live out every defensive football player’s dream Saturday afternoon. The only hitch in the script? He scored the game-winning touchdown against his hometown team.

Ludwig’s Franklin County Technical School squad rallied from a 20-8 halftime deficit, blanking Mahar Regional School over the second half, and withstood a frantic last-second Mahar drive that ended just shy of the goal line to post a thrilling 24-20 Intercounty League North Division victory.

Leading 20-16 midway through the fourth quarter, and having just benefited from a personal-foul call against Tech that put the ball at the Eagles’ 40, Mahar (2-5, 2-4 IL North) set up in a shotgun formation on first down. But the high snap from center popped off the hands of Senators quarterback Sam Paul, allowing Ludwig, barreling in from his outside-linebacker position, to pluck the ball down out of midair and take off from the Tech 47.

“I took a yard deeper to read it, and I saw the ball tip and I grabbed it,” said Ludwig, a senior from Orange. “Earlier today, I said if I get an interception or anything, I’m running as fast as I can, as fast as I ran in my life. (Mahar) is my home team, and I just wanted to do something to remember against them.”

Fifty-three yards later, and untouched to the end zone, Ludwig had the go-ahead touchdown for the Eagles (4-4, 3-3 IL North). Spencer Telega added his second two-point conversion run of the day to bump the score to 24-20 with 5:34 on the clock.

“It’s gotta be a great feeling for him,” said Eagles coach Joe Gamache of Ludwig. “He grew up with all the kids on that side. He’s such a likable kid, a hard-working kid, and this was his day. This was his moment, and it was great for him.

“The kids stepped up and played a much more physical second half. I think we sort of wore them down, maybe surprised them a little bit, because momentum was heavily in their favor at halftime. For the second week in a row, we battled — the difference was this week, we actually finished. The kids chose a different ending.”

On Mahar’s next possession, the Eagles’ Jared Bergmann came up with an interception of Paul at the Tech 26 with 1:52 remaining. The hosts couldn’t move the ball and Mahar stopped the clock twice with timeouts, forcing a Tech punt which Seth Aldrich aired out 45 yards to the Mahar 25. A pair of sacks, an incompletion and a false-start call set up fourth-and-26 back at the 9, when suddenly Paul and receiver Aaron Hendry produced instant lightning to flip the field for the Senators.

First, the two hooked up for a 42-yard pass to the Tech 49. Paul spiked the football to stop the clock, then hit Hendry again for 35 yards down the left sideline. From the Tech 14, with time left for only one snap, Paul threw toward Hugo Frost in the front right corner of the end zone, but the pass missed connections as the clock hit triple zeroes.

Before the two long bombs from Paul to Hendry, the Senators had managed only 25 yards of offense in the entire second half – that coming after a 193-yard first half that propelled the visitors into their 12-point lead.

“I would have liked to have one more shot at it. A little extra time, or one timeout, would have been great, but at that point we didn’t have it,” said Mahar coach Chris Bailey. “We’re lucky enough to have a senior quarterback that can run the offense pretty well. We’ve got a couple of athletes on the outside, and Aaron Hendry got behind some guys and made a couple of nice catches.

“I thought we did a good job dominating the line of scrimmage in the first half, and they did a better job in the second half. (Tech) is not a team that’s going to roll over. The bottom line was we didn’t score a point in the second half, and I thought that was related to our effort.”

The Eagles went right down the field on the game’s opening series, using a fake punt and a 25-yard completion from Aldrich to Bergmann to keep the drive going, before losing the ball on downs at the Mahar 14. From there, the Senators went 86 yards in 11 plays, keyed by 50 rushing yards from Jon Gariepy, whose 21-yard scoring run on an option pitch from Paul put Mahar up 6-0 with 57.3 seconds to go in the first quarter.

Tech answered immediately, starting from midfield on a squibbed kickoff, and used the tip drill to get on the board. On third-and-9 from the Mahar 37, Aldrich lofted a pass down the right sideline to Bergmann, in a battle with defender Paul. The ball deflected into the air and fell into the waiting hands of Colby Mailloux, a couple of yards farther downfield, and Mailloux coasted into the end zone to complete the 37-yard scoring play. Aldrich then ran in the two-pointer for an 8-6 Eagle lead with 9:12 to go in the half.

Once again Mahar went long-field, this time 68 yards in nine plays, the biggest a 36-yard keeper by Paul that put the Senators at the Tech 24. On third-and-1 from the 3, Paul took it in over the left side for the go-ahead score, and Gariepy’s two-pointer made it a 14-8 game at the 4:14 mark.

After a Tech punt and Gariepy’s 32-yard return to the Eagle 43, Mahar was able to beat the clock before the half. Paul’s 22-yard gain moved the Senators to the 1 and Lucas Seney dove in from there with 24.7 seconds to play, putting the Senators up 20-8 at the break.

The momentum shifted from there, once Mahar went three-and-out to begin the second half. Tech drove 80 yards in 14 plays, including a 17-yard pass from Aldrich to Bergmann and Telega’s 21-yard toss sweep that got the Eagles down to the Mahar 3. Two plays later, Telega went in from the 1, then added the two-point conversion run, as Tech pulled to within 20-16 with 3:37 left in the third.

Another Mahar punt allowed Tech to advance from its own 6 all the way to the Senators 40, but Mahar held on fourth-and-2 to force a turnover on downs – setting the stage for the critical bad snap and Ludwig’s grab and winning runback.

After both had topped 100 rushing yards last week in a one-point loss to Turners Falls High School, the Eagles’ rushing tandem of Bailey Young and Telega, both somewhat banged up Saturday, managed 82 and 77 yards respectively. Aldrich completed 5-of-11 passes for 104 yards, with Bergmann (42 yards) and Mailloux (37) the top receivers.

Gariepy finished with a game-high 90 yards for Mahar and Paul was right behind with 88. Paul also threw for 100 yards on 6-of-12 passing, with Hendry collecting 77 of those yards on the two last-minute bombs. The Senators finished with a narrow 295-265 edge in total offense.

“On Senior Day, they could have got caught up in the fact that it’s emotional,” said Gamache. “Instead, they chose to play a good brand of football to finish it out for us. We’re a pretty well-rounded team when we come to play.”

Next up comes a week of assigned games for both teams, with Franklin Tech also still looking toward a possible appearance in the state vocational football playoffs. The Eagles play Friday night at Smith Vocational High School in Northampton, while Mahar takes a trip to Ludlow High School Friday night.