Slow start dooms Eagles, 20-16

For the Recorder
Friday, November 10, 2017

PALMER — There was a lot on the line for the Eagles Friday night, and in the end, it was a case of too little, too late.

In an MIAA assigned independent tilt, the Franklin County Technical School football team nearly overcame a listless beginning with a fierce second-half comeback, but ultimately fell, 20-16, to host Palmer High School on the frozen tundra of Legion Field.

The loss deals a serious blow to the Eagles’ chances of reaching the Small School Vocational Football Tournament.

Trailing by four with just over a minute to go in the contest, the Eagles recovered a Palmer fumble at the Tech 30 yard-line and had a chance to complete the comeback bid, albeit with 70 yards to go. On third-and-3, quarterback Seth Aldrich handed the ball to running back Bailey Young, who launched a pass down the right sideline that came down in the hands of Palmer’s Eddie Jusko, who just managed to keep one foot in bounds to complete the interception. Two Panther kneel-downs later, the game was in the books with the 20-16 final.

“We played about 21 minutes of a 44-minute game,” said Eagles’ head coach Joe Gamache. “I’m proud of the way we battled back, but you’re not going to beat a good football team if you don’t play a complete game.”

On what was a bitterly cold and windy night, the teams traded interceptions on each of their first possessions. The Eagles then had a forgettable possession in which they lost 15 yards on three plays, and were forced to punt the ball to the Panthers.

Taking over on its own 41, Palmer put together a 59-yard scoring drive that took up the remainder of the opening stanza and the first two minutes of the second. The 10-play march ended with a 6-yard touchdown strike from Panther quarterback Jeff Pardo to wideout Tyler Placanico, and after the two-point try failed, it was 6-0 Palmer.

The teams then traded scoreless possessions, but on fourth-and-14 from its own 46, Palmer pinned the Eagles at their own 6-yard line with a punt that just kept rolling.

Tech (5-5) could only manage a yard in three plays and was forced to punt it back to the Panthers from the end zone. The kick hit at about the 30, but bounced backwards, and the Panthers were set up with a short field at the Eagles 25. On the first and only snap of the possession, Pardo found tight end Dylan Tenczar over the middle, and he bulled in for the score. Pardo then hit Placanico for the conversion, and it was 14-0.

Tech appeared to be about to cut into the lead as the first half wound down, but an Aldrich pass to Colby Mailloux was ruled complete at the 1, and a vicious hit by multiple Palmer defenders jarred the ball free, and the Panthers pounced on it in the end zone for the touchback, and the score stayed 14-0 at the break.

Things got even worse for the Eagles as the second half got underway, as Placanico fielded the kickoff at his own 15, and first broke left, then back to the right, emerging out of a slew of bodies and taking the ball all the way for a touchdown.The conversion failed, but the Panthers had a commanding 20-0 advantage.

The shock of that play seemed to send a jolt through the Franklin Tech players, and they responded with their best sustained drive of the night, going 65 yards on 13 plays, all runs. The Eagles found paydirt on a fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line as Spencer Telega banged it in up the middle. Young then added the two-pointer, and it was 20-8.

The Eagles appeared to recover the ensuing onside kick, but it was ruled an illegal touch, and the ball went back to Palmer at its own 45. This would end up working in the Eagles favor, however, as on second-and-5 from midfield, Pardo was picked off by the Eagles Tim Fritz, who returned it 61 yards to the house. Young again banged in the two-pointer, and with 4:02 left in the third, it was 20-16.

Early in the fourth, Tech looked as if it would take the lead, as it worked its way inside the Panthers’ 10. A fourth-and-3 from the 5 was stuffed by a wall of Palmer defenders led by Riley Williams, however, and Palmer took over on downs, seemingly dooming the Eagles.

The Palmer fumble with a minute remaining gave Tech brief hope for a miracle, but it was not to be, and the Panthers emerged victorious.

The Eagles still maintain a small chance at a berth in the Small School Vocational field, but Gamache described it as a very unlikely outcome.

If the Eagles do not make it into the field, their next and final contest of the year will be in Northfield, Thanksgiving Day, against Pioneer Valley Regional School at 10 a.m.