School Football Previews: Green Wave splashes into Easthampton

  • Dangerous Greenfield running back RJ Byrd makes a defender miss last week in a loss to Franklin Tech. The Green Wave will try to right the ship tonight in Easthampton. Recorder FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Greenfield wideout Daniel Vega stiff arms an opponent during the first half last Friday night’s loss to Franklin Tech in Greenfield. Tonight in Easthampton, the visiting Green Wave will try to get back on the winning track. Recorder FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Greenfield QB Owen Phelps rolls right with running back RJ Byrd running interference and fullback Nate Haselton on the ground throwing a block. All three will be in action tonight in Easthampton. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/5/2017 11:06:03 PM

Just when you thought the WMass football playoff picture was beginning to take shape, a night like this past Friday happens. Enter chaos.

Franklin County Technical School’s 32-14 win over Greenfield High School muddied what had been a developing playoff picture in Division VIII and also helped open the door for a number of teams that may have already had their backs against the wall. The WMass Football Committee has not yet released the official numbers.

That makes every game important for those teams with one or two losses to their names as we kick off Week 5 of the high school football season. The local slate features five games, including four on Friday night, and four of the five games have playoff implications.

Greenfield travels to White Brook Middle School in Easthampton to face Easthampton High School tonight at 7 in a battle of 3-1 teams that can ill-afford to lose. The loser of tonight’s game will have a tough hill to climb in terms of postseason qualification.

Frontier Regional School hosts upset-minded Franklin County Technical School tonight at 7 in another game that could produce a loser that’s all but eliminated from postseason contention. Turners Falls High School is also clinging to playoff hopes by a thread and can’t afford a loss when it hosts a Mahar Regional School team that has been playing well.

The one game of the night with little playoff implications is in Buckland, where Mohawk Trail Regional High School hosts Athol High School in what should be a tight game.

On Saturday, Pioneer Valley Regional School looks to keep its postseason hopes alive when it hosts Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School at 2 in Northfield.

A week ago, Greenfield seemed firmly entrenched in the postseason picture. But that was before last Friday’s loss to Franklin Tech, which suddenly has the Wave in as much of a must-win situation in which a team can find itself in Week 5. A second loss would put Greenfield in dangerous waters as far as the playoffs are concerned. A loss is not a death sentence, but it would imperil the Wave’s chances.

“We can’t worry about that,” Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski said of the postseason. “We can only worry about our next opponent.”

Worry they should. Easthampton is the only team in the Intercounty North League without a league loss this season, although the Eagles narrowly saved their playoff hopes one week ago when they needed a late touchdown against Athol High School to earn a 20-17 victory over the Red Raiders. Easthampton lost its season-opener to Taconic and can ill-afford a second loss as it battles for a playoff spot in the Division V playoffs (the second-highest division in western Mass.).

The Easthampton offense has several options in the backfield as Ish Akanour, Sopie Pek and David Helems are each capable of churning up big gains. The Eagles also have some big men on the line, which won’t make bringing down the backs any easier.

“They have a lot of different weapons on that team,” Kuchieski said. “We are going to have to do a great job tackling and doing our jobs.”

That’s something the Green Wave did not do last when it was beaten by Franklin Tech. Kuchieski said there wasn’t one factor he could point to as a weakness in the loss, and that it wasn’t a case of his kids not showing up because they thought they were going to win, but rather the team struggled against a solid Franklin Tech squad.

“I think we showed up last week. Franklin Tech took it to us,” he explained. “We are on to this week. I’ve said that we are trying to get better every week. That’s something we’ve done since Day 1. And last week we were not successful in getting better.”

Greenfield will look to get back on track offensively tonight, although running back RJ Byrd still managed to rush for 174 yards last week, bringing his season total to an area-leading 727 yards on the season to go with six touchdowns. Quarterback Owen Phelps had his worst performance of the season, completing just 3-of-8 passes (38 percent) for 23 yards and an interception. Prior to the Franklin Tech game, Phelps had developed into one of the top passers in the area in his first season as varsity starter.

Easthampton has a tough defensive line and talented linebackers, which should make for tough sledding for Byrd and company.

While the Green Wave struggled on both sides of the ball last week, the most noticeable area of struggle was on the defensive side of the ball, where Greenfield had been very solid through the first three weeks, allowing 28 points total (22 in regulation) as the Wave began 3-0. The defense will be tested again this week.

“I think after losing the way we did and then playing one of the best teams in western Mass. as far as small schools, we are going to need to have a great effort by everybody on the team,” he said.

The teams did not play last season (because Easthampton was in the Intercounty League South for one season) but played all three years prior (when the Eagles moved up to the IL from the Tri-County League) and the Eagles won them all by a cumulative 119-30 score, pitching shutouts in each of the past two meetings. Prior to that three-game stint, the teams had not met since 2008, when the Green Wave last beat Easthampton, 27-14. Shawn Parsons threw for 153 yards in that game, and Denzell Cameron rushed for 53 yards and a score.

Playoff outlook: While the Western Mass. Football Committee has not released anything official, the leaders to qualify for the WMass Division VIII playoffs are beginning to take form.

Ware High School and Hoosac Valley Regional School are unbeaten at 4-0 and appear poised to win out and clinch a berth. Four teams follow them at 3-1, including both Greenfield and Pioneer. Lee High School and Mt. Greylock Regional High School, both out of the Intercounty League South, are also both 3-1. Four teams — including locals Turners Falls, Mohawk and Franklin Tech, along with Smith Voke — come in at 2-2 overall and need some help.

Here’s the rest of the schedule:

FC Tech at Frontier

Two teams hoping to make a charge toward the top of the IL North standings, Frontier hosts Franklin Tech tonight in South Deerfield. … The Red Hawks (3-1, 1-1) have won two in a row after an overtime loss to Greenfield in Week 2, and they have seemingly righted the ship led by their rushing attack of Aaron Landry and Stephen Worthley. … The tandem combined for 438 yards on the ground last week in a 56-34 win over Mahar Regional School. They scored all eight of Frontier’s touchdowns. … Franklin Tech (2-2, 1-1) made a huge statement a week ago, handing Greenfield its first loss in a convincing 32-14 road victory. … The two teams have met just three times in their history, with Frontier winning all three (1996, 1997, 2016). … In last year’s meeting, Frontier rolled to a 66-28 win in Turners Falls. … The Red Hawks offense has been rolling this season, averaging 37.8 points per game. … The Eagles continue to stay on the road during a difficult early portion of the schedule. It’s the fourth road game in the first five weeks for Tech, which returns home next week for the first of three straight games in Turners Falls. … Worthley and Landry both went over the 100-yard mark in last year’s win over FC Tech, as the Hawks racked up over 400 yards on the ground. … The rushing tandem of Spencer Telega (381 yards) and Bailey Young (298 yards) has combined for eight touchdowns through four weeks of the season for Tech.

Mahar at Turners

Can Turners Falls continue its dominance over Mahar tonight, when the Senators visit the Bourdeau Fields Complex for a 7 p.m. kickoff? The Powertowners (2-2, 1-1) have won five straight in the series, including a dominant 54-12 win a year ago in Orange. … Turners has won those five meetings by an average of 29 points. … Mahar dominated the series before that, winning five in a row from 2007 to 2011. The last victory came by a 43-6 score in 2011. … Turners has been a tale of two teams in its wins and losses thus far. The squad has outscored opponents by a 62-6 mark in its two victories. In two losses, Turners has mustered just eight points. … The Mahar offense broke out last week in a loss to Frontier. The Senators scored 34 points, with quarterback Sam Paul tossing three touchdowns and going for 212 yards through the air. … Turners QB Kyle Dodge threw his first two touchdowns of the season in last week’s win over McCann Tech. … Marcus Sanders leads the Powertown with 351 yards and six touchdowns on the ground through four games, good enough for an 8.6 yard per carry average. … Tonight’s game is the third straight on the road for Mahar, while Turners heads home for the first time since a 34-6 win over Athol in Week 2.

Athol at Mohawk

Two teams that let late leads slip away in Week 4, Athol and Mohawk enter tonight’s independent game at Pollard Field in Buckland in need of a victory. … The visiting Red Raiders (0-4) are still in search of their first win, and nearly had it against IL North leader Easthampton High School before the Eagles rallied late. Mohawk (2-2) gave up a touchdown with just 17 seconds remaining to lose to Pioneer, 27-26. … Athol has dominated this series over the past 10 years, though the teams haven’t met since 2012, when the Raiders captured a 26-8 victory. The team won the previous six meetings by a combined 128-41. … Athol will want to get its rushing attack going to be successful tonight. The Raiders haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in a game all season, the closest coming in Week 2, when Mason Barrieau gained 92 yards on 13 carries. Barrieau, Robbie Nelson and Nick Casella split 36 carries in the loss to Easthampton. … Conversely, Mohawk standout tailback Jordan Grenier has opened the season on a tear with four straight 100-yard games on the ground. Grenier has 474 yards and four touchdowns for the Warriors, good enough for a healthy 9.12 yard per carry average. … Athol dropped its only road game of the year to Turners Falls in Week 2. The Raiders were 3-1 on the road a year ago. Mohawk is 1-1 at Pollard Field this season, beating Smith Voke and losing to Franklin Tech.

Smith Voke at Pioneer

Besides a 49-6 loss to Ware High School in Week 2, Pioneer Valley Regional School has played all nail-biters this fall. The Panthers are 3-1, however, including a wild 27-26 win over Mohawk last week that saw them score the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion with just 17 seconds remaining. … Last week’s win was the second consecutive one-point victory for Pioneer (3-1, 2-1), as it also defeated McCann, 15-14, in Week 3. … Pioneer has dominated the series with Smith Voke (2-2, 1-1), winning all four meetings all-time by a combined score of 136-14. … The Panthers have shut the Vikings out the past three seasons, including last year’s 48-0 thumping in Northampton. … Smith Voke has looked to be a much-improved team this year, recording wins over Drury High School and Pathfinder. The Vikings also gave Mohawk everything it could handle in a 26-20 loss. … Pioneer’s Wyatt Keith and Tristan Dresser have shared the bulk of the carries in the backfield this year. The pair have combined for 85 carries and 395 yards to go with six touchdowns. … Pioneer quarterback Scott Perlberg continues to lead the Recorder-area with 497 yards through the air.

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