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Belchertown football escapes Athol with 21-0 victory

“You can’t have more go wrong in a game than just went wrong for us tonight,” Athol coach Matt Gauvin said. “The kids made the effort, they played hard, the defense played great, but you talk about shooting yourself in the foot? We did it tonight.”

The game started out looking like it was going to be just another blowout by the unbeaten Orioles, who scored on a 10-yard pass play from quarterback Nick Leduc to sophomore wideout Jake Bradway, a touchdown set up two plays earlier on a 55-yard hookup between Leduc and senior James Ryan. Leduc kicked the extra point to make the score 7-0.

Belchertown (8-0, 7-0) got on the board on the next series, when a blocked Athol (5-4, 3-3) punt set the Orioles up on the Red Raider 3. From there, Ryan took it in for the touchdown, and Leduc kicked the extra point to make it 14-0.

That was all the damage Belchertown did in the first half, as the Red Raiders controlled the ball and the pace of the game, using a varied running attack, which included a number of left and right sweeps by backs Matt Summers and Jake Lajoie mixed in with a few wildcat-style formation runs by quarterback Jerry Parker.

But every time it looked like the Red Raiders would turn that momentum into points, something derailed it, usually a penalty, the most damaging of which came late in the second, when Athol had the ball on the Belchertown 10 only to get flagged for a 15-yard clipping penalty. The Raiders were penalized nine times in the game, which cost them 100 yards, 60 of which were personal fouls related to unsportsmanlike behavior.

Belchertown didn’t fare much better in the penalty department, committing seven violations worth 55 yards, all in the second half. At one point, the Orioles were flagged on four of their 11 offensive plays in what turned out to be a tough second quarter which might have been even worse had their secondary not intercepted Athol twice, both times close to the Belchertown end zone.

The Orioles put the game away early in the fourth quarter on a bizarre play which saw punter Ryan appear to kick the ball off of the back of one of his lineman’s helmets, causing it to bounce back to Ryan, who picked it up and ran it back 42 yards to the Athol 2, where Leduc then took it in via a quarterback sneak.

“It went 100 percent off the back of the guy’s helmet,” Gauvin said, even though it appeared that Lajoie was in the area and close to the ball. “But we don’t want to make excuses. It happened and the call didn’t go our way.”

Leduc hit the extra point to create the 21-0 final. Athol put together one long drive and got as far as the Belchertown 13, before a 5-yard penalty followed by a missed pass between Parker and Dakota Melanson forced a turnover on downs, giving Belchertown the ball back with three seconds left.

“If we put a TD on the board before the half, and come back and take the ball to start the second half and make something happen, maybe the tone changes a little bit,” Gauvin said. “But, you know, coulda, woulda, shoulda, doesn’t matter, but this game was a lot closer than 21-0.”

Athol takes on Frontier next week, while Belchertown heads for its unbeaten showdown with Greenfield.

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