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Pathfinder runs past Belchertown football; first loss for Orioles

BELCHERTOWN — The fact that undefeated Pathfinder handed the Belchertown football team its first loss of the season on Thanksgiving was not shocking. But the manner in which the Pioneers won the game was surprising.

Pathfinder manhandled the Orioles up front, rushing for nearly 200 yards in a 30-8 victory Thursday morning.

Belchertown (9-1) gained just 90 total yards, with 80 of them coming on its lone scoring drive, the only time the Orioles crossed into Pathfinder territory.

“I’m disappointed in the way we played, but Pathfinder played extremely well,” said Belchertown coach John Mayo. “They’re 11-0, but this was maybe their best performance. And it was by far our worst, so that’s what you get. But I did a lousy job getting the team ready, I’ll take most of the responsibility.”

The Intercounty League champion Orioles, who had already clinched the top seed in the Division 3 playoffs, lost at home for the first time in three seasons. And they dropped the Thanksgiving rivalry matchup for the first time since 2008.

“We’d won 15 in a row at home coming into this one, so our seniors hadn’t lost on this field since they were freshmen,” said Mayo. “That shows how well our players have performed the past few seasons, but it’s tough to have that streak end.”

Senior receiver James Ryan had three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown to earn MVP honors for Belchertown.

“I wish I was awarded this under better circumstances, but it was a tough matchup for us,” said Ryan. “They’re a very physical team, and we tried to take that away with our speed, but we just didn’t play well. I don’t know if we came out a little complacent, but we’d better pick it back up.”

The Orioles will face fourth-seeded St. Joseph Central of Pittsfield in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday at a time and location to be announced.

With the win, the Pioneers (11-0) concluded a perfect regular season and locked up the top seed in Division 4. They will play fourth-seeded Easthampton in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday at a time and location to be announced.

Pathfinder running back Cody Hess earned Thursday’s most valuable player award with 106 yards and three touchdowns, as well as an interception on defense.

“They definitely wore us down, and Hess ran the ball really well,” said Mayo. “Their line was getting their runners into the gaps before we could fill them. We knew going in it’s a tough matchup, but we didn’t think they’d dominate to that extent.”

Trailing 16-0 late in the third quarter, Belchertown struck quickly to cut the deficit in half with a two-minute, 80-yard march. Quarterback Nick Leduc hit Ryan down the left sideline for 23 yards on the first play, then the Pioneers handed the Orioles a first down with a roughing the punter penalty.

On fourth-and-six from the Pathfinder 46-yard line, Leduc rolled right, broke some tackles and scrambled back to the left before finding Ryan over the middle. The senior took it the distance for the touchdown.

“Nick keeps his eyes downfield no matter where he scrambles, so I had to adjust my route,” Ryan said. “He missed a few tackles and I was able to get free from the defensive back.”

When Steve Boudreau caught the 2-point play from Leduc, it was a one-score game.

“Nick didn’t have any time to throw — they executed their defensive plan well,” said Mayo. “The touchdown was a great individual play by Nick and James. That’s not how it was drawn up.”

But the Pioneers returned to their punishing running game to put the game away, covering 65 yards on 10 rushes. Hess had a huge 17-yard pickup on third-and-four from the Belchertown 32-yard line, then capped the drive with a 3-yard plunge.

“That drive definitely hurt, that really put the game away,” said Ryan. “But we just need to regroup and have a good week of practice going into the playoffs. It would have been great to win this game, but we have bigger things to look forward to.”

Leduc threw a pair of first-half interceptions, with the first returned by Hess to the 17 to set up the first Pathfinder score.

Michael Krzynowek added 79 yards on the ground and an interception for the Pioneers, who ran 57 plays to 33 for the Orioles.

Alex MacDonald had a fumble recovery and Joe Sarno a sack for Belchertown.

“We’re back in the game at 16-8, but we really didn’t do anything after that point,” Mayo said. “We had plenty of time, a little more than a quarter. But we had too many mental mistakes, and physically they shoved us around.”

The Orioles now have four days to recover before their sectional semifinal against the Crusaders (8-3).

“ We haven’t lost before this season, so honestly I don’t know how we’ll respond,” said Mayo. “But we’ve had a pretty resilient group the last few years, so I believe the guys will bounce back.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

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