Belchertown football proves there is life after Chris Ladd
Without the services of superstar quarterback Chris Ladd for the first time in three seasons, the Belchertown football team is seeking a program-establishing season in 2012.
After the first month, people who may have written off the Orioles need to pay attention again.
The Orioles lost a strong nine-man senior class following consecutive nine-win campaigns and postseason appearances. But a dominant 3-0 start has Belchertown sitting alone atop the Western Massachusetts Division 3 power rankings.
Its 13.33 points edge out fellow unbeatens in No. 2 Mount Greylock (13.00), No. 3 Greenfield (12.00) and No. 4 Frontier (12.00).
“I’d like to think people are noticing that we’re building a program, instead of just having a couple great players and being a one-shot deal,” coach John Mayo said. “Our current senior class has had a lot of success. The program hasn’t lost a home game since they were freshmen. It’s so difficult to get where we are right now. The current players and especially former players don’t want to see the program go back in the opposite direction.”
The Orioles, who fell in the sectional semifinals to Athol in 2010 and Lee in 2011, have won 21 of their last 27 games and own a 12-game home winning streak.
“We’re not blowing anybody out so far, but I’m not too surprised about our start,” Mayo said. “We have a good nucleus back, especially on defense. We know the competition will get more difficult, but our experience on the defensive side should keep us in games.”
The defense is allowing just 7.3 points per game, and shut out Mohawk Regional on Sept. 15. The unit is led by seniors Tony Pellerin, Jake Lafleche and Alex Clair up front and senior James Ryan in the secondary. They returned eight of 11 starters from last season.
“Our defensive coordinator Adam Graves does a great job working with the defense, and I don’t think any group works any harder than we do,” Mayo said. “We’re strong up the middle of the field, which is important. And we’re really disciplined, so if you do score on us, you’ll have to grind it out.”
Allowing few points has made the transition a little easier for Ladd’s replacement, junior Nick Leduc, who will make his fourth-career start today. Leduc received a taste of varsity action in the 14-6 playoff loss to Lee last November after an injured Ladd left the game in the third quarter.
In his 2012 debut at Easthampton, Leduc accounted for all his team’s points in a 17-14 overtime triumph. He not only completed 8-of-13 passes for 107 yards and two scores, but booted the game-winning field goal in overtime. Last Saturday against Turners, he posted 120 yards passing and 73 more on the ground with a pair of touchdowns in the Orioles’ 20-8 win.
“Nick’s done a really nice job so far filling in,” Mayo said. “He’s been pretty consistent and taking care of the ball, which is the most important thing. He’s not as big and fast as Chris, but can run the ball well. I just tell him he needs to play smart. He’s a smart kid, and I believe he’s only going to get better.”
Senior Joe Sarno has emerged at the top running back. His 129 yards on 19 carries paced the offensive attack in a 20-0 win over Mohawk Regional Sept. 15.
Belchertown hosts Commerce today at 4 p.m. in a revenge matchup. The Red Raiders (2-2, 1-2 Intercounty) were one of two teams to beat the Orioles during the 2011 regular season. That loss cost the Orioles the Intercounty title.
TIGERS ROLE REVERSAL — South Hadley had two clear goals going into this season: to get off to a strong start and perform better in close games. Through four contests, consider both as missions accomplished.
The Tigers couldn’t recover from an 0-4 start to the 2011 season. Against the same four opponents to begin the 2012 campaign, South Hadley sits at 3-1 and is second in the Division 2 power rankings.
South Hadley also came away victorious in its first game decided by one score last Saturday with a 31-28 home win over East Longmeadow.
As the Tigers football team seeks to return to the championship perch this season, the school’s state championship baseball team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Ludlow.
The Division 2 state champions will receive citations from the Statehouse as well as championship rings.
GAME OF THE WEEK — Minnechaug at Northampton, tonight, 7
The Blue Devils (4-0) play their toughest opponent of the season to date as they host the high-flying Falcons (3-1) in a contest between the No. 4 and No. 6 teams in the WMass Top 10 Media Poll.
MISC. — No. 2 Central quarterback Cody Williams will serve a two-game suspension for his role in a fight during last week’s game against Chicopee. The Golden Eagles play East Longmeadow this week and No. 1 Longmeadow next week. ... Northbridge coach Ken LaChapelle won his 300th career game in the Rams’ 42-12 win over Southbridge on Sunday. He is one of only three coaches in state history to reach the milestone. The others are Armond Colombo of Archbishop Williams and Brockton, and Bill Broderick of Rindge Tech, Haverhill and Salem.
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at email@example.com.