Amherst beats Northampton, but misses postseason
Brandon Rivera, left, of Amherst Regional, and Isaiah Davis-Toledo combined to bring down Northampton's Malik Renner Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Brandon Rivera, center, of Amherst Regional, slips away from Northampton's RJ Ramsden and avoids Danny Mam to score the first touchdown Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Brandon Rivera, center, of Amherst Regional, slips away from Northampton's RJ Ramsden to score the first touchdown Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Luke Allen, right, of Amherst Regional, shakes off Northampton's RJ Ramsden Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
RJ Ramsden, top, of Northampton, dives for extra yards against Amherst Regional Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Danny Mam, left, of Northampton, tries to get by Amherst Regional's Markus Rivera Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Kieran Presley, right, of Amherst Regional, avoids Northampton's Jefferson Willis Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Danny Mam, right, of Northampton, attempts to get by Amherst Regional's Isaiah Davis-Toledo Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
Luke Allen, of Amherst Regional, breaks through the line Thursday in Amherst. The Hurricanes won the Thanksgiving Day football game 35-15. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — The Amherst Regional football team won its third straight Thanksgiving Day game against rival Northampton Thursday, but it wasn’t enough to get the Hurricanes into their first postseason since 1999.
Amherst dominated from start to finish to defeat the Blue Devils 35-15 at Community Field in the first “Battle of the Bridge” game with potential postseason ramifications since it was moved to the holiday in 2005.
“The only thing I was worried about was us coming out here and doing our job and we did that,” said Hurricanes’ first-year head coach David Thompson, whose team finished the season ranked No. 5 in Division 2 in the final MIAA Western Massachusetts Power Ratings, which were released Thursday afternoon.
Amherst and Northampton (Division 1) entered Thursday as the No. 5 seed in their respective divisions. The top four teams qualify for the postseason, which begins Tuesday.
The Hurricanes (6-3) needed a win and some help to overtake No. 4 Commerce (8-3), which was idle on the holiday.
“Look at the strength of schedule. You think about who we played and who Commerce played,” Thompson said. “We are in the same division, but they play a Division 3 schedule (as an Intercounty League team). I don’t think that’s fair to our kids. If we had the opportunity to play those teams, I don’t think we are having a conversation about are we going to get in or are we not. I think our strength of schedule should put us past them. I think that’s kind of obvious.”
Amherst was also hurt by playing two less games than the Red Raiders. The Hurricanes lost a game when Belchertown cancelled the teams’ rematch from last year. “It wasn’t our fault that teams backed out after already agreeing to play us,” Thompson said.
Athletic director Rich Ferro and Thompson never found a replacement for Belchertown.
“We talked to everyone,” Ferro said. “We thought we had Cardinal Spellman locked in and then they called back and said they didn’t want to do it. Then we were looking at a team from the South Shore. We were willing to do whatever we could to get another game.
“I’ve got to take some of the blame, though, because when I was fired hired in November, East Longmeadow came to us and had an opening in the first week of the season, but I didn’t know where our program was going to be at the time, so I opted to say no to that one because they are usually a real physical, solid team,” Ferro added. “I opted to try to find someone else and I guess I didn’t realize how hard it is in football to find another game.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils (6-5) needed a win and a Chicopee Comp victory over South Hadley in order to claim the fourth spot in Division 1. Neither happened, as the Colts defeated the Tigers 28-10 to win the Suburban League and the automatic bid that comes with it.
“As a whole, I would say I’m definitely pleased with how the season has gone,” Northampton first-year coach Pat Sledzieski said. “I think we’ve laid a great foundation here. But right after losing a game of this magnitude this badly, it’s hard to be happy.”
The fact that both teams entered the day alive in the playoff hunt resulted in one of the rivalry’s best crowds, which saw Amherst even the turkey day rivalry at 3-3. Northampton leads the overall rivalry 37-29-3.
“I think it’s big for the program and big for the town to keep winning and going in a positive direction to get more people out here on Friday nights,” Thompson said. “I saw a lot of guys who I coached and graduated and came back for the game. It’s a big game and it’s huge for these kids, especially the seniors who’ve never had this game mean anything but pride.”
Kieran Presley, who moved from receiver to the backfield early in the season, wrapped up his remarkable senior season with a terrific game, posting 175 yards rushing on 10 carries and scored touchdowns of 60 and 75 yards.
“Coach moved me (to running back) and the lineman have just been opening holes for me,” Presley said. “They’ve been great.”
The Hurricanes set the tone from the first drive, which they took 75 yards on 15 plays over 8 minutes, 24 seconds. They capped it with a Brandon Rivera run around the left side and led 6-0 after the first quarter.
The ensuing Northampton drive stalled at the Amherst 41, where the Blue Devils punted.
On the following drive, the Hurricanes went for it on fourth-and-2 at their own 40 and Presley broke through the middle of the line and then bounced to the left sideline 60 yards for the touchdown. Justin Carey connected with Taj Torres for the 2-point conversion and a 14-0 lead with 6:01 left in the first half.
Presley “is that type of player,” Thompson said. “He can change the game just like that. He’s going to help some university out when he gets there.”
Northampton responded with an 11-play, 60-yard drive and scored when RJ Ramsden found Danny Mam in the left flat for a 9-yard score to cut the deficit to 14-6 with 22 seconds left in the half.
Amherst responded before halftime, however, as Torres picked up the kick on the right sideline and darted 75 yards for the touchdown and a 21-6 lead at the break.
“Amherst came out here better prepared to play and better coached and it showed,’’ Sledzieski said. “I don’t know any aspect of this game we actually won. They outplayed us in every facet of the game, including preparation.’’
The Blue Devils’ final attempt to pull momentum back to their side ended near the Amherst goal line on the first possession of the second half. Northampton moved the ball 65 yards to the Hurricane 15, but a running play was blown up for an 8-yard loss and the next play went nowhere. Facing third-and-18, Hamp took a timeout. On the next play, Ramsden fired a pass down the middle of the field, which was intercepted by Presley in front of the goal line.
“I just sat in the middle of the field, watched his eyes and (the ball) came right into my hands,” Presley said.
Four plays later, Presley broke a tackle in the backfield and darted 75 yards for a touchdown and a 28-6 lead with 1:10 left in the third.
Markus Rivera added a 14-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter before Northampton tacked on nine points via a safety and a 1-yard run by Nate Bones late in the quarter.
Amherst seniors Austin Cunningham, Markus Rivera, Noris Cuevas-Nova, Nathaniel Garland, Devin Clark, Luke Allen, Curtis Santos, Charlie Clark, Rotana Mao, Malachi Nunez-Taylor, Will Barstow, Dylan Owens, Isaiah Davis-Toledo, Peter Lee, Presley and Carey finished their varsity careers by raising the “Battle of the Bridge” trophy.
Northampton, meanwhile, ended with its first winning season in six years. Thursday’s game marked the final contest for seniors Michael Rodriguez, David Konowitch, Jefferson Willis, Matthew Ross, Sam Santiago, Ian Vichena-Valenca, Andre Barnes, Austin Champagne, Harrison Tremaine, Zachary Heywood, Tyler Walsh, Ramsden, Bones and Mam.
“This is our base point. (The seniors) laid the foundation,” Sledzieski said. “This is the first winning season we’ve had in quite a long time. The work habits are there and I think now we just need to take it up to the next level. With what they’ve sacrificed this year and what they’ve done, we should be able to do that.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at email@example.com.
Amherst 35, Northampton 15
Northampton 0 6 0 9—15
Amherst 6 15 7 7—35
A-Brandon Rivera 9 run (kick failed), 1:36
A-Kieran Presley 60 run (Taj Torres pass from Justin Carey), 6:01
N-Danny Mam 9 pass from RJ Ramsden (pass failed), 0:22
A-Torres 75 kick return (Nikolai Wright kick), 0:10
A-Presley 75 run (Wright kick), 1:10
A-Markus Rivera 14 run (Wright kick), 7:40
N-Nate Bones 1 run (Ian Vichena-Valenca kick), 1:39
Passing: Northampton: Konowitch 1-1-57-0; Ramsden 1-3-9-1; Amherst: Carey 2-5-30-0
Rushing: Ramsden 15-73; Mam 10-67; Bones 11-30; Renner 2-5; Grimaldi 2-3; Santiago 1-2; Amherst: Presley 10-175; B. Rivera 6-57; Allen 5-28; M. Rivera 2-17
Receiving: Northampton: Santiago 1-57; Mam 1-9; Amherst: Presley 1-16; Torres 1-14