South Hadley puts away Chicopee with fourth-quarter drive, wins 32-21
CHICOPEE — It was the drive the South Hadley football team had been looking for all season; the kind of dominant performance that could become a season-defining moment, pointed to down the line as the catalyst that turned the 2013 campaign around for the Tigers.
After Chicopee scored to pull within three points just seven seconds into the fourth quarter, South Hadley embarked on a back-breaking 17-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes and clinched the Tigers’ first win of the season, 32-21, at Szot Park Friday night.
“Our motto for offense is ‘ground and pound.’... We just wanted to keep getting three or four yards and keep getting first downs,” South Hadley coach Eric Scammons said. “When we needed the plays, they executed. It’s a credit to our guys for not quitting and not getting down when (Chicopee) started making their run. I was proud of the guys for that.”
After the ceremonial handshake after the game, senior tackle Michael Doran proclaimed on the South Hadley sideline, “We’re back,” and TJ Fitzell, who put the dagger through the Pacers’ hearts with a 10-yard touchdown run, declared it was a brand new season for the Tigers.
“Starting the season 0-3 obviously isn’t ideal for any team and if we didn’t get this win, our backs would be against the wall in terms of making the playoffs, so every game is going to be a new season for us,” he said. “We are going to have to work hard and get wins.”
On the final South Hadley drive, Fitzell gave all the credit to his teammates in the trenches.
“That’s 100 percent on our O-line,” he said. “They work hard, got good leg drive, got low and kept us in that game. They enabled us to get down the field and they were fantastic.”
The Tigers picked up 425 yards of offense, including 316 on the ground, paced by Fitzell, who ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a 30-yard reception for a score.
“He’s the leader of the offense and the defense,” Scammons said. “He’s always had that natural ability to find holes and now being the senior and being the veteran and having run this offense for so many year, he has a knack for it. I couldn’t have asked any more from him.”
Scammons said in addition to Fitzell’s running, he was also called into extraordinary duty on defense, moving to inside linebacker in an attempt to utilize his speed to counter some of Chicopee’s strengths on offense.
The one bugaboo for the Tigers was defending a trick play that proved to be a staple of Chicopee’s offense — the halfback pass. Chicopee running backs attempted five passes to quarterback Riley Campbell’s two, completing three. Two of those completions represented two-thirds of the Pacers’ scoring on the night.
“The first couple of times it was just a breakdown in coverage. We were sucking up on it and no matter how many times you tell the kids not to bite, they’re kids out there and they want to make plays. On their last touchdown, we had the coverage, but the kid is a good athlete and made a nice catch,” Scammons said. “But if a team is going to come out and run halfback passes all game and beat you, then shame on us. Fortunately, we were able to escape with the win.”
The game looked like a runaway for the Tigers early on as they jumped out to an 18-0 lead on Charlie Allard’s 9-yard run and Pat Sears’ 30-yard strike to Fitzell in the first quarter; as well as Fitzell’s 24-yard scamper in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the defense held Chicopee without a first down until seven minutes remained in the quarter.
But the Pacers struck back for scores on their final two possessions of the first half on a 6-yard run by Tony Slaughter and the first halfback pass from Josh Malone to Michael Murdock for 27 yards.
South Hadley had a chance to extend its lead in the half’s waning seconds, driving down to the Chicopee 10-yard line from its own 32, but Sears’ pass over the middle fell incomplete as time expired.
The Tigers widened their advantage to 24-13 on their first drive of the second half, gashing Chicopee for four plays of at least 10 yards on a six-play drive, including Ryan Kleszczynski’s 58-yard blast up the middle that set up Sears for a 2-yard plunge into the end zone.
But Chicopee answered, scoring on their first play of the fourth quarter when Slaughter hit Murdock with an 18-yard jump ball in the end zone for a touchdown that set the stage for South Hadley’s big drive.
Sears finished with seven completions for 109 yards for a touchdown, plus the rushing score. Kleszczynski recorded 85 yards rushing, while Allard added 59 yards on the ground. Griffin Fitzell contributed 59 all-purpose yards.
South Hadley 32, Chicopee 21
at Szot Park, Chicopee
South Hadley 12 6 6 8—32
Chicopee 0 13 0 8—21
S – Charlie Allard 5 run (run failed), 8:29
S – TJ Fitzell 30 pass from PJ Sears (pass failed), 2:02
S – TJ Fitzell 24 run (run failed), 10:02
C – Tony Slaughter 6 run (Michael Murdock kick), 6:14
C – Murdock 27 pass from Josh Malone (kick failed), 1:47
S – Sears 2 run (run failed), 4:49
C – Murdock 18 pass from Slaughter (Slaughter run), 11:53
S – TJ Fitzell 10 run (TJ Fitzell run), 3:29
Passing: South Hadley: Sears 7-14-109-0; Slaughter 2-3-27-0, Malone 1-2-27-0, Riley Campbell 1-2-15
Rushing: South Hadley: TJ Fitzell 14-125, Allard 12-59, Griffin Fitzell 8-38, Kleszczynski 4-85, Sears 3-9; Chicopee: Green 18-40, Slaughter 15-58, Campbell 3-10, Malone 3-2, Murdock 1-2
Receiving: South Hadley: Pedro Santiago 3-35, Peter Luchini 2-23, TJ Fitzell 1-30, G. Fitzell 1-21; Chicopee: Murdock 2-45, Malone 2-25