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Northampton football gets back to basics

When penalties overwhelmed the Northampton football team’s 21-7 loss to Minnechaug on Oct. 5, the Blue Devils went back to basics.

The team’s 10 penalties were drive-killers all night and coach Pat Sledzieski entered the following week of practices determined to fix the problem.

“Taking nothing away from Minnechaug, because they are a great team, but we felt we aided them,” he said. “We did a lot of things you can’t do against a good team.”

The answer was to spend the week simplifying everything. They team shrunk its playbook and focused on the basics in preparation for its Oct. 12 game against Holyoke.

“We really wanted to get back to fundamentals, blocking, tackling,” Sledzieski said. “Even though we don’t throw much, we threw out half our pass plays and a couple of our running plays and just focused on really trying to clean it up.”

Hamp (5-1, 2-1 AA Conference) left enough of its passing game intact for David Konowitch’s play action 22-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Wackerbarth.

But otherwise, Northampton dominated Holyoke 36-16 with a straightforward, outhit-the-opponent performance without shooting itself in the foot. RJ Ramsden led the ground attack with 202 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

The defense, meanwhile, found the right balance between aggressive and undisciplined, and the starters allowed negative total yardage before being pulled midway through the fourth quarter.

“I was very pleased with the way we turned it around in one week,” Sledzieski said.

Now Northampton faces a different challenge when it heads to Central (5-1, 2-0) today at 5 p.m.

The Blue Devils will have to do more than limit mistakes, they’ll need to play their best game of the season for a chance to knock off the Golden Eagles, who are the No. 1 team in both the MIAA Division 1 Power Rankings and the Western Massachusetts Media Poll after defeating Longmeadow 21-14 last week.

Northampton is No. 3 in the power rankings and No. 7 in the media poll.

“Central is Central. Longmeadow is Longmeadow,” said Sledzieski, the Blue Devils’s first-year coach. “Eventually we aspire to become one of those programs, but I think we have enough now to be very competitive with them this year.”

The Golden Eagles, who won last year’s matchup 49-7, are coached by 1999 Northampton graduate Valdamar Brower. Brower has faced the Blue Devils seven times as a coach at Central — four as a head coach, three as an assistant — and is 5-2 overall.

Brower’s squad gets a lift this week with the return of quarterback Cody Williams, who was suspended for the last two games for his role in a fight during the team’s win over Chicopee.

The game is the first of a doubleheader at Central. Chicopee squares off against Putnam at 8 p.m.

BACK UNDER THE LIGHTS — South Hadley and Belchertown are finally back under the lights tonight after having to play their recent games during daylight hours due to the threat of mosquito-borne Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.

Belchertown (5-0, 4-0 Intercounty) squares off against Sci-Tech (0-6, 0-5), while South Hadley (5-1, 2-0 Suburban) hosts Amherst Regional (2-2, 1-1). The Orioles and Tigers are currently No. 1 in the MIAA D-2 and D-3 Power Rankings, respectively.

Frontier Regional, meanwhile, has also been cleared to have night games, but elected to keep this week’s contest against Commerce on Saturday because of booster plans already in place.

The Red Hawks will go back under the lights next week at Belchertown at 7 p.m.

GAMES OF THE WEEK — Northampton at Central, 5; Chicopee vs. Putnam at Central, 8

There aren’t going to be many doubleheaders more worth your evening than this one, which features arguably the two best games of the entire weekend in the Pioneer Valley all in one place.

EXTRA POINTS — Mount Greylock’s 20-0 win over Drury marked the team’s 32nd straight victory. That winning streak, which includes the postseason, is the longest in Berkshire County history. ... Belchertown and Mount Greylock are two of four undefeated teams remaining in WMass. They are joined by Greenfield (6-0) and Pathfinder (6-0). ... Dean Tech (0-5, 0-3 Tri-County) heads to Ludlow (0-6, 0-3) tonight at 7 in a game between two winless teams.

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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