Belchertown defense nails down 21-6 victory over Commerce
BELCHERTOWN — Belchertown senior football captain Tony Pellerin said he vividly remembered last season’s loss at Commerce, when the Red Raiders defense thwarted an Orioles rally.
With an undefeated record and a 12-game home winning streak on the line Friday afternoon, the linebacker turned in the game’s biggest play as the Orioles gained revenge with a 21-6 victory.
“This was definitely a revenge game for us,” Pellerin said. “That’s all we could remember was the game there last year. And we haven’t lost at home since I was a freshman, so that’s just as important to us.”
Commerce had closed to within a point on its previous drive, and a poor Belchertown possession gave the Red Raiders the ball on the Orioles 42 late in the second quarter. On a third-and-14, quarterback Marque Gibson dropped back only to be strip-sacked by Pellerin, who scooped up the loose ball and traveled 48 yards for a touchdown and a two-possession lead.
“After I stripped the ball, I was going to fall on it, but I saw it rolling and decided to pick it up,” he said. “I saw no one near me and a lot of open field, so I just took off.”
“That play not only gave us a cushion but also momentum,” Orioles coach John Mayo said. “After that we felt we’d definitely win the game. Our kids did a great job defensively again. We’ve given up three touchdowns in four games. Our guys on defense are confident and disciplined, so to beat us you have to sustain drives.”
The Orioles front swarmed the Commerce backfield to continue the unit’s dominating start to the season. Senior Alex Clair had three sacks, while Pellerin and senior Joe Sarno added one each.
“Compared to last year, we’ve be getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Pellerin said. “Alex and I are pretty good friends, so we spent the offseason in the gym and working together, and so far it’s showing out on the field.”
Belchertown (4-0, 3-0 Intercounty) came up empty on its first possession after driving deep into Commerce territory, but senior receiver James Ryan opened the scoring late in the first on the initial play of the series. He took an end around and found the corner on the right side, outracing the defense down the sideline for a 52-yard score and a 7-0 Orioles lead.
Ryan was Belchertown’s leading rusher with 65 yards of seven carries. He also caught three passes for 27 yards.
“We gained enough positive yardage and made some key plays,” Mayo said. “James did a solid job making plays for us. That’s a really talented defense - big, strong, fast. They’re tough to block, and have a lot more overall speed than we do.”
Commerce (2-3, 2-2) answered on its next possession with a 73-yard touchdown march that culminated with a 1-yard plunge by Iriving Zayas. The key play came just before the score. On a third-and-13 from the Belchertown 39, Zayas lofted a pass that tipped off the hands of a defensive back and into the arms of Hassan Graham, who took it to the 1.
Following the Commerce touchdown, the Orioles turned the Red Raiders over on downs twice more in Belchertown territory. Commerce gained just 81 yards on the ground.
“This is a senior-based defense with eight of us, and we’re very experienced on that side of the ball,” Pellerin said. “We knew our offense wouldn’t be quite as explosive after losing one of the best quarterbacks in western Mass. in Chris (Ladd). So we realized we needed to step up. Our coaches do a wonderful job of scouting, and they put us in a great position to make plays.”
Belchertown, which had just two sustained drives all game, put together a 75-yard march to extend its lead early in the fourth quarter.
Ryan hit Zach Jones for 22 yards on a halfback pass on third-and-4, then eight plays later Leduc lofted a perfect fade pass to Jake Bradway on the left side of the end zone for a 24-yard score.
Leduc, in his fourth career start, completed 8 of 11 for 74 yards and the touchdown. He displayed quick decision making and accuracy in the short passing attack.
“Nothing rattles Nick,” Mayo said. “I ask him sometimes if he gets nervous and he says no. Heck, I’m nervous all the time on the sideline. I don’t know how he plays without those nerves, but it’s a great quality to have. He’s accurate in the short passing game, and he certainly came into a tough spot replacing Chris. He’s doing a great job. If he can grow a bit, by next year he could be really good.”
The Orioles mustered just 176 yards of total offense, but effectively held possession to work the clock and didn’t turn the ball over. Conversely, the Red Raiders coughed up the ball three times. Ryan and Ben Thornton came away with fourth-quarter interceptions to salt the game away.
“Our offense is pretty good, we’re scoring almost 20 points a game,” Mayo said. “But it needs to get better if we want to win the league title. I believe our defense is already at that level. We’ll see how we improve as the season progresses.”
Michael Wilkinson can be reached at email@example.com.
Belchertown 21, Commerce 6
Commerce 0 6 0 0—6
Belchertown 7 8 0 6—21
B-James Ryan 52-yard run (Nick Leduc kick), 1:17
C-Iriving Zayas 1 run (run failed), 8:31
B-Tony Pellerin 48 fumble return (Jake Mastorakis pass from James Ryan), 4:23
B-Jake Bradway 24 pass from Leduc (run failed), 9:48
PASSING—Commerce: Gibson 5-12-83-2, Zayas 2-2-45-0; Belchertown: Leduc 8-11-74-0, Ryan 1-1-22-0
RUSHING—Commerce: Sewell 11-96, Gibson 8-(-35), Zayas 4-28, Archeval 1-2, Thomas 1-(-8); Belchertown: Leduc 14-16, Ryan 7-65, Sarno 6-(-1), Thornton 2-0
RECEIVING—Commerce: Graham 2-62, Archeval 2-34, Holines 2-10, Lovett 1-22; Belchertown: Ryan 3-27, 3-22, Bradway 2-25, Jones 1-22