Easthampton grounds out 26-22 win over Pioneer Regional
Easthamptons #39 Lucious Burrell makes gains some yardage down the field with Pioneers #85 Alex Briggs in pursuit for a tackle during Saturdays game in Northfield.
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Easthamptons #30, Shane Andrews, tries to get past Pioneers defense during Saturdays game at Pioneer; #25, Zach Lambert attempts the tackle. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHFIELD — Easthampton football coach Joe Kocot rolled out his panzer division Saturday and the Eagles beat Pioneer Valley 26-22 in a game that kept the visitors atop the Tri-County League standings and the Panthers mired a bit closer to the bottom.
The two sides combined for 29 first downs (18 by Easthampton) and featured the unveiling of Pioneer quarterback Cole Tognarelli’s strong right throwing arm. The sophomore signal-caller completed 12-of-18 passes with one interception for 257 yards, including touchdown passes of 52 yards to senior wide receiver Tyler Goodnow and 8 to Alex Briggs, capping an eight-play, 64-yard opening drive during which the senior tight end caught two other spirals that produced first downs.
“If the front five don’t block, the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw and I don’t make the catches,” said Briggs, who helped the cause on defense by recovering an Easthampton fumble inside his own end zone.
Receivers Adam Leblanc, Zach Lambert, and co-captain Brian Llewelyn teamed up for five catches that netted 70 yards. Conversely, Pioneer’s running backs gained only 56 yards on 17 carries.
The Eagles (6-2, 6-0 TCL), meanwhile, forsook the aerial route — zero passing yards in three attempts by sophomore quarterback Nate Laplante — in favor of a rushing attack that amassed 439 yards on 51 carries. Senior Shane Andrews and sophomore Lucious Burrell lugged the ball 19 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and 16 times for 155 yards and one TD, respectively. Senior Frankie Weir did his share with a 52-yard scamper that opened the second half and gave Easthampton a lead it never relinquished.
The Kocot play-calling included dives, traps, options, counters, pitches left and right, but what punished the Panthers (2-5, 2-3) most was what sounded on the sidelines like the “I-So Reverse,” presumably short for isolated reverse.
“It’s a very nonsensical play,” said the 52-year-old Kocot, who began coaching at Northampton for the late Frank Tudryn when he was 19 years old. He’s now in his 13th and final season coaching the Eagles. “You get the defense trained to think one thing and do another. It involves faking and giving to the second back. Keep doing it all day and it eventually works.”
It worked to the point where, late in the game, exasperated defensive coordinator Tom Gaffigan yelled to his defenders, “It’s the same damn play!”
Thanks in part to Easthampton fumbling twice on goal-to-go, the two teams were deadlocked 8-8 at halftime. But Pioneer was hurt by the quick strike, this time in the opening minutes of the second half, when the Eagles struck for two touchdowns and a 12-point lead in less than three minutes. The first came on Weir’s long run, then a 5-yard scamper by Andrews that was set up by an onside kick that Kocot said really wasn’t an onside kick. “That was a mistake. It wasn’t on purpose. I wish I was that smart.”
Pioneer cut the lead to 20-16 on the 52-yard bomb to Goodnow, but the Eagles went on a 13-play drive that consumed seven minutes and culminated in Burrell’s 5-yard score. A 60-yard grab by Goodnow and subsequent 14-yard catch by Briggs set up Tognarelli’s 3-yard plunge that put the score within reach with two minutes left, but the Eagles ran out the clock.
“We keep coming up one drive short,” said Briggs, who finished with five catches for 75 yards. “Just gotta move on and win the next three.”
“One play away,” Pioneer coach Glenn Wilson said. “They play so hard and you want that one “W” and I haven’t figured a way to give it to them. It breaks my heart.”