Belchertown supports former teammate in beating Pathfinder on Thanksgiving

For the Gazette
Published: 11/24/2016 5:04:45 PM

BELCHERTOWN — In an ultimate show of support for one of their own, the entire Belchertown football team wore purple socks to honor Pathfinder’s Alex Strickland.

Strickland, who played with many of the Orioles for the Granby/Belchertown Eagles youth football team, has cancer. Even though he played for the opposition, the Orioles let Strickland, who lives in Belchertown, know they were thinking of him.

Belchertown was also thinking of ending its best season in years on a high note, which the Orioles did after a convincing 30-0 triumph over visiting Pathfinder.

Strickland has battled Hodgkin lymphoma, and purple is the support color of that disease. Players and fans wore stickers with Strickland’s name and number, and following the game, Belchertown coach Chris Bourget presented him with a jersey signed by the entire team.

“This was pretty amazing” Strickland said. “I was so surprised. It was great just to see the guys I had not played with in years.”

Strickland was Pathfinder’s starting center prior to the diagnosis. He has endured chemotherapy and said he is on the road to recovery.

“I’m going to be fine,” he said.

So are the Orioles, who have endured so much adversity during Bourget’s four-year tenure. Players credit him for his positive attitude and the way he has guided the program back to respectability.

“Our seniors were very motivated,” Bourget said. “After all they’ve been through to come back and finish strong makes me so proud of them.”

Ending their season at 5-5 was huge for the Orioles program, which was one of the region’s most improved in 2016. The Thanksgiving Day triumph was the Orioles third straight win and ended their four-game losing streak against Pathfinder to square the series at 8-8.

Belchertown last beat Pathfinder on Thanksgiving in 2011 when the Orioles posted a 29-0 victory.

The difference this time was health, and unlike the past two years, which saw the Pioneers win by shutouts, the Orioles came into this one with their key players on the field rather than on the sidelines.

One of those players, Cam Cass, who missed all but two quarters of last season with a broken leg, keyed a 22-point first quarter burst with two of his three touchdowns.

Cass went over the 1,000-yard mark in total offense for the season with his big day. He rushed for 146 yards to finish with 965.

“Words really can’t describe what I’m feeling right now” said Cass, who earned team MVP honors for the game. “A little over four years ago, I was on this field as a freshman, getting beat up by older guys and not knowing what I was doing. It was quite a ride, and I wanted to come out this year with a vengeance.”

He paused for a moment to talk about what Strickland and his family have meant to the town.

“They were the ones who organized flag football when we were little kids,” Cass said. “To see him struggle just tore at our heartstrings, and we are so glad to hear he’s doing well now. We all love him, and we wanted to let him know.”

Jackson Leduc, who suffered an ankle injury in a loss to Amherst that ended the Orioles’ playoff hopes, was fully recovered and used both his speed and strong arm to aid the victory.

For the graduating nine seniors, this season was rewarded because of where they came from as underclassmen. They will leave knowing they have helped the program headed in the right direction.

“This was our Super Bowl,” Cass said.

Good things tend to happen when the Orioles finish the game on the plus side in turnovers, and this one was no different. Belchertown enjoyed a 3-1 turnover ratio.

Leduc foiled Pathfinder’s first drive with an interception to set up Belchertown’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Cass. Zach Mercier had a big fumble recovery deep in the red zone, and Ogulcan Cayan pounced on a fumble.

Jackson connected with Cam Supple for a 46-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline with 3:38 left in the first quarter. An 11-yard run by Cass with 10 seconds left in the quarter raised the lead to 22-0.

Belchertown closed the scoring on a 2-yard run by Cass late in the third quarter followed by a Mericier pass to kicker Hunter Klingensmith for the conversion. The third quarter cemented the win for the Orioles, who ran 17 plays to only four for the Pioneers.

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