Div. 4 football: Ashland handles Northampton 42-14 in state tourney opener

For the Gazette
Published: 11/6/2021 12:55:53 AM

ASHLAND – Northampton's first step into the newly redesigned state football tournament also turned into a big step up in class.

Ashland rode a 22-point second quarter into a 29-6 halftime lead Friday night and took the full measure of the Blue Devils, 42-14, in Division 4 state first-round action at William L. Cunis Field.

The unbeaten and eighth-seeded Clockers improved to 9-0 with a second-round game upcoming at top-seeded Scituate. Northampton, the No. 9 seed, fell to 6-3 with an assigned non-playoff game scheduled for next weekend.

Luke Herter threw a pair of touchdown passes to Matt Gillis and also ran for a score. Andrew Meleski rushed for a game-high 159 yards and two touchdowns, and the Clockers dug deep into their bag of tricks with a double-reverse pass good for another score.

For the Blue Devils, junior Ben Sledzieski threw for 201 yards and a touchdown to Jacob Cancel. Sledzieski (18-of-27 passing) also ran for a 5-yard touchdown early in the final quarter, when the wide margin had already compelled running time on the clock.

“As a coach, you've gotta be realistic. We had a shot. A lot of things had to happen positively for us and negatively for them,” said Northampton coach Joe Kocot.

Northampton moved downfield well on its opening drive, getting a 38-yard completion from Sledzieski to Trey Rios that put the ball at the Ashland 12. From there, the Blue Devils stalled and Marty Maslowski lined up a 27-yard field goal try, but Gillis came through to block the kick. That turned into a 25-yard loss and a first down for Ashland at its own 35.

Five plays later – a series that featured its own 38-yard completion from Herter to Keegan Weiss – Meleski split the left guard gap for a 21-yard run and the opening score, followed by John Giglia's extra point for a quick 7-0 lead.

After Northampton failed on fourth-and-3 from the Ashland 42, the Clockers were once again on the move with a six-play drive. From the Hamp 20, Gillis ran a crossing route from right to left and Herter hit him for the score, putting the hosts up 14-0 with 8:29 left in the half.

A quick three-and-punt gave Ashland the ball at its own 41. Using a tightly bunched double-wing formation that gave the Blue Devils headaches all night, the Clockers got an immediate 59-yard TD run on a counter by Meleski. He then added a two-point conversion run, setting up a potential early knockout at 22-0.

That's when Northampton answered with its best drive, helped by great starting field position at the Ashland 38 following a personal-foul call against the Clockers. The Blue Devils converted fourth-and-8 with a 9-yard connection from Sledzieski to Mykal Norris, then got a 25-yard gain by Cancel on a post pattern.

Sledzieski zipped an 8-yard scoring pass to Cancel with 2:57 to go, pulling the Blue Devils within 16 at 22-6, but the two-point try failed when Sledzieski scrambled and was sacked by Herter.

Still, the Clockers had enough clock left to stick another in the end zone before the half, this coming with 1:54 to go on Herter's 42-yard run from Ashland's rugby-scrum-like bunch set. 

With a 29-6 lead at the break, Ashland also commanded total offense with 252 yards to Northampton's 130.

The Clockers pushed the game into wipeout territory from there, going through the air twice in the third quarter to do it. Jack McGoff took a handoff on a reverse and floated a 13-yard TD pass to Max Palin. Later, on a throwback screen, Herter connected with Gillis for a 46-yard score, good for a 42-6 advantage.

Northampton's last word came early in the fourth – moments after Norris was hurt and stretched out motionless for several minutes, before he got to his feet and was carted off with an unspecified injury. Sledzieski, who completed five passes on the drive for 53 yards, finished it on a 5-yard run, plus the two-pointer, to create the 42-14 final.

On the night, the Ashland defense limited Northampton to minus-19 rushing yards.

The Clockers won the Division 6 state title in 2019, the last football season that featured a semblance of normalcy.

“When something like this happens, you've gotta accentuate the positives and all the good work you've done,” said Kocot. “We'll live. We want to end the season positively with this team and now we have a chance to do that.”


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