H.S. Football: Northampton outlasts East Longmeadow for key victory, 26-14

For the Gazette
Published: 10/15/2021 11:52:26 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Preston Longo was determined to keep the East Longmeadow football team ahead of Northampton.

Middle linebacker Ryan Crowther and the Blue Devils defense had other plans.

Northampton's front seven held Longo in check for most of the second half, while junior quarterback Ben Sledzieski led ’Hamp to a 26-14 victory on senior night Friday.

Northampton is 5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Suburban South. Its next three games are on the road. East Longmeadow (3-3) fell to 0-3 in the league.

“We came out and knew this was going to be a good game,” Crowther said. “We knew East Long was a good team and it was senior night. We just tried to play our hardest for them.”

Longo ripped off a 55-yard touchdown run to give the Spartans a 14-6 lead with 10 minutes, 52 seconds left in the third quarter. It appeared the sophomore was tackled near the 25, but he rolled over the tackler and kept running toward the end zone. Longo had 107 yards on 10 carries before his TD run, but Hamp's defense came around. Longo finished with 125 yards on 16 touches.

“We had a couple tallywacks on him, but the guy's a great back and he wanted it,” Northampton coach Joe Kocot said. “You can't just go up with nice intentions on a back like that, but when we started putting some hits on him it changed a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Sledzieski and the offense picked up steam in the second half. The junior finished 12-for-16 for 150 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

“They are a resilient bunch,” Kocot said. “Down [14-6], we weren't executing and they were doing what they wanted to do.”

Northampton answered Longo's TD quickly. East Longmeadow kicked the ball out of bounds, but rather than take the ball at the 35, Kocot made the Spartans kick again. A flag set the Spartans back five yards, then Marty Maslowski returned the kick 35 yards to the Spartans' 40.

Three plays later Sledzieski hit Trey Rios for a 3-yard TD pass. Mykal Norris ran in the conversion to tie the game.

“That second half was a big half,” Sledzieski said. “We came out firing. I'm proud of my teammates.”

The next two Spartan possessions didn't amount to much. Tyler Verdi led a gang-sack of Shane Becker to force a three-and-out on the first series following the tie. Crowther stuffed Longo on an inside run on the second series, and Wes Parent nearly had an interception. The drive ended when a blitz forced an incomplete pass on third-and-10 at the 30.

“We kept the pressure on,” Crowther said.

Sledzieski and the offense built off the defensive momentum. Norris returned the ensuing punt 31 yards to the Spartan 33, then took an option read 12 yards for a first down. Sledzieski then hit Rios for 19 yards and Trevor Maslowski for 2, which resulted in a touchdown and a 20-14 lead with 11:15 remaining.

The read-option between Sledzieski (nine carries, 35 yards) and Norris (10 carries, 43 yards) opened up the offense in the second half.

“They overplayed Mykal,” Kocot said. “They would fake to (Norris) and that D-end would pop out so Ben just picked them.”

With 4:32 left, Norris pinned East Longmeadow inside the 5 with a punt from midfield. Trevor Maslowski and Crowther each stopped Longo on the first two downs, respectively. Marty Maslowski dropped Conner Robidoux on third down and Verdi chased Becker out of bounds short of the first down.

“That ended the game for us,” Crowther said.

Two plays later Norris broke a tackle inside the 5 to give Hamp a 26-14 lead with an 11-yard touchdown run.

Kocot thought his side outlasted the Spartans.

“We're in great shape and that's the big thing,” Kocot said. “You watch their big lineman, who are good, and they're huffing and puffing out there. You look at my linemen and no one was huffing and puffing. They work real hard.”

Becker hit Longo for an 11-yard TD reception and a 7-0 lead at 5:39 of the first quarter. Sledzieski zipped a 65-yard touchdown pass to Connor Tobin (three catches, 89 yards) on Hamp's first play following the score.

Becker finished 16-for-25 for 124 yards and two interceptions. Sledzieski and Crowther each had a pick.

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