H.S. Football: Easthampton knocks Frontier out of state tournament contention

For the Recorder
Published: 10/29/2021 11:16:31 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Easthampton found itself pushed to the limit by hard-charging Frontier Friday night before the Eagles defense came up with the game's biggest play in the final seconds.

Holding a narrow 16-14 lead, Easthampton gave up the ball on downs deep in Frontier territory, and allowed the Redhawks to take over at their own 17 with 3:29 to play. The hosts then converted fourth-and-6 at the 21 on a 13-yard completion from Sam Schreiber to Iain Spearance, and bettered that on fourth-and-11 at their own 47, getting a 44-yard catch-and-run by Ben Lizotte that created first-and-goal at the Eagles' 9.

From there, Josh Semaski was thrown for a 4-yard loss by Easthampton's Keith Cudworth, then Semaski picked up three yards on second down. Schreiber threw incomplete to Spearance in the back right corner of the end zone to bring up fourth-and-goal, and Dylan Rohan came up with a leaping interception at the goal line, returning the pick to the 10 to seal the 16-14 win for the Eagles.

“That's not how we planned it,” said Easthampton coach Matt Bean. “We've played better games. We didn't play particularly well. But they played hard to the last play, and I was very proud of them.”

Entering Friday night, both teams had narrowly squeezed themselves into the Top 16 of the statewide power rankings. Easthampton checked in at No. 12 in Division 6, with Frontier 14th in Division 8. The Top 16 teams in each of the eight divisions will qualify for the newly-redesigned state football playoffs that begin next weekend.

The Eagles went to 4-1 within the Intercounty League South and 7-1 overall with their fourth straight win. Frontier fell to 2-6 and 2-3 in IL South play. The loss knocked the Hawks out of state tournament contention, as teams must win at least three regular season games to qualify.

“We were able to overcome some things and not others, and that last play was a great example of that. We just fell short at the end,” said Redhawks coach Scott Dredge. “You've gotta keep trying and keep taking that shot. We've talked about not folding when things are going wrong, just buckle down and regroup. It won't show up tonight in the win-loss category, but there has been progress made.”

Easthampton had a defensive score to thank for its winning points. Early in the third quarter, after Frontier took the second-half kickoff, the Eagles strip-sacked Frontier's Aiden Dredge, and Cudworth scooped up the loose ball and ran it back 11 yards for the touchdown that tied the game 14-14. Shea Healy then tossed the two-point conversion pass to Connor Mott to untie it and gave the visitors the lead to stay with 10:18 to play in the third quarter.

“Our defense has been playing like that all year,” said Bean. “At the beginning of the year, we had hope that we would be pretty good. We've had some young kids that have just stepped up and outperformed their expectations.”

Much earlier, Frontier stopped Easthampton's game-opening drive in the red zone when Ian Burt intercepted Healy at the goal line. The Redhawks were forced to punt, and the Eagles got it right on their second series, a 45-yard drive ending with a 1-yard TD run by Giancarlo Osiecki. Healy's pass to Mott gave Easthampton an 8-0 lead with 11:17 left in the first half.

That set up Frontier on a monster 15-play, 75-yard drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock. The Redhawks converted fourth-and-8 by faking a punt and getting an 18-yard pass from Sean Kirkendall to Spearance to reach the Easthampton 30.

Semaski, who ran for a game-high 100 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in his senior season, finished the drive on a pitch from Dredge and a sweep around the right side for a 3-yard score. Spearance added the two-point conversion run to make it 8-8 with only 1:28 on the clock.

The Eagles couldn't run out the clock from there, failing on fourth down at their own 32 and allowing Frontier to take over with 34 seconds to go. Dredge's 23-yard hookup with Spearance put the ball at the 12. After a pair of incompletions and a pass-interference call in the end zone, Frontier had first-and-goal at the 4 with five seconds left, plenty of time for Semaski to barrel in for his second TD as time ran out in the half.

“It looked like we were gonna cruise into the half and be in good shape, and we weren't at halftime,” said Bean. “We had a tough second quarter, gave up a couple of big plays, made a few mistakes. We talked to the kids about staying the course. They kept plugging, and it got us a win tonight.”

Easthampton won despite totaling only 108 yards of offense, compared to Frontier's 222. Luke Kraus led the Eagle rushers with 36 yards and Healy completed 4-of-9 passes for 35 yards, with three passes going to BB Tauscher for 25 yards. Semaski ended with 100 of his team's 113 rushing yards, while the combination of Schreiber, Dredge and Kirkendall combined for 6-of-17 passing for 109 yards. Spearance had four catches for 60 yards.

“I'm pretty sure we're out of postseason consideration, but whatever's assigned to us, we'll play them, and the goal is to try to win them,” said Dredge, whose team had won two straight after an 0-5 start. “It's an opportunity to finish with four wins. That's better than what it looked like for us at the beginning of the season.”




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