H.S. Football: Second half eruption powers Northampton over Holyoke, 38-32

For the Gazette
Published: 9/24/2021 11:26:33 PM

HOLYOKE — Forty-eight minutes – actually, make that the last 24 minutes – could barely contain the thrills that Northampton and Holyoke put up Friday night.

From an 8-7 Northampton lead at halftime – and that only because Holyoke connected on a 41-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired in the half – the game promptly blew up in the second half, with 55 combined points. Six lead changes ensued before the Blue Devils finally swung the momentum over, getting the critical two-score advantage, and withstood a last-second touchdown to pull out a 38-32 road win at John F. Gilligan Field.

“We did a lot of things we wanted to do, but giving them the ball four extra times just played into the worry and the misery,” said Blue Devils coach Joe Kocot. “(Holyoke) played hard, they kept coming back and didn't quit. They felt they had to throw, and we wanted them to throw. We had some issues in the first half and we cleaned some up in the second half.”

Hamp's Ben Sledzieski threw for a touchdown and ran for the clinching score with 1:23 to play, finishing off a 13-of-21 passing night for 146 yards. Mykal Norris also accounted for a pair of scores on a TD run and an 80-yard kickoff return, while lineman-turned-fullback Zev Hiranandani also added a 1-yard TD dive early in the fourth quarter to put the Blue Devils (2-1) ahead to stay.

The visitors needed every point to counter the non-stop gunslinging of Holyoke quarterback Quinn Cauley, who completed 23-of-44 passes for 286 yards with four touchdowns, and ran for a fifth score. But the Blue Devils also made Cauley pay with four interceptions, by Alex Rosen, Sledzieski, Wes Parent and Ryan Crowther – offsetting Northampton's four giveaways of its own.

Northampton's first three possessions didn't exactly portend the scoring blitz that followed, with a lost fumble on a punt return, a punt and a turnover on downs. The Blue Devils finally got started when Sledzieski picked off Cauley at the Purple Knights' 37, and Sledzieski put Hamp in position with a 30-yard completion to Connor Tobin down to the 7. Two plays later, the duo hooked up again for an 8-yard score, and Norris' two-point conversion run made it 8-0 with 4:53 left in the half.

Holyoke (1-2) got on the board on the final play of the half, capping a drive where Cauley completed his first four passes for 32 yards. On second-and-11 at the Hamp 41, Cauley flung a bomb down the left side to Jael Cabrera, who watched two defensive backs go for the pick, bump each other off the ball, and had himself an easy catch for six. Ethan McClain's extra point pulled the hosts to within 8-7 at the break.

The closeness of the game was reflected in first-half total offense, where Holyoke had the 1-yard edge, 109-108.

Northampton immediately lost a fumble, with Dylan Lubold recovering for Holyoke at the Hamp 13, and Cauley zinged a TD pass to Daimon Maldonado to put the Knights up 13-8.

Sledzieski then threw an interception to Holyoke's Alex Robles, but Parent got that pick back immediately with an apparent 55-yard return for a touchdown –  only for a holding call during the runback to nullify the score and put the ball at the Holyoke 20. Two plays later, Norris went straight up the middle from 8 yards out to give the Blue Devils a 14-13 lead.

Thanks to Cauley's completions of 33 and 24 yards to Dymetri Gonzalez, Holyoke was right back in business and jumped back ahead 19-14 when Cauley found Cabrera from 4 yards away. That lead lasted a matter of seconds, as Norris took the ensuing kickoff back 80 yards along the left sideline. Marty Maslowski's two-point run made it 22-19 for Northampton with 3:50 in the third. 

Holyoke hit right back with receptions of 13 yards by David Sicard and 31 yards by Cabrera to put the ball at the Northampton 1, and this time Cauley kept it on the ground for the score. McClain kick gave the Knights the 26-22 lead with 1:47 left in the third, and that held up at the end of the quarter.

From there, Sledzieski hit Maslowski for 15 yards and Crowther for 16, sandwiched around a 16-yard scramble of his own. Hiranandani finished the drive with a 1-yard run, coming with 8:01 to go in the fourth, and Sledzieski threw the two-pointer to Trey Rios for a 30-26 Blue Devil advantage.

Northampton then recovered a muffed squib kickoff at the Holyoke 48 and couldn't move the ball, leading to an exchange of punts. Holyoke took over at its own 22 with 3:48 left and Crowther returned an interception of Cauley 14 yards to the Knights' 11, putting Sledzieski in position for a 3-yard run with 1:23 left and Maslowski's two-pointer that made it 38-26.

All that remained was for Holyoke to get Cauley's fourth TD pass, a 2-yard flip to Dylan Kennedy, coming with only 28 seconds left.

Sledzieski and Maslowski ran for 36 and 30 yards respectively to lead the Blue Devils, while Tobin caught five passes for 75 yards. Sicard (six receptions, 51 yards), Gonzalez (five for 96) and Cabrera (five for 87) were Cauley's favorite targets for the Knights.

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