H.S. Football: East Longmeadow rallies past South Hadley, 14-8

For the Gazette
Published: 9/17/2021 11:25:33 PM

SOUTH HADLEY – Improvement has come in small steps for the South Hadley football team between Week 1 and Week 2 of the new season, but the Tigers made just enough mistakes Friday night to cost themselves in their home opener.

East Longmeadow rallied from an 8-0 deficit by cashing in a South Hadley turnover just before halftime, then went long-field to score on its first possession of the second half to take a 14-8 comeback victory at Memorial Field.

“Right now, our kids have to be iron men. They have to play 48 minutes,” said Tigers coach Scott Taylor. “That's the reality of the situation. We have a lot of injuries, we had an emergency appendectomy, and we're losing kids to some really weird ailments. Physical errors are going to happen, and we get that, but there's been way too many mental mistakes.”

South Hadley (0-2) got an interception in its own end zone from Owen Dawson to stop the Spartans' first drive of the night, then made its own way out to midfield before quarterback Jack Haber lost a fumble at the Tigers' 44. East Longmeadow moved backward thanks to a pair of holding calls and was forced to punt, giving South Hadley the ball at its own 28 and setting up its lone scoring drive of the evening.

A bad shotgun snap on first down led to a 17-yard loss, and an eventual third-and-26 situation, before Evan Piquette took a screen pass from Haber and broke it for 46 yards to the East Longmeadow 42. The Tigers then faked a punt, with Dawson scrambling for nine yards on a fourth-and-9, just enough for a first down. Later, on second-and-10 at the 18, Haber took a shotgun snap, delayed for a moment, then bounced to the outside and down the right sideline for the lead score. Haber ran in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 Tiger lead with 3:07 to play before the half.

East Longmeadow was forced to punt and South Hadley took over at its own 22, but messed up a shotgun snap for a fumble recovered by the Spartans' Gabriel Allsop at the Tiger 19. Three plays later, quarterback Shane Becker hit Preston Longo from 10 yards out on a slant route for the touchdown. Giovanni Ferrentino's extra-point kick made it an 8-7 game with just 27.2 seconds on the clock.

After South Hadley punted to open the third quarter, East Longmeadow (2-0) started at its own 31 and got a 5-for-5 passing series from Becker good for 45 yards. His 20-yard dart to Isaiah King put the Spartans in business at the 3, and Becker went up the middle on his own for the lead touchdown with 2:23 to go in the third. Ferrentino's second extra point put the visitors up 14-8.

Although Brock Fitzell returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards to midfield, South Hadley never got into East Longmeadow territory over its final three possessions. The Tigers punted twice and then turned the ball over on downs with 2:20 to play, and the Spartans worked around a pair of timeouts to end the game with the ball at the South Hadley 9-yard line.

Dawson and Haber led the Tigers on the ground with 30 and 29 rushing yards, respectively. Haber completed 4-of-7 passes for 50 yards, with Piquette catching three passes for 45 yards.

Becker was 11-of-17 passing for East Longmeadow for 106 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Longo and Dominick Gamelli each ran for 27 yards for the Spartans, who held a 186-128 advantage in total offense.

“Bottom line, we have to fight a little harder and dig a little deeper,” said Taylor. “I thought our defense played great, but we can't have one good side (of the ball) and one bad side. I think everything we did that we didn't like is fixable.”

A scary situation ensued moments after the game's end when East Longmeadow sophomore Matthew Griffin collapsed in his team's celebratory huddle and required several minutes of medical attention. He was stretchered off the field by EMTs, giving a thumbs-up sign to his teammates as he was wheeled to an ambulance.

South Hadley next hosts Central Mass. small-school power St. Bernard's of Fitchburg Friday at 6 p.m.

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