TURNERS FALLS — The sheer advantage in numbers and the constant pressure finally enabled Franklin County Technical School to wrest control of Friday night’s action against a game Athol High School squad that brought only 15 players in uniform.
On the strength of three second-half touchdowns, two of them coming inside the game’s final five minutes, the host Eagles sprinted away to a comfortable 28-0 Intercounty League North Division victory.
Ian McClure ran for a game-high 156 yards with a pair of scores for Tech (2-3, 2-1 IL North), and Bailey Young also topped the century mark with 109 yards on the ground and a touchdown of his own. Chad Adams added the Eagles’ final score on a 10-yard TD run with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Tech amassed 292 rushing yards and 374 yards of total offense.
Athol (0-5, 0-4 IL North), which played the bend-but-don’t-break game for as long as it could, was held to 71 total yards. The Red Raiders’ deepest advance came late in the second quarter, trailing only 6-0, when quarterback Caleb Cox was picked off by Tech’s Colby Mailloux, the first of his two interceptions, at the Eagles’ 15-yard line.
“Our team played a tough, hard-nosed, old-fashioned football game,” said Athol coach Bill LaRose. “The 11 or 12 kids that were on the field most of the night had a very good game. They know that their backs are to the wall. We try to improve every week. We can’t whine or complain or feel sorry for ourselves, we’ve just gotta play football.”
After Athol went three-and-punt on the first series of the evening, Tech drove to the Red Raiders’ 9-yard line but missed an opportunity for its first points when Jacob Smith intercepted Eagles quarterback Owen Bashaw at the 3. Athol punted again and both teams lost the ball on downs before Tech took over at the Athol 40. Bashaw’s 14-yard completion to Hunter Wozniak put the Eagles in business at the 3-yard line, and McClure dove in on the next play for a 6-0 Tech lead with 8:51 to go in the half.
Athol’s next two possessions ended in another punt and Mailloux’s first interception of Cox, while the Eagles also gave up the ball on downs twice as the half wound down.
“We had a slow start. As a group we didn’t come out with as much energy or enthusiasm as we hoped,” said Tech coach and Athol alumnus Joe Gamache. “Athol certainly battled, they put everything out there and gave us quite a fight. The second half, we started executing a little better and figuring out what was working for us, and kind of wore them down.”
Tech took the second-half kickoff and benefited from an offside call against Athol in a fourth-and-5 punt situation, creating a first down. Young went the final 22 yards on a left-side pitch to double the lead, then Bashaw found Mailloux with the two-point conversion pass to make it 14-0 with 7:57 to play in the third.
The Eagles kept their two-score lead until midway through the fourth quarter, starting at their own 33. Bashaw hit Wozniak for a 35-yard gain to the Raiders’ 13, and McClure did the rest for his second touchdown with 4:44 on the clock.
“Ian did a great job tonight,” said Gamache. “Ryan Bergmann (injury) is going to be out probably for a couple of weeks, he’s been our lead guy and Bailey’s been sharing carries with him. Ian’s worked really hard for four years. Tonight he got an opportunity and he certainly made the most of it. He really stepped it up, especially on that last touchdown run. He hit the corner and I think he could smell the end zone.”
Mailloux’s second interception and return set up the Eagles at their own 39 and McClure snapped off runs of 34 and 11 yards on the next two snaps. Adams came in to score the final touchdown on a 10-yard run, followed by Dominic Bowden-Smith’s two-point run, to make it 28-0 with only 2:06 to play.
Bashaw finished 4-of-14 passing for 82 yards, with three catches for 76 yards by Wozniak. Keegan Lutz led the Red Raiders with 22 yards on the ground, while Cox completed 4-of-15 balls for 33 yards. Smith had two receptions for 19 yards.
Franklin Tech heads to South County next Friday for a 7 p.m. game at Frontier Regional School, while Athol makes the trip west to Williamstown to face the Drury High School/Mount Greylock Regional School co-op team Friday at 7 p.m.