ATHOL -- The Drury football team opened its 2012 season in fine style, taking the opening kickoff and driving 72 yards for a touchdown.
After that, the Blue Devils made a season’s worth of mistakes in 20 first-half minutes. Host Athol scored 20 unanswered points in the first half and 33 in all for a 33-6 victory over the Blue Devils Friday night.
"I don’t know what happened. A couple of calls didn’t go our way, but you can’t blame it on that. I think we just lost some of our intensity," said Drury’s Nolan Bird. "I think that’s what kind of brought us down a little bit."
Lightning late in the second quarter caused the officials to clear the field at the end of the stanza. One hour after the players left the field, the game resumed.
The first-half statistics told the story, as Athol had 22 more total yards in the opening 20 minutes than Drury had in penalty yardage during the same time. The Blue Devils had 8 penalties for 55 yards and had a second-quarter turnover that led to the Red Raiders’ final touchdown of the first half. In the game, Drury had 10 penalties for 85 yards and Athol had one penalty for 10 yards. There was also one play with off-setting penalties.
The Blue Devils also had some problems on special teams. Punt returner Andrew Poor had 103 yards on two punts. One was a 55-yard return for a touchdown. The other was for 48 yards, but the Drury defense kept the Red Raiders off the board that time.
"Defensively, we have a lot of work to do. We missed a ton of tackles," Drury coach Bill Bryce said. "The other thing we have to work on is discipline. I don’t know what the penalties were. Athol had one. It’s tough when your guys are playing their hearts out and it seems like anytime anything good happens, they throw a flag.
"We just have to keep our heads up and keep on playing."
One of several bright spots for Drury was the running of Jose Melendez. The senior tailback, who played quarterback last year, had 20 carries for 145 yards and one touchdown.
Drury opened the first quarter in the capable hands of quarterback Jake Dilego. When Bryce met with media members at the football media night on Tuesday, he wasn’t sure whether Dilego or Nolan Bird would start. And during pregame warmups, both seniors took turns under center.
Bryce said he went with Dilego because of the experience he had last year playing quarterback. The Drury coach did go with Bird in the second half, but he could not get the Blue Devils back into the end zone.
Dilego brought the Blue Devils out and quickly handed the ball to Jose Melendez. Melendez, who had 68 yards rushing in the first half, gained four on that first play. He carried the ball 13 times in the first half and gained positive yardage on 12 of them.The big play of the first drive was a wingback reverse pitch to Isiah Clark for 33 yards. Clark broke Tom LaRose’s tackle about five yards past the line of scrimmage and was run down by Giovanni Palermo at the Athol 14.
Drury needed a fourth-down run by Melendez to keep the drive alive and on first-and-goal from the 8, Melendez went right on a pitchout, cut back left and churned his way into the end zone. It took the Blue Devils 10 plays to go up 6-0.
After the kickoff, it took Athol six plays. Two of them were long pass plays from quarterback Jerry Parker to Dakota Melanson, who played QB last year for the Red Raiders. Jake Lajoie’s 4-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left in the quarter tied the game.
Athol took the lead for keeps after Drury failed to move the ball on the next series. Bird’s 28-yard punt was fielded by Poor at his 45. He took off down the sideline and nobody caught him. Lajoie’s kick made it 13-6, and the Red Raiders were on their way.
"That was a big part of the game," said Bird. "It really took the wind out of our sails. We need to learn from it and come back and get stronger from it."
Athol went into the one hour weather delay with a 20-6 lead, not an insurmountable lead by any stretch of the imagination. With the Red Raiders getting the third-quarter kickoff, it would take a stop and a score by the Blue Devils to start a comeback.
That didn’t happen as Athol went 66 yards in five plays. Three big plays, including a 29-yard touchdown run by Parker, and the Red Raiders were up 26-6.