HOLYOKE -- When opportunity knocks in a playoff game, it would behoove a team to take advantage.
St. Joseph's had an opportunity to make a statement when the Crusaders recovered a fumbled punt on the Belchertown 16-yard line late in the first quarter. By not scoring, the statement the Crusaders made was not a good one.
Belchertown answered with 14 points in the second quarter and 12 more in the third as the top-seeded Orioles roughed up St. Joe's 26-0 Tuesday night at Holyoke High School's Roberts Stadium.
"That kind of deflated us. We were sure we were going to go in and score," said Crusader quarterback Jon Bianchi.
The Intercounty League champions will play Mount Greylock in Saturday's Division III Super Bowl.
The game started badly for the Crusaders. After winning the toss and taking the ball, St. Joe's fullback Lavante Wiggins injured an ankle on the first play from scrimmage, carrying the ball for three yards.
"It was deflating enough losing Lavante on the first play," said the quarterback. "There's not much you can do."
The problem with losing Wiggins was two-fold. First, it takes a 1,000-yard rusher out of the lineup. Two, according to Crusaders coach Gary Bianchi, it forced the St. Joseph's staff to adjust its offense on the fly.
"He was going to carry the ball more than he's carried it all year," said the St. Joe's coach. "When he goes down, it changes the whole game plan. There's no threat in the middle of the
Bianchi led the Crusaders with 64 yards rushing on 11 carries. St. Joe's also lost Tank Roberson, Colby St. John and backup fullback Dylan Kerr to injury.
The teams traded punts and then the Crusaders went three-and-out. Bianchi's punt of 40 yards was fumbled by Nick Leduc and recovered by Roberson at the Belchertown 16. The Crusaders stalled and lost a fumble on fourth down.
"It wasn't good," Gary Bianchi said. "Right after there, it went bad."
But it was all good for a Belchertown team.
"They were moving the ball better than we were in the first quarter," Belchertown coach John Mayo said. "It was huge. I think they had four downs inside the . It was absolutely huge. We were already thinking they were probably going to put up a score."
A good special teams play for Belchertown led to the first touchdown. Bianchi's punt was blocked and recovered at the Crusader 32-yard line with 4:39 left in the second quarter. Six plays later, Leduc ran the ball in from four yards out. The Belchertown quarterback had the key play of the drive -- and maybe the game -- when he hit a fourth-and-6 pass to Jake Mastorakis for 23 yards and a huge fourth down. The two-point conversion made it 8-0.
The Orioles took command on the next series when linebacker Tony Pellerin picked off a Bianchi pass and ran it back for a 45-yard touchdown. The conversion failed, but it was 14-0.
At halftime, the Crusaders outgained the Orioles 93 to 30 yards, but had nothing to show for it.
Belchertown took the third-quarter kickoff and went 48 yards on five plays for a touchdown. Belchertown ran off 17 plays to five for St. Joe's, scoring twice and putting this game out of reach. James Ryan led Belchertown with 93 yards on 20 carries.
"We were not 26 points better than St. Joe's. We were not," said Mayo. "We got some fortunate breaks. We jumped on them."