TURNERS FALLS >> Somewhere in the month of November, the football paths of Turners Falls and McCann Tech seem destined to cross.
The teams met for the fourth time in five years Friday night in the Western Mass. Division VI playoffs, and for the second straight year it was McCann that squeezed out the narrow victory, 14-13, in a pulse-pounder of a semifinal at Bourdeau Fields Complex.
The fourth-seeded Hornets (7-2) grabbed the lead for good late in the third quarter, then fended off Turners' last-minute charge that ended at the McCann 22-yard line.
Starting at their own 36 with 1:43 left, the Indians (7-2) got an instant 33-yard completion from Tionne Brown to Nick Croteau to put the ball at the Hornets' 31. A 3-yard gain by Quinn Doyle, an incomplete pass and Brown's 6-yard scramble created fourth down at the 22, with a measurement showing the Indians short by the length of the football at the 45.7-second mark.
Doyle slammed into the right side of the line on fourth down, but was met by the McCann tandem of Corbin Richardson and Adam Rodriguez for no gain. Another measurement gave the Hornets the ball on downs, by mere inches.
"They know what we're doing, we know what they're doing, and our defense just played tremendous," said Hornets coach Bob LeClair. "That last series they had, they made plays, got a big gain on first down. We stepped up, and it feels great. It was a foot [away], and it stayed a foot."
"Two years in a row, fourth and inches," said Turners coach Chris Lapointe with a shake of the head, wondering jokingly as he left the field if the Indians should have gone for a field-goal attempt. "You'd think you'd be able to get the inches, running behind our strength, we just didn't do it."
Top-seeded Turners led 13-6 at halftime and intercepted McCann quarterback Mike Ferrara right away at the start of the second half, but couldn't move the ball and punted. That allowed the Hornets to begin a 13-play, 59-yard drive that took 6:22 off the clock, including a fourth-and-1 conversion at the Turners 18. Ferrara took it into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 2, followed by Nick Lincoln's two-point conversion run, to give the visitors a 14-13 lead with 1:43 left in the third quarter.
That eventual game-winning drive came at a heavy cost to the Hornets. Dakota Bolte, who ran for 70 yards on 13 carries, left the field with an apparent right knee injury and did not return.
Turners took over and had a drive kept alive by a roughing-the-punter call that wiped out a big punt runback by McCann's Steve Stodja. But both defenses stood tall from that point, forcing a pair of punts from both teams before the Indians' last-ditch drive.
Much earlier, after a scoreless first quarter, Turners struck first after the Indians' Colby Dobias recovered a Ferrara fumble at his own 26 with 10:09 to go in the first half. Jalen Sanders got loose for 44 yards on first down, down to the McCann 30. Brown (4-of-10 passing, 72 yards) hit Croteau for a 15-yard gain to the 10, then Doyle ran for gains of 9 yards and 1 yard for the lead score. Tyler Lavin's extra point gave Turners a 7-0 lead with 7:56 left.
McCann started from its own 41 after the kickoff, and got key first-down gains from Lincoln (8 yards) and Bolte (13 and 18 yards). The Hornets faced fourth-and-goal at the Turners 2 before a false start knocked them back to the 7, but Ferrara, rolling left, zipped a pass to Lincoln in traffic for the touchdown. Lincoln was stopped short on the two-point try, leaving the Indians ahead 7-6 with 2:13 to play.
An unsportsmanlike-conduct call against McCann forced a kickoff from deep in its territory, with Turners taking over at the Hornets' 44, after play was whistled dead with the squib kick still loose. That gave the Indians an opportunity to send Jack Darling on a first-down sweep around the right side, and the junior went the distance to make it 13-6. The Hornets got through to partially block Lavin's extra-point try, a miss that would prove telling by the end of the night.
McCann missed a chance to get close before the half, after Lincoln's 35-yard option pass to Keigan Case put the ball at the Turners 30. The Indians then forced a strip-sack of Ferrara, creating a 20-yard loss and a Turners recovery at the McCann 46.
Lincoln and Doyle led their respective teams with 74 rushing yards apiece. Total offense spoke to the tightness of the game, with Turners gaining 229 total yards to McCann's 226.
Next up, the Hornets move on in search of their second straight WMass Division VI title, meeting second-seeded Lee (5-4) in Saturday's final at Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire.
"They've got a good ball club. We've seen them, they've seen us," said LeClair of the Wildcats. "It's gonna be a heckuva game at Hoosac Valley next week, I think."
After a pause, he chuckled, "I shouldn't say think — I know."
TF — Doyle 1 run (Lavin kick)
MT — Lincoln 7 pass from Ferrara (run failed)
TF — Darling 44 run (kick blocked)
MT — Ferrara 2 run (Lincoln run)
RUSHING—MT: Lincoln 16-74, Bolte 13-70, Bohl 7-23, Dufur 5-17, Team 2-(minus 4), Ferrara 6-(minus 32). TF: Doyle 20-74, Darling 2-45, Sanders 7-38, Brown 2-0.
PASSING—MT: Ferrara 3-5-1-43, Lincoln 1-1-0-35. TF: Brown 4-10-0-72, Sanders 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—MT: Lincoln 3-43, Case 1-35. TF: Croteau 3-53, Sanders 1-19.