LEE >> Franklin County Technical School may have gotten the respect it was looking for, but on Friday night the Eagles did not get the result they were seeking.
Lee High School scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to erase a halftime deficit and picked up a late first down to run out the clock en route to a 24-19 victory over the Eagles during the semifinals of the Western Massachusetts Division VI football tournament.
The game-changer came two minutes into the fourth quarter when the Eagles had the ball and were marching, trailing 17-13, at the time. Nate Crocker had already ripped off consecutive runs of 10 and 9 yards, but on his third straight carry, he was hit 10 yards up field and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Michael Hurley, thwarting the Eagles' drive and setting up the Wildcats for what proved to be the game-winning drive.
"We got an early turnover, which allowed us to take the lead, but unfortunately we gave a turnover back to them at a bad time," Franklin Tech coach Joe Gamache said.
From there, second-seeded Lee (5-4) took over at its own 34 and marched 66 yards on 9 plays, the final play of the drive a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Abderhalden to Patrick Finnegan. Nick Wood converted the extra point to put the Wildcats up 24-13 with about 4 minutes remaining.
The third-seeded Eagles (7-2) did not go quietly into the night, as CJ Daignault returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. The 2-point pass fell to the ground, leaving the Eagles down 24-19. The Eagles attempted an onside kick following the touchdown, but Lee recovered and then picked up three first downs to run out the clock. The biggest play on the drive came when Abderhalden rushed for 15 yards on a third-and-9 for the final first down needed to run out the clock. It was the final big play of the night for Abderhalden, who finished with 66 rushing yards and also went 4-of-6 passing for 54 yards.
"I told him to take us home," Lee coach Keith Thomson said of the final run.
The Eagles benefitted from a turnover in the first quarter to jump out to a 7-0 lead. After the Eagles went three-and-out on the game's first possession, Daignault punted to Lee's Casey Blair, who dropped the punt. Crocker was on the spot to grab the ball on the bounce and set the Eagles up deep in Wildcats' territory. Six plays later, Daignault hit Mitch Mailloux on a 10-yard touchdown strike and Crocker converted the extra point.
Lee responded on the next drive, going 54 yards on eight plays to tie the score 7-7 when Abderhalden scored on a 10-yard run. The Eagles went right back on top on the next drive when they put together their longest drive of the night, a 15-play, 59-yarder, that included a fake-punt that went for a first down when Daignault hit Tim Momaney on a 12-yard strike, and ended when Daignault ran in a 2-yard score. The extra point kick failed, leaving the Eagles up 13-7 with 5:50 left in the second quarter.
Lee used up most of the time remaining in the second quarter putting together a drive that resulted in Wood kicking a 30-yard field goal in the final minute, pulling the Wildcats to within 13-10 at the break.
The Eagles were unable to hold the lead for long, as Lee took the opening kick of the second half and scored a go-ahead touchdown, which put the Wildcats up for good. Nick Castillo (13 rushes, 81 yards) finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The game settled into a defensive battle from there, as Franklin Tech had two straight drives end in three-and-outs, and Lee had two drives of its own end on punts. That was followed by the Crocker fumble on Franklin Tech's third drive of the second half, which set up the wild finish. The Eagles finished with just two first downs in the second half, and gained only 21 yards net in the second half.
"They are a good football team," Gamache said. "They made a few more plays than we did tonight, and hats off to them."
Ryan Ruef finished with 47 yards rushing on 11 carries for the Wildcats before leaving the game with what appeared to be a serious injury. Hurley added 17 yards on 8 hauls.
Crocker paced the Eagles' offense with 55 yards on 8 carries, while Momaney chipped in 29 yards on 9 carries. Daignault finished 4-of-8 passing for 41 yards.
Lee moves on to face defending WMass champion McCann Technical High School in the Division VI championship game.