Lee football offense runs the ball

The Wildcats ground game was wildly productive, gaining 274 yards on 37 carries against Commerce.

LEE — In its penultimate home game of 2021, Lee made sure it would not walk off of John J. Consolati Field unhappy.

After Commerce scored on its first drive of the contest, the Wildcats came back and scored 43 unanswered points, determining everything but the final score. The visitors from Springfield put two late touchdowns on the board to account for a 43-18 final score Friday night.

The win was the third straight for the Wildcats, who improve to 4-1, and are now 2-0 in the Intercounty South after knocking off league foe Commerce.

The Wildcats close out their home schedule next Friday against Easthampton and will finish with three straight road games. So, Lee coach Keith Thomson said he was more than happy because he doesn’t want to be having to chase wins at the tail-end of the season.

“The next two, back-to-back, we have Easthampton coming here next week and the following week is up at Hoosac,” Thomson said. “We’re in the meat of the schedule right now. It’s do-or-die time and we couldn’t ask to be in a better position than at 4-1. I think we have a lot of work to do to get better, going into those two games.

“We feel pretty good about where we’re at.”

Running backs Elliot Winston and Cam Tyer each scored two touchdowns. Winston scored on a 15-yard run in the first quarter and a one-yard run late in the second. Tyer had a 24-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a 22-yarder in the third. He almost had two in the third quarter, but fumbled the ball at the goal line and Wildcat lineman Alex DelVecchio fell on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown.

One week after Lee quarterback Hayden Siok threw for 113 yards and a touchdown, he only threw for 14 yards Friday night. No matter, because the Wildcat ground game ran wild on Commerce, gaining 274 yards on 37 carries. The Wildcats had twice as many yards rushing as Commerce had in total offense (135 yards).

Winston, who had 88 yards on 10 carries, gave a lot of credit to the Wildcat offensive line.

“Some of them are new, at least new from last year, and they all stepped up,” said Winston. “They are the thing that carries us through each game. We didn’t know how good we were going to be. Those kids come and ball out every day.”

“We saw that we could get the edge on them,” Thomson said. “Our running backs did a great job on the edge. Give our O-Line credit and our receivers, I thought, did a great job blocking tonight.”

The game did not, however, start out well for Lee. The Raiders won the toss and elected to receive. On the first play from scrimmage, Kevaun Coakley-Tulloch found a huge hole in the Lee defense and sped 53 yards, putting Commerce in business on the Wildcat 7-yard line. Three plays later, Victor Cruz carried Lee defenders into the end zone from the 1-yard line for the score. The missed conversion made it 6-0.

Lee drove from its 39 to the Commerce 16, but on third down, Winston fumbled and Chase Johnson — remember that name — recovered on the Raider 15. Unfortunately for head coach Theo Harrison’s team, it was forced to punt the ball away from its 23. Dylan Ely fielded the punt and returned it 19 yards to the Commerce 16. Two plays later, Winston banged in from 15 yards out. Mason Mihlek’s kick put the Wildcats up 7-6, and they never trailed again.

The momentum change was palpable, and Winston said he felt it on the Wildcat sideline.

“We were all saying in the huddle that we’re a team that gets excited for each other, and it carries us all forward,” said Winston.

The Lee defense picked things up in the second quarter, converting a turnover into points.

Commerce was facing third-and-15 from its 21, when quarterback Armani Vargas was flushed out of the pocket, hit and the ball came out. Shaun Kinney recovered the fumble on the Commerce 18. Two plays later, Tyler Bartini scored on a reverse from 17 yards out.

The next time Commerce had the ball, Cruz inexplicably ran out of punt formation from inside his 30. He lost six yards and was tackled on the 24. On the first play, Tyer took a pitch from Siok, went around the right end and spun defensive back Michael Coakley into the ground with a nifty shift en route to a 24-yard touchdown run.

Half of Commerce’s 135 yards in total offense came on the first touchdown drive. The Raiders gained only 75 yards the rest of the way.

“We made a couple of [defensive adjustments],” Thomson said. “They were giving us a lot of spread looks with a lot of trips out there. We started out running a little bit of a 50 front, but we needed to get more bodies out in space so we switched it up to a 4-3 look and that seemed to be effective. That gave us the ability to send some different pressures as well, and I thought we did a good job getting some pressure on their quarterback.”

Armani Vargas was sacked four times for a loss of 22 yards. One of them came on third down from the Commerce 3, when Mihlek burst through and tackled the Commerce quarterback in the back of the end zone for a safety.

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———
Commerce 6 0 6 6 — 18
Lee 7 20 16 0 — 43
First Quarter
C — Victor Cruz 1 run (Run failed), 10:13.
L — Elliot Winston 15 run (Mason Mihlek kick), 3:01.
Second Quarter
L — Tyler Bartini 17 run (Mihlek kick), 10:52.
L — Cam Tyer 24 run (Kick failed), 8:12.
L — Winston 1 run (Matt Petrescu kick), 2:57.
Third Quarter
L — Tyer 22 run (Petrescu kick), 10:04.
L — Armani Vargas tackled in the end zone by Mihlek, 5:07.
L — Alex DelVecchio recovers fumble in the end zone (Petrescu kick), 3:09.
C — Chase Johnson 8 run (Run failed), 1:18.
Fourth Quarter
C — Johnson 99 interception return (Pass failed), 3:53.
———
TEAM STATISTICS
Comm Lee
First Downs 6 18
Rushes/Yards 32-98 37-274
Passing yards 37 14
Comp-Att-Int 2-10-1 3-9-1
Punts/Avg. 1-22.0 2-32.5
Fumbles/Lost 4-1 2-1
Penaties/Yards 7-50 7-55
Third-down conversion 2-9 2-7
———
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING — Comm: Kevaun Coakley-Tulloch 16-127, Armani Vargas 8 (minus-19), Victor Cruz 1-(minus-5), Julio Ramos Diaz 2-11, Tyrell Tanner 1-(minus-4), Chase Johnson 3-11. Lee: Elliot Winston 10-88, Tyler Bartini 11-107, Hayden Siok 3-(minus-26), Cam Tyer 5-72, Dylan Ely 1-(minus-5), Devin Schwab 4-24, Cam Freeman 3-8
PASSING — Comm: Coakley-Tulloch 1-2-0 8, Vargas 2-7-1 29, Johnson 0-1-0 0. Lee: Siok 3-8-0 14, Sam Joyce 0-1-1 0.
RECEIVING — Comm: Michael Coakley 2-37. Lee: Shaun Kinney 1-(minus-2), Freeman 1-10, Bartini 1-6.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.