Defense steps up big as Lee football halts losing skid

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ORANGE — An unrelenting rushing attack, buoyed by a dominant performance up front, did the job offensively. But the real star for the Lee High School football team on Friday night was the defense.

The Wildcats wore down host Mahar Regional School, which finished with negative rushing yards on the night and four first downs. For the second time this season, Lee came into Franklin County and handled its business to capture a 30-7 victory in an independent contest at the Woodward Complex.

Lee (2-3) racked up 280 yards rushing and scored 23 unanswered points to pull away for the win. Both Jack Purcell (17 carries, 112 yards) and Gabe Kelley (18 carries, 113 yards) went over the century mark on the ground, and quarterback Jimmy Purcell threw a pair of second-half touchdowns as the Wildcats halted a three-game losing skid.

Franklin County teams have not fared well against the Lee defense this season. In the season-opener, Greenfield was held scoreless in a 16-0 loss at Vets Field. Fast forward to Friday, and Mahar's only points of the night came on a defensive touchdown in the second quarter.

Lee's defense was downright dominant in the first half. After Mahar moved the ball into Wildcats territory on its opening drive, the Senators (2-2) were held without a first down through intermission.

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Lee's defensive unit was particularly stingy on the ground, where Mahar actually lost 12 yards on 11 carries in the opening 24 minutes of action. It was the Mahar defense that got the hosts on the board. With Lee holding a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, the Wildcats faced a third-and-10 in Mahar territory. Jimmy Purcell dropped back for a screen pass, but after pressure up the middle from the Mahar defensive line, he floated a pass that landed right in the hands of Senators lineman Peter Tattan. A pack of Senators escorted him to the opposing end zone, with Tattan ultimately rumbling 55 yards for a pick-six that leveled the score 7-7 with 10:44 remaining.

That play gave Mahar a shot of energy, but Lee regained control when Kelley scored from 4 yards out - his second TD of the night - just four minutes later to give the visitors a 13-7 advantage they would carry into halftime.

The second half was all Lee. Jimmy Purcell threw touchdown passes to Garrett Hopkins (8-yard) and Luke Patella (11-yard), and Patella added a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The junior was plenty involved in the defensive effort as well, recording three interceptions in the second half alone, including a highlight-reel snag where Patella got way up to snag a pass from Mahar quarterback Noaha Chabot along the Lee sideline.

Chabot was limited to 4-of-14 passes for 50 yards and three interceptions, while the Mahar rushing attack could get nothing going throughout the night. The Senators carried the ball 21 times as a team, finishing with minus-2 yards. Charlie Barnes caught three of Chabot's completions for 40 yards. Luke Melanson added a 10-yard reception.

Jimmy Purcell finished 6-for-17 passing for 70 yards, totaling two touchdowns and an interception. Five different Wildcats caught passes on the night, and the visitors racked up 20 first downs.

Mahar will stay with the Berkshire County theme next week when it hosts Monument Mountain in an Intercounty League North tilt in Orange. Lee travels to Commerce for an IL South game.


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