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South Hadley falls short to Leicester in state Division 7 semifinal

  • Collin Mailhott, center, of South Hadley, is tackled by Leicester during the state Division 7 semifinal, Saturday at Shrewsbury High School. South Hadley lost 28-21. Visit gazettenet.com for more photos. Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Sam Fuller

  • Tyler Braithwaite, right, of South Hadley, runs past Leicester's Michael Mero during the state Division 7 semifinal, Saturday at Shrewsbury High School. Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Sam Fuller

  • The South Hadley football team huddles before a play during the during the state Division 7 semifinal, Saturday at Shrewsbury High School. Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Sam Fuller

  • Tyler Braithwaite, right, of South Hadley, runs past Leicester players during the state Division 7 semifinal, Saturday at Shrewsbury High School. Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Sam Fuller

  • Jack Haber of South Hadley runs the ball during the Tigers’ one-touchdown loss to Leicester in the state Division 7 semifinal Nov. 23 at Shrewsbury High School. Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Sam Fullerr

  • Max Garvin, left, and Hunter Carey celebrate after Carey scores South Hadley’s first touchdown during the state Division 7 semifinal, Saturday at Shrewsbury High School. Worcester Telegram & Gazette/Sam Fuller



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

SHREWSBURY — It came down to just a few plays for South Hadley in the state Division 7 football semifinals on Saturday.

A hook-and-ladder and a double pass from Leicester, and a fumble on the Tigers’ first drive were just a few that could’ve gone the Tigers’ way, but didn’t.

“This is one of those situations where I think two great teams played football,” South Hadley coach Scott Taylor said. “Somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. We always talk about, in football, with games like this, they are three-play games. If you change the outcome of three plays in a game, the result will change. … I couldn’t be prouder of our team. They gave it everything they had.”

The Tigers fell to Leicester, 28-21, at Shrewsbury High School. Hunter Carey scored all three touchdowns for South Hadley.

“It was clear on the field the toughness and resiliency of this team. I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Taylor said. “South Hadley kids pride themselves on being tough. It doesn’t matter who we are playing. We are going to give it everything we’ve got.”

Leicester started with the ball in the first quarter and flew down field. The Wolverines’ Bryce Gosselin capped a three-play, 62-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown reception from Daniel Mero off a shovel pass to put Leicester ahead early.

“We were a little hesitant at first, but once we got the first contact on we realized we could play with them,” Carey said. “We played harder and hit faster. ... We settled in a bit”

The Tigers controlled the clock and the ball on their first drive, going 31 yards on five carries, but running back Kyle Johnson fumbled and Leicester recovered at its own 30-yard line.

The Wolverines moved down field on their following drive with catches from Jack O’Neill and a 21-yard reception from Gosselin, but Carey intercepted a Leicester pass down the sideline to give the Tigers the ball on their own 14-yard line.

South Hadley controlled the ball the rest of the quarter and drove down to Leicester’s 2-yard line. The Tigers had fourth-and-goal and elected to run the ball up the middle with Carey, but he was stopped and South Hadley turned the ball over on downs.

“When we got stopped on the goal line, that was huge,” Carey said. “If we get in it might be a different outcome.”

The Tigers forced Leicester to go three-and-out on the following drive. On South Hadley’s next series, Carey scored with a 14-yard run up the middle to tie the game with 2:13 to go in the half.

Throughout the season, South Hadley put Carey in several different spots across its formations. On Saturday, Carey was in at quarterback almost as much as he was at running back.

“You’ve got to go with the one that got you there. I don’t think I’m telling any secrets, but Hunter is our best player,” Taylor said. “We wanted the ball in his hands with him making decisions. I couldn’t be prouder of him and both our quarterbacks Shawn (Mitchell) and Ethan (Murphy).”

Leicester scored two plays later with some trickery. Mero dropped back to pass after receiving a shotgun snap. He turned to his left and bounced the ball off the turf backwards and into the hands of his brother, Michael Mero.

Michael looked down field and found O’Neill wide open for a 69-yard touchdown to put the Wolverines back ahead, 14-7, with 1:02 to go in the half.

South Hadley scored on its first drive of the second half. Carey ran into the end zone from 2 yards out to tie the game with 8:17 to go in the third quarter. The score was set up by a 28-yard pass from Carey to Shawn Mitchell along the sideline to get the ball down near the Wolverines’ goal line.

The Tigers scored again at the end of the quarter when Carey caught a screen pass from Mitchell and ran 23 yards to put South Hadley ahead, 21-14.

With 9:42 to go in the game, Leicester executed a hook-and-ladder play. Daniel Mero threw a 3-yard pass to O’Neill near the sideline. O’Neill pitched the ball over to Gosselin, who ran down the sideline for a 20-yard touchdown.

“We saw the hook-and-ladder (on film),” Taylor said. “They just caught us. Sometimes teams just make plays.”

South Hadley turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing drive. Leicester took advantage, going 39 yards on six plays and capping its drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Daniel Mero to take a 28-21 lead with 3:21 to go in the game.

South Hadley moved the ball to around midfield on the following drive, but a Mitchell interception on a deep ball with 2:15 left sealed the team’s fate.

“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” Carey said. “We aren’t a huge team. More than half our team plays. It creates a bond that is unbreakable. The way we have developed over the season, it’s indescribable. I can’t put into words how we have grown as a team, as players and as students. It’s a great feat to make history for our school and I’m happy to be a part of that. As a member of the program, and as a future graduate, I want to see it go further.”

The Tigers will now play Holyoke on Thanksgiving. South Hadley will graduate six seniors.

“(The seniors) brought a level of intensity and focus and desire,” Taylor said. “I think the lessons that were passed down to them, they did a great job of passing down to the younger kids. I’m thankful for every kid that plays football at South Hadley. It’s not an, air quotes, football town, but the people that play football and the parents that support these kids are amazing. That is a reflection of also why and how we got here. Our parents and booster club, the things they do for these kids, between the meals and get-togethers, it’s amazing.”

Leicester 28, South Hadley 21

Leicester

7

7

0

14

—28

South Hadley

0

7

14

0

—21

First quarter

L—Bryce Gosselin 4 pass from Daniel Mero (Nolan Power kick), 10:55

Second quarter

SH—Hunter Carey 14 run (Baptiste kick), 2:13

L—Jack O’Neill 69 pass from Michael Mero (Power kick), 1:02

Third quarter

SH—Carey 2 run (Baptiste kick), 8:17

SH—Hunter Carey 23 pass from Shawn Mitchell (Baptiste kick), 0:47

Fourth quarter

L—Gosselin 20 run (Powers kick), 9:42

L—Daniel Mero 1 run (Baptiste kick), 3:21

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—South Hadley—Haber 6-20, Carey 28-143, Tyrell Braithwaite 8-32, Collin Maillhott 2-31, Mitchell 1-3, Kyle Johnson 2-12. Leicester—Olsen 4-7, Daniel Mero 4-3, Gosselin 10-93, Xavien Rosario 1-1.

PASSING—South Hadley–Ethan Murphy 0-1, Shawn Mitchell 2-4-26-1, Carey 1-1-28-0. Leicester–Daniel Mero 12-18-161-1, Michael Hero 1-1-69-0.

RECEIVING—South Hadley—Mitchell 1-28, Carey 1-23, Jack Haber 2-3. Leicester—O’Neill 7-152, Stephen Olsen 1-5, Jeffrey Puchalski 1-13, Gosselin 4-27, Joseph Mercier 2-18.