Thanksgiving Football: Athol overcomes early deficit to rout Mahar, 52-12

  • Athol's breaks the huddle and rushes to a successful onside kick recovered by Caleb Cox in Athol Thanksgiving morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mahar's Sean Ramos (24) returns a kickoff in Athol Thanksgiving morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Athol's Caleb Cox tries to avoid Mahar's David Vitello early in the first quarter during the host Bears’ 52-12 win on Thursday morning at O’Brien Field in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mahar's Kaleb Lemcke (1) breaks through the line for a touchdown early in the first quarter in Athol Thursday morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Athol's Vincent Gordon pulls in a pass between Mahar defenders during the host Bears’ 52-12 win on Thursday morning at O’Brien Field in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Athol's Vincent Gordon takes a pass from Caleb Cox to the end zone during the host Bears’ 52-12 win on Thursday morning at O’Brien Field in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mahar's Austin Matthews (23) scores late in the first quarter during the visiting Senators’ 52-12 lo on Thursday morning at O’Brien Field in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Athol's Shea Brennan, right, makes a catch in traffic during the host Bears’ 52-12 win on Thursday morning at O’Brien Field in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mahar's Morgan Softic (11) is taken down by Athol's Hayden Barrieau during the host Bears’ 52-12 win on Thursday morning at O’Brien Field in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

For The Recorder
Published: 11/25/2021 5:49:02 PM
Modified: 11/25/2021 5:48:57 PM

ATHOL – The first Thanksgiving Day football game in two years was more than enough to grab fans' attention, and then Mahar made sure it had Athol's full attention with a standout first quarter and an early 12-7 lead.

That's when the Bears got serious, ripping off 22 unanswered points in the second quarter and 23 more in the third in a 52-12 mauling of the Senators Thursday morning at Thomas J. O'Brien Field.

“The alarm clocks went off a little late,” said Athol coach Bill LaRose. “But after that (second) play, I think our team locked things down. It put a fire under our guys, that's for sure. I don't think there was anybody who didn't play to their full potential today. We won on all sides of the ball, and it's just a good win for our program."

Dilan Fountain ran for a game-high 128 yards with two touchdowns and surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his senior season, Caleb Cox threw a pair of TD passes to Vincent Gordon and ran for another score, and Hayden Barrieau and Shea Brennan added rushing scores of their own as the Bears wrapped their season with a 4-7 record.

Athol matched the most points it had scored in a Thanksgiving or season-ending game against Mahar, equaling the 52 it scored twice before, in 1926 and 2006.

For Mahar (2-9), Kaleb Lemcke snapped off an 82-yard TD burst on the second play from scrimmage and Austin Matthews added a first-quarter touchdown run to get the Senators off to their quick 12-7 lead.

Mahar arrived at the field roughly 20 minutes before the scheduled 10 a.m. kickoff time, thanks to a morning run-through of a newly installed double-wing offense that took the place of the Senators' usual spread sets.

“The first quarter was how we drew it up,” said Mahar coach Chris Bailey. “We wanted to pack it in and shorten the game. That was the plan and it was working, but we lose a couple of guys, we lose our quarterback.

“When you're running something new and all of a sudden you're replacing guys who haven't taken reps, the wheels fell off. It's a mark of a young team, with only two seniors, that the frustration comes through, they start kicking themselves, and it snowballs."

After a touchback on the opening kickoff, Lemcke lost two yards on first down but got that and the rest back on the next snap. Freshman quarterback Morgan Softic pitched to Lemcke and he angled off right tackle for an 82-yard touchdown run, only 59 seconds into the action, for an instant 6-0 lead.

Just over two minutes later, the hosts nosed back in front after starting a drive at their own 47. Cox completed a 15-yard pass to Fountain to put the ball at the Mahar 40 and then hit Gordon crossing right-to-left across the middle for the tying touchdown. Fountain then kicked the extra point to make it 7-6 with 8:42 left in the first.

Two series later, Lemcke forced a fumble by Gordon at the end of a 17-yard catch-and-run and Matthews recovered for Mahar at its own 47. Dominic Cacciolfi ran for 14 yards on first down and a pair of face-mask penalties kept the drive moving before Matthews went in from two yards out, pulling the Senators ahead 12-7 at the 28.1-second mark.

From there, Athol mounted a 10-play, 57-yard drive, featuring four rushes by Barrieau for 36 yards. Fountain finished it with his first touchdown run, a 16-yarder, and his extra-point kick that made it 14-12.

The Bears then pulled off a successful squib kickoff that Cox jumped on at the Mahar 42. A 34-yard pass to Brennan between double coverage put the ball at the 8, and Barrieau scored on the very next play to jump the lead to 21-12, with two touchdowns in the span of 53 seconds.

Athol wasn't done in the half either, forcing a Mahar punt and driving 71 yards. Cox and Gordon combined for the second time, this one a 53-yard scoring play on a crossing route. Fountain then ran in the two-pointer with 22.2 seconds before halftime for a commanding 29-12 advantage.

Cox threw all seven of his passes before halftime and completed five for 159 yards. Gordon was his primary target with three catches for 110 yards. First-half offense favored Athol with 260 yards to Mahar's 96.

The second half proved forgettable for the visitors, whose four possessions after halftime ended in two punts, a pair of lost fumbles, and minus-10 total yards. Softic also left the game late in the second quarter with an apparent collarbone injury and did not return, forcing Lemcke to step in at quarterback.

Athol piled it on from there on a 9-yard TD run by Cox, a 15-yard score by Brennan and Fountain's second of the day, a 45-yard jaunt that propelled him past the 1,000-yard rushing mark. Gordon and Cain Young added two-point conversion runs.

“Everyone's playing together finally. We were just working all this week, and it was coaching that won us the game.” said Fountain, who finished the season at 1,009 yards and carried home Athol's Most Valuable Player award. “I come from soccer, and we've won the majority of our games. Coming to (football), I didn't know what was going to happen. I had faith that we would win games. But you can't let the games you lost bring you down. Just keep your head up and keep playing.”

Barrieau complemented Fountain nicely with 54 rushing yards, and Cox and Brennan contributed 29 and 27 yards respectively. For the day, Athol outgained Mahar 390-86 in total offense.

Lemcke led the Senators with 65 yards on the ground and Matthews, Mahar's game MVP, had 23.

The game's outstanding lineman awards went to Athol's Young and Mahar's Jayden Carey.

“Half of our lineup are freshmen and sophomores,” said LaRose, whose team picked up its first Turkey Day victory since 2017. “This team had a lot of hard luck, lost a couple of games especially late in the season that they could have won, but they've never quit. They did everything we asked. I think Athol football's gonna be in good hands with these kids.”

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