H.S. Football: Mahar blanks rival Athol on Thanksgiving, 12-0 (PHOTOS)

  • Athol quarterback Aidan Melanson (10) readies to throw a pass while receiving pressure from Mahar’s Connor Sluder (88) during the host Senators’ 12-0 victory in the annual Thanksgiving Day meeting between the two rivals on Thursday at the Woodward Complex in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Athol’s Anthony Lopez-Hippler makes a catch in front of Mahar’s Sean Ramos during the host Senators’ 12-0 win on Thursday at the Woodward Complex in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Mahar’s David Vitello (4) helps up Kaleb Lemcke (1) during the Senators’ 12-0 win over Athol on Thursday in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Mahar’s Connor Sluder (88) closes in on Athol’s Shea Brennan (8) during the Senators’ 12-0 win over Athol on Thursday in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • The Mahar football team captured a 12-0 win over Athol on Thanksgiving morning in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Mahar celebrates a touchdown. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Athol’s Anthony Lopez-Hippler (20) runs away from Mahar defenders during the Senators’ 12-0 win on Thursday at the Wooward Complex in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Mahar’s Jayden Carey (56) was named his team’s outstanding lineman after the Senators defeated Athol, 12-0, on Thursday in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Xander Roberts of Mahar holds the trophy after his team beat Athol, 12-0, on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Mahar celebrates its win. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Mahar’s Xander Roberts runs for a touchdown. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

For the Recorder
Published: 11/24/2022 8:33:30 PM
Modified: 11/24/2022 8:33:20 PM

ORANGE – Last year on Thanksgiving morning, scoring 12 points got the Mahar football team nothing more than a 40-point loss. One year later, 12 points were good enough to give the Senators a shutout victory.

Xander Roberts ran for both of his team's touchdowns and the Mahar defense limited Athol to only three first downs and 60 total yards as the Senators blanked the Bears, 12-0, Thursday morning at the Woodward Complex.

Mahar (5-6) threw only three passes in the game, completing none, but ran the ball 46 times for 244 yards. The three-headed attack of Kaleb Lemcke (14 carries, game-high 121 yards), Roberts (15 for 98) and Dominic Cacciolfi (12 for 18) combined for 41 of those rushes and 237 yards between them.

The Senators completed the 2022 sweep, following a 22-8 win at Athol on Oct. 7. Mahar registered its 33rd win in the season-ending North Quabbin rivalry game, compared to 52 wins for Athol, with one tie.

"I'm proud of the way the kids fought and executed," said Mahar coach Chris Bailey. "Our defense was excellent today. Despite the turnovers, to be able to win a game with a shutout is a big deal. We made big plays when we needed to. We knew it would be a close game, if we could get a couple of scores early and hang on, that's what happened. We talked about staying positive and staying up when things happen, and the kids did a great job."

Athol finished at 4-7 and saw the end of its three-game late-season winning streak. The Bears lost workhorse running back Sawyer Lefsyk on the third play from scrimmage with an apparent left hip injury, and backfield mate Logan Cormier left the game for good shortly thereafter, leaving the visitors shorthanded.

"It made it a long day for us," said Athol coach Josh Talbot. "Our kids fought hard. It certainly wasn't for a lack of effort. It felt like we had made a lot of progress (during the winning streak), but as quick as you build something, it felt like it went down in flames today. The reality right now is that we're a first-year coaching staff, and their coaching staff is better at this than we are."

Mahar opened the game with an attempted onside kick that didn't travel the necessary 10 yards, allowing Athol to begin at the Senators' 49. But a three-and-out and an 8-yard punt gave Mahar the ball back at its own 41. The hosts converted fourth-and-2 at the Athol 39 when the Bears jumped offside, then turned the ball over on downs at the 28.

Athol was forced to punt again and was hurt by an unsportsmanlike-conduct call that allowed Mahar to start at the Bears 42. Lemcke snapped off a 21-yard run to get the Senators close and Roberts cashed in second-and-3 from the 13 with a touchdown run off right tackle. Jayden Carey's extra-point kick slid wide to the right, leaving Mahar's lead at 6-0 with 11:05 left in the first half.

Mahar's Connor Sluder then recovered an onside kick at the Athol 48, but the Senators kept the ball for only two plays before Athol's Shea Brennan jumped on a fumble at the 37. The Bears then failed on fourth-and-6 from their own 41, but got the ball right back when Lemcke fumbled on the next play and Riley Reed recovered at the 38.

That led to what turned into Athol's most productive drive of the day and the Bears' deepest advance into Mahar territory. Aidan Melanson hit Anthony Lopez-Hippler on a post pattern for 30 yards to the Senators' 30. Three plays later, Melanson aired one out deep, but Morgan Softic came up with the interception in the end zone for a touchback.

Neither team could do anything with its last series of the half and Mahar took a 6-0 edge to the break, with a 94-44 advantage in total offense.

At the top of the second half, Mahar's Ronnie Stone covered a squibbed kickoff at his own 41 and Roberts struck immediately with what proved the clinching score. He took Lemcke's pitch and swept the right side untouched for a 59-yard touchdown. The two-point try failed after a botched snap from center, but just 14 seconds into the third quarter, Mahar had plenty of insurance.

"We thought they would onside-kick, and we had talked about starting fast," said Bailey. "We went unbalanced, they didn't adjust, and Xander did the rest. He's done that a few times for us this year and come through big. I'm really happy for him, a senior getting a big touchdown run like that on Thanksgiving Day."

The Senators' defense took hold of the game from there, as Athol struggled to get any traction. The Bears had one first down and only 16 yards on offense over the final two quarters, with two drives ending on downs, two punts, and an interception of Melanson by Sean Ramos.

Mahar couldn't build on its lead even though four of the Senators' last five series ended in Athol territory, with three stops on fourth down, a punt, and Brennan's second fumble recovery of the day for the Bears.

Athol's 26 rushing attempts resulted in 26 total yards. Brennan led the Bears with 27 yards and Hayden Barrieau had 20. Melanson finished 3-of-12 through the air for 34 yards with two interceptions.

"That play at the start of the third quarter was a dagger for us," said Talbot. "I'm happy with how physical we played on defense. We were playing with fire and passion to the last whistle, but we just couldn't do anything on offense.

"I told the guys yesterday I'd like to have five more games. For a 4-7 team, we've had a lot of really awesome highs, we started feeling frisky, we had a lot of injuries early, and it's been a ride and a grind. It's a great group of kids, they really love being around each other, we love being around them, and we've definitely built some culture."

Roberts and Barrieau were named their teams' respective most valuable players, and the outstanding lineman awards went to Mahar's Carey and Athol's Josh Ayles.

"We've come a long way, and we're able to finish with a complete effort," said Bailey. "When you win your last game, that's a big deal going forward. It's something to build on for next year. It gets more kids interested, and the next thing you know, they're signing up for football. Building the program and continuing the program is big for us."


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