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Saturday, December 3, 2011
Recap: Longmeadow 35, Springfield Central 7

By Marc Thaler

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -– Longmeadow's first offensive possession was a message-sending march if ever there was one.

The Lancers, with their lengthy scoring drive, essentially said this to rival Springfield Central: Good luck repeating your regular-season performance in the Western Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl.

Controlling play with a punishing rushing attack – and mixing in timely strikes through the air – the Lancers locked up their second straight title with a 35-7 win Saturday at frigid Gillette Stadium.

“We were able to sustain some drives and run the clock down,” said Longmeadow head coach Alex Rotsko, whose program overcame a host of injuries to make its 15th straight appearance in the final. “The kids' execution was very good on both sides of the ball.”

Flat out, Frankie Elder was a force for Longmeadow (11-2). You'd never know the 5-foot 9-inch, 175-pound junior made a late-season switch from running back to signal-caller out of necessity.

Elder (16 carries for 123 yards) tossed two touchdowns and twice ran for scores as the Lancers avenged their mid-October 21-20 loss to Central. The one-point stunner snapped Longmeadow's 52-game league win streak, and earned Central its first head-to-head win in the rivalry since 2000.

“It motivated us a lot. After they won (earlier this season), we looked over and saw them celebrating like they won the Super Bowl,” Elder said. “So, we came out here and actually won the Super Bowl.”

Payback started early.

The Lancers opened with a commanding 12-play drive. The offense moved 74 yards and hit paydirt on Elder's 14-yard rollout touchdown toss to Terry Norris (11 carries for 58 yards), who added a short-yardage scoring run in the final frame.

Elder's first big play extended the initial tone-setting drive. He powered forward for 11 yards on fourth-and-3 and moved the sticks to Central's 26.

Start to finish, Longmeadow's drive drained 6 minutes, 9 seconds off the clock.

The offense's second possession lasted a fraction of that time. But it still went for 78 yards in seven plays, capped by Elder's 11-yard run inside right tackle to the end zone.

“I don't know how you simulate Gillette Stadium,” Central head coach Vladamar Brower said. “But, mentally, I should've gotten in their minds a little bit that it's going to be a big stage … and be ready to play a game.”

Where Elder thrived, Central's top threat was largely stifled. Sacoy Malone recorded 74 yards of total offense, but just 43 on the ground. He briefly halted Longmeadow's momentum with an 24-yard catch-and-run TD shortly before halftime.

The second half? The Lancers owned it.

Dylan Kelleher, running left to right across the formation, broke free for a 40-yard TD reception less than 2 minutes into the third quarter. Elder added the two-point run for a two-touchdown cushion.

The fourth quarter was simply a 10-minute countdown to coronation. Norris (4-yard TD) and Elder (15-yard TD) added the exclamation points.

“We were fueled by it,” Norris said of the previous result against Central. “We knew we were the better team in the regular season. It showed here tonight.”

Playing keepaway: Control the clock. Control the Super Bowl.

Longmeadow executed the game plan with three lengthy drives that generated first downs – and plenty of frustration for the opposition.

Beyond the 12-play march for the game's first points, the Lancers dominated possession en route to their fourth and fifth scores.

Norris capped the fourth drive, an 11-play sequence, that took 5:08 off the clock. Elder's last trip to the end zone ended an 11-play drive lasting 4:50.

Sustaining drives led to a 22-6 advantage in first downs for the Lancers. They also converted 8 of 10 third-down attempts.

Awfully athletic: Malone gave Central the spark it desperately needed inside the first half's final minute.

Securing a pass in the flat from quarterback Cody Williams (7 of 17 passing, 123 yards), the senior running back quickly cut up field. He appeared headed out of bounds at the 5, pinned in by hard-charging Kevin Pierce and Jake Lazarus.

But Malone used one last burst to beat Longmeadow's would-be tacklers and squeeze inside the left pylon.

The touchdown helped pull the Golden Eagles within 13-7 with 54 seconds until halftime. Malone's catch-and-run TD immediately followed a penalty that pushed the offense out of the red zone.

Scary moment: Central's Perry Nowell was taken off via stretcher with 5:29 remaining in regulation. Brower said his senior linebacker sustained a “head or back injury” after charging to tackle Elder along the sideline.

Nowell braced himself on one knee after the play. But he soon returned to the turf. The medical staff tended to Nowell for several minutes, then called for the stretcher.

Brower said the stretcher was used for precautionary purposes.

“He was moving all his limbs and everything, so there's hope there, and he put his thumbs up at the end,” Brower said. “He was in good spirits.”

High praise: Elder's efforts certainly earned high praise from Rotsko, who ranked his signal-caller's Super Bowl statistics second to any QB's top priority: Making sure the offense runs smoothly.

“It's about running the team,” Rotsko said. “He's not a quarterback. He's a running back. He found out he's a quarterback about three weeks ago (due to player injuries).

“When you're playing with a kid who's not a quarterback, you'd expect (miscues),” he added. “That's a credit to him and his confidence.”

Longmeadow 35, Springfield Central 7
Springfield Central (10-3) 0-7-0-0—7
Longmeadow (11-2) 7-6-8-14—35

1st Quarter
L – Frankie Elder 14 pass Terry Norris (Eric Barsalou kick), 1:49

2nd Quarter
L – Elder 11 run (kick failed), 4:08
S – Cody Williams 24 pass Sacoy Malone (Juwan Williams), :54

3rd Quarter
L – Elder 40 pass Dylan Kelleher (Elder run)

4th Quarter
L – Norris 4 run (Barsalou kick), 9:56
L – Elder 15 run (Barsalou kick), 3:56