LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- Make it three consecutive years that Longmeadow has gone into a game against St. John’s of Shrewsbury with hopes of defeating the Pioneers, and three consecutive years it has come up empty.
The latest was a 26-21 triumph by the Pioneers on Friday night.
The No. 8 Lancers (1-1) thought they had it this season as No. 6 St. John’s (2-0) graduated two of the top players in the state in Richard Rodgers and Dan Light following last season, and it barely survived a close game a week ago against Holy Name.
Leading by one-point with less than three minutes to play, the Lancers thought they had finally cornered the Pioneers. Then, when they forced St. John's to punt on fourth down with just over two minutes to go, Longmeadow was sure of it.
But, for a third-straight season, they were mistaken.
The Pioneers forced Longmeadow into a three-and-out and, after a short punt, regained possession just shy of midfield with 1:45 left on the clock and 55-yards from victory.
St. John’s quarterback Connor Kurtz took it from there. Kurtz dropped back in the pocket, avoided the oncoming rush, and heaved the ball deep into double-coverage down the middle of the field. Somehow, his target, Drew Ortone, was perfectly positioned between the defenders, made an acrobatic catch and sprinted the rest of the way to pay dirt, putting the Pioneers ahead to stay.
The ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, but the touchdown proved to be all St. John’s needed.
Longmeadow quarterback Frankie Elder’s last-ditch effort ended in an interception, and sealed the game for the Pioneers.
While it was a lot closer this time than in the last two seasons, in the end, Longmeadow couldn’t quite conjure up enough magic for one last comeback.
“It makes us feel good, even though we lost,” Lancer tailback T.J. Norris said. “It’s 26-21 and we just proved that [against] one of the top teams in [Central] Mass, we hung with them, and we could’ve beat them.”
Norris carried his team in the loss, powering through defenders for 206 rushing yards on 25 carries and finding the endzone twice.
St. John’s head coach John Andreoli gave Norris credit for his performance, calling him, “a tough kid and an impressive football player.”
“He always keeps his feet moving and his yards after contact are always big yards,” Andreoli said. “A couple times here we had five or six guys [lined up in the box] and he was just moving the pile. He’s impressive and he’s a tough football player.”
On the Pioneer side, running back Sean Wilson ran for 110 yards on 13 carries including a touchdown, Efrain Montalvo caught three balls for 45 yards, and John Giacoppe hooked up with Kurtz four times for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
Kurtz finished the game 9-of-22 for 162 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also scrambled out of the pocket 11 times for 31 yards.
“He’s gotten better every day since we started, and that’s what you look for,” Andreoli said. “The way he was throwing the ball [tonight] with confidence, getting on top of it, he was throwing a nice ball. And then that last throw [to Ortone] was just a gutsy throw. He had a good matchup, [Ortone] right down the seam, and he was able to get the ball right in the right spot.”
Despite Longmeadow’s heroic comeback efforts throughout the game, a close loss like this one is tough to swallow.
“If we had stuck it out and won the game we would have just showed everybody that we’re back on top and that this is a totally different team [than in past seasons],” an emotional Norris said. “It was a good game this year, and I think we still sent the memo, it’s just that we fell a little short at the end.
“It would’ve been great if we had won this game.”