By Matthew Tonis
LEE — In their opening week victory over Turners Falls, the Lee Wildcats had a tough time getting started. Against Franklin Tech, it wasn’t the start that troubled them, it was everything after. That is, until the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats shut out the Franklin Tech Eagles 22-0, scoring 15 points in the game’s final 11 minutes to put the game away. Lee held Franklin Tech to just 45 total yards of offense, keeping them from ever threatening.
Both coach Keith Thomson and quarterback Homer Winston said during the week that finding offensive footing early would be a key to beating the Eagles, especially after needing to come from behind to beat Turners Falls just a week prior.
On the opening possession of the ballgame, Lee did just that. A 13-play, 68-yard yard drive took the first seven minutes off the clock before Nick Nicotra scored from seven yards out to give the Wildcats an early edge.
But from that point on, the game slowed down. Neither side could do very much offensively, and punts and turnovers characterized most of the game. While they had accomplished their goal of starting well, it did not turn into more production on the scoreboard.
“We had a really nice drive, but I think we got a little complacent after that,” Thomson said. “Maybe we thought we were going to be able to do whatever we wanted.”
The Wildcats could move the ball, but they had a hard time breaking through and giving themselves room to breathe on the scoreboard.
On the other hand, the Wildcat defense was not giving an inch.
Despite boasting a running back in Bailey Young who ran for 260 yards and five touchdowns in week one, the Eagles were held to just 45 total yards Friday, with 17 coming from their star.
“We knew they were going to come right at us and play smash mouth football,” Thomson said. “We mixed up our fronts, we moved some people around, brought pressures from different places and tried to keep them off-guard. They just stepped up and played a whale of a game.”
Fireworks erupted from downtown Lee through the third quarter, but the same could not be said for the action on the field. The Wildcat offense struggled, while the defense stifled the overmatched Eagles.
But that all changed when Franklin Tech attempted to punt to start the fourth quarter.
Young stepped into his kick, but his right foot was met by the paws of Cole Redstone, who swatted the ball to the ground. Both sides scampered after the ball, but watched it roll through the end zone for a safety, making it a two-possession game at 9-0.
Watching from the sideline, Winston felt the tide turn immediately.
“That turned the game, for sure,” Winston said. “Our defense played incredibly. They were absolutely insane.”
The senior quarterback made sure the momentum-changing play did not go to waste.
In the game’s final 6:29, Winston scored twice on the ground on runs of five and 18 yards to put the game away.
Lee relied heavily on the ground game to chew up both yards and clock, something it could not do consistently over the game’s first three quarters. Thomson said it was encouraging to see the unit pick up its play at the end and cruise to the victory.
“I would prefer to have the offense clicking all four quarters, but that’s not always going to be the case,” Thomson said. “Sometimes you need that spark and we got it tonight. It was nice at the end to be able to take control of the line of scrimmage.”
The Wildcats look to keep their momentum going this week against the Drury Blue Devils, who they host Friday at 7 p.m.