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Considering how young and outmanned the Patriot Pioneers were near the end of the short season, finishing as the Region 6B runner-up, while disappointing, was nothing to be ashamed of.

One week after upsetting top-seeded Gar-Field with an undermanned group due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols, Patriot saw its season conclude Friday with a 56-21 loss at Massaponax in the region final.

Perhaps hoping to get an early jump on the Panthers, Patriot (5-2) won the coin toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff. But three incomplete passes later, the Pioneers punted, and Massaponax scored quickly, moving 57 yards in five plays. Jacob Romero capped the drive for Massaponax (8-0) with a 17-yard scoring run that gave the Panthers an early lead.

But Patriot immediately responded, scoring on an 18-play, 76-yard drive that ended when Pioneers’ quarterback Cody Rogers ran it in from the 5. Patriot tied it 7-7 with the ensuing extra point.

The Pioneers didn’t have a long time to savor it, though, as A. J. Miller took the ensuing kickoff at the 30 yard line, scooted toward the middle and then outran the coverage, returning the kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown that gave Massaponax a 14-7 lead.

A 4-yard run by Mike Swain four seconds into the second quarter gave the Panthers a 21-7 lead before the Panthers took advantage of a blocked punt to obtain great field position before scoring in three plays to make it 28-7 at halftime.

Things didn’t get easier in the second half for Patriot, which turned the ball over once besides experiencing a couple of breakdowns and being penalized 10 times for 81 yards. One of those penalties nullified a possible scoring run by Keith Jenkins in the third quarter, but the turning point in the game occurred when Massaponax successfully executed an on-side kick, leading to another touchdown that eventually made it 35-7.

Patriot eventually scored again on a 16-yard run by Xander Albea late in the third quarter and completed its scoring when Gabe Bigbee returned a punt 39 yards for a touchdown with 2:19 left in the game. Despite the loss, Patriot coach Sean Finnerty did find a couple positives in the loss.

“We got great contributions from all of those kids [the seniors], but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot and you can’t do that against a really great team like they [Massaponax has],” Finnerty said,

Another positive is because of the short off-season [due to football having ended later than normal because of the pandemic], teams with relatively young starters, like the Pioneers, may be stronger in the long run, according to Finnerty.

“Because we had so many young kids starting because of illness and injury, we gained valuable experience and because of the short off-season, the sophomores we started today will likely have a leg up [on other teams] going into next season,” Finnerty said.

PATRIOT (5-2) 7 7 0 7—21

MASSAPONAX (8-0) 14 14 21 7—56

First Quarter

M—Romero 17 run (Hudson kick), 7:09

P—Rogers 5 run (Cotter kick), 3:29

M—Miller 70 kickoff return (Hudson kick), 3:!8

Second Quarter

M—Swain 3 run (Hudson kick), 11:56

M—Dowell 8 run (Hudson kick), 8:57

Third Quarter

M—Morley 16 run (Hudson kick), 9:09

M—Romero 11 run (Hudson kick), 8:17

M—Milwe 3 run (Hudson kick), 4:46

P—Albea 16 run (Cotter kick), :01

Fourth Quarter

M—Romero 42 run (Hudson kick), 9:47

P—Bigbee 39 punt return (Cotter kick), 2:19

Individual statistics

Rushing—Patriot, Albea 11-91, Rogers 19-56, Jenkins 14-51, Bigbee 2-12. Massaponax, Romero 12-150, Morley 5-47, Colbert 2-36, Swain 2-26, Dowell 2-11, Quance 1-3, Allen 1-3, Wiggins 3-5, Gates 1-3, Brady 4-(minus 2).

Passing—Patriot, Rogers 8-16-0-85; Massaponax, Morley 2-4-0-33.

Receiving—Patriot, Bigbee 7-68, Nelson 1-17; Massaponax Quance 1-22, Dowell 1-11.

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