TURNERS FALLS, Mass. -- Three yards, two points, one play was all that separated the McCann Tech and Franklin Tech football teams in Saturday's Tri-County League showdown.
Nate Crocker ran in a 2-point conversion that was the difference as the Eagles handed McCann an 8-6, overtime loss and took over sole possession of first place in the conference.
For 40 minutes, the teams slugged it out in a game that featured more negative yardage plays than first downs.
The game's first touchdown came in OT when Franklin quarterback C.J. Daignault scored from the 2 to put the Eagles ahead, 6-0. Crocker then got the call on the conversion to make it an eight-point game.
Like the Eagles, the Hornets took four plays to go 10 yards in OT. But Nick Lincoln finally went in from the 2 to get the visitors on the scoreboard.
But Franklin senior Kyle Johnson got penetration on the 2-point try and stuffed McCann's running attempt and, perhaps, ended McCann's hopes of repeating as Tri-County champion.
"It was a defensive struggle all the way," McCann coach Bob LeClair said. "Both teams know each other so well that ... if the coaches switched sides, we could coach them and they could coach us."
The Franklin Tech coaches came up with a wrinkle in overtime that proved decisive.
The Eagles moved Johnson from the offensive line into the full house backfield for four straight running plays (four downs plus the PAT).
"That was an adjustment we made on the fly right at the end," Franklin coach Joe Gamache said. "We decided to do some unbalanced stuff and put a little bigger blocker in there and pound away. When you're playing 10 yards of football, you just have to try to grind it out, and that's what we did.
"We hadn't even practiced it, to be quite honest with you. ... We did run some of that last year. He was a power back for us last year, kind of a blocking fullback."
Prior to the overtime, Franklin Tech (6-1, 5-0) had gained just 91 yards, and that included a 23-yard pass on a first-quarter fake punt.
McCann (5-2, 5-1) was only a little more successful, compiling 142 yards, most of it from Dakota Bolte and Lincoln, who ran for 60 and 54, respectively.
"I think both teams offensively struggled a little bit," Gamache understated. "But I don't think that's a tribute so much to the offenses struggling as to the way both defenses played.
"I think they preached the same the things we do. They know this is going to be a tight football game -- on paper and in reality. They know they have to step up their game to. Both sides did a great job."
With defenses stifling both offenses in the first half, the biggest plays came on special teams.
Franklin's fake punt, a pass from up man Mitch Mailloux to Daignault, gave the Eagles first-and-10 at the McCann 15. But the Hornets held Franklin to just one more yard, and the Eagles' field goal try was blocked.
McCann punter Lincoln, who earlier shanked a punt for 5 yards, came up with a 34-yarder when his team needed it late in the second quarter. Backed up on its 14, McCann was forced to to punt on fourth-and-11. Lincoln's boot angled short toward the sideline, but took a sharp turn when it hit the ground and dribbled the last 15 yards to back the Eagles up to midfield.
Moments later, Adam Dufur threw the Eagles for a 12-yard loss on third down to force their punt with just more than a minute left, and the Hornets ran out the clock -- thanks to a 6-yard third down run by Corbin Richardson -- setttling for a scoreless tie at half.
McCann came closest to breaking the tie in the second half.
The Hornets marched from their 39 to the Franklin 4 in a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters.
But on first-and-goal at the 4, a fumbled snap pushed the Hornets back a yard. A 5-yard penalty then backed them up again. Dufur ran 7 yards on second-and-goal from the 10. But he was then thrown for a loss on third down, and Michael Ferrara's fourth-down pass was batted down to end the threat.
Franklin Tech can wrap up an undisputed league title next Saturday against Pathfinder. McCann will have plenty to play for in its Saturday regular season finale against Mohawk: possibly a share of the conference crown and a berth in the Western Mass Division 6 playoffs.
"I hope to [see McCann again]," Gamache said. "Because that's a really good football team over there. Their coaching staff is great. They do a nice job with the kids. We're constantly out scouting each other.
"I hope if we do meet again it's not in the first round again like it was last year."