GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. -- The last time the Lee High football team played football in autumn, it won a Western Massachusetts championship.
On Friday night, it returned and claimed a Southern Berkshire championship.
Cam Freeman ran for 78 yards and a touchdown to lead the Wildcats to a 24-0 win over Monument Mountain on opening night.
After settling for an abbreviated “Fall 2” schedule last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players from both teams were glad to get back into a regular routine.
But Friday’s game also marked another return to normalcy, as the South County rivals renewed acquaintances in the non-league contest.
“It’s been since 2018 since we’ve played this game,” Lee coach Keith Thomson said. “It was very interesting to get back out here. This is a two-year agreement, so we’re very excited.
“It was kind of strange, to be honest with you. Monument was usually the last game of the season and not the first. But it was nice to get this one under our belt and move forward.”
Elliot Winston scored a touchdown and ran for 43 yards, and Hayden Siok threw for 49 yards and a TD.
But the key to victory was Lee’s stifling defense, which allowed just two first downs in the second half.
The Spartans’ best chance to score came in second quarter, when they drove from their 27 to the Lee 12 on the strength of four Hunter Degrenier completions and a couple of penalties against the Wildcats.
But Lee’s defense recorded a sack on third-and-9 and the 12, and a fourth-down pass went incomplete to end the threat and preserve an 8-0 Wildcat lead with 5 minutes, 46 seconds left in the half.
“I was pretty pleased [with our defense],” Thomson said. “We saw some stuff. Obviously, we don’t have a lot to go on, and [coach Daren Carlson] has done a great job with those guys. He’s infused a lot of pride in that program. It’s very impressive what he’s been able to do with that program going back to Fall 2.
“But really, all we had to go on was a couple of games that they played in Fall 2, and it gave us a couple of different looks. We’re a little short-handed right now. We’ve got some key guys injured who weren’t on the field this evening. So we had a lot of guys who had to step up, and they were able to do that tonight.
“Real proud of our guys.”
After making that big fourth-down stop in the shadow of its end zone, Lee marched 71 yards the other way to the Lee 5-yard line. Freeman ran the ball four times for 26 yards, and Siok hit a 29-yard pass to Winston to set up first-and-goal.
But on second-and-goal from the 5, Monument Mountain’s Reece Mullen picked off a pass in the end zone with 18 seconds left to keep it a one-score game at half-time.
Despite the score, the stop gave the Spartans a big lift going into the break.
“We were getting the ball there to start the second half, so if we were able to punch one in right before half-time and then got the ball back, that would have been huge,” Thomson said. “But we got picked off, and then our drive stalled [to start the third quarter].
“Give Monument credit. They came out and played with a lot of fire and a lot of emotion tonight.”
Neither offense could do much with the ball to start the second half, and the teams traded turnovers on back-to-back possessions that ended with Lee’s first-and-10 at the plus-33.
The Wildcats drove to the 9, but Monument appeared for a moment to have earned another big goalline stop when Siok was sacked on third-and-1. But a flag for a horse collar tackle on the play gave Lee new life, and Winston ran for a TD on the next snap. Tyler Bartini’s second two-point conversion of the game made it 14-0.
The next time Lee touched the ball was off a fourth-and-1 stop in Monument Mountain’s end early in the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats needed five plays to set up Siok’s 14-yard TD strike to Dylan Ely. Freeman ran in the conversion to provide the final margin of victory.
Lee faces another non-league test next Friday when it goes to Dalton to take on Wahconah. Monument Mountain is on the road as well next week, heading to Easthampton.