Saturday, October 28, 2017

Vaunell Hill Carries West Springfield Past Wahconah

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

WEST SPRINGFIELD - It is probably safe to assume that most people who reside east of the Connecticut River have never heard of Vaunell Hill.

However, should West Springfield make a deep run into the postseason, you can bet Hill's name will carry a bit more cache.

The bruising 6-foot, 190 pound featured running back of the Terriers is among the state's best. That can no longer be argued about. Facing powerful Wahconah Regional Friday night, with the Suburban South League title on the line, Hill was virtually unstoppable.

The senior ran over and through a stout Warriors defense for 311 yards on 35 attempts and three touchdowns to lead West Side to a convincing 47-28 victory at Clark Athletic Field.

"My line in front of me played great," said Hill. "I love them all and they always block wonderfully. They all practice hard and it shows come game time."

In addition, Hill, who also plays linebacker, returned an interception 31 yards for another score as the Terriers complete their regular season at 7-1 (5-0 in league play), and will be the No. 1 seed heading into next week's Division 5 Western Mass. tournament.

Wahconah, which allowed a paltry 9.5 points against average this season, is also 7-1 (4-1) and the Warriors, like West Side, will be the top entry in the Western Mass. Division 7 postseason pairings.

Last season, the Warriors reached the Division 4 Super Bowl before falling to Mashpee.

During this heated, see-saw battle, nothing would be decided until midway through the fourth quarter. With the Terriers clinging to a seven point lead, they finally put Wahconah away thanks to a 45 yard pitch and catch from quarterback Tylor Rochefort to Leeony Tessier, followed up a few moments later by a Hill 8 yard scamper into the end zone to seal the deal. Rochefort, a senior, completed 13 of 25 passes for 278 yards.

Offensively, West Side amassed 483 yards. Meanwhile the Warriors, whose rushing attack faltered all evening long, were held to 314 yards. Their top running back Tanner Hastings, who entered this contest with 625 yards and 10 TDs, was shut down as the senior was limited to just 24 yards on 12 carries.

"We didn't stop the run well tonight," longtime Wahconah head coach Gary Campbell, Jr. said. "That, in turn, opens up play-action pass and it does sort of lull you to sleep. But take your hats off to West Springfield. They ran the ball well and they stuffed our run. I thought we hung in well and made some plays. But in the end, their offense got us."

Ironically, for all of the outlandish numbers put forth on this chilly evening, the two teams remained scoreless after one quarter. But that would soon change. Five minutes into the second quarter, with the Terriers driving, Hill lost control of the ball which was recovered by Bob Archambault. Hill's night did not start off so hot as he committed a pair of fumbles. Looking to redeem himself, Hill did just that on Wahconah's first play, following the miscue, by picking off quarterback Tim Clayton and taking it to the end zone giving West Side a 7-0 lead.

"I really wanted to make up for that fumble," said Hill. "Getting that pick and then scoring on the play made me feel a whole lot better."

As expected, the Warriors, in spite of the turnover, were able to move the ball on their next set of downs. Marching 62 yards, Clayton (11 of 29 for 223 yards) capped off the drive with a 15 yard bullet pass over the middle to Tom Burris. Archambault successfully snagged the proceeding conversion pass to put Wahconah ahead 8-7.

With both offenses now starting to role, you knew more points were coming. The Terriers, on the ensuing possession, keyed by a 16 yard Hill run and a 18 yard catch by Cam Paier set up Rochefort's 18 yard scoring jaunt to put West Side back in front with 2:42 left before halftime.

With time winding down in the half, a key interception by Wahconah defensive back Gabe Verdi gave his club a chance to retake the lead heading into the break. During the no-huddle drive, the Warriors faced a crucial fourth-and-11 from their own 45. A fake punt resulted in Clayton connecting with tight end Tanner Hill for a 35 yard reception. That would lead to a Burris 10 yard touchdown grab with five seconds showing, allowing the Warriors to reclaim their advantage up 14-13.

The offensive fireworks were not about to slow down going into the final half. Early in the third, West Side went back on top courtesy of Paier's 53 yard touchdown grab down the right sideline. Paier, a senior, also hauled in the conversion pass to push the Terriers ahead 21-14.

Things hit a brief lull before West Side went back on the attack later in the frame. Three straight runs by Hill netted 61 yards with the last being a 15 yard rush across the goal line to make it a two score game with still 6:48 remaining in the quarter. Wahconah would answer back on its next possession. Clayton hit Hill for a 59 yard catch. Four plays later, that combination worked again after Hill snatched a fade pass in the back corner of the end zone to slice the deficit to seven points.

But the Warriors, on defense, could not come up with the right remedy to solve the Terriers offensive wave. A 2 yard scoring run by Hill late in the third gave West Side back its two touchdown advantage.

Following a Dane Campbell 10 yard touchdown reception early in the fourth for the Warriors, the rest of the frame belonged to the Terriers as they came through with two late scores while holding Wahconah to zero yards on its final two possessions.

"We played with a lot of fire tonight and we came out and executed," said Hill. "Wahconah beat us last year and we know how tough an opponent they are. But we have been waiting for this game and we really wanted to win this one. This team always does it job and we always work well together as a team. Now we want to keep it going."

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