Saturday, November 11, 2017

Springfield Central, Wahconah and Hoosac Valley Capture Western Mass Crowns

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

HOLYOKE - Championship games are not supposed to play out this way. The collective thinking is that these are the best teams representing their district. On paper that may be correct. But on the field? Not so much.

That was never-more evident than during Saturday's Western Mass. finals, in which all three contests transcended into lopsided affairs. Springfield Central, Wahconah Regional and Hoosac Valley each made bold statements in terms of how easy they made things look. All three clubs dominated in their respective tilts and find themselves one victory away from earning a trip to Gillette Stadium to compete in the state Super Bowls.

Central was perhaps the most dominant on this cold, blustery morning/afternoon at Roberts Stadium. The Golden Eagles pushed Minnechaug all over the place in every phase possible. Top seed Central (8-2, winners of 8 straight) showed no mercy throughout its 55-0 annihilation, amassing 486 offensive yards in the process, in the Division 3 final. The third-seeded Falcons (6-4) could barely register a ripple offensively, as they finished with just 103 yards.

Central quarterback Aaron-Moses Williams was the proven catalyst, doing it with both his arm and feet. The senior was 16-of-19 passing for 210 yards and three scores. Williams now has 2,213 yards in the air along with 28 TDs. He also rushed for 44 yards, including a touchdown.

The Golden Eagles are clearly a different team than the one which opened season with blow out losses to Bishop Sullivan Catholic (VA) and St. John's of Shrewsbury, after being out-scored 117-52 in the process. Since its defeat to the Pioneers back on September 16th, Central has remarkably turned itself around.

In their last eight games, the Golden Eagles have out-scored the competition 384-60.

Central earned itself another shot at redemption next Saturday when it will once again square off against St. John's, a 36-14 winner over Shrewsbury in its CMass final, in the state semifinal round to be played at Doyle Field in Leominster at a time yet to be determined.

"This was a great win for us here today but we are definitely not done yet," said Williams. "We want to improve, get better and be ready for next week's game. Even though our offense was good today, we can still find ways to improve during this upcoming week in preparation for next Saturday. Our coaches, since that St. John's game, have helped us a lot maturity-wise. We have matured a lot and things have really turned around nicely since that second game of the season. We know what we are capable of and want to continue to show it. We have progressed a lot."

Against Minnechaug, Central scored on its first three possessions to begin this tilt and never once looked back. That trend continued over the course of the final 22 minutes as the Golden Eagles, playing like an fine-tuned machine, found the end zone five more times.

A pair of touchdown passes from Williams to junior wideout Tyvarius Daniels of 42 and 21 yards, respectively, had Central on it way, leading 14-0 after the first quarter.

"I knew there would be a day when I would have a good game like this and today was the day," said Daniels. "Since the St. John's game we have really started to put things together. Right now, we have a good team. Everyone is doing what they are supposed to do. Everything right now seems to be really working for us."

Early in the second quarter, a quick turnover on downs by the Falcons, led to a Golden Eagles 54 yard march concluded with Moses-Williams darting in from two yards out. On the ensuing possession, Minnechaug managed to sustain a nice drive, reaching the Central 4. But disaster would soon strike. On first down, a bad snap over quarterback Anthony Izzo's head resulted in negative-23 yards. Two more bungled plays pushed the Falcons back even further to the 34 that would eventually lead to a turnover on downs to close out the half.

Nothing changed to start the third quarter.

With the Falcons pinned back on its own 4 yard line, a short punt was returned 32 yards into the end zone by Chauncy Cogell, upping the lead to 28-0. Another Falcons four-and-out provided extra fodder for the Golden Eagles. Setting up on its own 45, Central needed just two plays before Andre Ellison broke loose for a 60 yard scoring run to make it 35-0. Another poor possession by Minnechaug was soon followed up by another nicely-executed drive by the Golden Eagles. With under a minute remaining in the third, Moses-Williams found Myles Bradley open for a 31 yard pitch and catch to push the advantage out to 42 points.

While Minnechaug's offense continued to sputter, unable to gain much positive yardage, the Golden Eagles managed to tack on two more touchdowns before calling it a day. With 6:58 remaining in the game, Ellison, taking a pitch from Williams, sprinted down the left sideline 72 yards for the score. Ellison, just a sophomore, gained 127 yards on only three carries. A few moments later, with time winding down, junior Leon Danh came off the bench and ripped off a 70 yard blast to account for the 55 point margin of victory.

"The kids had a great week of preparation," said Central head coach Valdamar Brower. "We just continue to focus and try to get better every day. Since the first day we started practice, we just take things one day at a time and try to get better and better. This has been a fun group to coach no doubt."

Clayton, Wahconah breeze

There is no doubting the fact that Wahconah Regional is a well-regarded football power and a postseason fixture. The Warriors continued their brilliance by capturing their second consecutive district title by dismantling Frontier Regional 45-20 in the Division 7 final.

No. 1 seed Wahconah (9-1) will face Central Mass. champ Blackstone Valley Tech in next Saturday's state semifinal at Doyle Field at a time to be announced. BVT upended Leicester 21-14 in its final played Saturday. The Warriors, who fell to Mashpee in last year's Division 4 Super Bowl, will be searching for another trip to Gillette Stadium.

"These kids have really persevered this whole year," Warriors head coach Gary Campbell, Jr. said. "We don't have many seniors which is a good thing for us. We had some injuries during the year, but we kept on fighting and other people started to emerge. This is has been an awesome team to coach."

Quarterback Tim Clayton was highly-instrumental in this triumph. The junior completed 10 of 11 passes for 210 yards and four touchdowns. One of his favorite targets on the afternoon was Tom Burris, also a junior. The wide receiver caught six balls for 157 yards and three touchdowns.

"Our receivers have been aggressive all year," Clayton said. "I've known all of them throughout my life and we are all great friends. Basically all I have to do is loft it up to them and they catch it. Today our offensive line was blocking amazingly which gave me time."

The Warriors struck paydirt on their opening possession, driving 42 yard following a Red Hawks turnover, capped off by Clayton's 1 yard dive across the goal line.

After Frontier running back Stephen Worthley (84 yards) helped knot things a few minutes later following his 37 yard jaunt, the rest of the game belonged to Wahconah. Following the Red Hawks' score, Clayton, noticing limited safety help in the defensive backfield, connected with Burris for a 36 yard scoring completion. Another fumble by the Red Hawks was followed up by a well-managed 78 yard march that was closed out by a Dane Campbell 32 yard scoring grab to increase the Warriors' advantage to 21-7 with 5:10 showing before halftime.

With the second-seeded Red Hawks (8-2) unable to move the ball with much consistency, Wahconah continued to fire on all cylinders. With under two minutes remaining before the half, the Warriors added to their total courtesy of a Burris 67 yard grab followed by Patrick Butler's 43 yard field, sending them into the half on top 31-7.

Wahconah (399 yards) opened the second half in similar fashion, driving 59 yards before Clayton found Burris open for an 8 yard scoring catch. After a Worthley 22 yard touchdown catch, the Warriors put forth another long drive capped off by Tanner Hasting's 1 yard touchdown, increasing the advantage to 45-13. Hastings, a senior, was a workhorse throughout, rushing for 83 yards on 21 attempts. Frontier got one back midway through the fourth on Aaron Landry's 18 yard carry into the end zone but the decision was already well in-hand by that point.

Hoosac runs over Ware

For a club that has averaged 45 points-per-game throughout the season, Ware knew it had its work cut out for them during the Division 8 final. While no one has yet to discover a way in slowing down Hoosac Valley this year, you can now add the Indians to that list.

The top-seeded Hurricanes rushing attack ran over and around No. 3 Ware (9-1) all afternoon long resulting in a decisive 46-16 triumph. Hoosac (10-0) now moves on to next Saturday's state semifinal versus Nashoba Tech _ a 39-16 winner over Bartlett _ at Westfield State University at a time still to be determined.

Finishing with 446 yards of offense, it was the Hurricanes' vaunted ground game that spelled the difference. Junior Matt Hall and senior David Crittelli shredded the Indians defense from start to finish. Hall rushed for 173 yards, including three touchdowns, while Crittelli netted 145.

"We came out there today and did the best we could," said Hall. "We just showed up to play. We did our best on every play and things worked out. We knew we had to come out firing. Once you do that, teams begin to buckle and they did."

Things turned ugly for Ware after Indians quarterback Ryan Johnson was intercepted by Vance Eugene on his opening possession. That would eventually lead to a Hall 22 yard scoring run, followed by Crittelli's conversion rush, to put Hoosac in front 8-0. On the Hurricanes next possession, they were able to successfully direct a 99 yard drive that was finished off by Hall's 4 yard carry into the end zone. Crittelli's conversion run made it 16-0 early in the second quarter.

With under five minutes left before intermission, Hoosac was able to increase its margin to 24 points after Hall blasted in from 7 yards out, proceeded by a Nick Waterman conversion catch from Eugene. But the Indians (213 yards) refused to pack it in. On their ensuing drive, Johnson bootlegged 48 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. Dillion Slattery hauled in the conversion pass to send Ware into the half trailing 24-8.

"I thought we did a really good job all around today," Hurricanes head coach Dayne Poirot said. "We started off well early which was huge and we were able to hold onto it. We were able to weather what they were doing and continue to make plays and be able to control the game. We have really good balance within our offense. All of our kids ran hard and did a great job."

Following a scoreless third quarter, Hoosac's offense went back to work to start the fourth. A short Ware punt gave the Hurricanes prime field position on the Indians' 26. Needing just two plays, Eugene bolted 23 yards to increase Hoosac's margin to 32-8 following Izaha Stubbs' two-point reception. That margin would increase a short time later. After Ware failed to convert on fourth down, the Hurricanes offense was back in business. Behind some nice gains from Hall and Eugene, Crittelli capped things off with a 5 yard rumble over the goal line with 3:32 to go. Hall's follow-up conversion run pushed Hoosac's lead to 40-8.

Ware would answer a few moments later. A Johnson 52 yard pass completion to Slattery set up Hunter Miller's 8 yard sprint into the end zone. But all that did was make the Hurricanes angry. On their next series, Eugene completed a 53 yard march with a 7 yard keeper to close out the onslaught.

"This team does everything like a family," said Hall. "We all work extremely hard and do everything for each other. Right now I don't know if there is anyone who can stop us. I certainly hope not. But we'll find out."

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