Saturday, November 11, 2017

Stoneham Upends Hamilton-Wenham in Division 6 North Final

By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612)

The moment was all too familiar for Stoneham.

One week after coming from behind to knockoff Shawsheen Tech, the Spartans did it again as star running back Tre Pignone engineered a game-winning, 12-play, 62-yard drive, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run courtesy of Christos Argyropoulos, to give No. 2 Stoneham a 20-18 win over No. 1 Hamilton-Wenham in the Division 6 North Sectional Final on Saturday afternoon.

The win gives Stoneham its second sectional title in three years.

Pignone, who was part of the Spartans team two years to go that fell to Holliston in the state semi-finals, noted how his team is awfully familiar with pressure moments.

“We know we can go down, in any spot, and pull out a game winning drive,” said Pignone. “We’ve been in that spot in years past. This is my third straight sectional title so as a group we know what it takes.”

Pignone (140 yards, TD) and Argyropoulos (2 TDs) were the focal points of a triple-option offense that combined for over 270 yards on the ground.

Trailing 18-14 the Spartans got the ball on their own 38-yard line with 6:30 on the clock.

Pignone, Argyropoulous, and Kevin McShane combined to get Stoneham inside the Hamilton-Wenham 22-yard line. The Generals’ defense forced the Spartans into a fourth down and one, but Pignone ran up the middle for two yards to keep the drive alive.

Five plays later, on the 12th play of the series, Argrypolous rumbled in from a yard out to give the Spartans a 20-14 win.

“The kids rallied it up really well,” said Stoneham Head Coach Robert Almeida. “Defensive coordinator (John) Rafferty had a great game plan. We had to rally it up after (Hamilton-Wenham) took the lead but the kids responded and got it done.”

For moments in the fourth quarter, it looked as though the hero would be someone who did not play for the first 30 minutes.

Over the course of the first two and a half quarters Hamilton-Wenham (9-1) was hopeless offensively going up against the Spartans defense.

The Generals mustered just 79 yards of total offense and stared at a 14-0 deficit.

The wound only seemed to open up when quarterback Billy Whelan had to leave the game late in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.

That turned out to be the farthest thing from the truth.

Hunter Wilichoski (4-of-7, 112 yards, 2 TD) came in at quarterback for the Generals and instantly brought the offense to life.

Consecutive completions for 15 yards moved Hamilton-Wenham inside the Stoneham 30-yard line, and Wilichoski got the Generals on the board with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Philip Durgin.

After the Generals recovered an onside kick, Wilichoksi went back to work.

Star wide receiver Cam Peach made a terrific grab run for 21 yards around a pair of Durgin runs to get the Generals inside the Spartan’s five-yard line. Two plays later and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Peach ran it in from two yards out to bring Hamilton-Wenham within 14-12.

Defensively, meanwhile, the Generals turned it up a notch as linebacker Sam Webber came up with a sack on third down to force a Spartans punt.

With the ball back in his hands, Wilichoski pushed Hamilton-Wenham in front firing a 57-yard bullet to Ian Coffey for a touchdown to put the Generals up 18-14 midway through the fourth quarter.

“We have been in that situation before,” said Pignone of the Generals’ quick strikes. “We had to keep cool, we knew that because otherwise if we got caught up in the momentum we would start making mistakes. We kept our cool and got the job done.”

Stoneham opened the scoring early in the second quarter.

The Spartans went on a 16-play, 67 yard drive that spanned nearly nine minutes relying on their core ground attack to wear down the General’s; front seven. Pignone rushed five times on the drive for 37 yards before Argyropoulos scored from two yards out to put Stoneham up 6-0.

“Our offensive lineman have so much heart,” said Stoneham Head Coach Robert Almeida. “That is a tough team to go up against, and they just did it all game up front.”

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