Saturday, November 11, 2017

West Springfield Keeps Rolling, Takes Care of Longmeadow in D5 West Final

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

HOLYOKE — Who else but Vaunell Hill?
With West Springfield clinging to a meer three point lead just a handful of minutes into the third quarter, the Terriers turned to their top running back to become the difference maker. 

Hill's 68 yard dash down the left sideline midway through the quarter gave West Side the added cushion it was seeking as they proceeded to leave Longmeadow in its rearview in the form of a 42-18 victory during in Friday night's Division 5 sectional final held at Roberts Stadium.

With temperatures hovering in the low 20s, accompanied by a biting wind, none of it, including the Lancers, were able slow down the top running back in the region, if not the state.

Hill, a senior, accumulated 237 yards on 20 attempts and found the end zone four times to help send the 9-1, and top seeded Terriers, who fell in last year's Division 2 district final versus Westfield, into next Saturday's state semifinal against the Central Mass. champion between Nipmuc and Auburn. The win marked West Side's first district crown since 2009. The Division 5 semifinal is slated to be played at Westfield State University at a time to be determined. Longmeadow, the No. 2 seed, drops to 7-3.

"We knew we had to get him a certain amount of touches tonight if we were going to have success," said West Side head coach Chad Labonte. "We tried to mix it up some so that they couldn't just key on him. But no matter who we had carrying the ball I thought our offensive line played very well."

As been the case all season, Hill, who has rushed for 1756 yards and 24 this season, was virtually unstoppable anytime he was handed the ball. Once he was able to bust through the Lancers' first line of defense, it was off to the races soon thereafter.
"I was able to make some plays tonight but I still need to go back to the guys who make it happen for me," Hill said. "Our offensive line has been great all year. It not just me, it's a total team effort here. As soon as I touch the ball, I trust my line. All of them are block their hardest. When I get the ball I know in my mind that there is a great chance for me to get downfield and make something happen. We were playing good in the first half but not to our full potential. In the second half, I thought our defense really kicked things into gear and got everything going."

On the Terriers' opening drive, a 33 yard kickoff return by Ridvan Azizov set up Hill's first score _ a 3 yard carry into the end zone. Late in the initial quarter, Longmeadow, taking advantage of West Side unable to move forward after being pinned back at its own 1 yard line, scored on a 16 yard jaunt by Isaiah Dubois. However, the Lancers attempt at a two-point conversion run failed, keeping them down by a point. 

Longmeadow's inability to convert two-point tries following each score resulted in failure and, in turn, never allowed them to tie or take the lead.

Early in the second quarter, the Terriers defense stiffened after forcing the Lancers (172 yards) to come up short on fourth down. Getting the ball back, runs of 6 and 7 yards by Hill, respectively, forced Longmeadow to load up the box. 

As a result, quarterback Tylor Rochefort found receiver Cam Paier in one-on-one coverage. The senior signal-caller lofted a 57 yard pass, hitting Paier in stride, to go on top 14-6. Just minutes later, West Side, which amassed 363 yards, extended its lead thanks to a Hill 57 yard blast that was immediately followed up by his own 3 yard touchdown scamper to make it 21-6 with 5:56 to go before halftime.

But credit the Lancers for not giving in. Following Hill's score, Longmeadow was able to engineer a 69 yard drive behind the efforts of senior running backs Joey Cosenzi (89 yards) and Clay Moseman (70). Reaching the Terriers' 19, Lancer quarterback Carlo Calabrese, on fourth down, connected with Nick Mishol in the front corner of the end zone with 0:57showing. 

After the two-point conversion try was stopped, Longmeadow went into the break trailing 21-12.

Opening the second half with the ball, the Lancers marched 57 yards, primarily behind Cosenzi, that was eventually capped off by Cosenzi's 12 yard run up the gut, bringing Longmeadow to with three points at 21-18 after another conversion run went for naught.

"As a team we have been putting more time in watching film," said senior defensive end Ramon Ramos. "We are basically running the same plays but we are getting better and better at them."

The Lancers' score would be as close as they would get. Hill's 68 yard dash on the ensuing possession push West Side's lead to 10 points. Longmeadow's offense continued to stall from that point onward as it netted minus-8 yards on its final three possessions. 

Meanwhile, the Terriers offense continued to move forward. A 7 yard TD strike from Rochefort (3 of 7 for 76 yards) to Paier and a Hill 41 yard blast, both coming in the final quarter, ended up turning a tight contest into a rout.

"We made some adjustments in the second half as to what (Longmeadow) was doing," Labonte said. "They were trying to exploit some of our players but we just continued to mix things up where we weren't so predictable on defense." 

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