Postseason football begins tonight in Western Massachusetts, as six Berkshire County teams earned postseason berths.
Reigning champions Wahconah, Pittsfield and McCann Tech all have chances to defend titles in Divisions IV, V and VI respectively. Taconic is making its first postseason berth in over 20 years. Lee returns to the postseason for the first time since 2011. The Wildcats narrowly missed the playoffs the last two years, but the Walker System's emphasis on strength of schedule rewarded them.
Hoosac Valley is the top seed in Division V, and the lone No. 1 seed among county teams. The Hurricanes face Frontier tonight at 7 p.m. at Renfrew Field. Hoosac defeated Frontier 35-0 last season, but Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot told the Eagle on Sunday, that he's expecting a closer game.
This year's Frontier team plays a similar style as Hoosac. After the Red Hawks loss to Mahar in Week 4, they reeled off four straight shutouts, outscoring opponents 143-0 behind an aggressive defense and strong rushing game. They have a 26-7 scoring margin for the season.
Running backs Stephen Worthley and Aaron Landry lead the offense. They've combined for 718 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns during the four-game winning streak. Worthley is the main ballcarrier, and quarterback Nolan Muzyka has running ability as well.
Frontier coach Don Gordon said his team is more experienced and better prepared to face Hoosac this year. He added that Hoosac backs Brenden Ellsworth and Avery Hall run with power, so solid tackling will be critical.
"Defensively our kids get after it," Gordon said. "Ellsworth and Hall run hard, that's why we have to tackle. ... We've been stressing offensive and defensive line play. Our kids are up for it and everybody is eager. They know they're the underdogs, so we'll see how it goes."
The game will be won up front, and Hoosac's offensive line has not been slowed down yet. Between Hall, Ellsworth, quarterback Matt Koperniak and David Critelli, it will be a tough task for the Red Hawks to contain the Hurricanes running attack.
WAHCONAH AT AGAWAM, 7 P.M. TONIGHT
Wahconah had an interesting 24 hours after the initial playoff seeds were released. Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said he was told his team was in, then it was left out of the playoff bracket, only to be placed back into the postseason after a recalculation.
The Warriors travel to No. 1 Agawam to face a team they've had success against in the postseason. Wahconah beat Agawam the last two years by a combined 52-14 margin. This Brownies team, however, sports a higher octane offense than the previous versions.
They're averaging 38.5 points per game, topping out at 59 and scoring no fewer than 35.
Running back Nick Scuderi is the catalyst of the offense. He's gone over 200 yards rushing twice in the last four games, and seems to have a nose for the end zone, scoring nine times in that span.
The Brownies beat South Hadley 35-0 in Week 5, while Wahconah lost to South Hadley 32-28 in Week 2.
Those outcomes may paint Wahconah as the underdog, but coach Gary Campbell said his team is completely different than the one that took the field Week 2.
"We didn't have Cole Morrison, Kevin O'Brien and Trip Verdi," he said. "Those guys weren't playing and those three guys play both ways.
"We've grown and kids have matured and gotten better each week."
Campbell added that, as three-time defending Western Mass champs, his team is no stranger to the big game.
"Our senior class has been a part of it every year," he said. "That maturity and experience puts us in position to have a good showing."
FRANKLIN TECH AT LEE, 7 P.M. TONIGHT
No. 2 Lee needed to win its final two games to qualify for the tournament and delivered a statement performance with its 27-0 win over Monument Mountain last week. At 4-4, all four of Lee's wins came against Division VI teams. The Wildcats outscored Division VI opponents 108-27.
Despite the strong play as off late, coach Keith Thomson credits the loss to Pittsfield in Week 5 for helping the team find a winning formula.
"Early in the year we were struggling to find our identity," he said. "The Pittsfield game was a valuable game. We were able to find things we can turn to."
Lee began leaning on its offensive line, and that led to strong play from running back Ryan Ruef. Ruef is Lee's big-play threat, and quarterback Cam Abderhalden has the mobility to make plays with his legs.
For Franklin Tech, quarterback C.J. Daignault is a dual-threat player that Lee's keying on to stop. Eagles' linebacker Kyle Johnson is another playmaker for the Eagles, and the Wildcats must locate him before every play.
Thomson said his plan is to make Franklin's defense adjust to what they're doing offensively. If the Eagles stack the box, look for the Wildcats to move the ball through the air and vice versa.
TACONIC AT PITTSFIELD, 7 P.M. TONIGHT
Pittsfield's 22-20 overtime victory over Taconic in Week 1 seems like a distant memory for both teams. The teams have progressed since the opening week, but Taconic's biggest issue, early-game turnovers, plagued it during both of its losses.
Taconic coach Jim Ziter said he's addressed the turnover and penalty problems, but it's up to his players to control their emotions and concentrate on mistake-free football.
For Pittsfield, coach Brian Jezewski said his team most focus on playing a complete game, as Wahconah pulled away with a 12-0 fourth quarter, beating the Generals last week.
Look for Pittsfield to establish the run and control the tempo, keeping the pressure off of quarterback Kolbe Muzzy.
Anthony Whiteley's running, especially on early downs will keep Taconic on schedule. However, the combination of quarterback Jake McNeice and receiver Devon Walker did spark the Braves comeback in the first meeting.
MCCANN TECH AT TURNERS FALLS, 7 P.M.
In a rematch of last year's Division VI championship, No. 4 McCann travels to face top-seeded Turners Falls. In 2013, McCann entered the playoffs as the top seed and lost to No. 4 Mohawk. Turners went on to win the championship as a No. 2 seed.
While seeds go out the window once the playoffs start, this Hornets team does not have the dominant offense and defense of last year's championship team.
Punt returner Steve Stodja lifted a stagnant offense with two second-half punt returns touchdowns in a 32-8 win over Mohawk last week.
After the game, McCann coach Bob LeClair said his team must focus on sustaining longer drives.
Avoiding three-and-outs will be critical against a stingy Turners defense. The Indians have allowed just 85 points all season, including three shutouts.
"We knew we could put points on the board [last year]," LeClair said. "Last year, penalties and mistakes we could get away with. This year if we start committing penalties against these teams, we'll have a difficult time."
Offensively, running back Jalen Saunders is the Indians go-to player. Quarterback Tionne Brown has dual-threat ability as well.
NON PLAYOFF GAMES
DRURY AT SMITH VOC 6 P.M. TONIGHT.
Drury will be looking for its first win of the season. Smith Voc has a 2-6 record.
AMHERST AT MONUMENT MOUNTAIN, 7 P.M. TONIGHT
Amhest travels to Great Barrington searching for its first win of the season. The Hurricanes (0-8) are two weeks removed from an 50-18 loss to Pittsfield.
Monument Mountain (2-5) is breaking in freshman quarterback Caleb Carson. This game should help his development for next season.
COMMERCE AT MOUNT GREYLOCK, 6 P.M. SATURDAY
Mount Greylock (4-4) looks to move above. 500 for the first time this year, as Commerce (2-6) travels to Williamstown.