All the Lee football team wanted was an opportunity. During the first two years of MIAA tournament format, the Wildcats had been on the outside looking in, despite what it felt was a worthy resume.
Now, ahead of today's Western Massachusetts Division VI championship game at 1 p.m. at Hoosac Valley High School, Lee gets its chance at a title against defending D-VI champions McCann Tech. Lee advanced with a 25-19 win over Franklin Tech in the semifinals.
"All we ever asked for was an opportunity and we got it this year," Lee coach Keith Thomson said. "We're thrilled to be in and we know we've got our work cut out for us."
At 4-4, Lee earned a No. 2 seed, despite being left out after a 5-3 record last season. With the Berkshire County League being split into A and B divisions under the Walker System, playing the likes of Hoosac Valley, Taconic and Pittsfield helped its strength of schedule this season.
McCann comes in as a No. 4 seed (6-2), advancing to the final after a 14-13 win over top-seeded Turners Falls.
The Hornets have the confidence and swagger of a defending champion. However, the Hornets have not dominated its competition the way it did last year.
"We've been through it, and winning the title game has done a lot for our confidence and the experience we gained," McCann coach Bob LeClair said. "I don't think our nerves will be as great. They'll treat it as a big game, but they'll know — this is how we handle it."
McCann's strength is its strong group of linemen, led by left tackle Noah Curran and right tackle Adam Rodriguez. They'll have their hands full against defensive ends Matt Heppleston and Tyler Buratto. Randy Pichardo generates pressure from the inside as well.
LeClair said he knows how dominant Lee's line can be on offense and defense.
"It's going to be a real battle between our teams," he said. "[Their linemen] do a really good job giving backs enough room to run, and giving [quarterback] Cam Abderhalden time to throw.
"They're going to be a load for us. Defensively they come after you. The team that wins in the trenches is more than likely the team that's going out on top,"
Lee's recent emphasis on it's line has sparked improved production in the running game. Ryan Ruef has shouldered the load, and Abderhalden has the ability to gain yards with his legs as well. The running game creates room to pass, and that's one area where Lee feels it has the advantage.
When McCann faced Mount Greylock's spread offense, the pass-heavy Mounties connected for touchdowns passes of 30, 85 and 90 yards beating the Hornets 30-24 in Week 5.
"We always strive to have balance," Thomson said. "We feel very comfortable throwing, but we have to establish the run. We like to be able to have a run-pass balance and keep the defense on their heels."
LeClair said he's put an increased focus on pass coverage during practice, and may plan to keep an extra player in the box to take away the short-passing game.
For Lee, it hopes to stay home and generate pressure from its front four. Dropping linebackers into coverage, while still getting pressure on quarterback Mike Ferrera will be a big positive for the defense. Thomson added that Dakota Bolte, Nick Lincoln and Adam Dufur are McCann players his team must contain.