As the Hoosac Valley football team prepares for its second chance at a Massachusetts Division V state title appearance, the Hurricanes must defeat the team that denied its first opportunity for a trip to Gillette Stadium — the Northbridge Rams.
Hoosac lost to Northbridge 29-22 in 2013, and today at noon, the teams are returning to Doyle Field in Leominster for a rematch.
Northbridge enters with a 10-0 record, led by the winningest coach in Massachusetts state history, Ken LaChappelle.
The Rams are making their third straight state semifinal appearance, but they've failed to win a state title under the current format.
Several starters return from both teams, but Hoosac believes it's a more mature team since the last meeting.
"Physically we're better because we're older and stronger," linebacker Jameson Coughlan said, "Mentally our football IQ is higher. We have a better tendency to read our keys and do what coach [Dayne Poirot] tells us."
The mental aspect will be critical against an explosive Rams offense. They average 42 points per game and are led by quarterback Koby Schofer. Schofer is a dual-threat passer, scoring over 30 combined rushing and passing touchdowns.
"It's really tough. They have a lot of weapons," cornerback/quarterback Matt Koperniak said. "[Their offense] is not what we usually see in Berkshire County ... Their quarterback has really good speed and athleticism — it's tough to stop."
When Schofer looks to pass, his top target is Chandler Brooks. Brooks showed his big-play ability during last year's state semi victory over Pittsfield, catching touchdowns of 60 and 80 yards. Running back Jake Wood is a strong receiver as well, but Schofer is the main catalyst of the offense.
"He's very cautious with the ball," LaChappelle said about his quarterback, who is also his grandson. "He's thrown 100 to 120 passes and only three interceptions. He's good at watching where and who [the ball] goes to. We have number of skills guys that are very good and use the whole field. We can run and throw sideline-to-sideline and up the field."
That ability to move the ball through the air is an element Hoosac has not needed to use much this season. The Hurricanes attempted only one pass last week against Taconic, but that one-dimensional approach may struggle against a Rams team that's allowed only 13 points all season.
"I don't know if you ever want to be one-dimensional against anybody," Poirot said. "Against Taconic, field conditions had a big part to play in how we took on that game.
"We're comfortable with all the stuff we run in our offense. We just know we need to be efficient with it and be ready to move the ball as best we can. We rep everything a ton, and our comfort level for anything we decide to run is the same."
Defensively, the Rams line-up in a 4-4 formation with Jalen Madden and Chad Vaudreuil at the tackles. Keenan Quinama and Jack Tivnan are the ends. Their linemen aren't the biggest, but LaChapelle said they get off the ball quickly and move well. Middle linebacker Mike Quinn is the leader of the defense.
Northbridge has not been challenged all season — The Rams have outscored opponents by a 429 to 13 margin — and enter today's game with a lot of confidence. LaChappelle has coached plenty of postseason games, and his team carries the swagger of a team unafraid of the big stage.
"You like to think the [postseason] experience helps, but we put together a new team every year," he said. "I hope to have senior leadership that puts them in tow ... We're a program that's had some success. Because of that, there's no reason we cannot build on that and convey confidence to our kids and what we expect from them." Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252