LEOMINSTER — The Hoosac Valley football team may not see the exotic shifts and formations Northbridge deploys often, but for three quarters the Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts champions went toe-to-toe with the three-time Division V state finalists.
The teams headed into the fourth quarter tied, but Northbridge took the lead and used two Hoosac turnovers to pull away, earning a 36-14 win Saturday in the Division V state semifinal at Doyle Field. Northbridge advances to face East Bridgewater, Dec. 5 at Gillette Stadium.
Early in the fourth, Northbridge quarterback Koby Schofer notched the go-ahead score on a 10-yard draw up the middle of Hoosac's defense. The normally run-oriented Hoosac offense needed to pass with 10 minutes left in the game. However, the shift in tendency backfired as the Hurricanes final three possessions ended with a punt and two interceptions.
"The key for us was to put them in position where they had to throw," Northbridge coach Ken LaChappelle said. "Even though early on [Matt Koperniak] threw OK, its's a whole different ballgame when that's what you have to do to catch up. And that's when we took over."
Northbridge entered the game having allowed only 13 points all season, and early on Hoosac showed its offense was more than capable of moving the ball.
The Rams opened the game with a 13-play scoring drive, capped by a six-yard pass from Schofer to Jake Wood. Hoosac responded through the air, as Koperniak hit Avery Hall with a screen pass along the left sideline. Hall broke a tackle and ran 32 yards for the score, cutting the deficit to 7-6 with 2:56 left in the first.
Wood added a rushing touchdown early in the second quarter, but Hoosac kept Northbridge off the board until the fourth quarter.
"We were in [the game] throughout the first three quarters," Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot said. "[Northbridge] has won games because they put teams in tough spots.
"We didn't come here to hang with them — we came here to beat them. Our kids work hard and as a result of their hard work, they accomplished a ton this year."
Hoosac's secondary did a good job of playing man coverage on Northbridge's outside receivers, forcing Schofer to check down or scramble for yards. The Hurricanes even put linebacker Javon Reynolds in man coverage against receivers and the 6-foot-4 pass rusher held up well.
Offensively, Reynolds helped spark the Hurricanes tying score. Reynolds showed his speed, taking the second half kickoff back to the Rams' 47-yard line. On third and nine, Koperniak put the ball where only Reynolds could get it and he skied for it, coming down with a first-down conversion. Northbridge intercepted Koperniak later in the drive, but the positive field position kept the ball in Northbridge territory after Wood fumbled away the ball on the ensuing play.
Four plays later, Koperniak punched in a quarterback sneak for a score. Hall ran in the two-point conversion, tying the game at 14 with 3:52 left in the third.
Hoosac's defense handled Northbridge's offense well after the early score. On offense, the 'Canes showed they can move the ball against a team gearing to stop their rushing attack.
Although they failed to earn a trip to Gillette for the final, Hoosac's senior class led by Jameson Coughlan, Peter Barrow and Jake Swistak has maintained the level of consistently successful play within program.
"We came in and we knew we had to play our game and that's what we did," Coughlan said. "We did well, but they made plays and we didn't. We came out here and gave our all, so you can't complain.
"We've had the best high schools careers. Not just in football but in basketball, winning championships and winning a bunch of games. It shows that our senior group is so close and we're all good friends. We all want to dig down and work. We want to win and we'll have fun when we win."
N — Jake Wood 6 pass from Koby Schofer (Geoffrey Reichert), 6:13.
HV — Avery Hall 32 pass from Matt Koperniak (run failed), 2:54
N — Wood 6 run (Reichert kick), 8:10.
HV — Koperniak 2 run (Hall run), 3:52
N — Schofer 10 run (Chandler Brooks run), 10:11.
N — Schofer 5 run (Reichert kick), 5:10.
N — Wood 15 run (Reichert kick), 1:40.
RUSHING — Hoosac: Avery Hall 12-24, Matt Koperniak 9-50, Brenden Ellsworth 5-27, David Critelli 4-19. Northbridge: Koby Schofer 19-140, Jake Wood 12-65, Michael Quinn 7-65.
PASSING — Hoosac: Koperniak 8-14-1 151. Northbridge: Schofer 14-20-0 161.
RECEVING — Hoosac: Critelli 3-33, Hall 2-57, Shiheem Gallaway 2-49, Javon Reynolds 1-12. Northbridge: Chandler Brooks 4-41, Jake MacNeil 1-15, Michael Quinn, 1-11, Wood 5-40, Robert Baldwin Von Brunow 2-36, Christopher Brouwer 1-14.