Photo Gallery | Lee football falls to St. Bernard's in Mass. state semifinal
WESTFIELD — The Lee football team played a better second half than first on Saturday, but it was in too deep of a hole as St. Bernard's ran away with a 40-16 victory over the Wildcats in the Division VI state semifinals at Westfield State University.
Trailing by 28 at the break, Lee came out in the second half and outscored St. Bernard's with the Saints' starters still in the game. But an overall dominant offensive attack propelled the Saints to a berth in the Division VI state championship on Dec. 5 against Mashpee at Gillette Stadium.
Aaron Robichaud rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown for St. Bernard's (12-0) while quarterback Cooper Bigelow added 108 yards on the ground plus a score. James Xarras had two rushing touchdowns for the Saints and Bigelow added a passing touchdown to his 71-yard rushing score.
"That was our fear all along," Lee coach Keith Thomson said of Bigelow. "Trying to contain him and keep him from those big plays. We knew eventually he might get one, that was definitely deflating for our defense. What can I say, he's a heck of a football player."
Cam Abderhalden led the way for Lee (6-5), passing for 127 yards and a touchdown while adding 35 yards rushing and a score. Josh Sampson, who finished with 69 yards receiving, hauled in the touchdown from Abderhalden.
Lee starting running back Ryan Ruef didn't play in the game due to injury while the other starting running back, Nick Castillo, was injured in the first half and didn't return. Starting wide receiver Matt Reynolds was also injured in the first half, and he did not return to the game, either.
Leading 28-0 at halftime on first quarter touchdown runs from Connor Wironen and Bigelow plus second quarter scores from Robichaud and Xarras, it was then Bigelow that hit Zach Bingham for a 26-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give St. Bernard's a 34-0 advantage.
"We just went to our basics and did what we've done through the regular season," Bigelow said. "We're not a team that really changes things up. We kind of just do what we're used to doing, and let them adjust to us."
From there, Abderhalden connected with freshman Ben Harding on a 29-yard pass play that took the Wildcats down to the 1-yard line. Then, on second down, Abderhalden scored on a sneak before tossing the two-point pas to Patrick Finnegan.
Xarras scored his second touchdown with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, and then Abderhalden put up the final score by hitting Sampson for a 39-yard touchdown with only 40 ticks remaining.
"Our kids were able to come out, and it kind of epitomizes the whole season, we're down on our luck, we were banged up, but our kids never quit, they kept fighting," Thomson said of the second half. "We were 2-4 this season, they found a way to battle back and get themselves to this position, so I'm proud as heck of them."
The loss was the first of the season against a Division VI opponent for Lee. The Wildcats' campaign ends after a Western Mass. title and a memorable run from the aforementioned 2-4 record to that eventual championship.
SB—Connor Wironen 6 run (Zach Merchant pass from Cooper Bigelow), 7:26.
SB—Bigelow 71 run (Aaron Robichaud run), 2:48.
SB—Robichaud 2 run (kick failed), 8:46.
SB—James Xarras 2 run (run failed), 2:51.
SB—Zach Bingham 26 run (kick failed), 6:53.
L—Cam Abderhalden 1 run (Patrick Finnegan pass from Abderhalden), 3:41.
SB—Xarras 5 run (kick failed), 4:19.
L—Josh Sampson 39 pass from Abderhalden (Abderhalden run), 0:40.
RUSHING—St. Bernard's: Aaron Robichaud 17-122, Cooper Bigelow 11-108, James Xarras 12-50, Connor Wironen 5-36, Zach Merchant 1-17. Lee: Cam Abderhalden 9-35, Nick Castillo 4-18, Michael Hurley 1-1, Lukas Loehr 4-1, Randy Pichardo 1-0.
PASSING—St. Bernard's: Cooper Bigelow 6-12-113. Lee: Cam Abderhalden 9-19-127.
RECEIVING—St. Bernard's: Parker Bigelow 1-35, Manuel Rodriguez 2-33, Zach Bingham 1-26, Zach Merchant 1-14, Aaron Robichaud 1-5. Lee: Josh Sampson 4-69, Ben Harding 1-29, Michael Hurley 2-21, Nick Castillo 1-5, Lukas Loehr 1-3.