Photo Gallery | No. 4 Taconic upsets No. 1 Wahconah in football
PITTSFIELD >> Throughout the game, Taconic quarterback Jake McNeice showed trust in his wide receivers. He trusted that his pass catchers would fight for the ball and win the battle in the air.
His faith was rewarded, as the senior signal caller dialed up a long pass on the first play of the second half, connecting with Devon Walker for a 71-yard touchdown. The strike put the No. 4 Braves up three and they would not relinquish the lead, defeating No. 1 Wahconah 28-18 on Friday.
"I just have faith because every time I throw it up — he catches it — it's as simple as that," McNeice said of Walker. "We kind of saw a little bit of a weakness in their defense. They have a great defense, but we saw that they were leaving the seam open and we attacked that with a slant-and-go."
There were two other times where Walker made plays on 50/50 balls, keeping momentum on the Braves' side. Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, the visitors avoided disaster as a botched snap on a punt flew over McNeice's head. The lefty gathered the ball, scrambled and threw a prayer to Walker. Walker did not come down to the ball, but his body position forced a pass interference penalty, giving Taconic a first down. Two plays later, McNeice found Walker for another long grab over a Warrior defender and he went 42 yards for the score, putting the Braves up 7-3 with 7 minutes and 3 seconds remaining in the first half.
"I just try to jump high as I can and come down with it no matter what," Walker said. "No matter who's on me. I'm trying to come down with it."
The McNeice-Walker connection paid big dividends for Taconic (5-1, 3-0 Suburban North). Walker finished with four catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns while McNeice had seven completions for 223 yards and the two scores.
Conversely, Wahconah (5-1, 2-1) could never gets its passing attack off the ground. Quarterback Will Genaway struggled early, going 3 of 10 for 25 yards in the first half. The Warriors could not convert on key downs, throwing incompletions on fourth down twice in the first half.
Wahconah managed just three points in the first quarter. But Genaway's 7-yard run and Tanner Hastings' two-point conversion put the Warriors up 11-7 after two quarters.
When Taconic wasn't throwing deep, the Braves used their array of ballcarriers to pound the Wahconah defense. Playing without main back Anthony Whiteley — who left the game with an injury in the first quarter — McNeice, Zach Gage, Jake Galliher and Brandon Peaslee picked up the slack from Whiteley's absence.
The quartet came together on a 10-play drive that started on their own two-yard line, helped by a 27-yard scramble by McNeice and a 39-yard completion to Walker, setting up a five-yard scoring run from Galliher. The score put them up 10, but Wahconah had an answer. Dane Campbell took the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for a scoring, bringing Wahconah within three.
Another failed snap put Wahconah deep in Taconic territory early in the fourth. A holding penalty and a false start forced a first and goal from the Taconic 22, and the Braves defense did not break. Patrick Butler missed a 25-yard field goal, and Taconic grinded out a 14-play drive capped by a Galliher touchdown to seal the game. Lucien Almeida added an interception on Wahconah's final drive to end any hopes of a comeback.
"The kids all played really, really tough on both sides, but it came down to — their kids made a play," Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said. "They made plays and we didn't. ... You've got to tip your cap to them and move on.
"The message to the team is to learn from our mistakes and critique the film in a positive way. Let's reflect on this game and get better from this point."
The win puts Taconic in the driver's seat of the Suburban North heading its a matchup against South Hadley.
"No one predicted us to win this game, so it was a statement win for our program," Taconic coach Jim Ziter said. "These kids have worked their butts off for me for four years. They've been working hard to get to where they are now. They're the talk of Western Mass. and if they're not — that's a shame."
W — Patrick Butler 27 field goal, 2:42
T — Devon Walker from Jake McNeice 42 yards (Brandon Peaslee kick),
W — Will Genaway 7 run (Tanner Hastings run), 1:12.
T — Walker 71 from McNeice (Peaslee kick), 11:40
T — Jake Galliher 5 run (Peaslee kick), 2:58/
W — Dane Campbell 78 kickoff return (Butler kick), 2:46.
T — Galliher 2 run (Pealsee kick), 2:11.
RUSHING — Taconic: Zach Gage 8-13, Brandon Peaslee 8-16, Jake McNeice 11-38, Jake Galliher 10-67, Cedric Rose 1-0. Wahconah: Connor Noyes 11-79, Connor Washburn 2-0, Will Genaway 11-39, Tanner Hastings 13-60.
PASSING — Taconic: McNeice 7-11-0 223. Wahconah: Genaway 7-17-1 68.
RECEIVING — Taconic Devon Walker 4-159, Jack Cooney 2-51, Galliher 1-13. Wahconah: Tom Burris 2-15, Connor Matthews 2-38, Noyes 1-8.
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252