Akeem Glaspie | Top Moment of 2017: The return of the Western Mass. Senior Bowl
This year has been an interesting year of football at all levels.
Professionals football players used their platform to bring awareness to causes they deemed worthy, ruffling the feathers of people who don't want "politics" in their football.
If the politics didn't turn you off, then being smacked in the face by the inherent danger of football (see Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker Ryan Shazier) may have been enough to make fans spend Sunday's watching something else.
Locally, football is still thriving and no one event highlighted the area's love for the gridiron than the Western Mass. Senior Bowl in June. The Senior Bowl returned after a four-year absence, giving the 2017 class one last chance to put on their pads and strap up their chinstraps.
For one night in the summer, athletes played their hearts out simply for the love of the game.
"It's awesome for the game," Wahconah/Hills team coach Gary Campbell Jr. said to The Eagle after the game. "This is the greatest game in the world. I truly believe that — greatest team game, so that's what was on display tonight. As you can see, people care about it."
The game was held at South Hadley High School and pitted The Hills (a team featuring Berkshire County athletes) against The Valley (a team featuring athletes from Pioneer Valley and Springfield).
For a contest billed as an exhibition, the atmosphere resembled a Friday night between heated rivals. There was an electricity pulsing through the stadium before the game. The stands were filled and spectators lined the perimeter of the field. What made the game unique were the small cheering sections for each school and player. Hearing a group of fans cheering for an individual player felt like watching a NFL game at a fantasy football convention. It took a little bit of getting used to, but anyway — back to the action.
The play on the field was intense and the teams moved with a unity well beyond the handful of days they spent practicing together. Campbell Jr. did a great job of tailoring his game plan to each player's individual strengths. Palmer quarterback McCarthy played his usual run-first style, while Wahconah's Will Genaway displayed his comfort in the pocket, throwing to a group of wideouts any QB would be giddy to fire passes to.
The game was definitely chippy at times and the crowd erupted with each big hit and first-down conversion. The Valley team had a lot of name recognition at the skill spots: Central's Coreese Everett, Chicopee's Isaiah Jackson and Westfield's Wilton Royal to name a few. But it was clear the Hills squad was eager to prove it plays with just as much speed and strength in their neck of the woods.
"Not a lot people know of football beyond Springfield, so Western Mass. is really showing how high quality of football that we can play," Wahconah's Connor Washburn said. "We only had five days, but we looked like a team that's been practicing for weeks."
Lee's Michael Hurley was all over the field at defensive back. He was matched up in one-on-one situations all night and more than held his own. He delivered several big hits and always seemed to be in the right spot to break up a pass. The prolific combo of Genaway-to-Washburn connected for one last, long touchdown and Taconic's Anthony Whiteley ran with his usual blend of speed, power and vision. The Berkshire County players performed well, but Taconic's Brandon Peaslee played like a man possessed.
He made numerous tackles, including a touchdown-saving stop at the goal line as time expired in the first half. He drilled a 28-yard field goal and kicked two extra points, helping the Hills clinch a 33-10 win. He also took home team MVP honors. Greylock's Pat Storie capped the game with an interception return touchdown.
When the final whistle blew, the players hung around shaking hands and chatting on the field. Even with the feisty play, the post-game proceedings were nothing but cordial as both sides displayed good sportsmanship.
The all-star game was a great example of the purity of sports. Seeing the players compete with such emotion and passion made for my top moment of the year.
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at email@example.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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