Hoosac Valley football back on top after beating Ware in Western Mass. Division VIII championship
This story has been updated with the time and location of the state semifinal game.
HOLYOKE — All season long, the top-seeded Hoosac Valley football team relied on its offensive line to pave the way for its running backs by dominating the player in front of them. On Saturday in the Western Massachusetts Division VIII final against Ware, the Hurricanes needed their linemen more than ever to escape a jam.
The 'Canes started their second drive of the game on their own one-yard line. A false start moved the ball inches closer to their own end zone. With their heels on the goal line, the linemen had to execute their assignments perfectly or risk giving up a safety, negating the positive momentum gained from a two-play scoring drive to start the contest.
Hoosac burst off the line as David Critelli rushed for nine yards on first down, giving quarterback Vance Eugene room to operate. They capped the 11-play drive — all runs — with a four-yard run by Matthew Hall. The drive was indicative of Hoosac's plan of attack for the entire game: Pound the ball in the running game by dominating up front. The strategy led to a 46-16 win over the No. 3 Indians and a Western Mass. championship. The win is Hoosac's second title in the last four years. The Hurricanes advance to face Nashoba Tech in the D-VIII state semifinal on Saturday at Westfield State University. That game will start at 11 a.m.
"That's just when everything we do at practice all week, everything we've done all year comes into play," Hoosac senior linemen Adam Bush said. "Everybody's working as a team. We know our job and we just get it done. That's what we train for every single day. We push the sled every single day, we drive each other in the weight room, we work together, we get together and we know what we're doing. ... That's how we pulled out the 'W' today."
Hoosac's offensive line paved the way for 368 yards rushing against the Indians. Hoosac didn't need to complete a pass until the third quarter. Hall was the beneficiary of the strong blocking, rushing for 163 yards and three scores.
"I thought that was huge," Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot said of the 11-play, 99-yard drive. "We got in that situation, it wasn't 'oh no, what's going on.' We have confidence in what we're doing and our guys did a great job. They take care of the football, got out of that situation and they drove down the field.
"It built a little bit of momentum and it says 'hey, we're going to move the ball down the field no matter what.'"
After the game Hall was given the Mike Rysz award. The award honors Hoosac's top senior performer, usually given during the Drury-Hoosac game. The teams did not play this year, so the Hoosac coaches gave out the award for the top performer in the championship game.
Hall scored all three touchdowns in the first half, giving the 'Canes a 24-8 lead after two quarters.
Both defenses held strong in the third quarter, keeping each other out the end zone for the entire 10-minute stanza.
Ware started the fourth quarter backed up on their own three-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Johnson's pass fell incomplete on third down, forcing a punt. The 'Canes began their next drive on the Indians' 26-yard line. Two plays later, Eugene made them pay with a highlight-reel run. He faked the hand-off up the middle to Critelli, pulled the ball and headed left. The senior QB then stiff-armed one defender, juked two more and spun past another into the end zone for the 23-yard score. He added the two-point conversion with a completion to Izaha Stubbs, putting Hoosac up 32-8 with 9 minutes, 51 seconds left in the game.
Nick Waterman used strong coverage skills to knock away Johnson's fourth-down pass on Ware's next drive. Hoosac marched down the field again, needing just six plays to add another Critelli rushing touchdown. Critelli had 106 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Ware did not go down quietly. The Indians answered in just two plays, using a 52-yard pass from Johnson to Devin Slattery, followed by a eight-yard connection to Jayson Jamilowski for a the score.
The 'Canes recovered the ensuing onside kick and responded with a four-play drive, ending with a Eugene touchdown run.
Poirot credited his defense's sound tackling in space for containing Ware's dynamic duo of Millard and Johnson. The defensive line unit generated solid pressure as well, notching multiple sacks and holding the Indians to just 58 yards rushing.
Hoosac's dominant championship performance mirrored the strong play it displayed throughout the last 10 weeks. The Hurricanes have bigger goals in mind now, as they return to the field for a chance to earn a trip to Gillette Stadium for the state championship.
"There's nothing better than coming back senior year and getting that Western Mass. title," Bush said. "Now we've got our work cut out for us. Next week we've got to come back hard, come back firing and get ready for our next game."
Ware 0 8 0 8 — 16
Hoosac 8 16 0 22 — 46
H — Matt Hall 22 run (David Critelli run), 5:46
H — Hall 4 run (Critelli run), 9:47
H — Hall 7 run (Nick Waterman pass from Vance Eugene), 4:45.
W — Ryan Johnson 52 run (Devin Slattery pass from Johnson), 2:42.
H — Eugene 23 run (Izaha Stubbs pass from Eugene), 9:51.
H — Critelli 5 run (Hall run), 3:32.
W — Jayson Jamilowski 8 pass from Johnson (Milliard run), 2:54.
H — Eugene 7 run (run failed), 1:30.
First Downs 6 21
Rushes-yards 23-58 47-368
Passing yards 165 1
Comp-att-int 8-16-1 1-2-1
Penalties-yards 2-12 7-66
Fumbles-lost 2-0 1-0
RUSHING — Ware: Hunter Milliard 11-25, Ryan Johnson 10-35, John Velasquez 2-(minus 2). Hoosac: Matt Hall 17-163, David Critelli 11-106, Vance Eugene 9-56, Liam Feeley 9-97, Donald Monsees 1-2.
PASSING — Ware: Johnson 7-15-1 114. Milliard 1-1-0 51. Hoosac: Eugene 1-2-1 1.
RECEIVING — Ware: Devin Slattery 3-75, Velasquez 1-5, Johnson 1-2, Jayson Jamilowski 2-32, Johnson 1-51. Hoosac: Nick Waterman 1-1.
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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