Wahconah, Agawam each have stout running games
Friday's matchup for the Western Massachusetts Division IV championship is not your traditional battle of unbeatens.
The top-seeded Wahconah Warriors (9-0) are making their fourth trip to the playoffs in the last five years, including last year's Western Mass. Division II Super Bowl win over South Hadley.
For the Agawam Brownies (9-0), this season marks the team's first postseason appearance since the Super Bowl era began in 1972.
The Brownies have improved each year under third-year coach Rick Jewell, going winless in his first season before winning three games last year.
"We ended last year strong, which escalated the level of work in the offseason," Jewell said. "I had more players invested in this season and the future of the program."
Despite Wahconah's history of recent postseason success and Agawam's lack thereof, Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said his team is not taking the upstart Brownies lightly.
"Agawam's a good, good school with an excellent running back and a big, tall quarterback," Campbell said.
The key to success for the Warriors is to stop that running back, Stephen Comee, and quarterback Mike Vecchiarelli. The duo showed how explosive they can be, bringing their team back from a 17-8 fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a 29-23 victory last Friday over Northampton.
The pair accounted for three touchdowns during the 21-point fourth quarter, with Vecchiarelli running and throwing for a score. Comee added a 31-yard kick return as well. Even with strong performances from his stars, Jewell said his team is not a two-man show.
"Offense in my eyes has to be a team effort. The offensive line has been working extremely well together, while Comee, Vecchiarelli, [Joshua] Flynn and [Giovanni] Russo have made big plays throughout the season," he said.
Campbell knows what the Brownies' stars are capable of. He said he plans on using his defensive schemes to keep the Agawam offense off balance.
"Obviously, we're going to have to crowd the box but still disguise our coverages to keep them honest. If they know exactly what coverage we're in every time, they're going to know where to throw the ball," Campbell said.
Stopping the two-headed rushing attack of quarterback Ethan Wells and running back Eli Pease is critical for the Brownies. But Agawam must contend with an improving passing attack as well.
The dual threat, Wells, showed his ability to beat a defense with his arm last week against South Hadley. Wells threw for three touchdown passes in the first half, two to Darrow Brown and one to Ryan Washburn.
Campbell said his team must remain balanced to have success on offense.
"Our receiving core is really coming together. We have Cole Morrison to go with Brown -- Brown's always been great," Campbell said. "[Brown] has always been the guy teams would key on. But Washburn is catching balls, Morrison is catching balls -- we are truly balanced now."
Jewell credited the Warriors for being well-coached and said his team must limit mistakes to be successful. Campbell said Agawam is talented as well, and the winner of the game will make a deserving Western Mass. champion.
"You're starting to see teams at the end of the season that are 9-0 for a reason. [Agawam's] going to be a tough stop," Campbell said. "It's going to be an exciting game. It's what it should be -- the two best teams in Western Mass -- and in our division, it is," Campbell said.
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