Wahconah football overcomes early turnovers to run away from Palmer and into Western Massachusetts Division VII championship game
DALTON — The Wahconah football team scored a touchdown on its first drive of the game, and then promptly stalled on offense. That lasted just long enough.
The Warriors scored 10 points in the final minute of the second quarter and broke open the game with three, third-quarter touchdowns as the top-seeded Warriors rolled to a 37-6 win over fourth-seeded Palmer in a Western Massachusetts Division VII semifinal Friday night. It was a rematch of last year's Western Mass. D-IV championship game.
For the Warriors, the win not only gave them a chance to play for their fourth Western Mass. title since the state tournament began in 2013, it also allowed them to go 5-0 on their home field in 2017.
"It's great," Wahconah quarterback Tim Clayton said. "It's great for the seniors to get their final season on here and to come off with an undefeated home season."
Not only were the Warriors perfect at home, but going into Friday's game, they had outscored their visitors by an average score of 45-12.
"As a senior, it means everything" to win and advance, said Dane Campbell.
With the win, Wahconah will now play Frontier Regional in the D-VII championship game. The No. 2 Red Hawks held off No. 3 South Hadley, 28-21, as quarterback Bryce Dobosz scored two second-half touchdowns.
While it took the Wahconah offense a little while to find its cruising speed, cruse it did. The Warriors ran 45 offensive plays to 41 for Palmer, but had 351 yards in total offense to 81 total yards for the Panthers. All of Palmer's positive yards came in the air, as junior quarterback Jeff Pardo was 12 of 22 for 93 yards and one touchdown. Rushing, Palmer had a net minus-27 yards. Much of that came on a couple of lost fumbles.
On the subject of fumbles, Wahconah had its share. The Warriors had three of them in the first half and lost two. Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr., who keeps track, said that in six quarters against Palmer, the Warriors had turned the ball over six times. That goes back to last year's championship game.
"We keep giving the ball away to this team," said the Wahconah coach. "In the first half, that was more of the same. We didn't give the ball away in the second half. It was just execution."
Case in point: The end of the first half.
A 44-yard punt put Wahconah on its 39 with 3:52 left in the second quarter. In 10 plays, the Warriors got a touchdown. Clayton converted a third-down pass to Tom Burris (five catches, 60 yards), and two plays later, Dane Campbell scored on a nine-yard jet sweep.
Wahconah recovered an onside kick and went 45 yards. The Warriors converted on a third and a fourth down and used up all of their time outs. A 13-yard run by Hastings (16 carries, 95 yards) gave Wahconah a first down on the Palmer nine. The drive stalled and Patrick Butler, who banged an extra-point kick off the crossbar earlier, made a 26-yard field goal that would have been good from 40. Wahconah led 13-0.
Looking for a defensive turning point? Clayton and Hastings had a miscommunication on a hand off and Palmer's Michael Domnarski recovered on the Wahconah 29. The Warriors forced a fumble on a pass to Joe Lombardi, with Gabe Verdi recovering. It was the second recovery by the Wahconah defense in the half. Lineman Brandon Hoffman recovered on Palmer's first drive, leading to Hastings' first touchdown.
"It was great to have the defense behind the offense," Dane Campbell said, "especially after we fumbled it twice. To have the defense right there was great. It was awesome."
That kind of left Palmer coach Peter Farr shaking his head a little bit.
"We played a tough first quarter against them. We had a couple of opportunities, we created some turnovers and had a nice pass [in the red zone] that turned into a fumble," he said. "They're a good team. We know that."
Palmer 0 0 0 6 — 6
Wahconah 6 10 21 0 — 37
W — Tanner Hastings 3 run (Kick failed), 8:08.
W — Dane Campbell 9 run (Patrick Butler kick), 1:14.
W — Butler 26 FG, 0:00.
W — Hastings 5 run (Butler kick), 10:13.
W — Campbell 26 pass from Tim Clayton (Butler kick), 6:38.
W — Hastings 9 run (Butler kick), 2:19.
P — Tyler Placanico 6 pass from Jeff Pardo (Pass failed), 0:29.
First Downs 19 7
Rushes-Yards 36-198 18-(minus-27)
Passing yards 153 108
Comp-Att-Int 11-21-0 13-23-0
Punts-Avg. 1-25.0 6-37.6
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 3-2
Penalties-Yards 3-30 2-10
RUSHING — Wah: Tanner Hastings 16-95, Nate Zink 10-42, Tim Clayton 3-1, Dane Campbell 3-51, Matt Mathers 2-5, Antwaun Fye 1-4, Ethan Scott 1-0. Pal: Kyle Mastalerz 12-(minus-9), Jeff Pardo 3-(minus-19), Tyler Placanico 3-1.
PASSING — Wah: Clayton 11-21-0 153. Pal: Pardo 12-22-0 93, Placanico 1-1-0 15.
RECEIVING — Wah: Tom Burris 5-60, Bob Archambault 1-3, Austin Roughley 2-14, Campbell 2-35, Tom O'Connor 1-44. Pal: Dylan Tenczar 8-53, Joe Lombardi 4-45, Placanico 1-6.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, and 413-496-6253.
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