Wahconah hits the gas in second half to run away from Minnechaug
DALTON — The best way to negate an uptempo, no-huddle spread offense is to keep it off the field. Wahconah relied on physical senior running back Tanner Hastings to pound away at the Minnechaug defense, gaining tough yards up the middle and steadily moving the chains, while the Falcons offense could only watch from the sideline. Hastings carried the ball 30 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns, leading Wahconah to a 40-19 win Friday on Senior Night.
The wins keeps Wahconah undefeated on the season, setting up a Suburban North showdown with West Springfield next week. The winner takes the Suburban North crown.
"It's a pride thing," Hastings said of his physical running style. "I've built that up since my freshman year. I've got [the offensive linemen] to block for me, so I've just got to do it for them. ... I know they're relying on me, but I have to rely on them or else I can't get those yards. So if they fight for me, I fight for them. It's a family here."
Hastings' two-yard plunge into the end zone put Wahconah up for good with 8 minutes, 43 seconds left in the third quarter. Wahconah found its rhythm in the running game in the second half, but Minnechaug's passing attack had the Warriors on their heels early.
The first quarter was of a feeling out process of sorts. The teams combined for three punts, two turnovers on downs and a turnover. Minnechaug had the deepest drive in opposing territory, but Wahconah's defense stiffened, stuffing Falcons' running back Jamel Smith on fourth-and-short.
The stop seemed to energize Wahconah heading into the second quarter, as Nate Zink capped the ensuing nine-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. With neither team fully tipping its hand in the first quarter, Minnechaug went to its full uptempo attack to answer.
The Falcons get their plays called in from the sideline, look at their wristbands and go. At full speed, they run a play every 20 seconds or so. Quarterback Anthony Izzo runs the offense well, taking the shotgun snap and quickly firing the ball to his receiver. He hit Ethan Moretti for a 13-yard score on a seven-play drive that lasted a little more than two minutes, but the failed extra point attempt kept Wahconah ahead, 7-6, with 6:13 left in the half.
Special teams took center stage for the middle portion of the quarter. Wahconah's Patrick Butler made a 39-yard field goal, but Moretti answered with a 90-yard kick return touchdown, putting Minnechaug ahead 12-10. The team's exchanged scored before a Tom Burris juggling 38-yard grab put the Warriors in position for another Butler field goal with 1.9 seconds left in the quarter. The long try was no good, but Wahconah went into the locker room, knowing it took Minnechaug's best shot.
Wahconah's defense forced turnovers on back-to-back possessions to start the second half — a fumble recovery and a Jake Gai interception — allowing the Warriors to put away the game. Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said he wanted his defense to key on Smith and shut down the running game. Minnechaug's shifty scat back managed just 28 yards on the ground. The strong run defense forced the Falcons to the air, and after allowing nine completions in first half, Gai, Dane Campbell, Augie Roughley and crew allowed just six completions after halftime.
Dane Campbell said offenses like Minnechaug's are what defensive backs dream about.
"It's really excellent because we practice the deep ball every day here," the younger Campbell said. "It's our knowledge of knowing what they're going to run and our film. We go to film every day. We have to look at that and identify what they're going to run on each play."
After the game, the Wahconah seniors were finally able to take a load off, as their teammates lifted them on their shoulders and carried them into locker room. The gesture is a Wahconah tradition after every win on Senior Night.
Minnechaug 0 19 0 0 — 19
Wahconah 0 18 15 7 — 40
W — Nate Zink 8 run (Pat Butler kick), 8:23
M — Ethan Moretti 13 pass from Anthony Izzo (kick missed), 6:13.
W — Butler 39 kick, 2:51
M — Moretti 90 kick return (kick missed), 2:36.
W — Tanner Hastings 15 run (Hastings run), 1:22.
M — Moretti 12 run (Michael Talaia kick), :48.2.
W — Hastings 2 run (Tim Clayton run), 8:42.
W — Hastings 5 run (Butler kick), 3:39.
W — Dane Campbell 6 run (Butler kick), 9:07.
Rushes-yards 11-47 59-256
Comp-att-int 15-29-1 10-16-0
Passing yards 151 161
Penalties-yards 4-40 1-5
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
RUSHING — Minnechaug: Jamel Smith 8-28, Ethan Moretti 8-19. Wahconah: Tanner Hastings 30-172, Dane Campbell 3-11, Nate Zink 17-65, Tim Clayton 8-4, Matt Mathers 3-11, Antwaun Fye 1-4. PASSING — Minnechaug: Anthony Izzo 15-29-1 151. Wahconah: Clayton 10-16-0 161.
RECEIVING — Minnechaug: Dan Sheehan 3-51, Chris Patrick 5-37, Devin Rice 3-27, Jamel Smith 1-25, Moretti 2-8, Thomas Garvey 1-13. Wahconah: Mather 1-(minus 4), Campbell 3-31, Tom Burris 5-127, Bob Archambault 1-7.
Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.
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