owen salvatore runs the ball

Wahconah's Owen Salvatore races up the field on Friday night against Pittsfield in Dalton.

DALTON — After a fall 2020 with no football, the student-athletes from Wahconah and Pittsfield High unloaded on one another for a 44-point first quarter in Friday night’s season opener.

Then, there was a football game to be played.

Wahconah held PHS to just six points after that opening bonanza, ultimately winning 36-26 to start the 2021 season.

It was a dizzying first quarter, as Pittsfield quarterback Patrick Rindfuss threw touchdown passes of 71, 45 and 24 yards in the opening 8 minutes, 38 seconds of play. Normally, that’d be enough to stake a football team a pretty hefty lead. However, immediately after two of those strikes, Wahconah got a pair of 70-yard kick-return touchdowns for the ultimate counter-punch.

“Amazing. Sloppy, no doubt, but, entertaining,” said Wahconah coach Gary Campbell of the furious first 12 minutes. “But the kids didn’t flinch, and I told them I’m really happy about that. They punch, we counter-punch, punch, counter-punch. Different ways, did it through the air, our special teams were awesome. Our second half, we settled down a little bit. I was really proud of the boys from the second quarter on, really settling down.”

Rindfuss finished 13 of 25 for 320 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Louis Rhodes and Davon Solomon both went over 100 yards receiving, but including sacks, the PHS offense rushed 25 times for 46 yards and couldn’t control the clock or field position.

Perhaps exhausted or simply overwhelmed mentally, the game slowed from there and an unexpected scoreless second quarter followed.

Wahconah opened the third quarter with the ball and slowed the game down to the pace Campbell and senior quarterback Ryan Scott wanted. With short field starting on the Pittsfield 48, senior Jonah Smith carried five times for 21 yards. Scott hit Drew Wendling for 11 yards on a fourth-and-7, and later, from the PHS 20, found Ben Noyes open up the middle for a 20-yard score. Uncharacteristic of the game thus far, the touchdown drive took more than five minutes, and the Warriors led 28-20.

Scott completed 16 of 22 passes for 136 yards and two scores. Smith hauled 17 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, the Generals were eager for their first chance of the second half too. The field position wasn’t as beneficial, but even starting on his own 12, Rindfuss hit Davon Solomon for an 18-yard pickup on the first play after the Noyes TD. Accelerated by a facemask penalty, Pittsfield moved to midfield when Rindfuss took a keeper up the right sideline.

After breaking tackles for 10 yards, the PHS senior was spun around and the ball was wrenched out as he fell out of bounds. It landed in play, and Wahconah’s David Striebel was first on the scene.

“My guard pulled, so I followed him. I couldn’t catch Rindfuss, so I just got behind him a little bit and I think Wyatt [George] or maybe Ben Noyes got the tackle. Ball came out and I just dove on it,” said Striebel. “It all worked out.”

While the Warriors didn’t score on the free possession, it was another gut punch to a PHS offense that had lost its way. The teams traded three-and-out punts, and Wahconah took over as the fourth quarter began.

“Obviously we moved the ball really, really well through the air, I thought we played well in multiple facets, but I told the guys, little things become big things,” said PHS coach Brian Jezewski. “It’s an experience thing, some of the younger guys getting in there in a varsity game against a program like Wahconah. This is a good thing for our program.”

Scott piloted another methodical drive for Wahconah. Starting on their own 30, the Warriors converted on third-and-3 with a Smith rush to near midfield. Then on fourth-and-3, Scott hit Ben Noyes again up a seam for 25 yards. Another third-and-6 was carried seven yards by Drew Collins to the Pittsfield 11. From there, Smith followed his offensive line into the end zone and into a crowd of the Wahconah student body. He polished it with another 2-point conversion and the Warriors led 36-20.

“Since freshman year, it’s been this line. Me, Wyatt George, Marshall Williams, Ashley Chaffee, Ben West. Dominic Scalise came sophomore year, but ever since then we’ve glued together,” said Striebel. “There was only a couple kids in the grades above us, so we had experience and know what to do.”

With Rindfuss slinging and Solomon and Louis Rhodes in the open field, though, the lead still wasn’t safe. On fourth-and-5 of Pittsfield’s ensuing drive, Rhodes caught a 37-yarder to the Wahconah 29. Solomon then caught a pass just as he strode into the end zone. Less than two minutes after Smith’s TD, PHS cut the deficit to 36-26.

It was the little things, though. With a chance to make it a one-possession game, Rindfuss took a keeper on the 2-point conversion but was stood up and spun down by Striebel short of the goal line. The two-score lead was preserved with just 5:01 left.

Wahconah milked clock to 1:54 before punting back to PHS. The Generals marched to the Wahconah 21, but Striebel and Owen Alfonso met at Rindfuss for a sack, and Scott Duma intercepted a pass in the end zone as time expired.

“Of course, we did not control the line of scrimmage at all. The strength of our team is the offensive line and we did not play at a high level tonight,” said Jezewski. “We’ve got to really improve upon that, and they will. We need to practice harder and smarter, and we will definitely get back to work on Monday.”

The Generals scored after just three plays and 30 seconds of action in the opening quarter, with Rindfuss hitting a streaking Rhodes for a 71-yard catch-and-run score. The ball traveled about 40 yards in the air, and Solomon came over to clear Rhodes’ path from there with a downfield block.

Wahconah responded with a six-play, 70-yard drive that capped with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Scott to Salvatore.

Then it was Solomon’s turn, with the senior beating his man on a deep slant for a 45-yard strike from Rindfuss.

Salvatore then sprinted 70 yards on the ensuing kickoff for an even quicker six. After Rindfuss and Solomon dialed up another score, this time from 24 yards out with 3:22 still to play in the quarter, Wahconah’s Brad Noyes matched his teammate with a 70-yard kick return touchdown as well.

The difference was in the little things. Pittsfield was 1 for 3 on its 2-point conversions in the first quarter; Wahconah was 2 for 3, with Smith carrying it in both times to make it 22-20 Warriors.

———
Pittsfield 20 0 0 6 — 26
Wahconah 22 0 6 8 — 36
First Quarter
P — Louis Rhodes 71 pass from Patrick Rindfuss (run stopped), 11:30.
W — Owen Salvatore 23 pass from Ryan Scott (Jonah Smith run), 7:56.
P — Davon Solomon 45 pass from Rindfuss (run stopped), 6:48.
W — Salvatore 70 kick return (Smith run), 6:38.
P — Solomon 24 pass from Rindfuss (Rindfuss run), 3:22.
W — Brad Noyes 70 kick return (pass incomplete), 3:09.
Third Quarter
W — Ben Noyes 20 pass from Scott (pass incomplete), 6:48.
Fourth Quarter
W — Smith 4 run (Smith run), 6:46.
———
Rushing — P: Rindfuss 17-30, Powell 2 (-10), Mestre 2-9, Rhodes 3-14, Bunnell 1-3; W: Smith 17-83, Salvatore 4-6, Duma 1-2, Scott 4-(-15), Collins 3-14
Passing — P: Rindfuss 13-25-4 320; W: Scott 16-24-2 136.
Receiving — P: Rhodes 6-137, Solomon 5-142, Wheeler 1-20; W: DiCicco 4-12, Salvatore 3-45, Wendling 2-12, Smith 1-1, Ben Noyes 3-63, Collins 1-7.

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6240. On Twitter: @WalshWrites89.

Sports Editor

Mike Walsh is sports editor at The Berkshire Eagle. He's been with The Eagle since 2017. Walsh also authors the NENPA-winning Powder Report column. He's an avid snowboarder, runner, homebrewer, and he used to play a pretty mean sousaphone.