Hills gets best of Valley in Western Mass. Senior Bowl
SPRINGFIELD — Pittsfield's Donte Cruz smiled when was asked what it was like to play his last football game.
"The years go by fast," he said when the third annual Western Mass. Senior Bowl game ended.
"It was an honor to play with these guys," he said. "Especially [Wahconah's] Tommy Burris. I've been waiting to play with him for a long time.
"I think it was fun. It's been a great ride for me."
Cruz and his teammates from the Hills All-Star team shut out their rivals from the Valley in the second half en route to a 19-6 win Friday night at Springfield College's Stagg Field.
Wahconah's Conner Noyes, the Hills' most valuable player, scored on a seven-yard run late in the third quarter to give coach Gary Campbell Jr. and his team another win in the series.
While Noyes will be playing college football at RPI, most of the players on both sides of the field were suiting up for the last time.
One of those was the aforementioned Burris, who will be playing basketball next year at UMass Boston.
"It was a crazy feeling" to play one last football game, Burris said. "I never thought this moment would come. I had a blast playing with all these people from our county and from our division. It was fun."
The Hills All-Star team featured players from Wahconah, Pittsfield, Hoosac Valley, Lee and Taconic, among other teams from the hilltowns in the region.
The game belonged to Campbell's Hills team from pretty much the start. On the first play from scrimmage, Valley running back Kenrick Williams was hit hard by Noyes and fumbled the football. The Hills recovered. Six plays later, they were on the board.
Noyes had two big gains on the scoring drive. One was a five-yard run on third down to move the chains. He later gained five yards, putting the ball on the four. From there, Ludlow's Jeremy Garcia took a pitch from Wahconah quarterback Tim Clayton and scampered into the end zone. The point-after kick by Frontier's Matt Hildreth was wide, and with 7:59 left, the Hills led the Valley 6-0. It was a lead the team in white would not give up.
Valley took the kickoff and marched from its 25 deep into the Hills' territory, before the defense made a stand. It was fourth-and-12 from the Hills' 22 when Valley quarterback Cecil Villa of Putnam found Chris Patrick of Minnechaug in the right flat. He had some open space, but Pittsfield's Joe Traversa and Lee's Andrew Ruef closed quickly and collapsed the screen after a gain of only six yards.
"It was a lot of fun" playing defense, Traversa said. "It was good getting a break from offense and just being able to play defense and hit out there. Offense has to run through plays all week. On defense, it's just concepts and schemes, so defense can really hop into it after one week of practice."
The Valley All-Stars got on the board late in the second quarter. Garcia's second TD of the game, a five-yard run, gave the Hills a 12-0 lead with 3:41 left in the second quarter. They scored on a six-minute drive that started on the Hills' 36.
But Valley needed all of a minute, 16 seconds. to get back in the game. After a 25-yard kickoff return by Longmeadow's Isaiah Dubois, Valley was facing third-and-one at the Hills' 41. Villa went back to pass and his Beavers teammate Zephon Wray got behind the defense for a 40-yard pass play. On the next play, Villa threw a swing pass to Holyoke's Williams and with a missed PAT kick, it was 12-6 at halftime.
The Hills took the football to start the third quarter, and kind of locked up the game with a 13-play, 65-yard scoring drive that took nine minutes off of the clock. On the drive, the Hills team was 1 for 2 on third-down conversions and had a huge fourth-down conversion that kept the drive alive.
Clayton dropped back in short punt formation, looked downfield and found Hoosac's Sam Larabee. Larabee ran a seam route, was open, and was brought down after an 18-yard gain on fourth-and-13. Five plays later, Noyes scored on a seven-yard run. He bounced off a tackler at the four and barrelled into the end zone.
"That drive in the second half was huge," said Campbell. "He was running people over and being Conner Noyes."
For his part, Noyes said it was a great experience to play with rivals from the county and from Western Mass.
"It's an All-Star Game. Everybody's good. Everybody's just as talented," he said. "Everybody just tries to do their best. Without everybody else I played with, [the MVP award] wouldn't have happened."
Noyes was just as happy about receiving the Bianchi scholarship.
"The scholarship is just hard work in the classroom," he said. "You have to be a scholar first and an athlete second. School comes first."
For Lee's Andrew Ruef, playing with all of these old rivals took a bit of getting used to.
"I can say, in the start, I was kind of cautious," he said. "Once I got to know some of these guys, they're really good guys, and I'd give the shirt off my back for any of them."
Playing in the game gave Ruef a chance to exorcise a bad football memory.
"Losing that last game, a Western Mass. playoff [to Hoosac] by two points definitely hurt," he said. "I get to come back out here one more time, put the pedal to the metal, hit again and get a win out of it. It's kind of reassuring to know I can go away with a win one more time."
Hills 6 6 7 0 — 19
Valley 0 6 0 0 — 6
H — Jeremy Garcia 4 run (Kick failed), 7:59.
H — Garcia 5 run (Run failed), 3:41.
V — Kenrick Williams 1 pass from Cecil Villa (Kick failed), 2:13.
H — Conner Noyes 7 run (Matt Hildreth kick), 2:50.
First Downs 16 6
Rushes-Yards 33-172 19-44
Comp-Att-Int 9-20-0 5-13-2
Passing yards 71 81
Penalties-Yards 3-25 6-52
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Punts-Avg. 3-37.0 1-18.0
RUSHING — Hills: Conner Noyes 10-54, Jeremy Garcia 9-36, Dan Vega 2-(-2), Wyatt Keith 7-74, Tim Clayton 4-14, Nick Pellegrini 1-(-4). Valley: Chris Patrick 1-(-9), Cecil Villa 10-30, Isaiah Dubois 4-14, Kenrick Williams 2-6, Tyvarius Daniels 2-3.
PASSING — Hills: Clayton 8-12-0 57, Pellegrini 1-8-0 14. Valley: Villa 5-13-2 81.
RECEIVING — Hills: Tom Burris 2-7, Donte Cruz 1-0, Noyes 2-10, Garcia 1-9, Sam Larabee 3-45. Valley: Daniels 3-34, Patrick 1-6, Zephon Wray 1-40, Williams 1-1.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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