Road to Gillette continues for Wahconah, Lee and Hoosac Valley football teams
When Berkshire County's high school football teams took to the practice fields on Aug. 17, the second week of November must have seemed a million miles away. Not anymore.
Welcome to championship weekend, where three county football teams will take the next step on what they all hope will be the Road to Gillette.
Berkshire teams will play for Division VII and VIII championships Friday night, and the winners of those games will be one more win away from playing for a state title at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
The Division VIII game will be played at Farley-Lamb Field on the Williams College campus, and will feature top-seeded Lee and No. 3 seed Hoosac Valley.
Wahconah, the top seed in Division VII, will head for Alumni Field on the campus of Westfield State University, for a championship game against No. 2 South Hadley.
All three of the Berkshire County teams playing tonight have put Western Mass. title trophies in their respective trophy cases.
Last year, Wahconah defeated Frontier in the D-VII game, while Hoosac beat Ware 46-16 in D-VIII. The Hurricanes made their way to Foxborough last year, while Wahconah took the trip down I-495 in 2016.
Lee won a Division VI Western Mass. championship in 2015, beating McCann Tech 13-0.
Two other Western Mass. championship games will be played at Roberts Stadium adjacent to Holyoke High School. In Division III, Central will play Westfield, while the Division V game features East Longmeadow and Longmeadow.
Game of the week
Hoosac Valley vs. Lee, Farley-Lamb Field, 6:30 p.m.
With Berkshire County teams in two championship games, this becomes the game of the week because it is the division where a county team is guaranteed a spot in the state semifinals.
This game also marks the first time in three years that Hoosac (6-2) and Lee (8-1) have met on the football field. It was 2015 when Hoosac Valley rolled to a 56-7 win over the Wildcats, en route to a 10-0 record. The 11th game proved to be unlucky for the Hurricanes, as they were beaten by Northbridge in the MIAA state Division III semifinal round.
Since 2015, the Berkshire County football league — which had several different lineups over the decades — was eliminated. In order for teams to get what the MIAA considered a "fairer" shot at postseason play in football, all of the Western Mass. leagues were shuffled around and Berkshire teams were put in the deck of cards and dealt out. That is why Lee and Hoosac have not played.
The Wildcats' only loss came to Amherst, who shared the Intercounty South title with Lee and Ludlow. Both Amherst and Ludlow lost in the first round of the Division V tournament. Hoosac, meanwhile, was second to South Hadley in the Suburban North. The only losses for Hoosac were to South Hadley and Chicopee Comp, also tournament teams.
The two teams playing at Farley-Lamb Field tonight got there in different ways. The Hurricanes needed a late defensive stand to keep second-seeded Turners Falls from completing a comeback in a 12-6 victory.
Hoosac managed only 146 net yards in total offense against the Thunder. Running back Liam Feeley had 83 of them on 20 carries, while Casey Meczywor ran eight times for 65 more yards. Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot might be happier if the Hurricanes can replicate their offensive production from a 36-32 win at Pittsfield. In that game, the Hurricanes ran 62 times for 357 yards and Feeley carried the ball 35 times for a career-best 240 yards.
Since the loss at Amherst, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents 88-6, including a 35-6 win over Ware in the semifinals. Coach Keith Thomson's team gave up 38 points to Amherst, but only 33 in its other eight games.
The Wildcats bring a balanced offense into tonight's game on the turf. In the win over Ware, JJ Jimenez ran for 146 yards on 13 carries, while Andrew Ruef had 11 carries for 84 yards. Quarterback Homer Winston only threw four passes, completing three.
But in Lee's 28-7 win at Belchertown in October, Winston was 6 of 9 for 124 yards. He threw touchdown passes of nine and 16 yards to Ben Harding (4 catches, 46 yards), and a 61-yard TD pass to Nick Nicotra. Winston also ran for 37 yards, giving him 161 yards of total offense. That was more than half of Lee's total that night.
Hoosac's key will be to make Lee one dimensional, while the Wildcats will need to win the line of scrimmage to keep the Hurricanes from getting chunk plays running the ball.
Wahconah vs. South Hadley, Westfield State University, 7 p.m.
Coach Gary Campbell Jr.'s Warriors (8-1) are after their third Western Massachusetts title in as many years. Last year, the Warriors knocked off Frontier in the newly-minted Division VII final and beat Palmer to win the Division IV title in 2016.
South Hadley coach Scott Taylor's team hasn't hoisted a trophy since beating Commerce in a Western Mass. Division II Super Bowl game back in 2012. The last time South Hadley played a Berkshire County team in a championship game was 2009, when Hoosac Valley put a 35-18 hurting on the Tigers.
The last time Wahconah and South Hadley (7-2) got together was in 2016, when Will Genaway threw four touchdown passes in the Warriors' 57-25 victory. The year before, the Tigers scored a 32-28 win over Wahconah.
The last time Wahconah and South Hadley met up in a tournament game was back in 2013, when the Warriors held on for a 24-20 win, and then went on to beat Agawam to claim the Division IV title.
A common measuring stick for both Wahconah and South Hadley is Taconic. The Warriors went 2-0 against the Braves, picking up a pair of shutout victories. Back on Oct. 18, South Hadley battled Taconic and the elements to eke out a 28-24 win.
South Hadley gave up 18 second half points against an inspired Taconic offense. The Tigers had trouble stopping Taconic's ground game as Haywood Eurquhart ran for 113 yards and Tyrell Beverly chipped in with 105. Taconic's defense did surrender 104 yards rushing to Hunter Carey and 103 to Liam Dawson, but held the Tigers to 47 yards in offense in the second half. Dawson, considered one of South Hadley's best players, will not play Friday. He is recovering from a broken collarbone.
In last week's other semifinal in Division VII, South Hadley rolled to a 44-13 win over third-seeded Frontier. Carey, who had a huge first half against Taconic, ran for 115 yards on 14 carries.
The Tigers are going to have their hands full with a Wahconah offense that can beat you by land and beat you by air.
Since losing to East Longmeadow, Wahconah running back Conner Noyes has rushed for 164, 267, 203 and 102 yards, respectively. Quarterback Tim Clayton has thrown for 155, 154, 143, 94, and 153 yards since losing to the Spartans.
South Hadley's coaches are going to have to figure out how to stop the run game and the pass game. That's something nobody, except East Longmeadow, has been able to figure out.
Pittsfield at West Springfield, 7 p.m.
The Generals (4-5) scored a 26-18 win over Easthampton last week, and may have one of the toughest matchups in all of this weekend's non-tournament games.
West Springfield (2-7) played five tournament teams in the regular season. Four of them — Wahconah, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow and Central — are playing in their respective divisional championship games.
Holyoke at Taconic, 5 p.m., Gene Dellea Field at BCC
The Braves (4-5) will look to bounce back from last week's semifinal loss at Wahconah when Holyoke comes to Gene Dellea Field this weekend. The Purple Kinghts (5-4) rolled over West Springfield 41-21, as Leesandro Colon ran for 165 yards.
Monument Mountain at Smith Vocational, 7 p.m.
Smith Vocational (3-5) lost 44-8 to Drury in the regular season, while Monument (2-7) beat Drury 20-12. A win would end a two-game losing streak for the Spartans.
Mohawk at Drury, Saturday, 11 a.m.
It'll be a football brunch in North Adams when the Blue Devils (2-6) meet Mohawk (1-7). Mohawk dropped a decision last week to Mahar, while Drury handled Pathfinder 26-8.
Greenfield at McCann Tech, Saturday, noon
Admittedly, a Drury-McCann finale would have been more fun, but coach Tony Skiffington's Hornets (4-4) can end the year with a winning record if they can knock off the Green Wave (5-4), who lost to Putnam last week.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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