Ware football team gets by vaunted Lee defense to advance to championship game of the Western Massachusetts Division VIII tournament
But after No. 2 Lee cut a three-possession deficit to just three points late in the fourth quarter, the third-seeded Indians had to score one more time to escape the Berkshires with a 25-16 victory in the semifinal round.
Wildcat running back Lukas Loehr's 25-yard touchdown reception with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the final frame made it 19-16 in favor of Ware, but Ryan Johnson scampered into the end zone from 58 yards out with 1:01 left to ice the game for the Indians.
"Proud of our kids, down 19-0, they found a way to scrape and claw and get back in the game and have an opportunity for an onside kick," Lee coach Keith Thomson said. "It just didn't go our way. Hats off to Ware, they're a good football team, they're well-coached and they beat us tonight."
The Indians (9-0) advance to play top-ranked Hoosac Valley in the Western Mass. D-VIII championship game next week. The Wildcats (7-2) will play in a consolation game against a to-be-determined opponent.
After taking a 12-0 lead into halftime, Ware made it 19-0 just over two minutes into the third quarter when Hunter Millier — who rushed for 104 yards in the game — scored on a 42-yard touchdown run. The score came on the first play of the drive after the Indians intercepted Lee quarterback Homer Winston on the first drive of the second half.
"They were the better team, at least for the better part of the first half," Thomson said. "We had an opportunity there before halftime and we couldn't cash in. We had an opportunity to start the second half, getting the ball there, and we turn the ball over.
"Turnovers kill you. Give Ware credit, they beat us up front tonight — especially early. We never really could get the ground game going to open up the play-action passes."
Lee did battle back, though, and after the teams traded possessions for over the next 13 minutes of game time, the Wildcats got on the board with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter. Winston rushed in on a QB sneak from the 1-yard line and then a reverse to Dominic Bartini on the conversion made it 19-8.
Lee then tried an onside kick and Ware recovered. The Indians marched down to the Wildcat 5-yard line for 1st-and-goal, but after a 5-yard loss on the first play, Johnson's pass was tipped and intercepted by Lee defensive lineman Tighler Andrews.
Taking over at its own 15-yard-line, Lee still needed two scores to tie the game or take the lead. Winston hit Jake Corcoran for a 19-yard pass then spiked the ball before connecting with Ben Harding on a 19-yard completion.
Then, Winston hit Corcoran again — this time for 22 yards — before another spike to stop the clock and then the 25-yard touchdown to Loehr on a middle screen. Loehr took in the two-point conversion and suddenly the Ware lead was down to 19-16 with just over two minutes remaining.
The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Ware, but the Indians were called offsides. Lee tried one more time, but again Ware recovered. Johnson's aforementioned 58-yard run sealed the game on 2nd-and-10 of the final drive.
"We were trying to convert a first down and run out the clock," Johnson said of his final touchdown run. "I got to the edge and saw an opening, made a cut inside and took it and nobody caught me. It was very good blocking and it created a good opportunity."
Ware jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter. On the first drive of the game, Johnson hit Jayson Jamilowski for an 8-yard touchdown. Then, after the Indians blocked a Lee punt on its first drive, John Velasquez scored on a 26-yard run on the very next play.
The Wildcats had the ball inside the red zone twice in the first half, but a turnover on downs and an interception ended each trip without points.
Johnson finished with 70 yards rushing and 57 yards passing for Ware. For the Wildcats, Loehr led the team with 45 yards rushing while Winston passed for 149 yards. Also for Lee, Harding had 64 yards receiving while Corcoran added 56.
Ware 12 0 7 6 — 25
Lee 0 0 0 16 — 16
W — Jayson Jamilowski 8 pass from Ryan Johnson (pass failed), 6:56.
W — John Velasquez 26 run (pass failed), 5:13.
W — Hunter Millier 42 run (Johnson kick), 8:37.
L — Homer Winston 1 run (Dominic Bartini run), 6:33.
L — Lukas Loehr 25 pass from Winston (Loehr run), 2:02.
W — Johnson 58 run (run failed), 1:01.
First Downs 9 11
Rushes-Yards 29-209 25-74
Com-Att-Int 6-15-1 11-22-2
Passing Yards 57 173
Total Yards 266 247
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 6-1
Penalties-Yards 4-33 3-24
RUSHING — W: Hunter Millier 16-104, Ryan Johnson 9-70, John Velasquez 4-35. L: Lukas Loehr 14-49, Homer Winston 9-18, Andrew Reuf 2-7.
PASSING — W: Johnson 6-14-1 57, Millier 0-1-0 0. L: Winston 9-20-2 149, Loehr 1-1-0 16, JJ Jimenez 1-1-0 8.
RECEIVING — W: Velasquez 2-20, Devin Slattery 1-19, Jayson Jamilowski 3-18. L: Ben Harding 3-64, Jake Corcoran 4-56, Loehr 2-29, Dominic Bartini 1-16, Winston 1-8.
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