West Springfield knocks Wahconah from unbeaten ranks in final game of regular season
WEST SPRINGFIELD — When facing a workhorse running back like West Springfield senior Vaunell Hill, all 11 defenders must read the play, eliminate their blockers and fly to the ball. It was no secret who was going to carry the ball, but the Terriers did a good job of moving the Warriors off the ball and opening lanes for Hill to run. Hill shouldered the load offensively, carrying the ball 36 times for 352 yards and three scores to lead West Side to a 47-28 win on Friday. The win clinches a Suburban South title for the Terriers (7-1, 5-0).
Wahconah (7-1, 4-1) linebacker Tanner Hastings said it's difficult to stay disciplined when facing a back like Hill.
"You have to focus on him, but you also have to read and make sure it's not pass," he said. "Run first, pass second, that's what we're taught.
"Structure versus streetball. We have to maintain ourselves and not go wild and do our own thing. We have to stick with what we're doing and go from there."
Hill was a force carrying the ball for the home side. He showed great vision, made quick cuts and always needed multiple defenders to bring him down. He carried the ball nine straight times before West Side attempted a pass. The Terriers' commitment to the running game forced Wahconah's defense to focus on Hill more and more. They got the Warriors selling out for the run and used the play-action pass for long gains to put the game away.
The Warriors got within one score in the fourth quarter, converting a clutch fourth-and-10 from the West Side 10. Quarterback Tim Clayton took the shotgun snap, rolled right and made multiple defenders miss before finding Dane Campbell in the end zone for the score. Patrick Butler's extra point cut West Side lead to 34-28 with 8 minutes, 10 seconds left in the game.
Hill responded with runs of 22 and 43 yards to start the next drive. The third play of the drive was a fake to Hill. The defense bit on the deception and moved forward, allowing quarterback Tylor Rochefort to find Leeony Tessier wide open for a 45-yard score.
Wahconah went three-and-out on its next drive, and Hill made them pay again, capping a seven-play drive — all runs by Hill — with an eight-yard score. The score put West Side up 47-28 with 2:31 left, putting the game out of reach.
"When you can run the ball — we didn't stop the run well and that's why we didn't win the game," Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said.
Wahconah's run defense wore down as the game progressed, but it was stout early.
Matt Fortin dropped Hill for a loss on third down, forcing a punt on the Terriers' opening drive. Wahconah turned the ball over on downs after a fake-punt pass, but Hill fumbled away the ball two plays later. The Warriors caught the Terriers offside on fourth down for a first down, and used a 20-yard run from Clayton and a 20-yard completion from Clayton to Tom Burris to move to the West Side 27. The drive stalled and a bad snap stifled a Butler field goal attempt, leaving the game scoreless with 10:43 left in the second.
West Side could not generate any momentum, however, as Hill fumbled the ball away again, giving Wahconah the ball at the opposing 31. One play later, the talented back made his mark on defense. He jumped Clayton's pass on Wahconah's first play of the ensuing drive, returning it all the way back for a score.
The rest of the second quarter was similar to a boxing match. Each team tried to setup up its opponent with one plan of attack, before changing up the plan and attacking with something different.
Wahconah used jet sweeps to Campbell to move the ball on the ground on its next drive. A pass interference call and two short runs setup a third-and-short. This time, Clayton faked the jet sweep and found Tom O'Connor for a 17-yard completion. One play later, Clayton hit Burris for a 13-yard score. The two-point conversion pass to Bob Archambault put Wahconah up, 8-7, 5:44 left in the half.
The Terriers also used the play-fake to respond. Rochefort faked the give to Hill and kept the ball himself, running 18 yards for the score. After a Wahconah punt, Gabe Verdi's interception set up an impressive Wahconah drive. The Warriors took over on their 38 with one minute left in the half. Nate Zink rumbled up the middle, keeping his legs moving for a long run. The Warriors needed to spike the after each play. After a short run and a spike, Clayton found Tanner Hill for a 35-yard completion. Two plays later, Clayton hit Burris for the 10-yard score with 5 seconds to spare in the half. The score put Wahconah up 14-13 after two, but Rochefort went to the play-action pass for a 53-yard touchdown to start the second half, regaining the lead for West Side. They would not relinquish it.
The loss denies Wahconah a league title, but the Warriors should remain the top seed in Division VII. Coach Campbell said the loss should sting, but his players will learn from it and it does not alter the team's plan of a winning a Western Massachusetts championship.
"The learning experience part is definite," he said. "That's a good football team. ... We've got to be better in technique, we've got to be faster. Look at film and how do we handle blitzes and stuff like that.
"We have to learn from this one to get better for next week."
Wahconah 14 7 7 — 28
West Side 0 13 21 13 — 47
WS — Vaunell Hill 69 interception return (Joshua Alstede kick), 8:34
W — Tom Burris 14 pass from Tim Clayton (Bob Archambault from Clayton), 5:44.
WS — Tylor Rochefort 18 run (run failed), 2:42
W — Burris pass 10 pass from Clayton (run failed), :5.1.
WS — Cam Paier 53 pass from Rochefort (Paier from Rochefort), 10:33.
WS — Hill 15 run (Alsete kick), 6:48.
W — Tanner Hill 6 pass from Clayton (Patrick Butler kick), 4:32.
WS — Hill 1 run (kick failed), :28.7
W — Dane Campbell 10 from Clayton (Butler kick), 8:10.
WS — Leeony Tessier 45 pass from Rochefort (pass failed), 7:11.
WS — Hill 8 run (Alstede kick), 2:31.
Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.
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