Western Mass. football: Hoosac Valley, Wahconah look to bring home championships
Two Berkshire county teams will compete for Western Massachusetts titles Saturday at Holyoke High School. Wahconah is looking for its second straight title, but the first in Division VII. The Warriors beat Palmer 20-14 in the Division IV final last season. Hoosac Valley missed the postseason last year. The Hurricanes last Western Mass. title came in 2015, beating Taconic 22-8 in the Division V final. Both programs have storied histories and should not be fazed by the magnitude of the game. Expect all four teams involved to pull out all stops to secure a Western Mass. title. The winner will play in a state semifinal for a chance at a state championship at Gillette Stadium. This year the state championship will be held over two days — Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2. Division II and VII will play on Friday. The remaining divisions will play Saturday.
No. 1 Wahconah vs. No. 2 Frontier, 3 p.m.
This matchup is one of two Western Mass. championship games between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, as Wahconah and Frontier avoided upsets and advanced to the Division VII final. Wahconah handled Palmer with relative ease, winning 37-6. Frontier faced much stiffer competition, holding off a late-charging South Hadley for a 28-21 win.
Tonight's game is a rematch of last year's Division IV semifinal. The Warriors dominated the Red Hawks in that contest, winning 54-8. Wahconah should have familiarity with the Red Hawks, but they are much improved from last year. They're led by the running back trio of Aaron Landry, Stephen Worthley and Bryce Dobosz. Each back is capable of putting up big yards, but all three were held under 100 against South Hadley. Frontier's double-wing attack relies heavily on the run. Center Xavier Santiago is the leader of the linemen unit.
Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said Frontier's offense is unpredictable at times, making it harder to key in on certain tendencies. The methodical nature of the offense also makes starting fast on offense very important for the Warriors.
"Last year the big thing we were able to do was score points early," he said. "Because there's so many facets to their running game, if they get behind, it causes trouble for them. If they get ahead, it cause trouble for us, because then they can control the clock."
Campbell added that avoiding turnovers will be key. Against Palmer, the Warriors' offense started quickly, but turnovers caused it to stall at times. The longtime coach said he's stressing ball security heading into the title game. Defensively, the linebacking corps of Tanner Hill, Tanner Hastings and company will have to be disciplined in their reads and track the ball to eliminate big runs. On offense, quarterback Tim Clayton's shown the ability to produce points quickly with long balls to Tom Burris and Dane Campbell. Hastings a workhorse at running back, who can grind away tough yardage.
The elder Campbell said his squad is used to playing as the top seed. He said his players worked hard throughout the year to earn the seed and they carry confidence into the title game because of it.
No. 1 Hoosac Valley vs. No. 3 Ware, 12:30 p.m.
In a battle of unbeaten teams, one squad will take home a Western Mass. title while the other will have to deal with its lone loss coming on its biggest stage to date. Hoosac advanced to the championship game with a dominant 55-14 win over Mount Greylock. Ware enters the championship game coming off a 25-16 win over Lee. Both squads are extremely physical in the trenches and are led by mobile quarterbacks. Ware quarterback Ryan Johnson showed off his speed with a 58-yard touchdown run to ice the game against Lee. Running back Hunter Milliard is Ware's other go-to player. John Velasquez is another versatile offensive weapon.
Vance Eugene is the Hurricanes' signal caller. He has a rushing touchdown in six of nine games. He's rushed for multiple scores in four games.
Hoosac played against a mobile QB last week, as Greylock running back Cal Messina was forced to switch positions due to injuries. Messina was able to create some offense with his legs off broken plays. Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot said facing Messina was good preparation for Johnson.
"I thought Cal was able to do some good things," Poirot said. "[Defense] comes to down to being sound fundamentally and making the tackle."
Poirot added that Ware does a good job running its offense through its fast and physical playmakers.
Hoosac has the playmakers to match Ware. Running back Matthew Hall has rushed for over 100 yards each of the last two games. Receiver Nick Waterman caught a touchdown in six of nine games.
Hoosac's been able to physically dominate its opponents up front. Adam Bush and company must continue to control the line of scrimmage against a strong group of Ware linemen that overpowered a normally stout Lee linemen unit.
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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