By Stephen Dravis
10:29PM / Saturday, November 17, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In the second half of Saturday afternoon's game against St. Joseph, the Hoosac Valley Hurricanes played like their season was on the line.
The Hurricanes are heading into the WMass playoffs with three straight wins. See more photos of Saturday's game against the Crusaders here.
The Crusaders played like they had nothing to lose.
And the result was a 35-20 come-from-behind victory for the Hurricanes that sent them into the Western Massachusetts Division 2 playoffs with their third straight victory.
The Hurricanes rushed for 299 yards in the second half and held St. Joseph without a first down in erasing a 13-0 half-time deficit to set up a possible Western Mass semi-final against Wahconah, which plays for the Berkshire County championship on Wednesday in Dalton against Mount Greylock.
Hoosac junior Colby Gage scored a touchdown and earned 67 tough second-half yards on 11 carries.
"We knew we had to win this one because if we lost we needed to have other teams lose big games," Gage said.
Needless to say, there were some anxious moments on the Hoosac sideline after St. Joseph (8-3) dominated the first half.
"We were down, but we needed to get the intensity up and come back in the second half," Gage said.
To say that St. Joseph rolled over for the Hurricanes in the second half would be an overstatement. But the Crusaders certainly did not keep the pedal to the metal after running for nearly 200 first-half yards and holding Hoosac scoreless for a sixth straight quarter going back to teams' Week 2 meeting.
The Crusaders entered Saturday's game safely ensconced in the four-team field in the Western Mass Division 3 playoffs.
St. Joseph coach Gary Bianchi rested quarterback Jonny Bianchi and running backs Taverick "Tank" Roberson (4 carries, 111 yards) and Lavante Wiggins (16-65) for all but special teams duties after half-time. And when Roberson ran back a kickoff 86 yards to make it 21-19 with 6 minutes, 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders kicked an extra point rather than trying for a two-point conversion that would have tied the game.
"I got out of it just what I wanted to get out of it," Bianchi said. "I was going to play a half of football. We played good in the first half, and we got out with no major injuries. We played a good solid half of football ... just to keep going in a positive direction.
"Now Hoosac knows they're in, which is important to me also. I wanted Hoosac to make the tournament.
"They had to earn it. ... I always coach to win, and we played a good solid football team. I was taking care of my team, and it just so happened they got the win. And now they're in (the playoffs), and they don't have anything to worry about."
St. Joe's starters established their ground attack on the opening drive of the game, marching 72 yards in six plays, the last a 4-yard run by Jonny Bianchi.
The Crusaders padded their lead with a 91-yard drive that consumed 6:27 of the second quarter and ended with Wiggins scoring from 5 yards out on a sweep to the left.
St. Joe nearly made it a three-score game on the final play of the half, but Bianchi was hauled down on the Hoosac 25 after running back his interception of a Hail Mary pass.
At the time it looked like a big missed opportunity for St. Joseph to put the game away. Instead, Hoosac (7-3) ran away with it — literally — after intermission.
Blake Gaylord finished as the Canes' leading rusher with just one carry, an 86-yarder for a TD. The Hurricanes also got 83 yards on the ground from Tyler Mach, 65 from Ian Hill and 55 from Matt Braman.
Braman scored his team's first points on the opening possession of the second half, and Gage tied the game with a 25-yard score late in the third quarter to make it 13-13; Hill's extra point gave Hoosac the lead for good, 14-13, and Mach's 58-yard run pushed the lead to 21-13.
Hill and Gaylord scored insurance touchdowns for the Canes, who had their biggest offensive output of the season in the Plus-One game.
Hoosac and St. Joseph each will get their playoff marching orders officially when the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association releases the final Western Massachusetts power rankings after Thanksgiving.