Hurricanes Stay Grounded as State Title Game Approaches
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the Hoosac Valley football team’s captains took their first steps on the artificial surface at Gillette Stadium, they were duly impressed with the grandeur of the venue.
But they have worked hard not to be overwhelmed by the opportunity before them on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve just been working hard the whole time because we know what we’ve got to do here,” Hoosac quarterback Vance Eugene said. “We’ve just got to come out to play on Saturday.”
On Tuesday, Eugene, Adam Bush, Nick Waterman and Matt Hall joined coach Dayne Poirot at the annual MIAA Championship Breakfast. After dining in the field-level Optum Club and hearing an inspirational talk from Patriots great Andre Tippett, players and coaches from the 16 teams that will compete on Friday and Saturday stepped out to get a feel for the field.
Eugene said that he and his Hoosac teammates have been focusing on their regular practice regimen and trying not to get caught up in any distractions as they prepare to face Millis for the Division 8 state title.
“We just prepare like it’s another game,” Eugene said. “It is just another game. It just has more meaning to it at the end.”
That said, Eugene was as much in awe as they next guy on his first visit to the 67,000-seat NFL venue.
“The field just looks like a regular field, but when you look up, it’s crazy,” he said.
Offensive lineman Adam Bush had the same word to describe his experience standing on a field that, before Tuesday, he had only seen from the bleachers.
“When I was really little, I came here for a soccer game,” Bush said. “And then, I think freshman year, I came here to watch the games. It’s crazy to be standing on the field now.
“It’s surreal, just knowing that all the hard work you put in all year has led to this point. And we’re one of the lucky teams in the state to actually get here. It’s just an unreal feeling.”
Sixteen teams will get to know that feeling over the next five days.
For the first time in the five years that the MIAA has held state championships at Gillette under the current format, the games are spread over two days, with a pair of games on Friday night followed by six more on Saturday starting at 9 a.m. Hoosac and Millis will meet in the third game on Saturday, immediately followed by the only other game involving a Western Massachusetts squad when West Springfield plays Dennis-Yarmouth for the D5 title.
Hall recognized what a trip to Foxborough means for the school community and the community in general but emphasized the Hurricanes’ commitment to continuing to do what earned them this opportunity.
“It’s very exciting, and everyone is excited for us,” Hall said. “But we do the same things at practice. Everything is the same, just like we’re playing a normal game. It doesn’t change anything.
“Everyone’s excited for us, but we’re still treating it the same.”
Poirot was not surprised to hear that his players were grounded.
“I imagine today for them makes it a lot more real,” Poirot said. “But we’ve gone game-by-game, week to week. That’s just been how they’ve dealt with things. And they’ve handled a lot of different situations really well.”
In addition to seeing the field and seeing some of the faces behind the facemasks they have been watching on film for two weeks, the players at Tuesday morning’s event also took part in coin tosses to decide who will be designated as home and visiting teams in the championship games.
Hoosac Valley picked up its first win of the week when it successfully called tails and claimed the home locker room (actually the New England Revolution locker room) and the east sideline for Saturday’s game.
Tickets for Saturday’s games are $17 each ($14 for students and seniors) and are available now through Ticketmaster, which, MIAA Associate Director Richard Pearson noted on Tuesday, has offered high school football fans a considerably lower than usual service fee of 99 cents.
If you choose to wait and buy your tickets at the gate, the ticket office and parking lot (parking is free) will be open at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
A couple of additional housekeeping notes for fans: There is no tailgating at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, and all fans will be allowed to bring only clear bags into the stadium.
As in the past, the games will be televised on NBC Boston (formerly Comcast Sportsnet).