Mounties Fired Up for County Title Game
John Fitzgerald, an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys and the uncle of Mounties coach Shawn Flaherty, dropped by the Mounties' Friday practice to give the team a little pep talk.
Last week, it met someone who has a lot of experience in THE Super Bowl.
John Fitzgerald, an offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys and the uncle of Mounties coach Shawn Flaherty, dropped by the Mounties' Friday practice to give the team a little pep talk as it got ready for Wednesday night's Berkshire County championship game at Wahconah.
"I hope they do well," Fitzgerald said after addressing the team in the gloaming on the practice field behind the high school. "They've lost an integral part of their team. You lose your quarterback, and it's a tough thing to overcome. But I took a look at the new kid just coming out here, and I think he did a heck of a job.
"I'm just the uncle of a really good kid. He's just a special kid. He means a lot to me. I've been following these kids for a long time. And this is the first time I've gotten to see them. I haven't been up here in a long time."
Fitzgerald, who now lives in Texas, grew up in Southbridge and played college ball at Boston College. He is married to his high school sweetheart, the sister of Flaherty's mother. From 1971 to 1980, Fitzgerald was a mainstay on the Dallas teams that went to four NFL championship games and won Super Bowl VI against Miami and Super Bowl XII against Denver.
Mount Greylock won the last two Western Massachusetts Division 3 Super Bowls during a 33-game winning streak that was ended by Wahconah in Week 8 of this year's regular season.
Whatever happens on Wednesday night, each team is ticketed for the the Western Mass tournament in their respective division: Wahconah (7-2) in Division 2, Mount Greylock (9-1) in Division 3. But first there is the matter of deciding county supremacy and, for the Mounties, avenging the Oct. 26 loss that saw them lose their winning streak and their starting quarterback, Hank Barrett.
"The way we approached it was, 'Did we play our best football that night?' and then building from there," Flaherty said. "I think it's more about redemption than it is about revenge. Let's just play as best we can."
That's the tack Mounties senior Tyler Picard chose when asked about the team's motivation going into Wednesday night.
"Revenge is not really the word for it," he said. "Obviously, we're mad that we lost. We don't think Wahconah is a better team than us, so that loss upset us. We want to go out and show the county what we can do.
"It's not really about revenge on Wahconah. It's about showing who we really are."
To have a better showing against Wahconah, the Mounties are going to have to figure out a way to stop an offense that threw for more than 900 yards and ran for more than 1,500 on the way to scoring 210 points this fall — second only to Greylock's 280.
Coach Gary Campbell's team is led by quarterback Lane Grogan, who has completed more than 50 percent of his passes and has run for more than 500 yards, running back Eli Pease and receiver Darrow Brown.
Back in Week 8, Grogan ran for 79 and threw for 187 in a 20-8 win against a Greylock defense that allowed just 68 points all season.
"I don't know the exact number, but we've thrown for almost a thousand yards, and I don't know how many teams in the county have done that," Campbell said. "I'd say we're as balanced a team as there is around. And that's not usually typical of Berkshire County football.
"That allows us to keep teams off balance. ... That's the only way we can survive. We're not overly big or strong. We don't have the power part. We can't rely on only running the football."
The Mounties will meet up with Wahconah on Wednesday to determine the holder of the county title.
"You look back at that (Oct. 26) game, and the tale of the tape is we did a great job containing Grogan and Pease on the ground," he said. "Those two combined were just a smidge under 100 yards, and that's their run game right there. But then you flip it, and we gave up 200 yards in the air. How do those numbers not jump out at you and say we lost that game in the air? Grogan is a great quarterback, a great athlete, and he had a heck of a game against us."
Flaherty said improved defensive backfield play has been a point of emphasis in the long layoff since the Nov. 3 regular season finale against McCann Tech.
Greylock senior Ethan Ryan said the Mounties caught a break with the non-league game against the Hornets.
"McCann runs the same offense as [Wahconah], so that gave us a little practice," he said. "We saw what the problem was. Our d-backs have been breaking down, and we were getting beat on the pass. ... So we've been working on that. Our d-backs have the mindset that their job is to stop the pass, and let the guys in the box stop the run."
A major adjustment in both backfields for Mount Greylock has been the loss of Barrett — like most high school football players in the county, a two-way starter.
When he was knocked out of the Wahconah game in the second quarter, freshman Brodie Altiere came off the bench to play under center. He completed three passes for 61 yards that night and threw for a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the 34-6 win at McCann the next week.
Although Ryan, the county's best rusher with more than 1,300 yards and 24 touchdowns, remains the focal point of the Mounties' attack, Altiere's maturation will go a long way toward determining Moung Greylock's success in the post-season.
Picard said the rookie is off to a great start.
"It definitely was a transition, but we're used to it now," said the 6-foot-6 end, who caught that TD pass from Altiere. "You can see in Brodie the way he talks now, the way he controls the huddle. He's more composed in there. He's more settled down than he was. Obviously, we knew he was nervous in his first varsity game going against the other top team in Berkshire County.
"The last three weeks, you can really see how he's calmed down. And now he's doing what we've seen him do in practice from the beginning of the year."