By Stephen Dravis
09:27PM / Wednesday, November 21, 2012
DALTON, Mass. — Add Tyrell Thomas to the list of things for which Mount Greylock Regional High School football fans are thankful this morning.
Mounties won their third straight county title on Wednesday night.
Thomas, a 6-foot-1 junior, made two of the biggest plays in the biggest game of the season, helping lift the Mounties to a 22-16 come-from-behind victory over Wahconah and a Berkshire County championship on Wednesday night.
First, he broke a 75-yard kickoff return to trim a 16-6 deficit late in the second quarter. Then in the fourth quarter, he caught Mount Greylock's only completed pass of the night for a key first down that helped the Mounties bleed the clock.
Ethan Ryan ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and Mount Greylock's defense held Wahconah (7-3) to 61 yards and no points in the second half.
But late in the first half, the Mounties (10-1) were in a tailspin after the home team scored twice in a span of 2 minutes, 31 seconds to take a 10-point lead.
That's when Thomas took a kick at his 25, made a move and streaked down the right side for the score. Ryan's two-point conversion made it 16-14, and the Mounties never looked back.
"That was a game-changer," Mount Greylock coach Shawn Flaherty said. "It really was. We talked about keeping our heads up. We talked about being strong mentally. But a lot of bad things were happening in the game. It's tough to bring it back.
"Tyrell really, on that kickoff return — he brought us back. Now it's a 16-14 game, and it was huge."
Thomas said he had a sense that the team needed a lift after Wahconah cashed in on a fumbled kickoff return to set up its second TD and a 16-6 bulge.
"We started letting our heads down a little bit, and we knew we needed something to pick us up," Thomas said. "Once the ball came to me, I knew that was the opportunity to pick my team up and get us going on the right path again.
"I just saw the first hole, and I was just going to sprint as fast as I can, and I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that. I saw the touchdown from before I even caught the ball."
The Mounties won their third straight county championship and avenged their only loss of the season, a 20-8 setback against Wahconah in Week 8.
This one started much like that contest, with Greylock marching down the field on its opening possession and Ryan scoring from the 1 yard line.
And like that night, Wahconah was able to answer, though it took until its fourth possession to get untracked offensively.
After a short punt gave Wahconah a 30-yard field to work with, Lane Grogan took his team to the end zone — running twice for 12 yards and throwing a 16-yard completion to Darrow Brown to cap the short scoring drive.
The Mounties fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and Wahconah needed just six plays to score from the Mount Greylock 32. This time, Brown hit Jordan Fiske down the middle for six points, and Ethan Wells (69 yards rushing) ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 16-6.
Thomas' return sparked the Mounties on both sides of the ball. Mount Greylock not only scored the game's only points the rest of the way, it got several huge plays from its defense to stymie a Wahconah offense that averaged 25 points per game against Berkshire County foes this fall.
The Mounties held Wahconah without a first down on its first possession of the second half, and Mount Greylock's offense took over on the plus-45 and needed just five plays to take back the lead. Ryan capped the march with a 4-yard run and added the conversion to make it a 6-point game.
On Wahconah's next possession, Matt Malloy sacked Grogan, and Daivon Clement knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage to stall a drive at the Mounties' 20.
After Clement's fourth-down deflection with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter, Mount Greylock held the ball for the next 5:56 before punting it back to Wahconah at its 20.
The key play of the pivotal, clock-eating possesion came on third-and-8 at the Mounties 38. Freshman quarterback Brodie Altiere, in his second career varsity start, hooked up with Thomas, who made an acrobatic one-handed grab on the Mounties' sideline for a 15-yard gain that kept the drive alive.
"That was one of the most beautiful catches I've ever seen," Flaherty said. "It was just a phenomenal catch in high school football. And the weight of it — to get that first down — it was huge, huge."
After a 43-yard punt by Brett McCormack, Wahconah took over at its 20 with 4:14 left.
It made one first down to get to the 33. But Clement stopped Brown for a loss of 2 on a swing pass to the right on second and 10, Malloy drove Grogan to the ground for a 6-yard sack, and Altiere broke up a fourth-down pass to get his team the ball with 1:53.
Wahconah was out of timeouts before the Mounties took a snap, and the visitors ran out the clock without moving the chains to secure the victory.
"Coach Flaherty pumped us up in the locker room, and we just came out smashing kids," Malloy said.
His classmate Thomas agreed.
"We went in the locker room, and coach just fired us up," he said. "If we didn't have it in ourselves to do it for ourselves, we had to do it for the coach. He worked his butt off to get us to this point in the season."
Flaherty, who saw his team rally back after the end of its historic 33-game winning streak and the loss of its senior quarterback Hank Barrett, said this win was special.
"I think it's just a great representation of the kids and the program, and I'm proud," he said. "This was special. This was one of the biggest games I've ever been a part of.
"To fight back, to see the emotions the kids went through and then to come back — it was a real special win."