NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Three long scoring drives were the difference in Hoosac Valley's 22-8 win over Taconic in Friday night's Western Mass Division 5 title game.
But for the Hurricanes, it was the culmination of one long journey, which began with the 2014 D5 final.
"That's what we've been working for -- most of us in the weight room the week after we lost that game," Hoosac senior Avery Hall said of last November's loss to Pittsfield in the sectional final.
"We've been training every since, and we wanted this this year. We were really hungry."
That hunger fueled an 8-0 regular season, two post-season wins and a return trip to the state semi-finals for the second time in three years. Next weekend, Hoosac takes on the winner of Saturday's game between Northbridge (8-0) and Uxbridge (6-2) for the right to go to play at Gillette Stadium for a state title.
On Friday, Hoosac scored on drives of 67, 76 and 89 yards -- all without gaining a single yard through the air.
Hall rushed 145 yards with a pair of touchowns. Senior quarterback Matt Koperniak ran for 71 yards, including a 25-yard TD.
"[The line] did a great job, especially in the third and fourth quarter," Koperniak said. "We ran the running plays, got the great blocks, sealed it off good and were getting good yardage every play.
"We just wanted to keep pushing. We had the lead, so we wanted to run the ball, keep the clock running."
The clock ran for 10 minutes, 39 seconds on Hoosac's first possession.
After a 23-yard return by Hall on the opening kickoff, the 'Canes marched 67 yards to score with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Along the way, Hoosac overcame 25 yards in penalties and converted three fourth downs, including the fourth-and-goal at the one that saw Hall leap into the end zone. David Critelli ran in the 2-point conversion, and Hoosac led, 8-0.
The next time the 'Canes touched the ball, they fumbled it away on third-and-3 deep in their end. Taconic (7-3) cashed in on the miscue with a six-play, 13-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard pass from Jake McNeice to Devon Walker.
After the ensuing kickoff, Hoosac got the ball at its 24, and it went the distance in 10 plays - including an incomplete pass. Koperniak did the honors for the score, scampering around the left side and picking up a key block from Javon Reynolds for a 25-yard score.
That made it 16-8, Hoosac, at half-time.
But Taconic nearly answered with a long march of its own to open the third.
Cedric Rose returned the second half kickoff 19 yards to the Taconic 40, and McNeice directed his team o the Hoosac 11, hitting a 14-yard completion to Zach Gage for a third-down conversion along the way.
But that wound up being Taconic's only completion of the drive. Two passes hit the ground on third and fourth down at the Hoosac 11, and the Hurricanes took over.
"I thought we did a pretty good job [against the pass]," Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot said. "We missed a couple of things, but I thought we did a good job. They didn't move the ball very much, and that game happened kind of quick."
Taconic's high-powered passing attack managed just 19 yards, and its offense in general, without the services of junior running back Anthony Whiteley, was held to single digits for the first time this year.
"We had a couple of kids out, but Cedric Rose stepped up, David McIntosh stepped up in the tight end role, and even Devon Walker played some tight end," Taconic coach Jim Ziter said. "This team is resilient. "They're just a great group of kids. I can't say enough how proud I am of them."
After Hoosac took over on downs at its 11 late in the third quarter, the 'Canes went down the field, helped by back-to-back runs of 19 and 32 by Hall, to make it a two-score game with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter.
Hoosac's defense held Taconic on fourth-down tries twice in the fourth quarter, and the Hurricanes ended up taking a knee on first-and-10 at the plus-11.
While Hoosac Valley looks ahead to the state semifinals, Taconic can look ahead to next fall, when most of its roster returns to make another run at the county title.
"I told them, you've got to take this in the offseason and build on it -- remember what this feels like," Ziter said. "It's experience for all of us -- coaches too, this is the first time. We're going to learn from it and move forward."