LEOMINSTER, Mass. - Four turnovers and a 22-point fourth quarter by the Northbridge Rams was too much for the Hoosac Valley Hurricanes to overcome as they fell, 36-14, in the MIAA Division 5 State Semi-Final on Saturday afternoon at Doyle Field
Trailing by eight, 14-6, with just more than six minutes to play in the third quarter, the Canes were driving with the ball down on the Northbridge 20-yard line. On the previous play, quarterback Matt Koperniak rushed for a big 7-yard gain on fourth down and 4 to keep the Hoosac Valley drive alive. But on the next play, the Rams picked off the Hurricanes on the 1-yard line to spoil their chance at a tying score.
It all worked out though when the Rams fumbled the ball back to Hoosac on their first play to set up the Canes on the 16. Three plays later, Koperniak powered in from 2 yards out for a Hoosac touchdown and senior Avery Hall converted the two point conversion on a strong second effort to tie things up at 14-14 with about four minutes before the start of the fourth quarter.
Northbridge’s offense then took over, and senior quarterback Kobe Schofer put the team on his back as he has done all season long. To this point in the game, Schofer’s biggest impact had come with the use of his arms as he had completed 13 of 21 pass attempts for 135 yards and one touchdown in just the first half alone.
With the score tied up, he turned to the use of his legs as rushed for 42 of the Rams’ 63 yards on the ensuing scoring drive. He capped off the drive on a 10-yard quarterback keeper right up the middle for a touchdown. Northbridge went for two-point conversion and executed on a double reverse to regain the lead 22-14 with 10:11 left in the game.
The Hurricane offense could not get going on its next possession, and with the ball on their own 31 and nine minutes still to play in the game they had to trust their defense and punt. The defense came through, and six plays later Hoosac swarmed to Schofer on a fourth down run around the right end and stopped him five yards short of the first down marker.
With 6:48 to play, the Hurricanes had plenty of time to make a game-tying drive if they could score and get the two-point conversion. After two strong plays to start the drive gained 17 yards up to the 47 yard line, an interception killed the drive and put Hoosac’s defense back on the field.
With Hoosac demoralized by the turnover, Northbridge’s Schofer ripped off a 46-yard run up the left sideline down to the Canes’ 17. One play later, Schofer rushed in from 5 yards out to push the lead to 29-14. Another interception ended Hoosac’s next drive, and the Rams’ offense went 51 yards in six plays to blow open the lead to 22 points at 36-14.
Despite the final score, the Hurricanes’ played Northbridge as tough as any team they have seen all season.
“I think they were the toughest team we’ve faced all year,” said Schofer. “They had a great game plan going into the game and hats off to them.”
Northbridge came into the state semi-final allowing just 13 points all season long, and Hoosac was able to outdo that in just one game against the Central Mass champions. If not for the costly turnovers it may have turned out a different as the Canes’ executed several big gains against the Rams.
One of the most impressive was on Hoosac’s first drive of the game. Koperniak took the snap, turned left and fired a quick pass to Hall who exploded upfield broke a few tackles and continued 32 yards to pay dirt. Koperniak would complete 5 of 6 pass attempts in the first half for 118 yards. Two of them went for big gains to senior Shiheem Galloway, the first for 15 yards and the second 33.
Sophomore David Crittelli also came up big with receptions of 13 and 15 yards to go along with 19 yards rushing on three carries. Senior Javon Reynolds was a big part of the Hurricanes’ game-tying touchdown as he got his team great field position by returning the opening second half kick off for 48 yards and into Rams’ territory.
As always on the defensive side of the ball, senior captain Jameson Coughlin was all over the field. He was in on what seemed like every tackle, hurried Northbridge’s quarterback and continuously dragged ball carries backwards to limit yards they tried to gain by falling forward.
Along with Hall’s 32-yard touchdown, the senior running back and defensive back hauled in another 25-yard catch on a screen play during the Hurricane’s second drive of the game and was a big part of slowing down the Ram’s passing attack by knocking down several of Schofer’s passes.
“These guys have done a ton for the program since they’ve been here,” said coach Dayne Poirot about the teams’ seniors Avery Hall, Jameson Coughlin, Peter Barrow, Matt Koperniak, Jacob Swistak, Javon Reynolds, Shiheem Galloway, and Kyle Cahill. “They came in right with me, worked hard, and they’ve accomplished a ton because of it. Berkshire County champs, Western Mass this year, Western Mass champs as sophomores, played in the Western Mass final last year.”