WESTFIELD, Mass. -- How bad did things get for the South Hadley football team in Friday’s Western Massachusetts Division 7 title game?
The Tigers’ only meaningful score of the game turned into highlight reel material … for Wahconah in a 46-14 blowout win at Westfield State University.
Early in the second quarter, South Hadley scored on a 58-yard Hunter Carey run to the right side to cut into a 15-0 Wahconah lead.
But on the point after, Wahconah’s Jake Gai scooped up a fumble and went the other way for two points -- the second time he pulled off that trick in three weeks -- to give his team a 17-6 lead.
It was 31-6 by half-time, and the next time the Tigers got in the end zone, it was early in the fourth quarter against Wahconah’s second-unit defense with South Hadley trailing by 40 points.
Connor Noyes ran for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Tim Clayton threw for 178 yards and three TDs as Wahconah won its third straight sectional crown.
“Certainly, as a leader on the team, it’s great to know that when the chips are down, it’s coming to you,” Noyes said. “But my performance comes from my line. The majority of what I do is based on what they do.
“They work hard in practice. Every day, we have great coaches helping them scheme well. They just put us in a position to succeed.”
Clayton completed scoring strikes to Tom Burris, Tim Lennon and Dylan Melle and hit Gai for a 32-yard completion to the 10 to set up another touchdown.
“All our receivers are good,” Clayton said. “Our first-team receivers catch everything, and then we have great backups. Dylan Melle has caught touchdowns the last two games. All our receivers are good. Our line blocks well, Connor [Noyes] runs the ball great. It’s all clicking right now.
“If they don’t shut down Burris, we’re throwing to him, but otherwise, we have other receivers when they double team Burris. We hit them, and it’s a lot easier.”
After big tackles by Noyes and Ethan Fusini on South Hadley’s opening possession forced a three-and-out, Taconic took the ensuing punt and went 59 yards in five plays -- all on the ground. Noyes ran for 48 yards on the opening possession, including the last 20 for the score. Augie Roughley’s 2-pointer made it 8-0 less than five minutes into the game.
Wahconah fumbled on its next possession, but the defense got the ball right back at midfield, and Clayton directed a 58-yard drive, converting a fourth-and-4 with a throw to Burris and hitting the big wideout for a 19-yard score on the next play.
South Hadley then scored and looked to make it a one-score game before Gai’s fumble return kept the margin at 11.
Wahconah mixed it up on its next possession, going 78 yards on five runs and four passes. Noyes took it in from the 7 to cap the drive.
“I think what makes us a good team is the [offensive] balance,” Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said. “We can trust it either way. We made a key fourth down and 7 or 8 on a pass, and then I think we had a third down and 10 and we made that on a run.
“I think being balanced is the key to being a good football team. Hopefully, we can keep people out of the box to run the ball, but once they put everybody in the box, we’ve got to take our shots.”
After Noyes’ second TD -- and Tanner Hill’s kick -- made it 24-6, Fusini recovered a fumble on South Hadley’s first play from scrimmage.
Wahconah got the ball at the plus-35 and needed just three plays to score. A 31-yard pass to Gabe Verdi got the ball to the 4,and two plays later, Clayton hit Lennon for the TD.
Another turnover in the third quarter allowed Wahconah to put the game completely out of reach.
Melle’s 16-yard touchdown catch capped Wahconah’s opening possession of the half. And John Render made an interception on the Tigers’ first play of the half to set up a 34-yard Nate Zink TD that put Wahconah ahead, 46-6.
Wahconah awaits the winner of Saturday’s Central Mass title game between Leicester and Blackstone Valley. Last year, BVT edged Wahconah in the state semi-finals.
Campbell said Friday’s game was all about beating South Hadley and winning the sectional title, not worrying about getting another shot at a state semi-final win.
Noyes echoed the point.
“We just take one game at a time,” he said. “We can’t work on the future unless we win tonight. We focused on tonight and came out with the win. Then we’ll focus on next week.”