DALTON, Mass. -- A pivotal stop in the red zone Friday gave the Wahconah football team a bounceback win and a berth in the Western Massachusetts playoffs.
Senior Griffen Salvini hauled in his second interception of the night in the corner of the end zone with 1 minute, 7 seconds left on the clock to secure a 14-6 win over East Longmeadow on Homecoming night.
Wahconah’s defense did not allow a touchdown in the game, giving up just two Christopher Kolodziey field goals from distances of 38 and 39 yards, and coach Gary Campbell Jr.’s squad rebounded from last week’s Route 9 Rumble loss at Northampton, improving to 5-1 with two games left in the regular season.
Jon Render and Salvini each scored a touchdown for Wahconah, which did not trail in the game but had to battle to the end.
Luke Hescock had a big hand in the defensive stand that punctuated the win. He said he wasn’t surprised that his team was able to outlast the competition for a fourth one-score win this season.
“What I like to say about our team is that we’re really well-conditioned,” Hescock said. “Every time in the fourth quarter, teams are gassed. You can see them sucking wind. And we’re still down there with our 11 guys, pushing and we made a good goal line stand.
“Griff stood up and had a huge game. We have a ton of guys hurt, and Griff played strong safety tonight. He’s usually free safety. And he made two interceptions and played a huge game.”
The Spartans (1-6) got the ball back after a punt at the 50 with 7:28 remaining. Powered by back John Oliver (156 yards), the visitors were able to drive all the way to the 12 for a first-and-10 with about two minutes on the clock.
Oliver ran for 3 yards into the heart of the Wahconah defense on first down.
On second, Hescock swatted down an Aidan Bean pass in the backfield. On third, Hescock tackled Oliver for a 1-yard gain. On fourth, Hescock flushed Bean out of the pocket, and his desperation pass to the corner of the end zone was picked off by Salvini to dash the Spartans’ hopes for a comeback.
Salvini said Wahconah’s defense is used to having the game on the line in the closing moments.
“It’s not the only time we’ve been in this position,” he said. “It seems like every game they have the ball and we need to make a stop to win the game. It’s worked a few times, but we’d rather blow them out big.”
So far, blowouts have been rare for this Wahconah team. But it keeps finding ways to win.
“We do make plays when we have to,” Campbell said. “It’s always on fourth down. Our defense has just done a good job. We give up a bunch here and there, but all of a sudden, we make a play. We did it on offense, too. We look horrible, and then all of a sudden we make a big play.”
Wahconah managed just two first downs on its first two offensive possessions Friday night, and after Kolodziey was just short on a 40-yard field goal try, QB Ryan Scott and the Wahconah offense took over at its 20 midway through the second quarter.
They marched 80 yards in 12 plays for the first score of the night.
Zach Archambault had seven carries for 46 yards on the drive, which ended in a 15-yard end around by Render.
Scott (143 yards passing) found Hescock in the end zone for the 2-pointer to make it 8-0 with 1:32 left until half-time.
That was more than enough time for East Longmeadow to go from its 35 to the Wahconah 21 to set up Kolodziey for his first field goal of the night, and it was an 8-3 game at intermission.
Wahconah took the second half kickoff and embarked on its second 80-yard drive of the night.
Scott threw for 86 yards on the drive, which saw Wahconah take a 10-yard penalty and lose another 10 in the rushing game.
The last play was a strike from Scott to Salvini for 25 yards and a 14-3 lead.
Salvini marveled at the maturation of the sophomore Scott under center.
“When he first started at Longmeadow (in Week 3), everybody was a little bit nervous,” Salvini said. “We were missing Quinn [Gallagher] and Cylas [Emerson], our middle linebacker and quarterback. They were hurt.
“And for him to step up big in the last three games is huge. He’s really improved, and he’s been one of the better kids on our team so far.”
East Longmeadow cut into the lead with a 39-yard field goal by Kolodziey early in the fourth quarter.
Wahconah was then forced to punt after picking up just one first down on its ensuing possession, giving the ball back to the Spartans and setting the stage for the defensive stand that put the game away.
“We’ve got some tough teams coming up in [West Springfield and Minnechaug],” Campbell said. “West Side away and Chaug here at home. We knew the road going forward is tough. We’re in a tough league for our school. That’s excellent. I love it, and the kids love it. They love the challenge of it. They don’t shrink away from it.
“However, we knew that tonight was a key game. I thought our kids played hungry. I thought they played tough. And, yes, I think we’re in a playoff situation, so that’s great to feel. But we’ve got West Side next week, and that’s turned into a pretty good rivalry lately, too.”