DALTON, Mass. -- Pittsburgh had the Steel Curtain. Minnesota had the Purple People Eaters.
The 2021 edition of the Wahconah Regional High School football team has … the Cookie Monsters.
They wear the right shade of blue. They played like monsters in Friday’s 22-20 win over West Springfield. And, well, we’ll let their coach explain the rest.
“I think we really, really got pressure on the quarterback,” Gary Campbell Jr. said after his team gave up 20 first quarter points and nothing the rest of the game. “Once we got pressure on the quarterback, I think that passes weren’t able to be as accurate.
“But give credit to the D backs. When [West Side] did put the ball in the [receivers’] hands, we got our hands in the cookie jar. And when we did, we took the cookie. And that really, really helped.”
One of the biggest monsters on Friday night was senior Scott Duma, who broke up four passes in the fourth quarter, helping Wahconah limit West Springfield to 2-for-12 through the air in the final 12 minutes -- twice keeping the Terriers out of the end zone with the ball on the wrong side of Wahconah’s 30 yard line.
It was a startling reversal of fortunes from the first half, when West Side completed its first three pass attempts for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Duma said that the difference was not about X’s and O’s.
“The second half, we just came out strong,” Duma said. “Coach gave us a good talk at half. He talked about team. We had to stay together. No matter what happened in the first half, we had to stay together for the second.”
Friday’s win likely assures Wahconah (8-0) will hold onto the No. 1 seed in the Division 7 state tournament when seedings are released this weekend. That means it can be home in the first two rounds of the 16-team tournament.
It also gives Campbell’s squad an undisputed title in the Suburban South league.
West Springfield (5-3) came into Friday’s game with just one loss in the league, and it showed why in the opening moments.
After getting the opening kickoff at the plus 49, the Terriers’ Nate Stone threw a 49-yard TD to Joey Tangredi. The two-point conversion run failed, but West Springfield had a 6-0 lead with just 25 seconds off the clock.
Wahconah was held on fourth-and-10 at its 31 on its first possession, and Stone completed passes of 30 yards and two yards to make it a two-score lead. He also threw the two-point conversion to put his team ahead, 14-0.
Wahconah answered with a 30-yard kickoff return by Owen Salvatore and a 52-yard touchdown drive -- all on the ground -- that ended when Ryan Scott scored on a keeper from the 1 on fourth-and-goal.
West Springfield immediately answered with an 80-yard kickoff return for a score by Tangredi, and it led, 20-8, at the end of the first quarter.
Wahconah then marched 58 yards for a scoring drive that was helped along by a bit of trickery from Campbell.
Wahconah faced a fourth-and-goal at the 2, and after a West Side timeout, Scott lined up his squad and signaled an abrupt shift of the entire offensive line, drawing the Terriers offsides.
The result was a penalty of just a yard -- half the distance to the goalline -- but more importantly an automatic first down.
“It’s something that we hold,” Campbell said. “It’s an ace in the hole that, when you need it -- and I knew if we got half the distance to the goal, it was an automatic first down. And that was big, without running a play. So when we shifted over, and they came across the line, that helped.
“That really helped.”
On first and goal from the 1, Scott scored his second touchdown of the game to make it 20-14.
And that is where it stood at half-time, thanks in large part to a Brad Noyes interception at the Wahconah 12 with West Springfield threatening in the final two minutes.
The big play in the backfield foreshadowed more good things to come in that area in the second half.
Wahconah took the lead on what turned out to be the final scoring drive of the game to open the third quarter.
After an incomplete pass on first down, Wahconah moved the ball 51 yards on four running plays, the biggest a 35-yard scamper by Jonah Smith, who finished with 173 yards rushing and broke up three pass attempts in the third quarter.
Wahconah allowed just three completions in the third quarter on nine West Springfield attempts.
The Terriers were able to move the ball on their two fourth-quarter possessions, though.
On the first, the visitors went from their own 27 to the plus-24 before a delay of game call moved them back to second-and-16 from the 29.
Duma then broke up three straight passes in the backfield to get his team the ball with 6:18 left in the game.
West Springfield got new life when a Wahconah fumble at midfield set the Terriers up on their own 49.
West Side drove all the way to the 14 and had a first-and-10 there with 1:14 on the clock. It also had a kicker who was making field goals with room to spare from 27 yards out in warmups and a two-point deficit.
On first down, Noyes dropped a Terrier runner for a 6-yard loss back to the 20, making that field goal try a bit dicier.
On second down, Duma broke up a pass in the end zone. On third down, Zander Walton broke up a pass. And the Stone’s fourth-down pass was well off the mark, giving Wahconah the ball with 18 seconds left in the game and West Side lacking a timeout.
“It means the world to us,” Duma said of finishing the regular season 8-0. “We deserve it, everyone. Thanks to the buffalo. Nothing happens without that offensive and defensive line.
“This was a statement win. I’m not positive, but I think [West Springfield] is Division 4. We’re Division 7. I don’t care what people say about us. Here in Western Mass, we play real football. Real football around here.”