HOLYOKE, Mass. -- It took hard work, heart and determination for the Wahconah football team to earn a trip to Gillette Stadium.
And Ben Noyes showed all of it on the biggest play of Saturday's 22-7 Division 7 State Semi-Final win over Northbridge.
Wahconah was up, 14-7, late in the third quarter but facing a third-and-7 at its 33.
QB Ryan Scott rolled to his left and found Noyes calling for the ball in the flat. Scott delivered a strike, but Noyes was swarmed by three Northbridge defenders.
Somehow, he broke free of their clutches and started upfield. He dodged another would-be tackler, got to the sidellines and went 67 yards to make it a 15-point game with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I just kept my feet moving, just kept pushing forward," Noyes said. "I think some of my teammates were pushing me from behind helping me get through all the tackles, and then it was just a sprint out from there."
Noyes' coach marveled at the second effort.
"That was will," Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said. "That was just absolute will and desire. Just really, really proud of the effort."
Noyes later made an interception to shatter any Northbridge hopes for a comeback.
That bookended nicely with a Brad Noyes pick that turned the game around in the first half.
The fourth-seeded Rams overcame a fumble on its first possession by stopping Wahconah in the red zone four minutes into the game.
Northbridge then marched 83 yards, helped along by a defensive pass interference call, to score on a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Ryan Boyce. The kick gave the Rams a 7-0 lead with 3:11 left in the first quarter.
Wahconah took the ensuing kickoff and drove from its 20 to the Northbridge 21 but again was stopped on fourth down.
The teams then traded empty possessions before Brad Noyes' pick deep in Northbridge territory led to Wahconah's first-and-goal at the 5. Two plays later, Scott was in the end zone on a 2-yard run. He ran in the two-point conversion, and Wahconah had an 8-7 lead.
Despite being ahead by a point at half-time, Wahconah had some very un-Wahconah numbers for a team that roared through the regular season undefeated. Jonah Smith finished the half with 45 yards on the ground, and Scott threw for just 28 yards with an interception.
"Northbridge was really good," Ben Noyes said. "It seemed like they knew every single play we ran. They were there to stop it.
"But we had a response to their stop."
A big part of that response was Wahconah's opportunistic defense, which forced five turnovers in the win.
After completing four of his first five passes for 28 yards, Boyce was 5-for-19 for 62 yards and three INTs.
Zander Walton, Scott Duma, the Noyes brothers and the rest of the Wahconah secondary continued to show the ball-hunting skills that helped ground the West Springfield offense in the regular season finale a few weeks ago.
"When the receivers do make a catch, they do a good job getting their hands in there," Campbell said. "Because they're not the biggest guys in the world, but they run well, they've got great closing speed ... and when the play is made, they get their hands in there and try to knock that ball loose."
Wahconah went 63 yards on the opening possession of the second half to give itself a two-score lead.
Scott completed four passes on the drive, including a strike down the left side to Owen Salvatore for a 19-yard score to make it 14-7.
Smith, who finished the day with 107 yards from scrimmage, ran in the two-point conversion to put Wahconah ahead, 16-7 midway through the third quarter.
A 25-yard Collin Falconer kickoff return gave Northbridge the ball at midfield on its next possession, but after runs of 15 and 11 yards by Falconer and Boyce, respectively, the Rams fumbled the ball away to Wahconah at its 30.
Three plays later, Ben Noyes was celebrating in the end zone, and Wahconah had at 15-point advantage on what turned out to be the final score of the game.
"I think they had some pressure on [Scott]," Noyes said. "But he saw me open, threw it to me, and everything went from there."
And, from here, the next stop is Foxborough and a game against Cohasset on a date to be announced.
"That means everything," Noyes said. "We worked so hard for it. We're together every day. We just work so hard. We deserve it."
: Wahconah’s Ben Noyes breaks multiple tackles en route to a 67-yard touchdown reception in Saturday’s State Semifinal win over Northbridge.
: Wahconah’s Jonah Smith scores a key 2-point conversion in Saturday’s State Semifinal win in Holyoke.
: Wahconah’s Ryan Scott hits Owen Salvatore for a 19-yard TD in Saturday’s State Semifinal win over Northbridge.
:The Wahconah football team takes the field for this afternoon’s D7 State Semifinal against Northbridge in Holyoke.