Hoosac, Lee Play for Shot at State Title
The Hoosac Valley football team will face a familiar foe in Saturday afternoon's MIAA state semifinal.
Central Mass champion Northbridge is making its third straight trip to the semis. It has won the last two -- the first time a 29-22 win over Hoosac at Leominster's Doyle Field.
The two squads return to Doyle on Saturday for a noon kickoff to decide who advances to face the Divison 5 North-South game winnner on Dec. 5 at Gillette Stadium.
Meanwhile, at Westfield State, Lee (6-4) faces 10-0 St. Bernard's at 11 a.m. for a chance to go to the Division 6 state final.
Hoosac Valley coach Dayne Poirot said it is different getting ready for Northbridge this time around.
"We're not going in blind," he said. "We know the kids. Two years ago, we looked at them after we beat Easthampton [in the Western Mass final]. At this point, we know who they are and who their players are.
"At least we have an idea what to expect."
And Northbridge knows what to expect from Hoosac, unlike two years ago when there was a sense that the Central Mass champ would roll over whoever came out of the Western Mass bracket.
The first two years of the new state playoff system have established that Western Mass teams can hold their own.
In 2013, three of the four Central-Western semifinals were one-score games. Springfield Central lost, 37-32, in D2; Wahconah lost, 22-16, in D4; and Hoosac dropped a seven-point decision in D5. Only in D6 was the Western Mass champ, Turners Fall, overmatched; Littleton won that game, 52-26.
Last fall, Western Mass went 2-2 in the semis. Longmeadow advanced, 10-7, over Fitchburg in D2. Wahconah beat Shepherd Hill, 36-20, in D5.
Northbridge is the only team from the Central-Mass side of the bracket with a chance to make it three straight trips to Foxborough.
And the common denominator each of the last three years: quarterback/DB Koby Schofer.
Two years ago as a sophomore, Schofer ran for 173 yards and threw for 126 in a back-and-forth game against Hoosac. Last November, he ran for 175 and threw for 239 to beat Pittsfield in the state semis. This fall, the Worcester Telegram reports that Schofer has run for 593 yards and thrown for 1,884 with 24 TDs for the Rams (10-0).
"They have great players on the field, and a lot of those kids play on both sides of the ball," Poirot said. "Obviously, there are a lot of things they do well. We focus on the things they do well."
Hoosac (10-0) answers with a strong ground attack on offense that last week demonstrated an ability to control the clock in its Western Mass title game win over Taconic.
Even though it ended up winning that game by two scores, it was one-score game into the fourth quarter. And although Hoosac has just one win by fewer than nine points (a 32-26 victory over D4 Wahconah), the 'Canes go into Saturday's contest battle tested, Poirot said.
"I think our guys have had a lot of situations they've had to work through," he said. "In a lot of the games we've played, we've tried to work through some things."
No team, perhaps, goes into Saturday's games with more experience overcoming adversity than the Lee Wildcats.
Coach Keith Thomson's team has been in playoff mode since Oct. 16, when it picked up its fourth loss of the season. Since then, Lee has won four straight, including a pair of tight playoff wins in Western Mass.
Lee is led by senior quarterback Cam Abderhalden on offense and by a defens that has held four opponents to one score fewer, including last week's shutout of McCann Tech in the sectional final.
The St. Bernard's Bernardians proved themselves on defense in a 7-6 Central Mass final win last week. On offens, St. Bernard's boasts a one-two combination of QB Cooper Bigelow and running back Aaron Robichaud. Together, they have run for 1,400 yards and 19 TDs this fall, according to the Telegram's website. Bigelow also has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 TDs in a St. Bernard's offense that has averaged 33 points per game.