Taconic Tops Longmeadow for Sectional Crown

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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HOLYOKE, Mass. -- Back-to-back plays turned the tide for the Taconic football team in Saturday’s 36-24 win over Longmeadow.
With less than a minute left in the first half of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Championship Game, Longmeadow was poised to complete a 79-yard drive to add to an 18-14 lead.
On fourth-and-goal at the 4, Jack McNeice shot through to haul down Longmeadow’s rusher for a gain of 1 with 38 seconds left in the second quarter.
And on next play, Anthony Whiteley went 97 yards for a score that made it 21-18, Taconic going into the break.
Taconic scored on a 58-yard drive coming out of the break, and it never trailed again.
“I wasn’t really doing the job as well as I should have been at outside linebacker, so he stuck me at safety, and I went on a blitz on that play and just went through and got him from behind,” McNeice said of the touchdown-saving tackle.
“That was a huge confidence booster. There was a chance they were going to score, and if they did, it might have been a different game, so that was a big play.”
And it was followed by, perhaps a bigger one, as Whiteley (141 yards rushing) broke the right side for the score and Brandon Peaslee tacked on the point-after to turn a four-point deficit into a three-point lead for top-seeded Taconic (9-1).
“We’ve run that play 100 times since I’ve been here,” Taconic coach Jim Ziter said. “It’s just a great play that we always run. It’s a game-changer. The line did an awesome job blocking, and that’s what sprung him. They did a great job.”
Taconic benefited from a fumble on the opening kickoff at Holyoke High School, recovering the ball at the plus-20. Four plays later, McNeice ran it in from the 8 to gave his team a 7-0 lead.
Longmeadow responded two possessions later with a 50-yard drive that started with a Taconic fumble at midfield. The Lancers’ kick was wide and short, and it was 7-6.
The next time Longmeadow (5-4) touched the ball, it got runs of 22 and 43 yards to go ahead, 12-7.
After a 61-yard pass play from McNeice to Devon Walker to make it 14-12, Longmeadow marched 64 yards to regain the lead at 18-14.
The Lancers’ multi-faceted rushing attack gave Taconic fits in the first half.
“It was a little dicey, but we adjusted at half-time, and they came out and did a great job,” Ziter. “The executed everything we wanted them to do.”
Taconic took the second half kickoff and went 58 yards to stretch its lead to 29-18.
Cedric Rose scored from a yard out to cap the four-minute drive.
Longmeadow responded with a drive sparked by a 59-yard run by Nick Horowitz. The Lancers’ try for 2 failed, and Taconic’s lead was 29-24.
Late in the third, McNeice (187 yards passing) hit a 72-yard pass to Walker to get Taconic in a first-and-goal at the 5, and two plays later, McNeice connected with Walker in the back of the end zone for the game’s final score.
“It’s great,” McNeice said. “My line blocks every single time I go back to throw. I don’t really have any problems when I throw. And every time I chuck it, Devon’s under it.”
Taconic will play Central Mass champion Grafton on Saturday at Leominster’s Doyle Field for a berth in the state title game at Gillette Stadium.
Whatever happens from here on out, Taconic already has checked off a very important box on its to-do list … a 4-year-old to-do list.
“It feels amazing,” McNeice said. “I mean, honestly, freshman year we told everyone we thought we were going to get here our senior year, but no one really believed us. Now, we’ve got fans behind us, and the whole team is really into it. It feels great.”
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