Eugene's Stop Secures Win in Western Mass Senior Bowl
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- After directing his team’s offense for much of the night on Friday, Vance Eugene made the game’s biggest play on defense.
With 32 seconds left and Eugene’s Hills team clinging to a 10-6 lead in the second annual Western Mass Senior Bowl, the Valley squad was driving for a potential winning score.
And on fourth-and-goal at the 9, West Springfield quarterback Tyler Rotchford found Chicopee’s Jose Flores open in the right flat.
He wasn’t open for long.
Immediately after Flores caught the ball, Eugene made the tackle on the sideline -- 5 yards short of the goal line -- to end the Valley drive and essentially end the game, giving the Hills a second straight win in the all-star game.
“I just knew we had to make a play,” Eugene said. “Somebody had to make it. It was going to go in somebody’s direction. I just had to execute it.
“I was just trying to prepare for the worst and do all I can. … Whatever happens, happens.”
Eugene happened to run for 67 yards splitting time under center with South Hadley’s Mike Pratt, who threw 17 yards for the Hills’ only touchdown.
Wahconah’s Gary Campbell, the head coach of the Hills team, noted that versatile players abounded on his team’s sideline.
“Vance makes the play at the end, makes the tackle at the end,” Campbell said. “Playing offense, playing defense, and a lot of kids did that tonight. The Holloway kid catches the touchdown and intercepts ball.
“You can’t beat it. It’s high school football at its best.”
Ludlow’s Tod Holloway was named the most valuable player of the game for the Hills after catching that TD pass and coming up with a pickoff early in the fourth quarter.
But Berkshire County stars left their fingerprints all over this one.
Besides’ Eugene’s game-high rushing total, Wahconah’s Dane Campbell ran for 39 yards and Pittsfield High’s Edwin Rodriguez ran for 21.
Wahconah kicker Pat Butler scored the game’s first points on a 38-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
Lee’s Lukas Loehr had a huge tackle on a fourth-down pass play on the Valley’s second possession, stopping a drive in the Hills’ end of the field by holding the receiver to a 7-yard game on fourth-and-8.
And Hoosac Valley’s Donald Monsees blocked the extra point when the Valley tried to convert after scoring its only points late in the second quarter.
“[Taconic] coach [Jim] Ziter and the defense did an unbelievable job,” Campbell said. “Those kids on those receivers and that quarterback [Central’s Aaron Moses-Williams] running around -- they’re so good, so athletic. They’re well coached. And for our kids to step up and do that job, I’m so proud of ‘em.”
The Hills drew first blood with a drive that spanned the second and third quarters. With Eugene under center, Campbell’s team drove from its 27 to the Valley 21. Eugene had a big 20-yard run to get the team across midfield and a 9-yarder to help get the squad down to the 20.
The drive stalled there, and a tackle for a loss pushed the Hills back to its 29 for a third-and-19. Eugene completed an 8-yard pass to get within a comfortable range for Butler, and the Wahconah grad did the rest, splitting the uprights to give his team a 3-0 lead.
Valley answered with an 88-yard drive that ended with a 54-yard pass from Moses to Flores. But Monsees broke through to get a hand on the point-after try and keep the score 6-3, Hills.
From there, it settled down into a defensive struggle before Holloway made one of the night’s big Hills defensive plays, picking off Rotchford at midfield with 10 minutes, 48 seconds left in the fourth.
Hills capitalized on the opportunity, using runs by Campbell, Eugene and Frontier’s Aaron Landry to get to the 17. And, on fourth-and-6, Pratt hooked up with Holloway for the go-ahead score. Butler’s PAT was true, and the Hills had a four-point lead.
Valley failed to score with good field position after a short Hills kickoff, but Hills turned over the ball with a fumble at midfield on a fourth-down play with 3:15 left to play.
Moses drove his team into the red zone, and a pair of Hills personal fouls gave the Valley first-and-goal at the 5.
Monsees helped make a first-down tackle that pushed Valley back to the 10. Then an incomplete pass and a 1-yard run got Valley to the 9 for fourth down, setting the stage for Eugene’s heroics.