Wahconah Reaches Western Mass Final
|Wahconah came from behind twice on its home field against the fourth-seeded Tigers.|
Senior Ethan Wells led his team on a 57-yard, fourth-quarter, game-winning touchdown drive and then made the play of the night on defense to wrap up a 24-20 win over South Hadley in the Western Massachusetts Division 4 quarterfinals.
Top-ranked Wahconah (9-0) advances to the sectional final against Agawam, which scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come from behind and beat Northampton, 29-23, on Friday night.
Wahconah came from behind twice on its home field against the fourth-seeded Tigers in a rematch of last year's Western Massachusetts Division 2 Super Bowl.
South Hadley led early, 7-6, and late, 20-18, after Patrick Sears completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Riley Villeneueve early in the fourth quarter.
But after Eli Pease returned the ensuing kick 23 yards to the Wahconah 43 with 8 minutes, 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Wells took his team the rest of the way. He threw a 20-yard completion to Cole Morrison to convert a third-and-4 at midfield and ran the ball seven times for 15 yards, including a 3-yard score over left tackle to give Wahconah a 24-20 lead with 2:27 on the clock.
The home fans were feeling good after that score and feeling great after Pease broke up a fourth-and-7 pass with 1:22 on the clock. But South Hadley stymied Wahconah's efforts to get a first down and took over on downs at its own 26 with 1:02 on the clock.
Sears proceeded to complete three passes on his way to a 266-yard night and got his team a first-and-10 at the 11 with 28 ticks remaining.
But Sears' 36th pass of the night ended in his first interception when Wells plucked the ball out of the air near the goal line and scampered 7 yards up the field. One play later, the clock ran out and Wahconah ran off toward a meeting with the unbeaten Brownies.
"They threw the heck out of the ball tonight," Wells said.
"The last play, I got under one like coach had been yelling at me the whole game for. I saw [Villeneueve] go out, so I ran with him. The quarterback threw it, and I was able to get under it, catch it and run with it. So it was good."
"Good" may be an understatement for Wahconah, which survived a night on which it took an 18-7 lead early in the second quarter and then was held scoreless for the next 27 minutes, 26 seconds.
"The kids came through in the end and made plays when they had to," Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said. "I don't know if anything was pretty tonight. But I'll tell you what, they found a way to win. Our kids found a way to win.
"The resiliency ... I don't know the cliches because I'm not that smart. But resiliency comes to mind. The kids fight. They really do."
Wahconah's offense was was clicking early, scoring on its first three possessions.
First, Wells hit Darrow Brown in the corner of the end zone for a 14-yard TD on the game's opening possession.
After Wahconah's run for a two-point conversion failed, South Hadley answered with a 69-yard burst by T.J. Fitzell and an extra point to go up, 7-6.
But Wells answered again, hitting Brown on a fade in the end zone to cap an 11-play, 54-yard drive that put Wahconah up, 12-7.
A South Hadley fumble gave the ball back at midfield, and eight plays later Wells hit Ryan Washburn in the end zone to make it 18-7.
But the Tigers marched 83 yards on their last possession of the first half thanks to four Sears completions for 66 yards.
"He showed some passing abilities [in the regular season], don't get me wrong," Campbell said. "But they ran the ball on people, gashed people, all year. The sad thing is, we wanted to make them one-dimensional and throw the ball.
"But you know what? Goshdarnit if Tom Brady didn't show up."
Sears took his team 80 yards to take the lead on a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters. When he hit Villeneuve deep over the middle for a 29-yard TD, it looked like the Tigers might just ride Sears' right arm right into the Western Mass final.
But Wells and Wahconah had other ideas.
Campbell said he did not have to say much to his offense as it took the field for the game-winning drive. Wells said the players talked among themselves about what the possession meant.
"This is it, we've got to score," he said. "It's either score or our season's over, and we weren't going to let our season end like that. So we decided to punch it in, and we did.
"That was a heck of a drive. The line did a heck of a job. We knew we had to score. And we were able to do that, luckily for us. I'll give credit to the line. We ran the ball hard, and our backs -- we were able to do it."