Wahconah Football Reaches State Final
Matt Salvatore made it huge.
With time running out in the second quarter of Saturday’s Division 4 state semi-final game, Shepherd Hill had a fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line with a chance to punch it in and take a two-touchdown lead into half-time.
Instead, Anastasio came from the back side to wrap up Brady Ravenelle behind the line of scrimmage and knock the ball loose.
Salvatore grabbed the ball out of the air and sprinted 95 yards to tie the game, 20-20, and propel Wahconah to a 34-20 win and a berth in the state championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Dec. 6 against Holliston, a 26-0 winner over Lynnfield on Saturday.
“[Anastasio] made a great play on the ball,” Salvatore said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and took it to the house. That was that.”
Looking back on the play, that was that.
Shepherd Hill, which scored on drives of 80, 89 and 57 yards in the first half, managed just 49 yards of offense in the second half -- all the opening possession of the third quarter that stalled on a fourth-and-5 at the 31 when Anastasio hauled down Drew Jean-Guillaume short of the first down.
The Central Mass champion Rams (9-2) touched the ball just two other times after half-time: a kickoff return that ended in a fumble recovered by Salvatore and a one-play possession that ended in an Evan Garvey interception.
Wahconah coach Gary Campbell agreed Salvatore’s fumble return was the turning point.
“Huge, huge,” Campbell said. “It really did [change the game] -- from a scoring opportunity for them to go up two scores to tying the ballgame for us. That might have been the play of the game for us and unfortunate for them. Everyone’s been on both sides of that, though, let’s face it. We’ve all been there.”
Salvatore’s score sent Wahconah (11-0) to the locker room with all the momentum.
“It definitely gives you more positive flow,” Campbell said of his approach going into the locker room. “Instead of maybe thinking X’s and O’s and what you can change, with high school kids, you give ‘em that confidence, give ‘em that rah-rah, a little bit. Build ‘em up and keep ‘em going.
“I thought we did some good things anyways, offensively [in the first half]. I think there were some things there we could do.”
Wahconah scored the game’s first points on its second possession.
After holding Shepherd Hill to a three-and-out and a punt from its 28, Garvey ran back the kick 23 yards to the Rams’ 30. Five plays later, Ryan Washburn scored from the 5 to make it 6-0.
Shepherd Hill then scored on three straight possessions, interrupted by a 90-yard kickoff return by Garvey, to go ahead, 20-14.
After Wahconah failed to convert a fourth-down try at midfield, the Rams took over with 1 minute, 16 seconds left in the second quarter on their 48.
With Jean-Guillaume temporarily knocked out of the game, backup quarterback Devin Peitz hit an 11-yard pass to get Shepherd Hill a quick first down. The Rams then got a 31-yard run from Davilde Sarkode to set up first-and-goal at the 10.
Three runs netted 6 yards, setting up the fourth down try that ended with Salvatore going the other way for six points.
One of Anastasio’s three kickoffs for a touchback put Shepherd Hill at its 20 to start the second half. The Rams made a couple of first downs and got into Wahconah territory before Campbell’s defense stiffened with Anastasio stopping Jean-Guillaume to get the ball back.
Nick Clayton (9-for-16, 111 yards) directed a 73-yard drive that chewed up 7:12 and ended with Clayton’s 1-yard run on third-and-goal to make it 26-20. Clayton hit Kyle Kirchner in the end zone to make it an eight-point game.
Salvatore recovered a fumble at the plus-42 on the ensuing kickoff, and Wahconah went into the end zone in seven plays, the last a 13-yard completion from Clayton to Kirchner. Cole Morrison caught a two-point conversion to push the lead to 36-20 with 4:17 left.
Again, Anastasio backed up Shepherd Hill to its 20, and Jean-Guillaume’s try deep to the right side was caught by Garvey.
Wahconah converted a third-and-5 when Clayton hit Garvey for a 14-yard gain and then ran out the clock.
Tyler Cataldi rushed for 31 yards to lead the Wahconah offense on a day when it used all three phases of the game to continue its perfect season. Anastasio’s kickoffs (one of which hit the crossbar) and Garvey’s kick returns coupled with a defense that pitched a second-half shutout against a highly-regarded Shepherd Hill offense.
“I think the biggest key was relentless pursuit,” Campbell said. “You might not be able to beat ‘em at the point of attack, but … if we could just stall ‘em and come on the backside with relentless pursuit and bring them down from behind, it changes a 12-yard gain into maybe back to a 4.
“We just tried to get them into third-and-long. … They’re a great line, but our kids had relentless pursuit. Just keep working -- all facets of the game. You’ve got to play special teams, you’ve got to play defense, and you’ve got to play offense.”