Wahconah Overcomes Miscues, Tops Palmer for Western Mass Title
HOLYOKE, Mass. -- When the Wahconah football team got out of its own way, it was the way better team in Saturday’s Western Massachusetts Division 4 Championship game.
Top-seeded Wahconah (9-1) overcame five turnovers to earn a 20-14 win over Palmer and advance to next Saturday’s state semi-final.
“I think we had five lost fumbles and one pick, and we won a football game,” Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said. “When does that ever happen?
“Obviously, ball security will be a little bit of a priority this week at Wahconah Regional High School,” he quipped.
Then Campbell turned serious and talked about the character his team showed in finding a way to win.
“I’m proud of the boys,” Campbell said. “We teach adversity. We teach perseverance. We teach all those cliches. But, boy, did we do it today? We did it. And I’m proud of the boys.”
Wahconah won by scoring the only points of the second half with an 81-yard drive that consumed 4 minutes, 23 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Tanner Hastings, who finished with 163 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, said his team approached that final drive with a clear focus.
“Basically, just hold onto the football and hit them as hard as you can,” Hastings said. “We had to bring the physical to them immediately. We just had to come off the ball. And we delivered it.”
Hastings had 46 yards on the game-winning drive, which also saw quarterback Will Genaway complete both his pass attempts for 18 yards. A 10-yarder to Dane Campbell converted a third-and-5 at midfield to keep the drive alive. Hastings finished the drive with a 16-yard run up the middle. To put his team up by six with 5:56 on the clock.
Palmer threatened to come right back when QB Ryan McCarthy (112 yards passing, 71 yards rushing) completed a 32-yard pass deep down the right side to get the ball to the plus-45.
But three plays later, Dane Campbell snagged an interception at the Wahconah 8 to end the threat.
Wahconah took the ball back with 3:45 on the clock and never gave it back. The ground game of Connor Noyes (106 yards) and Hastings ground out 65 yards in seven plays as the Panthers (8-2) used up their timeouts. And, with Wahconah staring at a fourth-and-1 at the Palmer 24 and less than a minute on the clock, Genaway used a hard count to draw Palmer offsides for a first down.
That allowed Wahconah to go into the victory formation, take a knee and start thinking about next Saturday, when it can earn a return trip to Gillette Stadium.
The final score, 20-14, looked nothing like the game the two teams played in the first quarter, when Wahconah and Palmer combined for four touchdowns in the first 6:20.
Wahconah got things started when Hastings’ 42-yard run set up a first-and-goal at the 8, and Noyes took it the rest of the way. Patrick Butler’s extra point made it 7-0.
Palmer’s McCarthy answered with a 101-yard kickoff return to tie the game. And then the Panthers recovered a Wahconah muff on the ensuing kickoff to set up a 22-yard McCarthy TD pass that gave Palmer a 14-7 lead.
Wahconah got back on track with a 61-yard drive capped by an 11-yard scoring play that started with a 5-yard Genaway run and ended with a fumble recovery and 6-yard advance by Jake Scalise.
Wahconah’s second-quarter possessions ended in a fumble, a punt, an interception and a turnover on downs.
“It was very frustrating, especially when we’ve been going all year fumbling very, very little,” Hastings said. “Then coming out in one game everyone fumbled at least once.”
But when the game was on the line, Wahconah’s offense did what needed to be done.
“Things happened in the past, you can’t do anything about it in the past,” Gary Campbell said. “All you can do is take your next step. We teach it all the time, whether it’s in school or life. You can’t do anything about your past mistakes. All you can do is get better from there.”