Defense, Clayton's Arm Lead Wahconah Past Taconic
DALTON, Mass. -- On a night when the Wahconah football team could seemingly do no wrong, one of its few miscues showed the squad’s character.
Wahconah was in control of Friday’s home opener against Taconic, sitting on a 20-0 half-time lead. But the visitors caught a break when a muffed punt set them up at the plus-17 midway through the third quarter.
But Wahconah threw a runner for a 2-yard loss on first down and a 2-yard loss on third down before stopping a pass attempt on fourth-and-9.
It then marched 85 yards in 14-plays to take a four-score lead en route to an eventual 43-0 win.
“That cemented it, no doubt about it,” Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said. “And on the punt, I’m really proud of the kid, Matt Mathers, he missed the punt and then went in on the next play and made a great tackle, a one-on-one tackle.
“I loved his resiliency and how he came back there.”
Tim Clayton threw for 169 yards and three touchdowns, and Connor Noyes ran for 71 yards and a score.
But Campbell was understandably more excited about his defense, which pitched its first shutout of the season after throwing up two goose eggs en route to a Western Mass crown in 2017.
“I’m really, really happy with our defense tonight,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if the offense was stuck in second gear or third gear. We just really didn’t open it up.
“But I thought our defense played exceptional tonight. … [Taconic has] a lot of motions, a lot of different looks that they give you. We wanted to make sure we hemmed them in and brought the battle to their side of the line of scrimmage.”
Taconic coach Jim Ziter agreed.
“He had a great game plan,” Ziter said. “We just did not win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Two many turnovers. Our backs had ball security issues. It was a total team effort. I messed on substitutions.
“It starts with me. And we’ll clean it up. I’ll take the hit on this one.”
Campbell’s sense of his offense not being able to find the right gear probably comes from the first half, when Wahconah moved the ball a lot, held Taconic to minus-yardage and still could not cash in on all its scoring chances.
A 65-yard opening drive for the home team stalled with a missed field goal. And Wahconah settled for 6 points in the first quarter after a shanked punt set up a short field and Noyes scored from the 3 on first and goal.
In the second quarter, Clayton connected with Gabe Verdi for an 11-yard score and Jake Gai for a 29-yarder to build the 20-0 lead at intermission.
The best drive of the night came after the stop on Taconic’s best penetration midway through the third.
Clayton converted a fourth-and-9 with a 9-yard pass to Tom O’Connor midway through the drive and capped it with a 7-yard toss to a leaping Tom Burris in the end zone. Tanner Hill kicked the extra point to make it 27-0 with 9:06 left in the fourth.
On Wahconah’s last two possessions, junior Ian Graham did most of the damage on the ground, rushing for 55 yards and scoring a TD. Sophomore Zach Archambault added the other score to cap the scoring after Wahconah recovered a fumbled kickoff at the Taconic 39 with 2:29 on the clock.
Wahconah puts its perfect record on the line next week at Chicopee.
Taconic (1-1) hosts Minnechaug next Friday as it looks to recover from a roller-coaster sequence that had Ziter’s team win its opener, 74-0, and then lose, 43-0.
“We’re a good football team,” Ziter said. “I’ll argue that with anybody. We learned a hard lesson this week: Football is not easy. … I just told the guys, whether it makes any sense or not, when you come off a big week like [Easthampton], the next week is always tough. Maybe you’re not a 74-0 football team, but that’s a good football team over there [in Wahconah].”