Hills Tops Valley in Western Mass Senior Bowl

By Stephen Dravis IBerkshires.com Sports
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- In a game dominated by defense and the running game, Hoosac Valley graduate Sam Larabee made the two biggest catches of Friday night’s Western Mass Senior Bowl on Springfield College’s Stagg Field.

Those two completions, for a total of 31 yards, were a big reason why the Hills walked away with a 19-6 win over the Valley in the third annual early summer classic.

The Hills, coached by Wahconah’s Gary Campbell Jr. and Hoosac Valley’s Dayne Poirot, went into half-time ahead, 12-6, and looking forward to receiving the second-half kickoff.

But its opening drive appeared to be stalling at midfield when a 5-yard loss set up fourth-and-13 on the Valley 45-yard line.

But Wahconah QB found Larabee for a 17-yard completion to keep alive a drive that ended in Wahconah back Connor Noyes’ 7-yard TD run and a two-score lead.

In the fourth quarter, Hills got the ball back at midfield after a punt with about five minutes on the clock and a chance to ice the game.

But Valley got some life when a 10-yard penalty helped put Hills in a fourth-and-9.

This time, Easthampton’s Nick Pellegini was under center, and he hooked up with Larabee for a 14-yard completion down to the 17 that erased all hope of a miracle comeback for the Valley.

Two fourth-down conversions from two different QBs added up to one big night for Larabee.

“A week is a short time, but I feel like from Day One we all bonded really well,” Larabee said. “You know, kids from Hoosac Valley and Wahconah don’t usually get along, and me and Clayts had a connection tonight, and me and Nick had a good connection, too.

“Coach Campbell had trust in me, in me and Tim. Tim put up a perfect ball, and I was able to snag it down.”

Clayton was under center for all three scoring drives, and Noyes ran for 42 yards en route to being named the player of the game for the Hills.

The defensive star of the night was Pittsfield’s Joe Traversa, who made a big play in each half to help stymie the Valley.

On the first play of the second quarter, Traversa brought down Putnam quarterback Cecil Villa in the backfield for a 9-yard loss that helped stall a Valley drive at midfield and eventually led to a 64-yard drive for Valley’s second score of the game.

In the fourth quarter, Traversa picked off a first-down pass at the Hills’ 36.

Traversa agreed that defense has a little bit of an advantage over offense in the shortened practice period before an all-star game.

“A little bit, just because offense has to run through plays all week, where defense is just concepts and schemes,” Traversa said. “So defense can really hop into it for one week of practice easily.”

That said, holding Valley to one score was an accomplishment for the Hills defense.

“There’s a lot of good athletes over there, so we knew we were going to have to put some points,” Traversa said. “Offense did that, and the defense did its job of keeping them off the board as much as possible.”

Hills caught a break on the first play of the game when Valley attempted a double handoff and fumbled in the backfield. Noyes recovered at the plus 26-yard-line, and five plays later, Ludlow’s Jeremy Garcia scored from the 4 behind a block on the edge from Clayton to make it 6-0.

The Hills’ next drive went 64 yards, included four Clayton completions -- including one to Pittsfield’s Donte Cruz and two to Wahconah teammate Tom Burris. The drive ended in a 6-yard score by Garcia to make it 12-0.

Valley answered on its next possession, and it was 12-6 at intermission.

Valley’s first possession of the second half included the fourth-down hookup from Clayton to Larabee and ended on Noyes’ run to the right side. Frontier’s Matt Hildreth booted the game’s only successful conversion to make it a 13-point margin.

The Hills team had a strong Berkshire County flavor, including: Lee’s Homer Winston, Andrew Ruef, Tighler Andrews and Connor LaRock; Hoosac Valley’s Dom Acquista; Wahconah’s Matt Fortin and Tanner Hill; Taconic’s Saeed Braimah and Tyler Killbary; and Pittsfield’s Deonte Young.

“Some of those guys on the other team were state champions,” Larabee said of the win’s significance. “We just wanted to hit them and hit hard, and we had a good connection tonight. It felt great getting the win.”

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