Game of the Week: Big Opportunity for Taconic Football
This week's Game of the Week could be the Game of the Century at Taconic High School.
The Taconic football team hosts Hoosac Valley on Saturday afternoon with a chance to claim a share of the Berkshire County title and all but secure a bid in the Western Massachusetts Division 5 playoffs.
It is the biggest opportunity in a long time for the Taconic program, and head coach Jim Ziter is not downplaying things.
"I think the kids realize what's riding on the game," he said this week. "They understand where they are in the standings for the county and Division 5.
"We've been discussing it since Monday. They're excited."
There has been a lot to be excited about on Valentine Road this fall.
After a season-opening overtime loss to Pittsfield, Ziter's team has won five straight to move to 5-1 (4-1 Berkshire County). It is a game behind the Hurricanes (6-0, 5-0) in the league standings.
Hoosac finishes up next week with its rivalry game against Drury (0-6), and no one outside of North Adams is counting on an upset there. That makes Saturday Taconic's one chance to move into a first-place tie before finishing with an independent game against Easthampton in Week 8.
"After the Pittsfield game, I think the kids did a real big gut check and realized they could compete with the better teams in the county," Ziter said. "Each week, we kept the momentum going and really believed they could compete with the better teams.
"They're a confident bunch. They don't need a lot of pep talks from me."
Taconic is averaging 47 points per game over the last five weeks, allowing just 12 ppg over that sam time period. The signature win of the season came in Week 3, when Taconic downed defending Western Mass D4 champion Wahconah, 43-21.
Hoosac's record and pedigree speaks for itself. The Hurricanes have been involved in a lot of big games over the years, including last fall's Western Mass D5 title game.
This fall, the Canes have an average margin of victory of 39-16, but they have been tested: a 10-point Independent win over Chicopee Comp, a 12-point road win at Mount Greylock and last week's one-score win at Wahconah.
Both Taconic and Hoosac feature powerful running attacks.
Ziter has called his junior Anthony Whiteley the best back in the county, and Whiteley's 12 rushing touchdowns tend to back that up. Taconic quarterback Jake McNeice, a dangerous runner in his own right, has a strong receiving corps and six passing TDs to his credit.
Hoosac Valley has battled injuries in the backfield but had the depth there -- and the strength at offensive line -- to overcome the loss of its quarterback and featured running back in the middle of the season.
Senior QB Matt Koperniak and senior running back Avery Hall are back at full strength and ready to go on Saturday afternoon.
"Xs and Os, I think we can compete with them," Ziter said. "Not to take anything away from Hoosac, but I think we can compete with them. ... I think we can definitely score some points against them. Our biggest thing is going to be stopping the running game.
"Last year [a 51-14 Hoosac win], Hoosac beat 'em pretty good, and they remember it."
Pittsfield (5-1, 5-1) goes out of county play this week to host Amherst (0-6) on Friday night. The Generals finish in Week 8 against Wahconah and will be very interested in the outcome of Saturday's game at Taconic. A Hoosac loss, and Pittsfield will have its own chance to play for a piece of the county crown on Halloween Eve at Wahconah Park.
No county title, but plenty of post-season implications Friday night when Lee (2-4) goes out of league and on the road to face Turners Falls (4-2) with a chance to keep the Wildcats' D6 playoff hopes alive.
Mount Greylock (3-3, 2-3) looks to continue a two-game winning streak when it goes to Dalton to take on Wahconah (3-3, 2-2).
Saturday's other big game with conference title implications is also in Turners Falls, where Franklin Tech (5-1, 4-0) hosts McCann Tech (5-1, 5-0) in a battle for Tri-County supremacy. The Hornets already own a 20-0 win over the Tri-County's other one-loss team, Pathfinder, which finishes at Franklin Tech in Week 8.
The last time McCann met Franklin Tech, the stakes were even bigger. The Hornets beat the Eagles last year in the Western Mass Division 6 semifinals. Franklin Tech will be looking for revenge on its home field after losing twice in the Hornets Nest last fall -- 20-16 in the regular season and 13-6 in the playoffs.
Back in North Adams, Saturday will feature a clash between two teams looking to salvage something from their seasons when Drury (0-6, 0-5) hosts Monument Mountain (1-4, 1-4). The Spartans got their win back in Week 1 and struggled mightily last week against Pittsfield at home. Drury is in a definite rebuilding mode but continues to fight hard for first-year coach Seth Shepard.