No 'Cupcake Wars' in Western Mass Finals
McCann Technical School and Lee Middle and High School are separated by about 50 miles.
The schools play in different leagues and hardly ever face each other on the athletic field.
There is really no reason the Hornets and Wildcats should be rivals.
And then this happened:
"I don't know what's going to happen here, but I'll say it for Monument too. If either one of these teams get in the D6 playoffs, you better look out. We don't play these cupcake schedules like (other teams) do," Lee football coach Keith Thomson was quoted as saying after the Wildcasts' 2014 regular season finale against the Spartans.
He was talking about Lee's and Monument's prospects of making the 2014 Western Mass tournament. Neither did. One team that did was Tri-County League Champion McCann, which ended up winning the Western Mass title.
No one in the Hornets' camp has forgotten those words. It's a sure bet that they will continue to be remembered after Lee and McCann meet on Saturday afternoon at Hoosac Valley High School to decide the 2015 Western Mass Division 6 title.
The D6 crown is one of two that will be worn by a Berkshire County team when this weekend is over. On Friday night, the sectional finals get under way when Berkshire County League foes Taconic (7-2) and Hoosac Valley (9-0) kickoff at 7 p.m. at Northampton High School.
That game features a rematch of the Oct. 24 game won by the Hurricanes, 51-14.
It has been a lot longer since McCann and Lee have tangled - on the field - and both teams' head coaches agree the focus should be on what happens between the lines on Saturday, not what was said last October.
"I was caught in an emotional moment last year and said some things," said Thomson, who has not taken back the comment. "I really felt the last two yaers we had good teams and had the opportunity, if we got in, to compete for the Division 6 title. At the same time, [McCann] is a prideful team. All football teams have pride. I'd be doing the same thing if I was them, jumping on it and feeling slighted and circling it on the bulletin board.
"Last year when we said that, I know McCann took that to heart. That's they're league. But they were 8-0. It wasn't about them. Obviously, McCann deserved to be in the playoffs. All we ever asked for is an opportunity, and we have that this year."
McCann coach Bob LeClair, whose team has an opportunity win back-to-back sectional titles, is tired of talking about baked goods.
"Yeah, enough with this," LeClair said at practice on Tuesday. "It is what it is. It's out there. But let's put it to rest."
LeClair agreed with Thomson that no "bulletin board material" is needed for teams getting ready for a Western Mass championship game.
"Let's just go play football," LeClair said. "It's another opponent. Let's focus on them, prepare for them, do our jobs, do everything we have to do and forget about all the rest of the stuff."
There is plenty of work to do for McCann (7-2) as it gets ready to face the Wildcats (5-4).
LeClair describes Lee senior Cam Abderhalden as "the best quarterback we'll have seen all year."
"He runs very well. He's run this offense for three years. He knows exactly what to do," LeClair said. "That's the key to them, right there. I know he's got a lot of weapons over there, other good backs with him. But he's the person we have to focus on because he makes teams pay.
"A lot of schools have paid the price for not paying attention to him."
Thomson and the Wildcats are spending the week paying attention to McCann's rushing attack and a Hornets defense that has allowed just less than 12 points per game.
Lee has the advantage of having just played Franklin Tech, a team that matched up so well with McCann that the two played four quarters of scoreless football before the Eagles prvailed, 8-6, in overtime, back on Oct. 24.
"The physical nature of the teams we play year in and year out in Berkshire County helped us [against Franklin Tech]," Thomson said. "Obviously, we've seen McCann on film, and they're very physical. They get after you on defense. On offense, they hav very hard, physical runners.
"I think they are similar in some regards [to Franklin Tech], although they do some different things."
One piece of good news for McCann this week: Running back Dakota Bolte, who left Friday's Western Mass semifinal early with a leg injury, is back on the field for practice this week, and LeClair expects him to be ready to go on Saturday.
The injury watch factors into this week's other local Western Mass title game, where third-seeded Taconic comes in after finishing last week's game without junior running back/linebackr Anthony Whiteley.
Coach Jim Ziter's squad showed a "next man up" toughness and rallied to beat Pittsfield, the team that handed Taconic its first loss way back in Week 1.
On Friday night, Taconic will try to avenge its only other loss, and it will do it against a Hoosac team that is beating opponents by an average of 25 points per game.
Hoosac knows a little thing about "next man up" itself, having survived a midseason stretch without either its three-year starting quarterback, Matt Koperniak, or its leading rusher, Avery Hall.
Both are back in the fold now, and Hoosac cruised through the Division 5 semifinals with a 22-point win over fourth-seeded Frontier.
The winners of Friday's and Saturday's games move on to the state semifinals, where they will meet the champions of Central Mass for a chance to play in the state title game at Gillette Stadium.
The rest of the county's football teams finish out their season this weekend in non-playoff intersectional matchups - some with unique times.
Wahconah, which fell last week in the the Division 4 semifinals, hosts West Springfield at 5 p.m. Friday evening. Pittsfield travels to Mahar, and Monument Mountain is at Palmer
On Saturday morning, Drury hosts Smith Vocational at 11 a.m., giving North Adams fans a chance to catch a rare double-header: first on the hill at Drury High and then down the road at Cheshire. To sweeten the deal, Drury is not charging admission to Saturday morning's game, which will serve as Senior Day for the Blue Devils.