DALTON, Mass. — Moments after Gio Russo made the play of Friday's game for the Agawam offense, Eli Pease made the play that won the game for the Wahconah defense.
Pease made a key third-down stop deep in Wahconah territory to preserve a 20-0 shutout victory over Agawam in the Western Massachusetts Division 4 title game.
It was a 12-0 lead late in the third quarter when Russo took a screen pass from Mike Vecchiarelli and scampered 60 yards to the Wahconah 18.
Two plays later on third-and-4, Agawam's 1,000-yard rusher Steve Comee took a pitch to the right side, but Pease hauled him down for just a 1-yard gain. A fourth-down pass fell harmlessly in the end zone, and Agawam never again got inside the red zone.
"That was a big stop, no doubt," Pease said. "We knew after we got that stop that we were going to win the game."
Wahconah (10-0) will play Central Mass champion Doherty on Saturday, Nov. 23, at Doyle Field in Leominster for a berth in the first ever state championship game, scheduled for Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
"I think our defense was the story of the game," Wahconah coach Gary Campbell said. "To keep Comee, a great runner, in check, and to hold the quarterback in check as far as throwing the ball.
"Our defense played physical. They played fast. And that's something that carried us the whole night."
Wahconah needed to summon all that strength and speed when it looked like Agawam (9-1) might be on the verge of its second straight comeback victory.
"That's the resiliency of our kids," Campbell said. "We were down at Northampton. ... We were down to Hoosac. We've been hit with a couple of things during the season that have built up a resiliency and built up a confidence in each other that one tough things happen to you, you've got to regroup and play the next play.
"Our kids did that."
Ethan Wells ran for 92 yards and threw for 75 as the Wahconah offense did just enough to complement the stellar play of its defense.
It looked early like the home team would have a chance to put up some big numbers.
On its second possession of the game, Wahconah went 53 yards in 14 plays to go ahead 6-0. Wells ran eight times for 31 yards on the drive and capped it with a 16-yard completion to Darrow Brown.
Meanwhile, it took Agawam three possessions before it could make a first down against the Wahconah defense. And Comee, who was brilliant all season for Agawam, needed a 17-yard run in the last minute of the second quarter to get to 37 yards before half-time.
Agawam used its defense to stay in the game, stopping Wahconah on fourth-and-2 at the 15 to keep it a one-score game at the half.
But Wahconah opened the second half with a quick score.
A 37-yard kickoff return by Pease got the ball to the plus-47, and a 16-yard completion to Codi Arthur followed by a 31-yard run over left tackle by Wells made it 12-0.
After Wahconah made the big stop toward the end of the quarter, it failed to make a first down and was forced to punt it away to Agawam, which took over at midfield. After making a couple of first downs, backup QB Tom Cabibbo (Vecchiarelli was hurt on the screen pass) threw an interception to Cole Morrison, who returned the ball to the Agawam 45.
A 33-yard run by Pease got the ball to the 5, and two plays later Wells scored. A 2-point conversion run by Brown provided the final margin of victory.