PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The Pittsfield Generals’ playoff run got off to an inauspicious start when Easthampton’s Lou Burrell returned the opening kickoff 86 yards at Wahconah Park on Friday night.
But the Generals themselves were not worried.
“We knew that wasn’t anything,” Pittsfield senior Anthony Jones said. “I mean, it was just one touchdown, five seconds into the game. We were going to score.”
And, more importantly, they were going to keep Easthampton from scoring again -- at least until late in the fourth quarter of a 28-12 Pittsfield victory that sends the second-seeded Generals into the Western Massachusetts Division 5 championship game next Saturday at Hoosac Valley, a rematch of the most entertaining game this year in Berkshire County football.
Friday’s game was actually more entertaining than the final score indicated because it was a one-score game until Pittsfield used drives of 75 yards and 84 yards in the second half to put the contest out of reach.
The key for Pittsfield was the way its defense kept the end zone out of reach for third-seeded Easthampton (6-3).
“I thought defensively, we played lights out -- bend but don’t break,” Pittsfield coach Brian Jezewski said. “Offensively, we’ve got a lot of weapons, and our guys did a great job.”
The Generals (7-2) held Burrell, a career 4,000-yard rusher, to 84 yards on the ground -- 22 of those came on the next-to-last play of the game when Easthampton started on its own 6, down by 16 points with 28 seconds left.
Meanwhile, Pittsfield continued to get big contributions from a variety of ballcarriers, led by Devon Tucker, who ran for 111 yards and a touchdown. Sam Sala rushed for 66 yards and a pair of scores, and Giovanni Figueroa and Mason Papiro each provided key runs while Chad Shade ran for 46 and threw for 41.
But the big story, again, was the defense, which set the tone on Easthampton’s opening possession.
After Pittsfield answered Burrell’s burst with a 51-yard drive that ended in Sala scoring from the 3, Easthampton drove from its 40 to the Pittsfield 20.
It was starting to look like it was going to be a high-scoring affair. But on fourth-and-7, Austin Houghtaling stuffed Burrell for a 3-yard loss.
After a Pittsfield punt gave the Eagles the ball at their 34, the Generals forced a fumble at the 40, the first of four Easthampton turnovers on the night.
Shade immediately took advantage of the short field, throwing 25 yards to Tucker down the right sideline to get the ball to the 15. Four plays later, Tucker ran it in from the 1, and Evan Bossio’s second extra point made it 14-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Pittsfield’s best second-quarter drive stalled at the 24 in a failed fourth-down attempt. Easthampton had a decent drive of its own to end the quarter, but a 10-yard completion from Hunter Leveille to Burrell came up short on the last play of the half.
The Generals took the opening kickoff of the second half at their 25 and chewed up 5 minutes, 31 seconds before Figueroa scored from the 3 on fourth-and-goal. The key play of the drive was an 18-yard completion from Shade to Bossio on third-and-9 at midfield.
A Bossio interception got the ball back for Pittsfield at its 16, and another long march ended in Sala’s second TD, with 3:09 left.
This drive was helped by a big play by Bossio in the punt game. An errant snap sent him scrambling in the backfield, but he was able to get the kick away and draw a roughing the punter flag that gave Pittsfield a first down on fourth-and-9 at its 31.
After Sala scored to make it 28-6, the Eagles gave their fans hope with a 66-yard catch and run by Burrell with 2:13 left. But Pittsfield recovered the onside kick and ate up most of the clock, punting the ball back with 28 ticks left.
More photos from this game here.