ADAMS, Mass. — The Lee football team Friday won its playoff opener … or its fifth straight playoff game, depending on how you look at it.
The Wildcats played smothering defense to earn a 12-7 win over Hoosac Valley and a berth in next week’s Western Massachusetts Division 8 final against Ware, a 14-0 winner over Mahar on Friday night.
Lee improved to 6-3 after two straight September losses had the ‘Cats sitting at 1-3 and needing to win out just to make the playoffs.
Jimmy Purcell threw for 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Lee avenged last year’s overtime loss to the Hurricanes (8-1).
“That’s a good football team, and that’s a great football program over there,” Lee coach Keith Thomson said with a nod to the crestfallen Hurricanes. “Last year, we had that on our minds a little bit. We thought we had an opportunity to win last year and didn’t get it done. Our guys stayed hungry.
“What can I say about these guys? They were, at one point, 1-3 during the season. They never hung their heads. They’re a resilient group of kids. And they just played their butts off tonight. We had a great first half on offense.”
Lee went into half-time up 12-0 thanks to a 68-yard march that ended in a 5-yard completion from Purcell to Tag Roosa and a 45-yard drive that ended in Purcell’s 3-yard strike to Cole Redstone.
The Wildcats did not pick up a first down in the second half, but the way its defense played, 12 points was enough.
“Give Hoosac Valley credit,” Thomson said. “They made a lot of adjustments at half-time. Offensively, we had a rough second half, but our defense stepped up time and time again. … We were physical tonight, and our defense really stepped up just like it has all year. And I’m proud as hell of the guys.”
Lee drove for its first score on its second possession of the game.
Purcell hit a 15-yard completion to Gabe Kelley to get things going, and Nick Nicotra had five carries for 14 yards to get the ball near the 20. After six running plays got the ball to the 5, Purcell found Roosa in the end zone on third and goal to make it 6-0.
The first of two missed extra points for Lee kept it a six-point margin.
But a Hoosac Valley fumble on its fourth play after the kickoff gave Lee back the ball at the plus-45.
This time, Purcell completed four passes in an eight-play drive. One went for 11 yards to Nicotra to get the ball to the 1. After Hoosac Valley stuffed Lee’s rushing attack three times, Purcell hit Redstone for a 3-yard completion on fourth down with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the half.
Hoosac Valley drove into Lee territory on its ensuing possession but ran out of time, sending the Hurricanes to the locker room down a couple of scores.
Hoosac Valley coach Mark Harrington said that although his team started slow, he did not think the two-week layoff created by the Hurricanes’ bye in Week 9 of the regular season was a factor.
“It helped us,” Harrington said of the time off. “We had some kids hurt, key players. And we had time to heal up.
“I told the kids coming in … Lee has got every reason to win this game. They’ve got all the motivation. We beat ‘em in Western Mass last year. We beat ‘em [in the regular season]. And that goes with the territory.
“We won the second half, but, unfortunately, you don’t win by halves. You’ve got to have the higher score.”
Lee’s defense forced the Hurricanes to give the ball back on fourth down the first three times Hoosac Valley had possession. Two of those drives ended at the Lee 29 and 15.
Early in the fourth quarter, the teams traded turnovers on back-to-back plays in the shadow of Lee’s end zone. Hoosac came out of the exchange with a first-and-goal at the 10, and Carson Meczwor hit Joe Delmolino for a touchdown with 8:06 on the clock to give the Hurricanes life.
Delmolino drilled the extra point to make it a five-point game, and Hoosac Valley’s defense forced a Lee punt with 5:18 left.
The Hurricanes got the ball back at their 23 and picked up a pair of first downs to get to the minus-45. An 8-yard completion to Shaun Kastner gave Hoosac a second-and-2 at midfield, but Lee broke up on pass and stopped another for a loss of a yard.
On fourth-and 3 at the 48, the Wildcats’ defense made a game-clinching stop at the line of scrimmage with 1:38 on the clock.
Lee was able to kneel out the game on offense to let the celebration begin.
“They’ve been doing it all year long,” Thomson said of his defense. “I’m kind of at a loss for words. Every time they had to step up with their backs against the wall, they’ve been able to do that. The whole defense as a whole — Garrett [Hopkins] had a heck of a game, as did a lot of other guys.
“Real proud right now, real excited. We’re going to enjoy this for a little bit and then get ready for whoever next week.”
Photos from this game here.