WILBRAHAM, Mass. -– In a matchup that could be seen in next week’s playoffs, Springfield Central scored 31 unanswered points to take down Minnechaug, 31-8 in the annual Thanksgiving Day game at Falcon Field in Wilbraham.
Central (10-1) was trailing 8-0 early in the second quarter. But a six-minute, 66-yard drive, along with a key defensive stand, helped the Golden Eagles take the lead in a span of 26 seconds.
Junior quarterback Cody Williams and senior running back Aaron Owens took control on the ground, setting up Central inside the 10-yard line of the Falcons (7-4). Even when a pair of consecutive penalties (holding and delay of game) pushed the Eagles to a long 2nd-and-goal, Williams was able to find Travis Cusson in the end zone to get on the board. Central converted the two-point conversion to tie the score.
On the first play of Minnechaug’s ensuing drive, quarterback Kevin White over threw a pair of receivers and Tejano Smith came away with the pick. The senior defensive back brought it back to the 31-yard line before it was brought back due to penalty.
“The ball was in the air and my coach [defensive backs coach Julius Walker] yelled, ‘Get it’,” said Smith. “When the ball is in the air, I turn into a receiver.”
Smith would stay on the field on offensive and catch a 48-yard strike from Williams on first down, giving Central a 16-8 lead.
“He [Smith] is a great athlete,” said Central head coach Valadamar Brower. “He’s becoming a special football player. He has some great instincts.”
“I think he [Smith] is most underrated player in Western Mass.,” added Williams. “He deserves a lot more credit for what he does. He brings stuff to the table every time.”
Central started with the ball in the second half and scored on the third play of the half with Williams hitting senior Bryan Rivas with a screen pass for 56-yard touchdown. Rivas streaking down the sideline, hesitated and waited for his blockers, before cutting back into the end zone opening the lead, 23-8.
The Golden Eagles added a score in the fourth quarter to seal the game with a 10-yard touchdown run by junior Troy Morrow.
Williams ended the game eight-for-10 with 152 passing yard and three touchdown passes. Owens had 67 of Central’s 177 rushing yards.
Sheehan had game-high 78 rushing yards off 17 carries.
Not all about offense for Central: Thursday morning was a good example of Central’s toughness of defensive. Following the Smith’s touchdown reception, Minnechaug responded with a 76-yard kickoff return by Sheehan that gave the Falcons a 1st-and-goal from the Golden Eagle’s nine-yard line with 1:27 in the first half.
The Golden Eagles were helped out with a false start and an offensive pass interference that pushed the Falcons back. Central was able to knock down one of White’s passes in the end zone, before DaQuon Clemons picked off White’s next pass on the one-yard line, as Central took a lead into the locker room.
“Our defense is very tight,” said Smith. “Our red zone, we practice that all the time. Our safeties stepped up today.”
Twice in the second half, with Minnechaug on Central’s side of the field, the Golden Eagles were able to force fumbles and end solid drives by the Falcons.
The offense was led by Williams’ three touchdown passes, but the most important part of the Golden Eagles offense was the offensive line or the “hogs as they are referred to. Williams was sacked during the game, although whistled for several holding penalties, the o-line gave the mobile Williams enough time to roll out and make plays with either his feet or his arm.
“Those guys are phenomenal,” said Williams. “They’re my favorite guys on the team. I probably shouldn’t say that, but if you feed them, they protect you and good things happen.”
Prelude to the playoffs: This Thanksgiving Day game could be a preview of a matchup in the playoffs. Central and Minnechaug will both be there, just a matter of how the playoff picture will unfold.
In 2011, these two teams had to play in both Thanksgiving and the following Tuesday for the playoffs.
“Last season we had the opportunity of playing Minnechaug on Thanksgiving and then on Tuesday, so we’re in a little bit of familiar territory,” said the fifth-year Central coach. “With the experience of doing that last year, I guess we’ll try to build off that.”
However, this could be a better Minnechaug team Central could see in the playoffs. The Falcons have already had quarterbacks Alan McDonald (shoulder) and Anthony Roughgarden (shoulder) unable to take snaps under center. That has forced White to step into that role.
White has been the signal caller since Roughgarden went down in a loss to Central on Nov. 19. In that game White was 2-for-4 with 18 yards, his first snaps since a month earlier against Westfield.
“He didn’t have any practice,” said Minnechaug head coach Steve Allosso. “That was poor coaching on my part. Today he had a week and a half to practice and it showed.”
Allosso said that Roughgarden has a 50 percent chance to take snaps again for Minnechaug, while McDonald has been playing slot receiver, while battling the shoulder injury.