FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -– Wahconah Regional didn't win many games this season in lopsided fashion.
It turned out to be a good omen for the Warriors, who applied their win-close-contests formula to celebrate the Western Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl championship Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
“We haven't really blown out anybody. But we've been pretty methodical and done our thing. Maybe tonight that just helped us keep our composure,” Wahconah head coach Gary Campbell Jr. said after a 24-21 win over South Hadley.
Wahconah (9-3) clinched its fourth Super Bowl crown without scoring a point in the second half. But South Hadley (9-3) was also kept off the scoreboard after halftime, a product of the Warriors' strong rushing attack.
Senior quarterback Lane Grogan and junior Ethan Wells earned every carry for the Warriors. The duo combined for 37 rushes, 164 yards and two touchdowns.
“They did a great job of controlling the ball and controlling the clock,” said South Hadley head coach Eric Scammons, whose program sought its second title in three years. “They just take so much time off the clock with each of their drives that, even though we were getting stops, we didn't have a lot of time left to do anything. And they were able to stop us defensively.”
Wells (21 carries, 87 yards) scored the game-winning TD as time expired in the first half. His 1-yard plunge and subsequent conversion run were possible thanks to Jordan Fiske.
Wahconah's senior split end made arguably the toughest catch of Super Saturday, snaring a 41-yard toss that sailed directly overhead. Fiske beat defensive backs Bryan Shippee and Anthony Bullough to make the catch, then tumbled to the turf.
One second remained on the game clock, giving the Warriors one more snap.
“That is, hands down, my favorite catch of my entire career,” Fiske said. “There is no way to describe how happy I was after I caught that.”
Scammons had a different take: “Scoring at the end of the half and then getting the ball coming out, that's big. The Patriots are notorious for doing that … I think that did take the wind out of our sails, psychologically, a little bit, even though we had a half left.”
The Tigers had every reason to believe they'd reclaim the lead. The 45-point first half featured five lead changes.
Sophomore Riley Villeneuve (10 carries, 82 yards, 2 TDs) staked South Hadley to its first and second leads. He dug Wahconah a quick hole with a 30-yard run just 66 seconds into the game. His 3-yard run late in the quarter erased Grogan's TD and conversion runs.
Midway through the second, Darrow Brown (4 receptions, 87 yards) made a leaping 15-yard TD grab. Grogan fired the strike that his receiver pulled down while battling Thomas Fitzell. The six-point play was followed by Joseph DiMassimo's conversion catch.
South Hadley had the answer. Shippee's 6-yard scamper and Liam Murphy's third extra point gave the Tigers a 21-16 lead with 1:19 left in the half.
Wahconah's five-point deficit didn't last long, however.
“We made a goal to get here. As soon as we got here, we said, 'Hey, why not just win?'” Grogan said. “It's probably the best game we've played all season.”
Fiske ran a simple seam route on his highlight-reel catch. It was one of a dozen pass plays the Warriors attempted to keep South Hadley from fully committing to the run.
“We spread them out. We went no backs,” Campbell said. “We thought we could move the safety out of there with a little motion. The safety went with it – bang.”
The senior's recollection of the catch, understandably, was a bit more emotional.
“I got open. I was just thinking, 'If I drop this, I'm going to get shot,'” Fiske said. “I let it land in my hands, wrapped it up tight, and wouldn't let go.”
FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Few outside Wahconah's program figured 2012 would end with a Super Bowl celebration like the 1983, 1998 and 2003 campaigns. This year's team included just six seniors.
The title-tested junior class is also six-strong.
“We have 20 sophomores. We're going to be OK,” Campbell said. “We always expect to do well, but we didn't expect to win it in July. But we're going to take it. We ain't giving it back.”
Western Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl
WAHCONAH 24, SOUTH HADLEY 21
Wahconah (9-3)8-16-0-0 – 24
S. Hadley (9-3)14-7-0-0 – 21
S – Riley Villeneuve 30 run (Liam Murphy kick), 8:54
W – Lane Grogan 4 run (Grogan run) 4:55
S – Villeneuve 3 run (Murphy kick), 1:06
W – Darrow Brown 15 pass from Grogan (DiMassimo conversion from Grogan), 4:45
S – Bryan Shippee 6 run (Murphy kick), 1:19
W – Ethan Wells 1 run (Wells conversion run), :00