SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Rare is the sight of a team being dealt a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for quarreling with each other, as such happened seven plays into the game-opening drive for Springfield Central tonight in its tussle with rival Longmeadow.
Perhaps rarer, even, does a team outgain their opponents by nearly 300 yards of offense, yet the predominant narrative in the post-game is how they got manhandled.
Central (3-1) outlasted its foils for a grind-out 19-7 victory on its Homecoming weekend, but left Berte Field with a sour taste on its tongue. Nobody on the Golden Eagles' side -- coaches, players, or otherwise -- was satisfied with the way things unfolded tonight.
"They smacked us in the mouth early, and we came out flat," said senior running back/safety Da'Quan Clemons, who kick-started the Eagles with two long runs in the second half and finished with 107 yards rushing. "Practice this week, we're gonna play hard. We can't underestimate a team based on what happened last year [Central won both meetings, including the D1 West Super Bowl]."
Just like last year's regular-season meeting between these two squads, Longmeadow (2-2) went into the half carrying a lead. On the first play of the Lancers' second drive of the second quarter, fullback Max Chipouras (10 carries, 95 yards) took off down the right sideline for a 64-yard gain, getting pushed out at the 14 to set up an 11-yard toss sweep by Keegan Barry two plays later for a 7-6 advantage.
But like last year's meeting -- when Central trailed 14-7 at halftime, only to come out firing on all cylinders in the second half -- the Eagles picked up some spark, after looking sluggish the first 24 minutes. Much of that kick came from the running game, led by senior Da'Quan Clemons, whose 107 yards on five carries came entirely in the second half.
On the third play of the Eagles' first drive of the second half, Clemons cut back for a 49-yard gain, setting up a four-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Cody Williams (13-of-18, 201 yards, 2 TD; 11 carries, 130 yards, TD) three plays later. The senior signal-caller rolled right on a waggle and found his cousin, tight end Luis Ortiz, wide open charging towards the back pylon.
Clemons sparked the Eagles again with a nifty 39-yard gain two plays into their first fourth quarter drive, taking a toss around the right side and maneuvering through a forest of Lancer defenders to set up first and 10 inside Longmeadow territory. Six plays later, Cody Williams made it 19-7 with a little magic of his own, rolling to his right then changing direction amidst pressure and scampering in near the left pylon for a 10-yard touchdown scamper and 19-7 score.
"That play is called frozen bullets," Cody explained. "The tight end, my brother Luis, he's always open on that play. He fell down, so I just checked, I looked to the left and saw open grass to try and make a play. So I ran, made a cutback."
"Halftime was great for us. We needed a wake up call, the way we played that first half. We got back to playing Central football," Eagles coach Valdamar Brower said.
Central outgained the Lancers 521-230 in yards from scrimmage, including 320 yards rushing.
Follow the leader: The Lancers got into the Eagles' skin early in the running game, getting 120 yards on the ground in the first half. But credit Central for its in-game adjustments against Longmeadow coach Nick St. George's Wing-T offense, holding the Lancers to 72 yards on the ground the final 24 minutes of play.
One key adjustment came against the "Rocket Toss" play, a run designed to put a motioning back on the perimeter quickly. Clemons said the Eagles were able to cheat over based on movement from the interior linemen.
"We noticed every time they run toss, the guard pulls," Clemons said. "We just have to follow the guard, because he brings us to the play, so that's what our linebackers were doing, and we made progress."
Settling down: The 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty came following a heated exchange between Cody Williams and his left tackle, Kahlil Walker, about assignments on a particular play. The two had to be separated following the flag, prompting Brower to call a timeout a few moments later.
"[I told them] Don't beat ourselves. Be disciplined," Brower said of the timeout talk.
Things cooled down following the timeout, but this sequence of events is nothing new on Roosevelt Ave. Between the demanding Brower, a former Division 1-AA All-American, and his quarterback -- a feisty competitor with a history of heated exchanges -- tempers tend to run high.
"I was just telling Kahlil 'Be cool, you can't say stuff'," Cody said. "We were going back and forth, and then they threw the flag. Coach Brower told us to keep our composure, focus on the next play."
Said Brower of Cody, "He's an energetic guy, he's an emotional guy. I'm an emotional guy, [but] I'm trying to change. So we've got a lot of emotional people, but we love the game so much, it means a lot to a lot of people. In the heat of the moment, sometimes emotions get the best of you."
Tight coverage: Against Central's offense, which will often deploy as many as four wide receivers on the perimeters, Longmeadow made life difficult for good stretches of the game both in the deep field and in the trenches.
The Lancers sat mostly in a wide Cover 2 shell tonight, with the safeties aligned along the numbers, surrendering the deep middle and playing press coverage on the receivers. In the trenches, the defensive ends gave Central's tackles all they can handle -- especially five-technique 6-foot-4 left end Marchant Campbell, who used a "push-pull" technique liberally on his man to force Cody Williams to move his feet quite a bit in the pocket.
Much like in earlier games this year, the depth of the ends rushing opened up some running lanes for Cody Williams to tuck the ball and run for the first down marker.
"We've just got to stay aggressive on the outside with our playmakers," he said. "Our offensive line, they gave me more than enough time tonight."
SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL 19, LONGMEADOW 7
LM 0 7 0 0 --- 7
SC 0 6 6 7 --- 19
S - Ju'an Williams 25 pass from Cody Williams (kick failed) 6:25
L - Keegan Barry 11 run (Mike Metcalf kick) 5:25
S - Luis Ortiz 4 pass from Cody Williams (rush failed) 6:05
S - Cody Williams 10 run (Ju'an Williams kick) 4:38