Frontier-Wahconah ready for battle

  • Frontier running back Aaron Landry settles in behind a trio of blockers during last week’s WMass Div. VII semifinal win over South Hadley High School. While Landry is part of the Red Hawks very talented running back corps, Wahconah also has a solid offense (averaging 39 points per game) and the game could be decided by the big men up front. The championship game takes place Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Roberts Complex at Holyoke High School. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Frontier's Stephen Worthley has nearly 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and he will be counted on Saturday when the second-seeded Red Hawks face top-seeded Wahconah in the WMass Div. VII title game.

  • Frontier's 28 Aaron Landry vs South Hadley in Deerfield Friday night. November3, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Thursday, November 09, 2017

After breaking through a week ago thanks to an elusive semifinal victory, the Frontier Regional School football team turns its sights toward a potential program-defining win on Saturday.

The second-seeded Red Hawks (8-1) travel to the Roberts Complex at Holyoke High School to meet top-seeded and defending champion Wahconah Regional High School (8-1) in the Western Mass. Division VII championship game at 3 p.m.

It’s the second consecutive year the two teams have met in the postseason. In last year’s semifinal round, top-seeded Wahconah waltzed to a 54-8 win in the semifinals of the then-Div. IV Tournament. The Warriors went on to beat Palmer High School for the WMass title and eventually lost in the state championship game to Mashpee High School. Frontier coach Don Gordon said he is happy that his team gets another crack at the Warriors, especially considering how banged up his team was in last year’s semifinal matchup, when he was missing several key starters.

“Last year was tough,” he began. “This year, we’re healthy, we’re prepared and the attitude has been good. We are going to be in this.”

Frontier has already jumped one postseason hurdle. After three consecutive semifinal losses, Frontier finally broke through to reach the WMass finals last week. The Red Hawks held on for a wild 28-21 win over third-seeded South Hadley High School in South Deerfield. Frontier stormed out to a 28-7 lead in the fourth quarter before the Tigers made things interesting late with a pair of fourth-quarter TDs.

“I think we learned last week’s game that it’s a 44-minute game, not a 33-minute game,” Gordon said.

Wahconah breezed into the WMass title game thanks to a 37-6 win over No. 4 Palmer High School a week ago in Dalton.

When Frontier has the ball

Fullback Bryce Dobosz scored two touchdowns in the win against South Hadley, while Aaron Landry had a team-high 82 yards on nine carries. It was the first time since Week 2’s overtime loss to Greenfield High School that Frontier didn’t have a 100-yard rusher.

For the season, Landry has amassed 1,208 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Stephen Worthley is also over the 1,000 mark with 1,075 yards and 15 TDs. Dobosz has added 360 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, and all three are dangerous runners who will look to gash the Wahconah defense.

Quarterback Matt Hildreth has done an excellent job running the Frontier offense. Though not called upon to throw the ball a ton, the junior signal caller has completed 24-of-51 passes this season for 410 yards. He has five touchdowns to three interceptions on the year.

Hildreth has connected with Kiernan Freeman for two touchdowns this year, both in the last three weeks. Landry has two receiving touchdowns, while Andrew Logan hauled in the fifth TD.

While the skill position players have posted huge numbers, the Frontier offensive line has been downright dominant. With the likes of Matt Carlson, Xavier Santiago and Joe Hildreth setting the tone up front, the rushing attack has churned out numbers approaching 3,000 yards this year. The unit’s job is to create 2-3 yards of space, allowing the tailbacks the opportunity to hit the second level and explode for long gainers.

The offense will have its hands full trying to solve a stout Wahconah defense. The Warriors have two shutouts to their names this season, and they’ve allowed two scores or less on six different occasions. In the semifinal win over Palmer, Wahconah allowed just a last-second touchdown that broke up the shutout.

When Wahconah has the ball

The Warriors move the ball quite a bit through the air, as junior quarterback Tim Clayton has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Clayton has been particularly active through the air in recent weeks, as he’s thrown for over 100 yards in each of the team’s last five games.

In the team’s lone loss to West Springfield High School, he tossed four touchdowns to go with 239 yards through the air. Last week against Palmer, Clayton amassed 162 yards on a 10-for-18 effort and a touchdown.

He’s got plenty of weapons to throw to, with the likes of Tom Burris, Tanner Hill and Dane Campbell all options in the pass-catching game. Burris is over 500 yards receiving for the season, and he and Campbell have hauled in four touchdowns apiece. The passing defense has been something Frontier has struggled with at times this season, but Gordon said the players have been working hard to improve all season.

“We have worked on our passing defense all year, and we will see if we can put it together this week,” he said. “Their quarterback is good. He’s got some tall receivers, and they do a lot of miss-direction. They also have an experienced backfield.”

Wahconah employs more of a running back by committee approach. No Wahconah rusher has toppled the 1,000-yard mark this season, with Tanner Hastings the top option in the backfield (13 touchdowns). Nate Zink is another option, as he’s carried the ball over 50 times this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Frontier has shown an ability to tighten up in the red zone. South Hadley was able to move the ball on several drives, but the Hawks held tough when push came to shove. They’ll need to have their best game of the season against Wahconah, which has scored at a clip of 39 points per game.

“They have skills players, we have skilled players, so it will come down to the old cliche that it’s going to be decided by the offensive and defensive lines,” Gordon said. “They are not particularly big or particularly fast, but they are a good team.”

Championship history

A win on Saturday would mark a historic first for the Frontier program. The Red Hawks are 0-6 all-time in Super Bowls or championship games, dating back to their first appearance in such contests in 1987 when they lost to Hoosac Valley Regional School, 7-6. Since then, Frontier has suffered title-game losses to Northbridge High School (1997), Clinton High School (2000, 2001), Oakmont Regional High School (2006) and Mahar Regional School (2009).

Wahconah has reached a state title game in two of the past three seasons, and the program has certainly made itself known at the state level. The Warriors have won WMass titles in four of the last five years.

Championship schedule

The game is the third of a tripleheader on Saturday at Holyoke High School. While the Division V title game between West Springfield High School and Longmeadow High School is set to be played tonight at 7 p.m., the other three WMass title games take place Saturday.

The Div. III championship kicks things off at 10 a.m., as Springfield Central High School and Minnechaug Regional High School play for a chance to get into the state tournament.

That game is followed by the Div. VIII championship at 12:30 p.m. between Ware High School and Hoosac Valley Regional High School.

Frontier and Wahconah are set for a 3 p.m. start on the turf at Holyoke High.

Non-qualifier games

While Monument Mountain Regional High School and Mahar Regional School got the weekend started early with an independent game Thursday night in Orange, the rest of the Recorder-area teams are in action today with their final regular-season contests.

Turners Falls High School (5-4) visits Pioneer Valley Regional School (5-3) in a rare matinee at 1 p.m. in Northfield.

The two teams last met in last season’s Western Mass. Tournament, with Turners capturing a 30-7 semifinal win that catapulted the Powertown into the title game where it ultimately knocked off Mount Greylock.

Turners enters this afternoon’s contest on a roll, having won three straight games. A big part of those wins has been the play of junior quarterback Kyle Dodge, who went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season in Turners’ 27-14 win over Mohawk a week ago. Dodge completed 8-of-11 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns on the night, giving him 1,052 yards for the year. That includes an impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 11:2.

Pioneer fell to Greenfield High School, 38-21, despite three total touchdowns from Wyatt Keith. The tailback rushed for 237 yards on 14 carries, giving him 716 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground in a season where he didn’t even take over running back duties until Week 3.

In other action, Greenfield (5-3) heads to Buckland this evening for a 6 p.m. kickoff against Mohawk (3-6).

The Green Wave welcomed the return of junior tailback RJ Byrd a week ago, as he returned to the fray after missing one week with an injury. Byrd amassed 177 yards on nine carries in his return, scoring two touchdowns to help Greenfield to the 38-21 win over Pioneer.

Mohawk was paced a week ago in its loss to Turners by tailback Jordan Grenier, who went over the 100-yard mark for the fifth time with a 173-yard effort on 22 carries. Grenier also scored both touchdowns.

The two teams met last year in a non-qualifier game in Buckland. Greenfield captured a 44-8 victory behind 271 yards and five touchdowns from Byrd.

Elsewhere, Athol High School (3-6) heads to Amherst Regional High School (6-3) for a difficult 6 p.m. game against a Hurricanes team that reached the Div. V playoffs before falling last week in the semifinals to West Springfield.

The Red Raiders got back into the win column a week ago, dismantling Belchertown High School, 41-0, at O’Brien Field.

Robbie Nelson scored three touchdowns in the win, while the Athol defense held Belchertown to just 91 yards of total offense.

Finally, Franklin County Technical School (5-4) has its hands full tonight at 7 p.m. when it heads to Legion Field in Palmer to play Palmer High School (6-4).

The host Panthers were ousted from the Div. VII playoffs a week ago by Wahconah, and they’ll be looking to bounce back into the win column against an Eagles team that still has something to play for in their pursuit of a Small School Vocational playoff invitation,

FC Tech blasted Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School, 44-14, a week ago in Northampton, with top rushers Spencer Telega and Bailey Young both going for over 100 yards on the ground.

The two teams last met in 2014, when the Eagles captured a 12-6 win in Turners Falls.