Wahconah derails Red Hawks, 45-20

  • Frontier’s Aaron Landry (28) runs for a first down in the second half of a 45-20 loss to Wahconah Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Aaron Landry (28) gets dragged out of bounds by Wahconah’s Ethan Scott (4) on a run in the second half of Frontier’s 45-20 loss Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Stephen Worthley (29) reels in a pass for a touchdown in the second half of a 45-20 loss to Wahconah Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier QB Matthew Hildreth (7) throws under pressure from Wahconah’s Damien Kopetchny (60) in the second half of a 45-20 loss Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Aaron Landry (28) runs to the outside in the second half of a 45-20 loss to Wahconah Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Bryce Dobosz (24) gets upended by Wahconah’s Gabe Verdi (2) in the first half of Frontier’s 45-20 loss Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Sunday, November 12, 2017

HOLYOKE — Frontier Regional School knew coming in that it would have to defend the pass better than it had all season against top-seeded Wahconah Regional High School in Saturday’s WMass Division VII Football Championship game.

Wahconah quarterback Tim Clayton and junior wide receiver Tom Burris had other plans.

The junior signal-caller completed 10-of-11 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns, including 154 yards and three scores to Burris, as the Warriors won their second consecutive WMass title, 45-20, at the Roberts Complex.

Clayton’s only incompletion was his final pass of the afternoon, a short throw to his right early in the fourth quarter as Wahconah (9-1) was driving for what would be its final touchdown. Prior to that, Clayton was perfect, including nine completions in the first half to help the Warriors build a 31-7 lead.

“They were loading the box and making it difficult on our run early, so you gotta take your shots,” Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said after the game. “Our quarterback and receivers did a nice job today.”

While Frontier’s defense struggled to contain the passing game, the second-seeded Red Hawks’ offense made things difficult on the Warriors’ defense, as Frontier was able to move the ball. Neither team punted. The difference came down to Frontier turning the ball over three times, while Wahconah had no turnovers.

Things started inauspiciously for Frontier (8-2), as the opening kick was fielded by Bryce Dobosz deep in Frontier territory. Dobosz took off and appeared to find a seam, but Wahconah kicker Patrick Butler may have saved a touchdown when he came up and delivered a hit that jarred the ball loose and was pounced on by Wahconah’s Ethan Scott.

“What a bad omen,” Frontier coach Don Gordon said.

“What a job by our kicker. I mean you talk about an unsung hero,” Campbell Jr. said. “Talk about a turn of events. That kid had it broken up around the 40, 45. I’m not sure where it was, and Pat makes a stick on him and the ball comes out. What a change of events and we score there right away. That might have been our biggest play of the game.”

As Campbell Jr. alluded to, Wahconah set up on the Frontier 33 following the fumble and did not show off its passing attack early. Instead, it opted to run the ball on its opening series and methodically marched 33 yards on eight plays, with Clayton scoring the touchdown on a keeper from the 1. Butler, who is as good a kicker as you’re going to find in western Mass. (routinely kicking the ball inside the Frontier 5 on kickoffs), knocked home the extra point for the 7-0 lead just 4 minutes, 13 seconds into the game.

The Red Hawks were undeterred by the early turnover, and started the ensuing drive on their own 22. Using a heavy dose of Stephen Worthley (22 carries, 131 yards) early in the drive, Frontier marched down the field in 10 plays and got on the board when Worthley broke to his left and found daylight 37 yards from the end zone with 2:32 to play in the opening quarter. Matt Hildreth put the kick through the uprights and the game was knotted at 7-7.

The momentum seized by the Hawks quickly went back to Wahconah when Jake Gai returned the kickoff 47 yards to the Frontier 31 for the Warriors. After a first-down false start, Clayton dropped back and found Burris with a perfect catch and run down the left sideline to quickly put Wahconah back in front, 14-7.

It looked like Frontier might again match the touchdown, as the Hawks again turned poor field position (starting at their own 16 following a Butler boot to the goal line) into a sustained drive that saw Frontier march to the Wahconah 26 on 10 plays. But on second-and-9, Worthley got through a hole and was 4 yards up field when he was taken down and landed on top of a Wahconah defender before getting stripped. Following a lengthy discussion by the officials, the play was deemed a fumble and Wahconah recovered. The Warriors took over and marched down the field. The drive wascapped by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Clayton to Dane Campbell (two catches, 39 yards, four rushes, 42 yards) for a 21-7 lead.

Frontier once again took over and marched down the field but turned the ball over on downs on the Wahconah 37.

On the first play from scrimmage following the change in possession, Clayton lofted a pass down the left sideline to Burris, who caught it in stride and went the rest of the way for a 63-yard touchdown that put Wahconah up 28-7 with 1:11 left.

Frontier had a final chance to put points on the board before the break but a halfback pass attempt by Worthley was picked off by Wahconah’s Augie Roughley at the Wahconah 30. Three consecutive completions by Clayton moved Wahconah to the Frontier 26 and Butler lined up for a 43-yard field goal and connected on the kick to send the Warriors into the break up 31-7.

Wahconah took the opening kick of the second half and used the running game to march down the field, as Frontier worked to defend against the pass. Then, on first-and-goal from the 8, Clayton went back to the air and hit Burris near the sideline in the end zone for the receiver’s third touchdown of the game. Wahconah led 38-7.

Frontier did not quit and took the ensuing possession 66 yards, capped off by a nifty throw from Hildreth (4-for-10, 56 yards) to Worthley for a 22-yard touchdown pass that pulled Frontier back to 38-13. Wahconah again answered, this time capped by Tanner Hastings, who rushed in from a yard out early in the fourth quarter for a 45-13 lead. Aaron Landry (seven carries, 51 yards, two catches, 23 yards) scored on a 18-yard run on Frontier’s next possession with 5:08 remaining, but Wahconah recovered the onside kick attempt and ran out the clock.

Bryce Dobosz added 38 yards on 10 carries and caught one pass for 11 yards for the Red Hawks.

The loss dropped Frontier to 0-7 all-time in championship games, but Gordon said he was proud of his team for what it accomplished, making it to the championship game after three consecutive semifinal losses.

“It’s another milestone,” Gordon said. “But I would still like to have the other win.”

The Red Hawks will close out their season Thanksgiving Eve at 6 when they host rival Mohawk Trail Regional High School at 6.