SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- After last season’s three-point loss to Longmeadow in the Western Mass. Division I Super Bowl, it’s safe to say that Springfield Central was eager to get back at their neighbors to the south when they met on Saturday night in Springfield.
And boy, did they get some revenge.
The Golden Eagles upset the No. 11 Lancers, 21-20, and running back Sacoy Malone bested his own performance from a year ago, rushing 26 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns en route to the victory.
The win snapped Longmeadow’s 52-game AA Conference win streak, which dated back to 2004, and went a long way to help ease the pain of last season’s devastating loss to the Lancers in the Super Bowl.
Central head coach Valdamar Brower won’t come out and say that his team was happy to defeat Longmeadow, but if you ask him directly, he won’t deny it either.
“There’s a lot of emotions around here,” Brower said. “It’s very great for our school and our program to have a win against the great program Longmeadow has been building over the years. Last season was tough. So there’s a lot of emotions, but we’re very lucky and we beat a really great program tonight.”
Lancer tailback TJ Norris came into the game averaging over nine-yards-per-carry, and matched Malone’s efforts on the ground. The bruising running back took the ball 24 times for 170 yards and scored three touchdowns. One hundred twenty-nine of those yards came in the first half, as did all three of his scoring plays.
“It wasn’t all me. My line opened up all the holes and I just saw daylight and I just ran,” Norris said. “We really had it going there in the first half, but it wasn’t good enough.”
For some reason, the Lancers couldn’t keep their first half momentum going when they came back out, and even Norris was held in check. He only ran for 41 yards in the latter half of the game, and looked tired and beaten up through the last two quarters.
Living in the moment: Golden Eagles quarterback Cody Williams finished the game with less than 50 yards passing, but his 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter proved to be a timely effort, and the turning point in the game.
It’s that kind of clutch play that Brower is looking for from his team, and particularly his quarterback. The ability to step-up when it’s needed most is something that Brower and his coaching staff preaches to all their players.
Fortunately for Central, it received that kind of play from more than one player in the contest.
In the third quarter, facing a fourth-and-nine on their own 46-yard line and down by a touchdown, the Golden Eagles were about to punt the ball back to a Lancer offense which had run all over it in the first half.
But Central’s punt was a good one, flying all the way to the Longmeadow 11 yard line, where it bounced and hit the arm of a Lancer defender, and fell right back into the hands of the Golden Eagles.
After a two-yard run on first down, Williams took a quarterback-waggle to the right side on the next play and hit receiver Richard Williams for a nine-yard score, and tied the game. The ensuing extra point put Central ahead by one, a lead that they never relinquished.
Defense wins games: With a one-point lead, Central’s defensive unit was tasked with holding it. That meant containing Longmeadow’s main offensive weapon in Norris and also stopping quarterback Jacob Lazarus from moving the ball through the air. No small task for any defense.
Longmeadow had its chances, the best of which came mid-way through the fourth quarter.
The Lancers had mounted a drive from their own 20-yard line and drove down to Central’s 45-yard line. But then an incomplete pass and an impressive defensive push on the next two runs brought up a fourth-and-two, and one the Lancers needed to convert to stay in the game.
After making the decision to go for it, Central’s defense came up with its biggest play of the night and stopped Lazarus behind the line of scrimmage for a six-yard loss. The turnover on downs gave the Golden Eagles the ball back and allowed them to tick precious time off the clock.
The Lancers never managed to put together another drive deep into Golden Eagle territory, and thanks to Central’s defense, Longmeadow never scored again.
Wanting it more: The Lancers looked like a completely different team in the second half, and in a game as evenly matched as this, that wasn’t good news for Longmeadow.
Norris fumbled the ball on the squad’s first series of the half, and that seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the game. From that point on, the Lancers only had two drives which went for more than five yards and one where the squad lost four yards before having to punt.
“In the second half [Central] came out strong and we just made a lot of mental mistakes that we’ve got to pick up in practice [moving forward],” Norris said. “The snaps, fumbles, everything [needs to get better].”
“In the second half they just came out with more momentum,” Norris added. “They just wanted it more.”