LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- Throughout the week leading up to the 13th Annual Shrine Chowder Bowl Classic, the Western Mass. all-stars were provided a daily history lesson by their coaches on the inadequacies of past teams who have come up short in this event.
It had been nine years since Western Mass. had last won this game. For many of these current players, they were just in elementary school at the time. With a collective promise to revamp history, Western Mass. succeeded in carrying out its promise
Friday night after shutting out the Central Mass. all-stars 13-0 at Doyle Field.
The Western Mass. defense was solid through all four quarters, keeping Central Mass. in check and forcing them into committing six turnovers, including five interceptions.
"This was a total team effort," said Springfield Central defensive back Tejano Smith, who finished with two picks. "We pushed each other and got through this. All week long we were saying when the ball is in the air it's ours."
In all, the defense held Central Mass. to just 149 yards. Anytime they tried to sustain a drive, it would end with a turnover. Western Mass piled up 237 yards of offense with East Longmeadow receiver Sam Blake hauling in four passes for 84 yards and Greenfield quarterback Zak Bartak completing 5-of-9 passes for 83 yards.
After a scoreless first quarter, Western Mass. got the break it was looking for early in the second. Smith stepped in front of a pass by Shrewsbury's Mike Coggeshall, putting the ball on the Central Mass. 28. A Blake 29 yard reception set the stage for Turners Falls running back Ryan Wilder to blast over the goal line from a yard out with 4:52 left before halftime to give Western Mass. a 6-0 lead after kicker Liam Murphy's PAT was blocked. Wilder also had a solid game as he rushed for 65 yards on 17 attempts.
"The offensive line did a great job tonight," said Wilder, who will play at Westfield State next fall. "They did a great job creating holes and getting the seams for me. It's been a pleasure coming out here and getting a win for Western Mass. It's been an awesome time doing this and getting to meet new people and making new friends."
Just prior to the half, Western Mass. had a chance to pad its lead. After Minnechaug's Demetri Strange partially blocked Shepherd Hill kicker Chris Dutting's punt, Western Mass. had the ball on its own 31. A 15-yard catch by West Springfield's Chris Lipscomb combined with a couple of runs from Springfield Central's Aaron Owens moved the ball to the Central Mass. 9 yard line. But Chicopee Comp quarterback Tom Duffy lost the handle off a snap that was recovered by Nashoba's Cam Rothfuss to deny the threat.
"We had a couple of turnovers which stung us a bit," Central Mass. and Auburn coach Jeff Cormier said. "I felt our kids played with a lot of heart. Western Mass. made some plays and key times and we needed a few more opportunities that we didn't get. We were in this game and I can't say enough about the quality of kids we have on this team.
"They battled to the end. The nature of these kids, on both teams, is they are all competitive. They didn't get here because they take plays off and I'm very proud of the way our kids especially competed tonight."
Leading by six at the break, Western Mass. knew the score was still to close for comfort. With the offense sporadic at best, it was no secret that the defense needed to continue its high-level of play for them to hold on. Early in the third, they did just that after Springfield Central defensive back Bryan Rivas picked off Leominster quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie. It was one of two interceptions made by Rivas on the night.
However the offense failed to get any points off the turnover. Another DelleChiaie pick by Smith went for naught early in the fourth after Murphy missed a 37 yard field goal attempt thus keeping the hopes of Central Mass. alive. But moments later, Coggeshall had his pass interception by St. Joesph's of Pittsfield defensive back Jon Bianchi.
Bianchi's interception had Western Mass. setting up camp on the Central Mass. 32. Not about to let this latest opportunity fall by the way side, Wilder ran off tackle for 16 yards, and moments later, Duffy connected with Blake for a 13 yard scoring strike with 3:54 remaining. Following Murphy's PAT, Western Mass. was now in control leading by 13.
"Sam Blake was open all night," Duffy said. "He's an incredible athlete. I knew all I had to do was throw it up there and he would catch it. Our coaches preached to us every day that we were 1-10-1 against Central Mass. overall and we knew we had so much talent coming out of the west this year. We had a two hour ride to get here and we didn't want to come here for nothing. It's a very humbling experience to be here and I feel honored to have played in this game."
On the final Central Mass. possession of the evening, they managed to drive to the Western Mass. 30 in hopes of avoiding the shut out. However, the defense continued to prosper, forcing them to turn the ball over on downs and allowing Western Mass. to run out the clock and celebrate after nine grueling years. Central Mass. still holds a 10-2-1 lead in the series.