LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- After Hoosac Valley punched in the go-ahead touchdown and ensuing two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter to take a 1-point lead over Northbridge, Hurricane coaches quietly muttered to themselves that perhaps they might have left to much time on the clock for the Rams to orchestrate one final push.
Northbridge got the ball back with just over two minutes to remaining in this afternoon's Division 5 state semifinal held at Doyle Field. Starting from its own 35, the Rams, led by quarterback Koby Schofer, showed a collective calmness as they started a drive that would, one way or the other, dictate the future of their postseason aspirations.
After accumulating just two yards on its first three plays of the series, Northbridge was faced with a fourth-and-8 from his own 37. Schofer, just a sophomore but plays with tremendous poise, completed a 10-yard pass to receiver Chandler Brooks to keep the march alive. A short time later, Schofer hit Brooks again on a 15-yard crossing route to move the chains. The duo would hook up one last time drive — only this time it was Brooks hauling in a 25-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone with 30 seconds remaining to give Northbridge an improbable 29-22 victory.
"I was just hoping for us to get into field goal range during that last drive and give our kicker a shot," said Schofer, who rushed for 170 yards on 28 carries, while completing 14 of 23 passes for 112 yards. "Coach [Ken LaChapelle] made a great call with the 'back shoulder and go' route and we were able to score. That play has worked for us a lot this season when we need eight to ten yards. Chandler made a great move getting off his man and catching the ball."
The Rams (9-2) will meet Bishop Fenwick (a 35-8 winner over Abington on Friday) for the state title at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 7 -- time yet to be determined. Northbridge is no stranger when it comes to championships, as the Rams have won 10 Super Bowls since 1974.
Hoosac (9-2) was down 14-0 before finally getting waking up late in the opening half. The Rams jumped on the vulnerable Hurricanes early. Jake Wood, a sophomore tailback, scored on a 1-yard dive on Northbridge's initial possession. After getting the ball back, the Rams found the end zone once more. Marching 63-yards, Northbridge finished it off on a Brooks 7-yard scoring catch from Schofer.
The Hurricanes were in dire need of some type of spark to get them going before this one turned ugly. Defensive back Matt Braman answered their wishes. The senior picked off a Schofer pass inside the Rams 30. That would lead to Braman, also playing running back, taking a swing pass from quarterback Matt Koperniak (10-of-13 passes for 165 yards) and racing 17 yards into the end zone to breath some life into the Hurricanes, who then trailed 14-7 at the half.
Neither offense moved the ball on its opening possession to begin the third quarter. On Hoosac's second possession of the quarter, a bad snap led to a fumble that was recovered by Northbridge's Tom Smith deep in its own territory. It set up the Rams in great position to grab a two-score lead.
But Schofer again was picked off by Hurricane defensive back Brandon Tworig. Hoosac used the turnover by mounting an 88-yard scoring drive capped off by Koperniak's 3-yard bootleg around left tackle. Ian Hill's PAT deadlocked this tilt at 14 with 7:18 remaining in the final quarter.
"They started taking it to us and did a great job," LaChapelle, who has been head coach for the Rams since 1976. "We scrambled and found a way to get in at the end. We can't do anything easy. We don't try to but we do make it hard on ourselves sometimes. Schofer is someone who we have really counted on and Chandler, who is also a sophomore, is our go-to guy. We've counted on our sophomore and they've done what they had to do."
Realizing they now in a dogfight, the Rams showed no signs of panic as momentum had clearly now shifted to the side of the Hurricanes. With the ball on his own 38, Schofer ran for 14 yards and later completed a pass to receiver Jurrell Cromwell for 20 yards.
Reaching the Hoosac 18, Schofer, who had the Hurricanes' secondary off-balance throughout much of the chilly afternoon, darted around a couple of Hurricane defenders and into the end zone putting the Rams back in front 21-14 with 3:21 showing.
At that point it appeared as though the magic Hoosac found to fight back in this one affair had run out. Standing on their 20, things looked grim for the Hurricanes. Primarily a run-oriented club, what were they going to do to move downfield?
But it’s never too late to run something out of the ordinary; that is precisely what Hoosac did. On third-and-7, Koperniak allowed the Ram defense to converge toward him before tossing a well-executed screen pass to running back Tyler Mach. The junior, with a wall of blockers in front of him, busted down the left sideline 77 yards for the score with 2:36 showing.
One PAT from tying the game, Hurricane head coach Dayne Poirot decided to go for two. The gutsy decision paid off as Koperniak bounced over the goal line to put Hoosac ahead 22-21. The excitement and celebration would be short-lived however as Poirot and the rest of the Hurricanes now realize, that for a quick-strike offense the likes of Northbridge's, a couple of minutes on the clock is almost like an eternity.
"Going down 14 points early put us in a hole," said Poirot. "But our guys played an excellent second half. I felt we did a great job and left nothing on the field. Northbridge is great offensively and they made the play to beat us. We had [Brooks] covered on that touchdown but he went up and got it. I felt when it was 14-7 at the half, we came out for the second half with a lot more momentum than they did. We just left them to much time to score and they certainly have the offense to do it and they did."