DALTON, Mass. -- If ever there was a time for Pittsfield to seize the moment, this was it.
History told you this is a program that embodies itself as a tough, resilient and proud bunch. On the flip side, it is also a team that, more often than not, finds ways to lose. Because of that, the Generals have never been able to elevate themselves into the upper-echelon of the Berkshire County League – a league that has been dominated by two schools – Wahconah Regional and Hoosac Valley.
On Friday night, while facing Wahconah, a club Pittsfield has not defeated in well-over a decade, it was an opportunity to rewrite history. Throughout the week, the Generals took the high road by calling it 'just another game' on the schedule.
But once Pittsfield stepped foot on Warrior Field, it was no longer just a game.
Wahconah, the 17th ranked team in the ESPNBoston.com poll, came into the contest undefeated, the No. 1 team in the BCL, and a virtual lock for a Western Mass. Division 4 postseason spot. Likewise, Pittsfield also entered unbeaten. A Generals victory would heighten their position in a tightly-contested Western Mass. Division 5 playoff race.
But history would not be made despite Pittsfield's attempts to do so. The Warriors built a 19-point halftime lead and managed to withstand a tenacious third quarter by the Generals to come away with a 27-13 victory and improve to 6-0.
The way it started out, it appeared as though Wahconah would coast. They put up 210 of their overall 385 yards in the opening half and led 19-0. Meanwhile, a defense that doesn't get the credit it deserves, was able to hold the Generals to just 12 yards during that span.
They finished with 128 yards.
"It was a tale of two halves," Warriors head coach Gary Campbell Jr., said. "We played well defensively in that first half and I don't know if our guys got fat and happy in the second half. You could feel the momentum start to shift in the second half but I was proud of our guys for getting it back physically. The only way of turning the tide in football is physically turning the tide and controlling the line of scrimmage. I was happy that our kids did that in the fourth quarter."
Wahconah grabbed the early lead on a Quinn Caesar 9-yard carry, followed up by Evan Gurney's conversion run to cap a 78-yard drive on its initial possession which ate nearly the entire first quarter. Caesar led the Warriors with 147 yards on 16 attempts.
Wahconah expanded the lead to 16 early in the second quarter after senior quarterback Nick Clayton hit Caesar with a swing pass and the fleet-footed senior did the rest, cutting through and around the Pittsfield defense for a 46-yard score. Matt Salvatore proceeded by Matt Salvatore's conversion reception.
While the Generals' offense couldn't get out of their own way, Wahconah tacked on three points right before the half on Ryan Washburn's 35-yard field goal.
"Our defense did a great job in limiting them to just 13 points because they are a high-scoring offense," said Clayton, who completed 8 of 15 passes for 148 yards. "In the second half we just kept telling everyone to relax and play our game. I thought our line took over in the end because we were able to pound the ball up the middle."
Pittsfield's body language heading into the half showed a team that looked beaten and emotionless. But apparently head coach Brian Jezewski found the right words during the break to re-ignite his team. The Generals (4-1) stormed into the second half a much-different group. With newfound hope, Pittsfield dominated nearly the entire third quarter and was able to pull itself to within a touchdown heading into the final quarter.
Behind senior running back Devon Tucker (19 carries, 88 yards), the Generals engineered a 54-yard drive to begin the quarter. Facing fourth down on the Warriors’ 15, Tucker took a pitch and bolted around right end for the score to make it 19-7. Pittsfield then recovered a squib kick after Shane Cronin pounced on it at the Wahconah 47 once it bounced off of up man Kevin O'Brien. Back in business, the Generals moved down field with relative ease before quarterback Chad Shade darted in from 14 yards out with 3:38 remaining.
Shade received national attention this week when his circus-like run and touchdown pass in a win over Lee was aired on SportsCenter’s “Top Plays”. The PAT failed and Pittsfield was only down 19-13 with still a whole quarter left to be played.
It was clearly obvious to everyone in attendance that momentum had made a major shift over to the Generals side. After recovering a fumble in the final seconds of the third, Pittsfield had the ball in its hands once again with a chance to move in front. A 16-yard run by Tucker had the Generals deep in Wahconah territory. But on fourth and 9, Shade's pass into double coverage in the end zone was intercepted by senior Josh Rocca.
The Warriors managed to turn that pick into valuable points as they marched 87 yards before Clayton threw over the top of the coverage to receiver Cole Morrison for a 13 yard scoring strike with 3:17 to go. Clayton's follow-up conversion run sealed would eventually seal things.
"I think they were expected us to keep pounding the ball but we were able to get it to Cole," said Clayton. "We play every down like it is the last play of a game. We have been able to come together and face adversity when it comes towards us and just power through it."
Pittsfield made one last attempt to narrow the deficit but Shade was picked off again, this time by Washburn, to close the curtain on this one.
"Our guys played with a lot of heart," Jezewski said. "They're not going to give up. I credit Wahconah for having a great program but our guys hung with them. With our offense and our play makers we are never out of a game. We play a real-fast tempo and we want to get after it. Our guys did a great job up front on both sides the ball. The only program we ever talk about is ours. We are Pittsfield High School and we represent our whole community and I think we represented ourselves well tonight."