WESTFIELD – For the New England Patriots, a potential Super Bowl appearance is still several weeks away from coming to fruition. The Westfield Bombers, though, are knocking on the door of a finals appearance, which will take place at none other than Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
Westfield (9-1) became the West Division 2 champion with a resounding 40-16 win over West Springfield in the sectional finals last Saturday. If the Bombers can defeat the Central Mass champ Shrewsbury Colonials (7-3) in the state semifinals Saturday at Westfield State University, a trip along Interstate 495 will become a reality.
“One thing for sure is the Central Mass team is going to bring as many fans as our players have seen all year,” Westfield coach Rob Parent said. “We hope to match it and exceed that with as many fans as we can get here. We want our players to have that atmosphere and feel that the city is behind them, which they are.”
Shrewsbury’s path to the D2 state semifinals was much like Westfield’s in that the Colonials avenged a regular season loss to advance in the playoffs.
Shrewsbury 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore quarterback Drew Campanale threw for three touchdowns to lead the Colonials past the Algonquin Tomahawks (6-4), 21-14, in the Central Mass. sectional championship last Saturday.
It was Algonquin’s first sectional finals appearance in nearly 30 years. The Tomahawks defeated Shrewsbury 31-21 during a regular season meeting on Oct. 14.
In last Saturday’s meeting, Campanale had touchdown throws of 29, 41, and 20 yards.
“Shrewbury is just fundamentally sound,” coach Parent said. “They don’t make very many mistakes. They can line up in “I” formation and run it down your throats or they can run a spread attack and air it out … They are well-coached and well-disciplined.”
Westfield’s path to victory went through the City of Springfield.
Westfield managed to escape Springfield with a narrow 26-25 victory over Central in a D2 west semifinal before pounding West Side in the D2 finals.
Westfield senior Zach Adam delivered an MVP-like performance against West Springfield, intercepting a pass for a touchdown, and scoring another on a punt return for touchdown. Elusive senior running back Wilton Royal rushed for three TDs.
Against Central, senior quarterback Austin St. Pierre directed an epic upset, stunning all of Western Massachusetts. The key to victory appeared to be a change in game plan by the coaching staff in the second half to unleash running back Mark Blahut on the ground. Blahut steamrolled the competition, extended drives, burned precious seconds off the clock, and helped the Bombers clip the Golden Eagles.
Westfield’s rise from the ashes – the Bombers went 0-14 in conference play the last two seasons – can be attributed to St. Pierre’s leadership on the field, Royal and Blahut’s rushing attack, and the aerial assault of receivers Bailey Collier, Adam, and others. The offensive line has protected St. Pierre and opened up holes for the ground game. The defense has forced turnovers on a weekly basis. The coaching staff has put players in position to make plays, and inspired greatness.
Only one team remains in the way of Westfield’s path to the ultimate game in pro football’s greatest venues, Gillette Stadium.
“We are going to have to match (Shrewsbury’s) intensity, and limit our mistakes,” said coach Parent, noting his hopes for no turnovers. “And hopefully Lady Luck bounces our way.”
Westfield-Shrewsbury will kick off Saturday at Westfield State University at 2 p.m. Game time temperatures are expected to reach a balmy 60 degrees.