WESTFIELD – It has been a whirlwind tour for this year’s outgoing senior class of Westfield Bombers football players.
Two years ago, the Westfield High School football team said a tearful goodbye to the annual Thanksgiving Day tradition of playing Cathedral High School. Last year, the Bombers soared to a west sectional title.
This season, a battered and bruised Westfield team stumbled out of the gates with seven straight losses. But after getting healthy – their starting quarterback (junior Mike Nihill) returned late in the season after missing a lengthy period of time due to an injury suffered in the second game of the season – the defending champs reeled off two convincing victories, a 50-14 thrashing of Commerce and a 46-6 bludgeoning of Agawam in consecutive weeks.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a class that has gone through as much on-the-field adversity than these guys,” Westfield High School varsity football head coach Robert Parent said. “This group (of seniors) has been through a lot for sure. They kind of had the down year a couple years back when we were winless in conference, and kind of saw the rebirth of the team last year, and the rise to some really good things. And then kind of see the same thing happened like three years ago where we had a kind of injury-plagued season. But I give these guys a ton of credit. They battled. They fought. We were competitive in every game. And those guys really put the work in throughout the year. Now that we’re healthy again, I think the results are starting to speak for themselves.”
The turning point for Westfield came in a second half shutout of Longmeadow. The Bombers kept that streak going a week later in a 50-14 win over Commerce, allowing just a pair of special teams touchdowns.
Westfield’s dominance continued in their most recent effort, a 46-6 thrashing of Agawam. The Bombers allowed just one touchdown, a 60-yard scoring run from Thomas Caracciolo early in the second quarter.
Now, Westfield will embark on a new venture, a Thanksgiving Day contest against Minnechaug. The Bombers and Falcons will collide against each other for the first time on the holiday at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham. Kickoff is at 10 a.m.
“Thanksgiving Day is going to be a dogfight,” said senior tackle Ryan Reed, a 3-year starter and team captain. “It’s the first game of a rivalry so you really got to go out there and show who’s the alpha dog, who’s going to be the leader to come for these games, so it’s really on us to show the underclassmen especially how to play in the future, really how to lead this team to a good spot.”
The first annual contest figures to be a Thanksgiving Day battle like no other.
For most of the last decade, Westfield feasted on a weakened Cathedral squad nearing extinction. Now, in their first holiday meeting, the Bombers are tasked with taking on this season’s West Division 3 runners-up.
Minnechaug finished the regular season 5-3 and entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed before upending second-seeded Holyoke 26-22. The Falcons’ postseason run came to an end in the next round though when top-seeded Central posted a 55-0 shutout.
“It’s going to be a battle,” coach Parent said. “Minnechaug is a very good team. They do a lot of things well.”
According to Parent, Minnechaug employs an effective spread offense attack that balances the pass and run, and features a “dynamic, explosive running back,” “a quarterback …who gets the ball out of his hands fast,” several wide receivers who “go up and catch the ball,” and a “gadget play guy … who does a lot of really explosive things.”
Parent also said that Minnechaug’s offensive and defensive line, fueled by a talented sophomore nose guard, has allowed the Falcons “to control the line of scrimmage, open up some really good running lanes, and stop teams from running the ball, and that’s still the m.o. of how to win football games, and they’ve done a really good job at it.”
If you don’t think the outcome means as much to the non-seniors think again.
Said Nihill: “Setting the tone for next year … is huge. Really letting teams know we really want to make a statement. Record doesn’t mean much, just how we finish.”