WILBRAHAM – The Westfield High School football team traveled many miles east to Minnechaug Regional High School, but it was just a couple inches that determined the first annual Thanksgiving Day contest between the two teams.
After highlight reel catches, bone-jarring hits, magnificent runs, key stops, game-changing turnovers, and huge penalty-killing plays, Minnechaug emerged a 19-18 winner over Westfield in the narrowest of victories.
“A one point difference – we make a two-point conversion, the game is ours,” said Westfield junior running back Dakota Moynihan, who rushed for two touchdowns (one in each half).
Westfield began the game by marching into the red zone before Moynihan capped off the drive by bursting through a huge hole in the defense and high-stepping his way to a 6-0 lead.
Minnechaug responded with a short touchdown, and was poised to run out the clock in the waning seconds of the first half, but instead of taking a knee or handing off the ball the Falcons dropped back to pass. Westfield defensive back Christian Nalepinski stepped in front of the pass near midfield, intercepted the ball, and juked his way to a TD as time expired.
Minnechaug battled back though, going ahead with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter on a beautiful short TD pass from sophomore quarterback Anthony Izzo to junior wide out Ethan Morretti in the corner of the end zone.
Westfield bounced back, responding with a long scoring run from Moynihan.
Minnechaug quickly regained the lead with another short TD pass from Izzo early in the fourth quarter.
On the next drive, Westfield moved the ball all the way to the Minnechaug 29-yard line but came up one inch short of a first down. The Bombers regained possession of the ball with 2:05 left in regulation, but fumbled away their final opportunity.
All was not lost though as a team that opened the season with seven straight losses finished with two wins in three of their final contests, including nearly upending the West Sectional Division 3 runner-up in their final hurrah.
“At the beginning of the season we were just a bunch of guys playing football,” said Westfield senior tackle Ryan Reed, a 3-year starter and team captain. “Now we are brothers.”
Said Bombers coach Rob Parent: “It was a hard fought, tough battle. We just didn’t execute how we needed to execute. Minnechaug is a really good team in Western Mass. I’m proud of how we responded. We played them step for step. I thought there were plays that could have been backbreakers but neither team wilted. We didn’t back down.”
Parent said next year’s group needs to not only continue to build on their mental and physical toughness, but focus on their work in the classroom and at home.
One Bomber believes good things are in store for fans next season.
“I’ve got to be proud of this team,” Moynihan said. “Next year, we’re going to be something special.”