By Jacob Shirely and Eric Cumba
CHICOPEE- On what was a frigid and windy night this past November 8, the Chicopee Pacers and the Frontier Regional Red Hawks bumped heads in the semifinals of the division 7 MIAA high school football tournament. Many schools in the region are coming out with a lot of confidence but only one can make it to the western mass championship game. Both teams stormed the field looking hungry to play for a chance at the title, especially the pacer’s head coach Alex Efstratios, whose last playoff run occurred a decade ago with the 2009 Pacers squad.
Both teams stayed busy on the field for the first half of play. The Pacers’ defensive skills shined as the defense didn’t let up a single score until the final quarter. Junior quarterback Steven Matta (#3) got the ball rolling for Chicopee and started off with a play that turned nothing into something, ending up scrambling for a 50 yard touchdown early in the first quarter to put the Pacers up 6-0.
Shortly after the first touchdown, the Pacers caught Frontier’s defense lacking at the 30 yard line and senior running back John Vega (#5) exploited the holes in the opposing team’s defense, finding his way into the end zone for a 30 yard touchdown which put Frontier at a 2 TD deficit in the game and ending the 1st quarter.
The Red Hawks began the second quarter of play in possession of the ball– an advantage which they hoped would help them to prevent a shutout loss. The Pacers defense continued on their path of destruction with multiple sacks and tackles for a loss occurring repeatedly. The Pacers offense then took to the field in hopes of furthering their lead with still much time left in the first half.
The Pacers triumphantly marched down the field with an impressive running game under offensive coordinator Melvin Sasser. Now at a goal line stance, there was only one thing left to do– get it in the end zone. The Pacers succeeded in doing exactly that with a impressively clean touchdown catch by sophomore David Charles (#40) on a pass from QB Steven Matta giving the Pacers a dominating 20-0 lead over the competition.
The real show in the first half was the locked-down secondary led by senior John Vega whose defensive prowess resulted in deflected passes and covered Frontier receivers all night long. The relentless Pacer defense eventually led to the first turnover of the game from a strip fumble to close out the half.
The Pacers received the ball at the beginning of the second half. Shortly after trying to move the ball up field, star running back junior Javari Dancy (#12) went down with an injury which looked as if it could have been his knee. Even as Chicopee lost a key factor to their offense with the loss of Dancy, it didn’t stop them from continuing to push the ball down the field in a persistent effort to score yet again. Later on, another big play was made from Quarterback Steven Matta with a great pass to Senior Slot Receiver Gunnar Sagan (#11) for a gain of 20 yards, which brought the Pacers to the Red Hawks’ Goal Line. The Pacers, known for their strong running game, took a chance with the ball in the air, giving a toss up to Senior Wide Receiver (#13) Jerome Jacobs who managed an incredible snag for another touchdown which augmented the lead to 26-0.
All aspects of the Pacers’ defense, offense, and even special teams were full throttle as Senior (#8) Bret Fonseca recovered a sneaky onside kick. Fonseca now leads the league in a stat that often goes under the radar to most coaching staffs, with a total of five fumble recoveries.
With the end in sight, the Pacers’ sideline rejoiced, all thanks to the tremendous effort and determination of the team as a whole who were on the backs of the Red Hawks all game. The Pacers’ defense continued to stand tall late in the third quarter in order to make room for their offense to make one more statement before subbing out starter varsity players with no luck. The Red Hawks would not go down without a fight, notching in a quick touchdown run and two point conversion within the final minutes of the game. However, it was too little too late by the Red Hawks and the Pacers emerged from the game victorious with a final score of 26-8 and a huge boost of confidence for the upcoming championship game.
“I think it’s huge, winning at home in a playoff game. We haven’t been in a playoff game in ten years. With a lot of negativity in the school surrounding the football team for the last four to five years, it means a lot to the team just to know how much time and effort we have put in to be in this position of going for the western mass championship,” said Head Coach Alex Efstratios when asked what this playoff game win means to Chicopee High Football.
The Chicopee Pacers move on to the MIAA Division 7 Championship against the #1 seed, the ferocious South Hadley Tigers, who defeated the Pacers earlier this season. The Pacers hope that this game will have a different outcome in what will be an amazing battle between both teams. The game will be held on Chicopee Comprehensive High School’s turf at 2:00 p.m. Saturday November 16.