South Hadley sacks Commerce to reach Division 2 Super Bowl
WESTFIELD — Sean Rondeau put his South Hadley football team in control with his arm and then put the game away with his legs Tuesday night.
The senior quarterback threw for two first-half touchdowns and then ran the backbreaker in late in the Tigers’ 28-8 win over Commerce in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 semifinals at Westfield State.
“We’re kind of known as a running team,” coach Eric Scammons said. “We haven’t had to pass a lot all season because the run game has been successful, but tonight we were able to find some holes in some pass coverage and take advantage.”
No. 1 South Hadley (9-2) plays No. 2 Wahconah Regional (10-1) in the Super Bowl Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough at 6 p.m. The Warriors defeated Berkshire County rival Hoosac Valley 22-0 earlier in the day.
“With this team, we are going to come to practice ready to go,” South Hadley senior center Max Dowd said. “We aren’t going to take anything for granted. We will be focused and ready.”
Rondeau completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 105 yards to go with his part in three touchdowns scored.
“With the success we’ve had running the ball all season, we knew the passing game will be opened up when we needed it,” Rondeau said.
No. 2 Commerce (8-4) cut its deficit to 14-8 with 8 minutes, 9 seconds left in the game, but the Tigers answered immediately on the ensuing drive. Bryan Shippee (108 yards rushing, 59 yards receiving) took the first play down the left sideline 41 yards to the Red Raiders’ 19.
TJ Fitzell (seven carries, 54 yards rushing) ran the ball three times down to the 4, where Rondeau punched it in on a quarterback draw for a 21-8 lead with 6:01 left.
The South Hadley defense forced a turnover on downs and Rondeau gave his squad a scare when he came up with a leg cramp on the second play of the drive. He didn’t return to the game, but said he will be fine for Saturday.
“I cramp up all the time,” he said. “I’ll be ready.”
Junior Patrick Sears took over at quarterback and added a 28-yard touchdown pass to Bullough with 1:06 remaining to make it a 28-8 final.
South Hadley controlled play in the ground game during the first half, but it was the air attack that put it in control in the first half.
With the Red Raiders defense, which had posted four shutouts in its last six games, selling out to try to stop the run, Rondeau’s play action fake twice drew the defense up and passed for long touchdowns.
“Our run game was productive but not the way that it has been,” Scammons said. “We weren’t getting huge chunks of yardage. We really had to fight. But that opened up our pass game a little bit and fortunately we were able to take advantage. Sean threw two really good balls and then Pat Sears our backup was able to seal the deal there at the end.”
First, Rondeau connected with Anthony Bullough deep down the left sideline, where the senior receiver beat two defenders for the ball in the end zone for a 27-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 4:00 left in the first quarter.
“Anthony makes amazing catches in games and in practice all the time,” Bullough said. “I can throw the ball behind him and he goes up there and grabs it.”
Then, Rondeau found Shippee wide open down the right sideline and the senior back raced 47 yards to make it 14-0 with 4:03 remaining in the second.
“The plays worked out perfectly to execution,” Rondeau said. “Both routes were open. I just put it up there and had faith in them. I knew they’d come down with them.”
Commerce opened the second half with a 14-play, 55-yard drive that took 7:04 and went down to the South Hadley 2 yard line. But the Tigers stopped Devonte Sewell on three straight runs and Charles Allard made a big hit on intended receiver Nasir Thomas to jar the ball loose on fourth down to force the turnover on downs.
“They came out and answered in the second half with a great first drive,” Scammons said. “They went with the power run game and kind of jammed it down our throats, but we did a great job, had a goal line stand there. I thought that was a huge testament to our defense. They didn’t hang their heads. They didn’t concede anything. “
The Tigers were forced to punt on their next drive and Commerce took control at the South Hadley 41. Marque Gibson connected with Hassan Graham for a 30-yard pass on second down to take the ball down to the 8. Three plays later, Graham won a jump ball on a high throw from Gibson into the end zone.
Jose Reyes ran in for the 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 14-8 with 8:09 left before Shippee, Fitzell and Rondeau combined to put the game away on the ground.
“I’m proud of the way the guys fought,” Scammons said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in, especially coming off the (loss to Chicopee Comp) Thanksgiving Day game. We knew the defenses would be similar.
“The goal was to get to this point and do whatever we needed to do and they did it tonight,”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at email@example.com.
South Hadley 28, Commerce 8
at Westfield State University
Commerce 0 0 0 8—8
South Hadley 7 7 0 14—28
SH-Anthony Bullough 27 pass from Sean Rondeau (Liam Murphy kick), 4:00
SH-Bryan Shippee 47 pass from Rondeau (Murphy kick), 4:03
C-Hassan Graham 10 pass from Marque Gibson (Jose Reyes run), 8:09
SH-Rondeau 4 run (Murphy kick), 6:01
SH-Bullough 28 pass from Patrick Sears (Murphy kick), 1:06
Rushing: Commerce: Sewell 16-70, Reyes 8-15, Gibson 4-11, Thomas 1-6, Graham 1-3; South Hadley: Shippee 12-108, Fitzell 7-54, Villeneuve 4-13, Rondeau 9-5
Passing: Commerce: Gibson 4-10-50-1, Reyes 1-1-(-1)-0, South Hadley: Rondeau 5-6-105-0, Sears 1-1-28-0
Receiving: Commerce: Graham 2-40, Vitalien 1-10, Reyes 1-0, Holines 1-(-1); South Hadley: Bullough 7-74, Shippee 2-59