Amherst Regional defense leads Hurricanes into Division 5 state championship

  • Gabriel Kebede, front left, of Amherst Regional, drags down Northbridge quarterback Ryan Boyce during the Division 5 state semifinal, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zayd Sadiq, left, of Amherst Regional, intercepts a pass intended for Aidan Fair, of Northbridge, during the Division 5 state semifinal, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Shane Robles, right, of Amherst Regional, rushes Northbridge quarterback Ryan Boyce during the Division 5 state semifinal, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst defenders Tom Dion, from left, Nate Mills and Connor Bowen combine to tackle Jamonte Beckett, of Ludlow, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 at Amherst Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2019 7:18:41 PM
Modified: 12/5/2019 7:18:30 PM

It might be hard to believe, but Amherst Regional’s defense has gotten better since the start of the season.

Through 11 games, the unit has put up four shutouts and is holding opposing offenses to an average of 6.0 points per game. The team has gone up against some of the best offenses in the area in West Springfield, South Hadley and Northampton, and has found ways to neutralize each of their strengths.

As the season has progressed, the unit has seen multiple offensive formations and concepts. Whether it’s plays out of South Hadley’s wildcat formation or Northampton’s wishbone formation, the Hurricanes prepare for them all. But one thing that has made the defense get even better is the group’s ability to read and react to what opposing offenses throw at them, even if they didn’t practice for it.

“Every time we install something, if another team in the future runs it, we have already seen it and practiced it. It’s ingrained already,” Amherst linebacker Josh Vecchio said. “The more experience we have, the better.”

The unit’s preparation starts with Hurricanes head coach Chris Ehorn Jr.

Ehorn is also the team’s de facto defensive coordinator. He relays signals to the defense from the sideline during games and leads the team’s defensive film sessions.

Ehorn’s defensive knowledge in film sessions and ability to convey key concepts on the practice field has helped give the team and extra bit of confidence once they step onto the field on game day.

“Having his football IQ is clutch,” Vecchio said. “We just have to do what he says.”

Last summer, Ehorn and Hurricanes offensive coordinator Stuart Handel looked at the team’s roster to see if it would be possible to have players specialize in either offense or defense.

With 40 players on the roster, finding close to 22 players that could start almost every down on separate sides of the ball would be a tall task for a lot of programs, but the team’s collective varsity experience has made it possible for the program.

“We don’t have a large team, but we have a lot of varsity players, more than we have ever had,” Ehorn said. “We kind of divided it up based on what we thought would be best.”

Although the team prefers to have its players focus on one side of the ball, some players have been able to contribute on offense and defense.

Jack Nagy mainly plays on the offensive line for the Hurricanes, but also contributes on the defensive line when the team needs a stop. Shane Robles is one of the team’s starting receivers, but he can slide in at safety or cornerback if necessary.

“It keeps them fresh,” Ehorn said. “(Starting linebackers) Josh (Vecchio) and Dan (Block) rotate in at running back, but they’re not running it every time. Dan last week had seven carries for 120 yards. ... He’s playing full time on defense. It keeps them fresh and chasing the ball.”

The Hurricanes’ defense has one last challenge ahead when they take on Swampscott (9-3) in the Division 5 state championship on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

The Big Blue are powered by a rushing attack, led by 1,000-yard rusher Dylan January, and a passing game directed by quarterback Graham Inzana.

The Amherst secondary has been tough to beat. Zayd Sadiq finished with two interceptions against Northbridge in the state semifinals, while Antonio Govan Jr. and CJ Woodfine-Holmes each had one.

Govan had two of Amherst’s five picks against West Springfield in the Western Massachusetts championship.

“They’re a bunch of athletes and they’ve got big kids up front, it’s going to be a fun game,” Inzana said. “It’s good to play against a good defense. It’s going to be a fun challenge. It’s the Super Bowl, we don’t want it to be wicked easy.”

The Hurricanes have consistently found ways to solve opponent’s offenses this season. With one game to go, the unit is purely focused on execution.

“As long as you do your job and play hard, and the whole team does that every play, you’ll have a great team,” Vecchio said. “That’s really all there is to it.”

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