EASTHAMPTON – The Lawrence Academy Spartans defeated the Williston Northampton Wildcats in a nailbiter, 35-34, to claim the 2014 NEPSAC Hugh Caldera Bowl championship at Sawyer Field Saturday.
It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Spartans after dropping the season opener to Governor’s.
After falling behind 27-0 at halftime, the Wildcats – more specifically, running back Max Chipouras – came out of the locker room on a mission. Chipouras rushed for four touchdowns and of 91 yards in the third quarter alone to give the Wildcats a 28-27 lead. During the furious rally, the Wildcats mixed in a successful onside kick, a diving catch in double coverage by Marshall Rizzuto (two catches 51 yards), and a firm denial of Lawrence running back AJ Dillon, who was held to just 49 rushing yards in the second half after notching 110 yards in the first half.
After being hit with Chipouras’s haymakers, the Spartans answered the proverbial bell in the fourth quarter and regained the lead. The defense forced a Williston three-and-out, then Jake Cassidy (11-of-22, 160 yards) found Timothy Preston (four catches, 118 yards) for their third touchdown hookup of the game. Cassidy found Preston again on the ensuing 2-point conversion, and the Spartans led 35-28 with just under 11 minutes to go in the fourth.
The Wildcats found the end zone one more time on another Chipouras touchdown. They went for the two-point conversion and the lead, but the Spartan defense stopped Chipouras (265 all-purpose yards) in the backfield, preserving a one-point edge.
“Give credit to both teams,” Lawrence head coach Paul Zukauskas said. “Both teams came out and played a great football game. [Williston] did an outstanding job in the second half, but our kids responded nonetheless.”
After a Lawrence punt, the teams traded turnovers on the next four possessions, including a bizarre sequence for the Lawrence offense. As they were trying to run out the clock, Williston took their final timeout after a run up the middle on first down. The Spartans took two knees before realizing that they would have to snap it on fourth down. Cassidy took the snap and tried to run out the clock, but the Williston defense stopped him for a huge loss at the Lawrence 36 yard line with four seconds left, enabling the Wildcats to get one last shot at a game-winning touchdown.
However, the Spartan defense held up, as Williston quarterback John Aywayrd (5-for-18, 91 yards; nine carries, 81 yards) threw his fifth and final interception of the game, and the second into the hands of Christian Garrison, setting off the celebration for the Spartans.
“We had a lot of high hopes,” Zukauskas said. “This was the expectation for the team. We didn’t have a great season last year. They knew it, and there was a feeling that we could have a great season. We lost the opener, but we never looked back. It’s such a strong group of kids, and they really care for each other. They really respond to one another, they have a great time together. It was fun to coach them.”
In the first half, Cassidy and Dillon each scored a rushing touchdown, and Preston had two receiving touchdowns.