Hurricanes just one win away from state title

  • Amherst Regional players celebrate their win against Northbridge during the Division 5 state semifinal, Nov. 23 at Westfield State University. The Hurricanes play Swampscott in the state championship on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amherst Regional quarterback J.B. Mills looks for his receiver during his team’s win against Northbridge in the Division 5 state semifinal, Nov. 23 at Westfield State University. The Hurricanes play Swampscott in the state championship on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 04, 2019

AMHERST — The words “2019 state champions” are written in black marker on a whiteboard in the Amherst Regional weight room. They’ve been there since July when senior lineman Cenai Collins scrawled them during a 6 a.m. lifting session.

“Whenever we were in there, that’s what we were looking at, that’s what we were striving for,” Hurricanes senior lineman Jack Nagy said.

Amherst is one win away from achieving it. The Hurricanes (11-0) will face North champion Swampscott (9-3) in the Division 5 Super Bowl at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. It’s both teams’ first appearance in the championship game since Massachusetts moved to the state tournament format in 2013.

“It’s a little bit surreal to come this far. After we won the state semifinal people told me ‘you don’t seem as excited.’ It was kind of business as usual at this point,” Amherst quarterback J.B. Mills said. “When you’ve come this far and you expect to win that game, you know it’s great that you win it but next week we’re playing in the sate championship game. That was the goal.”

Amherst reaffirmed the goal in August when the Hurricanes met for preseason camp.

“We were serious, and I don’t know if we could have said that with a straight face in past years,” Mills said. “I think we’ve improved so much over the past few years that this year we were able to be confident.”

The defense has been the main reason why. Amherst has only allowed 16 points combined in three postseason games while scoring 132. But the Hurricanes have yet to face a challenge like Swampscott.

“They’re going to be a physical team. Northbridge (in the semifinals) was probably the best line we played all year, they might be a step up,” Mills said. “I don’t know if they’re as fast on the outside, but they’re bigger and more physical. Just as big as we are as a team, and that’s the first time we’ve seen that as a team.”

The Big Blue emerged from the North sectional tournament as the No. 4 seed. They edged top-seeded Pentucket 14-13 in the semifinals before routing No. 7 Amesbury in the championship 39-8. Swampscott then outlasted South champion Holliston 20-12 in the other state semifinal.

Quarterback Graham Inzana leads the way with 1,725 yards through the air and 25 touchdowns against just five interceptions. Dylan January is the Big Blue’s primary back with 1,161 yards on the ground and 10 scores.

“They have the athletes and the size and we haven’t seen the combination yet. I think it’s going to be a huge challenge especially for our small linebackers,” Amherst coach Chris Ehorn Jr. said. “They’re really good, just a little short.”

Thankfully for the Hurricanes, they have enjoyed two weeks of preparation. Amherst hasn’t played a Thanksgiving game since 2016. Ehorn told former Amherst athletic director Rich Ferro the team didn’t want any Thanksgiving games scheduled three years ago because the plan was to practice on Thanksgiving for a state championship.

“Three years later we’re actually doing it. We want to play meaningful games,” Ehorn said. “We want to play in games that matter toward the outcome of the season. We’re happy that we’re able to practice instead of play.”

The Hurricanes began breaking down Swampscott film the Monday after the state semifinals. They practiced on the turf fields at Amherst College and UMass to get used to a similar surface at Gillette Stadium.

“We haven’t had two weeks to prepare against an opponent,” Ehorn said. “We’re hoping the game plan will be better than usual.”