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A Return to Glory

Posted by Andrea Murphy on Nov 23 2004 at 04:00PM PST
By Sean Jacquet/Tab Sports Correspondent "Just like the old days" These words were uttered by Holliston athletic director Jim Carboneau during a 35-0 season-opening shutout of O'Bryant. But they could also apply to the annual Holliston-Westwood matchup, which will decide the Tri-Valley League champion and the league's playoff representative for the first time since 1991. With a win, Holliston is in. But the Panthers also have a shot even with a loss. In the 1980s, the Westwood-Holliston Thanksgiving Day tilt inevitably determined the Super Bowl participant, making the rivalry one of the juiciest games on the area slate. Each installment was a classic battle, with the winner earning bragging rights and a Super Bowl berth. Two years ago, such a scenario didn't seem likely in the near future. Coming into the Turkey Day contest, the Panthers sported a 1-9 record, and had beaten the Wolverines only once (2000) since '91. The Panthers lost two years ago, but few knew it would begin a renaissance for Panther football. With alum Todd Kiley (Class of '89) taking the reins prior to the 2003 season, the Panthers set about restoring the tradition, responding with a surprising 5-6 record. Still, a Turkey Day victory evaded them, with the Wolverines snatching a 13-7 triumph. But this year is a little different. The Panthers are 9-1 (8-0 TVL), and for the first time since 2000 are considered the favorites as they try to reverse that 2002 record while punching their ticket to the postseason. So what has sparked the two-year reversal of fortunes? Let's ask junior receiver Chris Valiant, who has played an instrumental role in the Panthers' ascension to the top of the TVL. A member of the 2002 squad, Valiant has emerged as one of the TVL's top threats on both sides of the ball, catching eight touchdown passes while intercepting four as a cornerback. "The attitude and the commitment has changed," says Valiant. "When Coach Kiley came, he got us all in the weight room, and he got us motivated. He definitely put us back in the winning mode." But to remain in the winning mode, the Panthers will have to avoid some of the mistakes that plagued them in last year's loss. The Panthers threw four interceptions in that setback, which proved costly as the opportunistic Wolverine offense took advantage. Holliston did shut down the Westwood ground game last year, but could not corral Wolverine quarterback Jeff White, who threw for more than 200 yards. With speedy receivers Chris Laham and Joe Fabiano back, as well as tailback Amadeus Gurrerro (who missed last year's game with a broken leg), the Wolverines bring an attack every bit as prolific as last year's squad. Still, the Wolverines held on for a slim six-point win, a narrow loss that will serve as substantial motivation for Valiant and his Panther brethren. "There's a little bit of motivation to get back at Westwood," says Valiant. "But we're mostly playing for a chance to go to the playoffs. I'd say it's about 50-50. We're definitely excited to play them. We know what's at stake. We know we're in a position for the league title." But as in Kiley's days, to share the league title, particularly with the Wolverines, is unacceptable. Just happy to compete last year, the Panthers, according to Kiley, have proven their legitmacy, and are hardly content with being TVL co-champions. "We've already clinched a share of the league title, but we're not satisfied," says Kiley. "We want to be remembered as the first Holliston team to win the TVL and go to the playoffs in 13 years. We want to finish what we started." Just like the old days.

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