NATICK (6-1) at No. 16 NEEDHAM (6-1)
The Skinny: The Red & Blue would like nothing better than to score their second win over a Bay State Carey power after dispatching Weymouth two weeks ago. Natick's led by a young, but talented duo with Troy Flutie throwing darts in the direction of freshman sensation wideout Brian Dunlap. Meanwhile, sophomore Ryan Charter filled in admirably last week for injured quarterback Drew Burnett in a win over Walpole, proving that Needham's here to stay.
Scott Barboza: This young, upstart Natick offense will apply pressure on the Rockets' D, but too much for Needham on offense. Needham, 31-27.
Brendan Hall: Doesn’t matter if Johnny Utah’s under center, I guess. Somebody named Riley’s gonna make plays. Needham, 28-20.
WESTFORD ACADEMY (4-3) at No. 13 LINCOLN-SUDBURY (7-0)
The Skinny: The Warriors have been pegged as the team to beat in the Dual County League Large, but haven't exactly faced a Murderer's Row of a schedule thus far. Their first legitimate test comes in the form of this key divisional battle against the Grey Ghosts and L-S will have its hands full with a potent running attack led by Alex Eaton. The Warriors have their own horses in the backfield with a talented troika of backs, including Chris Giorgio, Jack Harris and Brian Carroll.
Barboza: I think the Warriors will get a run for their money, but I think their depth on offense prevails. L-S, 28-20.
Hall: I’m feeling lucky this week. I also think the Grey Ghosts are more battle-tested. Westford, 38-31.
LOWELL (5-2) at No. 20 BILLERICA (6-1)
The Skinny: This is among the first of many head-to-head matchups that will dictate how the Merrimack Valley Large is decided. The Red Raiders are reeling a little bit after an upstart Tewksbury team claimed a victory over a MVC Large opponent for the third time this season. Meanwhile, BIllerica continues to build momentum with five straight wins following their loss to Woburn. However, the Indians had to escape an upset-minded Haverhill team last week, with Nick LaSpada again working magic to lift the Indians to a victory in overtime.
Barboza: One of the stories of the year to me is how this Billerica defense, which was consistently torched last year, has bounced back this year. The Indians are leading the MVC Large in points against thus far. Billerica, 21-14.
Hall: The only way the Indians know how to win these days, it seems, is in dramatic fashion. Billerica, 23-20.
LEOMINSTER (4-3) at BROCKTON (4-3)
The Skinny: These are two teams who stumbled out of the gates, but have picked themselves up nicely of late. Dave Palazzi's Blue Devils rebounded from an 0-3 start with four straight wins while the Boxers have won three straight, including an upset of top-ranked New Hampshire side, Pinkerton Academy. Both teams are led by young quarterbacks as well with Austin Roberts taking over for Paul Mroz at Brockton and Leominster spread attack has come under the direction of junior signal-caller Garrett DelleChiaie.
Barboza: My grandparents like in Leominster for a bit back in the '50s, so I guess somewhat have family roots there. Leominster, 27-21.
Hall: Because back in the Plastic City, they still celebrate the anniversary of knocking off USA Today’s No. 1 team back in 1988. Leominster, 20-7.
BARNSTABLE (4-3) at No. 11 MANSFIELD (6-1)
The Skinny: This might be the most intriguing non-league matchup of the late season. These teams have much in common in that both like to stretch the field by going sideline to sideline with a vast array of screen passes. Don't be mislead, however, these teams can run North and South as well with the Hornets' Greg Donahue and the Red Raiders' Theo France capable of kicking up chunk of turf with hard-nosed running. These teams also feature two of the most underrated linebackers in the state with Barnstable's Andrew Ellis and Mansfield's Zach Schafer going at it.
Barboza: I was going to go with Barnstable in the upset, but the Hornets have regained the ability to close big games out at the end. Mansfield, 30-27.
Hall: Fear the other visor. Barnstable, 35-28.
ST. JOHN'S OF SHREWSBURY (4-3) at No. 8 XAVERIAN (4-3)
The Skinny: Both teams are looking to snap recent losing skids with the Pioneers dealt their second straight loss by Leominster last week. The Hawks are on a three-game losing streak, but, to be fair, the losses have come against the state's very best with defeats to the top three teams in our statewide poll.
Barboza: Quite simply, the Hawks will control the point of attack all day long. Xaverian, 24-17.
Hall: I think whoever moves the ball better on the ground wins this one. For St. John’s, that doesn’t bode well, considering who they’ll be lining up against when they have the ball. Xaverian, 20-13.
READING (4-3) AT WOBURN (3-3)
The Skinny: Reading stumbled out of the gates to start the season, with a surprise upset at the hands of Lawrence followed by losses to North Andover and Melrose sandwiched around a shutout of Arlington. But in Middlesex play, they’ve been quite alright – in three Large division games, they’ve recorded two shutouts and outscored the opposition 120-7. Woburn, after a 1-3 start, has won two straight thanks to six Chucky Ortiz touchdowns in the last eight quarters.
Barboza: I'm going with the new guard in an ole-fashioned slobber-knocker. Woburn, 14-7.
Hall: I truly believe Chucky Ortiz is one of the state’s most underrated players. But John Fiore knows how to dial up a good run defense – just ask Burlington. Reading, 18-15.
NO. 24 HOLLISTON (5-1) AT MILLIS/HOPEDALE (7-0)
The Skinny: The undefeated Mohawks are in the driver’s seat in the Tri-Valley League Small thanks to one of the state’s stingiest defenses (4.9 points per game). Millis/Hopedale has never allowed an opponent to score more than once, has recorded two shutouts, and allowed just two rushing touchdowns in the last 12 quarters. But the Panthers merely came out last week and drove up and down on previous unbeaten Hopkinton, led by quarterback Dan Barone’s 217 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-0 shutout.
Barboza: Barone and Frechett are too much for the Mohawks to contain. Holliston, 34-24.
Hall: I don’t know what’s the more impressive victory so far in the TVL – Millis beating Westwood 12-7, or Holliston going double-wing on Hopkinton and shutting them out – but the Panthers are the academy of this league until further notice (or until next week’s trip to Medway). Holliston, 30-14.
BELMONT HILL (5-0) AT MILTON ACADEMY (3-2)
The Skinny: Are the Hillers for real? We’re about to find out, in one of the most anticipated games of the ISL season. Outside of a 35-0 win over Nobles, the Hillers aren’t lighting up the scoreboard, but they’ve also had an extra week to prepare thanks to a Brooks forfeit last week. Milton, meanwhile, has been somewhat feast or famine so far, averaging 33 points in wins but allowing an average of 25 in losses.
Barboza: This Milton Academy team will be good for a few years to come, but this the Hillers' year. Belmont Hill, 24-21.
Hall: Year in and year out, Kevin MacDonald always has one of the ISL’s most consistent offensive lines. Look into his coaching history, and you’ll see that’s no accident. Milton, 17-14.