IN RAIDER NATION, FUTURE IS NOW
The knock on Barnstable the last few years has never been that they've been short on talent, but rather they always seemed a year away.
One five-yard touchdown scamper in overtime, from a floppy-haired sophomore named Hayden Murphy, has suddenly changed everything about that perception. Since junior Nick Peabody took over for the injured D.J. Crook at quarterback, the Red Raiders are 3-1, and a point-after field goal in overtime from being 4-0, led by their youth movement on defense and some above-average speed at the skill positions.
All of it came to a head on Friday night in Hyannis, when the Raiders (5-4, 3-0) emerged with a 26-20 overtime win over previous No. 3 Bridgewater-Raynham to win the Old Colony League outright and punch their first ticket to the playoffs since 2002.
"I just wanted it so bad for the kids," first-year head coach Chris Whidden said following the game. "They've done so much, so much off the field as a team, and they worked so hard in the offseason, I just felt like they deserved it so much."
The Raiders will face Dual County Large champion Lincoln-Sudbury in a Tuesday night playoff following their Thanksgiving showdown with archrival Falmouth. By all accounts, this figures to go a lot more swimmingly than the Raiders' last appearance, a 42-6 stomping by a St. John's Prep squad that saw two kids go to the NFL, another get drafted 17th overall by the Padres, and another go on to play hockey at Boston University.
This time around, the Raiders have speed in all sorts of places, and smart coach in the young Whidden. Witness the B-R game, in which he made a few tweaks on his defensive line to free up hawking linebackers Andrew Ellis, Bryan Hardy and Ryan Litchman, allowing them to get to the sidelines quicker and contain those outside power sweeps that has been the calling card of the Trojans for so many years.
Offensively, speedsters like Murphy have their best days ahead of them. But just as integral to the turnaround has been the emergence of running back Theo France. We've long mused that, given more carries, the senior will prove his worth. Off the field, France is reportedly a workout warrior; and Friday night, it showed, racking up nearly 160 yards on the ground to keep the Trojans honest.
HANGIN' WITH MR. COOPER
You might have thought the loss of Preston Cooper would be catastrophic for BC High.
As tight end Jameson McShea put it, "He was our offense."
However, the Eagles have gotten along just fine without Cooper because of Deontae Ramey-Doe's hard-nosed running out of the backfield in the last two weeks. The rangy senior running back put in a huge 206-yard, two-touchdown performance against No. 13 Xaverian at a windswept Viola Stadium on Friday night, powering the Eagles to an important Catholic Conference win.
And, while Ramey-Doe admits he could never hope to replace Cooper, he's understanding his new role as a feature back within the Eagles' offense.
"Coach [Jon Bartlett] has told me that he doesn't expect me to be Preston," Ramey-Doe said after Friday's victory. "I just have to run the way that I know that I can run."
What that means is the Eagles have a versatile runner who's tough enough to run in between the tackles, but also fast enough to run on sweeps to outside behind BC High's hulking line, as they exhibited on Friday night.
"We just want him to run hard," Bartlett said, "and he did that.”
Of course, Ramey-Doe didn't do it alone. He had his biggest fan on the sideline for Friday's game, none other than Cooper, himself. After scoring his first touchdown of the game, Ramey-Doe ran over to Cooper with a high five, saying, "That one's for you."
LIONS HOLD STRONG
With Lowell quarterback R.J. Noel working his magic again and wreaking havoc with his arm and his feet, Chelmsford was playing for their lives in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game at Cawley Stadium. The Red Raiders came back to tie the Lions, 14-14, and for all intents and purposes had gained momentum. Not only had Chelmsford lost the lead, they also lost BC-bound linebacker Tim Joy on the game-tying PAT by Lowell. A bad night had just gotten worse.
Then, the Lions offense took over behind running back Eddie Sheridan (168 yards, 2 TDs).
Chelmsford marched down the field on two straight series and the Lions' defense tightened, including Lou Ferrer's huge fourth-down stop. So the Lions escaped and inched closer to a Merrimack Valley Large title.
"My favorite part of the game is getting that one yard," Sheridan said. "I love it."
BAY STATE CAREY WIDE OPEN
Several weeks ago, Needham was in the driver's seat to claim the Bay State's large division title. A few key injuries later and a last-second win by Framingham (22-21) last week and the Carey is ripe for the picking.
Flyers quarterback Greg Finley connected with Mike Stearns on a 4-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining to lift Framingham to an improbable comeback win that's thrown the league race into limbo.
Framingham, Needham and Weymouth now all stand at 6-2 in league play. Needham holds an advantage over Weymouth in their head to head record, but with the loss to Framingham, the Flyers can sneak by with a win over the Wildcats in Framingham Friday night. Meanwhile, Needham hosts Newton North on Friday.
To think of the last time a team besides Natick or Walpole represented the Bay State Conference's Herget division in the playoffs, you have to go all the way back to 2002, when a Kyle Beatrice-led Swampscott squad torched division champ Norwood 51-22 in Division 3. That's a decade-long run that, following Friday night's showdown in Walpole, is about to get longer.
The Hockomock League has Mansfield-North Attleborough. The Dual County League has Acton-Boxboro versus Lincoln-Sudbury. In the Bay State, the premier matchup year in and year out is Natick-Walpole, and this year's installment should be no different.
From Reshaude Goodwin to Billy Flutie to Ryan Izzo and Scott McCummings, the rivalry has always featured premiere Division 1 talent going at it. This year's installment will be more of a youth movement, with a strong junior class leading Walpole's stout defense that hasn't allowed a point since its lone loss of the season, to Needham in Week 7.
Natick, also 8-1, battles Walpole's youth with uber-youth. Their starting quarterback, sophomore Troy Flutie (yes, Darren's kid), is on track for 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing. Their leading receiver, freshman Brian Dunlap, is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards and is one of the state's leaders in touchdown receptions (12). Running back Nick Lee, a junior, is 33 yards short of 1,000.
SOUTH SHORE SHOWDOWN
Of all of the league championships up for grabs on Friday night, one of the most underrated has got to be the one going down in Mashpee, where the Falcons will host No. 19 East Bridgewater in a battle of unbeatens, for the South Shore League's playoff berth.
By now, East Bridgewater's superstar, UNH-bound running back Casey DeAndrade, is a household name for his breathtaking speed. Some have even gone as far as to call him one of the best to come through the league in the last two decades. But flying under the radar has been Mashpee senior running back Jordan Keli'inui.
A patient runner with a long frame, live hips, and a compact yet powerful frame at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he's paved his way to over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, one of the leading scorers in Division 4. (Check out his highlights here)
This could be a high-scoring affair -- even by the down-tempo South Shore League standards.