After a wild weekend of upsets and blowouts, there are questions abound heading into Week 2 of the MIAA football season. Joining us in this week's roundtable are MassLive producer Jay King along with correspondents Adam Kurkjian, Ryan Kilian and John Botelho.
1. OF ALL THE LOPSIDED WINS LAST WEEKEND BY TEAMS RANKED IN ESPN BOSTON'S TOP 25, WHICH ONE WAS THE MOST CONVINCING?
Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: I’m looking no further than the 49-6 beating No. 3 St. John’s Prep gave Dracut on Friday night. Last year, the Middies stunned the Eagles in a low-scoring affair, but in the Week 1 rematch, Prep hit the throttle. While Alex Moore and Jonathan Thomas combined for more than 200 rushing yards, the more impressive part of the Eagles’ performance was on defense, where they were able to slow down Dracut’s spread attack. That bodes well for the confidence of a very talented defensive secondary.
Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: Having not seen enough of Dracut to know whether they're down this year or not (the MVC is down as a whole, but the Middies return a number of integral figures from 2011), I'm going with St. John's Prep's thrashing of a rival that has traditionally given them trouble.
My rationale is simple -- find me the last time Prep dropped half a hundred on somebody. There has been this stigma about Prep the last few years that sometimes they keep things too vanilla despite a deep arsenal of talent, but clearly that's not the case this year. Jonathan Thomas is a legitimate Division 1 talent at running back, and the backfield pairing of him and Alex Moore should prove to be formidable all season long. How far that takes them is anyone's guess, but the early returns on this rejuvenated Eagles offense are favorable.
Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Boston correspondent: Tough to say because who knows how good some of these teams are right now, but St. John's Prep certainly looked dominant against Dracut. Is Dracut a little down? Probably. But the offensive line, which struggled last year, appeared to be light years better than a year ago and this team seems like it is on a mission to overcome the inconsistencies of the last few years.
John Botelho, Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal: Everett beat Leominster by 22 points, without one their top receivers or the two QBs on top of their depth chart. Beating any team with your third string quarterback would normally be impressive, but blasting the No. 7 team in the state, in front of a packed crowd at their house? C'mon. If there was anyone out there doubting Everett wouldn't be the best team in the state, this win last weekend should have cleared up that notion.
Sure 2011 Mr. Football Jonathan DiBiaso is gone, but with their offensive line it seems like they could plug anyone in to the skill positions and succeed, and last weekend that was Gilly Souza, normally a kick returner and defensive back, shining at QB. Some of the other wins might have been by a bigger margin, but none was more impressive than this one.
Ryan Kilian, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, New England Prep Stars: It is tough to look away from the dominating performance that St. John's Prep put on Dracut in week 1. While Dracut is a young team St. John's Prep came out of the gate and took control of the game early.
After losing to the Middies last year the Eagles returned most of their roster and turned the table from a 13-7 loss in 2011 to a 49-6 victory this season. St. John's Prep has improved all over the field and have a lot of young veteran players who have played a lot of varsity football. The most impressive part of the win was that they did it on the ground with their multiple back sets as well as in the air when they needed to. Quarterback Jack Sharrio showed that he can make the completions when needed and the two-headed attack of Alex Moore and Jonathan Thomas are as any backfield in the state. The defense is also much improved as they are led by safety Lucas Bavaro and a top ranked defensive backfield. Teams are going to have to ground and pound St. John's Prep and establish the running game early as they will be very difficult to throw on this season.
Jay King, Sports Producer, MassLive.com: The most convincing win in WMass was Longmeadow's 46-0 smackdown of Chicopee Comp. The ease with which the Lancers bulldozed Comp should keep future opponents awake through all hours of the night, trembling with fear. Frankie Elder accounted for five touchdowns in less than two quarters of play, Austin Sierra ran for 124 yards on just 12 carries and Longmeadow's line--praised throughout the preseason as the best unit in WMass--lived up to the billing and then some. Alex Rotsko is departed, but, at least this year with an absurdly deep senior class, Longmeadow's tradition lives on. St. John's is up next to pose a real challenge for the Lancers.
2. XAVERIAN HELD MALDEN CATHOLIC TO NEGATIVE-18 YARDS IN THE FIRST HALF OF LAST WEEK'S 35-7 WIN. WHAT'S THE BEST DEFENSE IN THE STATE RIGHT NOW?
Barboza: I think there are several teams we can lump into this equation. As I said in the first question, I was encouraged by Prep’s opening performance and they return as solid a core on D as any team in the state. I think the Hawks are a part of that conversation, too, but I want to see a great sample size with them since they had some defensive problems as a group in 2011. I’m also looking at Duxbury, spurred by the hit-stick that is linebacker Marshall McCarthy and you really can’t overlook No. 1 Everett. I know we’ve spent more of the preseason talking through the Crimson Tide’s offensive options, but there are plenty of playmakers on the defense as well including two linebackers in Jeff Soulouque and Omar Graciano who will be worth watching all season long.
Hall: There seems to be some discrepancy as to whether Brockton played zone or man coverage on Lincoln Collins, but the bottom line remains: one of the state's best wide receivers -- and at that, a 6-foot-4, home-run target -- was held without a catch. I don't care about all the other variables surrounding the fact, that's just darn impressive. Period.
Still, I want to see how Brockton does against Reading's option attack before we start comparing the Boxers to the 2002 Buccaneers. Xaverian seems like the safe choice for now, given how much double-team attention Maurice Hurst Jr. commands and how that will free up the rest of the front seven. But we'll have a better idea after the Hawks' tussle this weekend with New Jersey power St. Joseph Regional. My friend Brian Fitzsimmons over at MSG Varsity thinks the key matchup will be with the receivers, and the Green Knights have an exceptional high-major talent in wideout Ricky Jeune. Here's what the Hawks are getting themselves into:
If they can find a way to neutralize this offense then Xaverian has my vote, but that's easier said than done. The Knights are coming off a tough 14-10 loss to D.C. area power Good Counsel, at Navy Stadium.
Kurkjian: Not that those stats aren't impressive, but Malden Catholic isn't exactly a great measuring stick for a defense. Brockton shutting out BC High deserves mention, but heading into this season I really liked the Prep's returning talent and experience and I'm going to stick with them until proven otherwise.
Botelho: I picked Brockton to win the Super Bowl because of their defense, I just didn't think it would have already clicked together so well. The Boxers just pitched a shutout over the defending Div. 1 Super Bowl champs and it's hard to spot a weakness on that side of the ball for them.
Micah Morel held Villanova-bound Lincoln Collins catchless last week against BC High, and even came away with a pick late in the game. As good as Morel was - and his performance was as good as any by a Brockton defensive back in recent memory, which says something considering that position seems to be a D-1 pipeline for the Boxers these days - the defense up front might have been even better. This team is very for real, which is good because high school football in Massachusetts is a lot more interesting when the Boxers are a hard-hitting, playoff-bound team.
Kilian: Xaverian is my pick for the top defense. They have talent all over the field and are strong in the trenches, at the linebacker position as well as in the defensive backfield. They will certainly be tested early and often with their difficult schedule but with veterans like Maurice Hurts Jr., Hunter Taute and DJ Pagliuca they are certainly battle tested and know what to expect. After this week's game against out of state St. Joseph's (NJ they play three high scoring Eastern Mass. offenses in Andover, Duxbury and Everett so that will give us a great indicator of where they stand before league play.
3. THE SPREAD HAS REVOLUTIONIZED THE HIGH SCHOOL GAME FOREVER. BUT AFTER SEEING SOME OF LAST WEEKEND'S RESULTS, THE GROUND-AND-POUND ISN'T EXACTLY DEAD EITHER...RIGHT?
Barboza: What’s interesting to me is how even spread teams have been able to run the ball. In Duxbury’s opening week win over Bridgewater-Raynham, I was impressed not only with Jon Hurvitz’s breakaway speed in the backfield, but also how Dave Maimaron’s team was able to exploit holes in the Trojans’ defense with quarterback Sean McCarthy running out of the shotgun. McCarthy showed he’s a load bring down as well, initiating contact on several of his carries. When a defense has to take that ability into account, it’s make an offense all that more dynamic.
Hall: Long live the Double Wing, baby. You can still win at a clip of 8-9 games a year with the Double Wing in the MIAA level -- just ask Shepherd Hill. And you can run the ball down Top 25 teams' throats with a small scatback fleeting behind big linemen on sweeps -- just ask Holy Name, which put up 40 on St. John's last weekend thanks to Quron Wright's big rushing day (282 yards, 4 TD) behind bulldozers like Basit Dennis, Antonio Paulino, Joe Fitton, Liam Perry and Nick Geneva.
My favorite ground-and-pound Double Wing affair from the weekend? Austin Prep, which pounded its way to a 22-14 upset of a previously-ranked Mashpee squad that is no slouch. The Cougars are a team everyone hates to play, with those one-inch splits, double-handoffs and super-sweeps. Best of all, they don't even use a kicking tee. Legit, they lay the ball flat across the 40-yard line and toe-kick it, then BOLO for whichever sideline it inevitably rolls towards.
Botelho: I don't think the ground-and-pound will ever be gone from the game, because not every team has a quarterback capable of handling all the responsibilities that come with running the spread. Running the spread correctly takes a QB who is a jack-of-all trades type, and sometimes, it's just easier to build an offense around the running game. And when guys like Darien Fernandes or Quron Wright get in the zone, why take the ball out of their hands?
Kurkjian: Correct. I don't care how many teams chuck it around the field and spread things out, there will always be a place for a punishing ground attack if you have the horses to pull it off. With defenses so used to the dink-and-dunk spread, sometimes seeing a team that attacks you between the tackles is the last thing they want to see.
Kilian: I could not agree more about the running game still being alive. After watching Beverly execute an elite Wing-T performance in a win over Concord-Carlisle, and St. John's Prep running for over 250 yards on the ground in a win over Dracut, I would say that teams are certainly not going away from the ground game. It is always interesting to watch how the passing games develop over the course of the season as most teams come out of the gate more conservatively and looking to establish the running game early.
4. MINNECHAUG PASTED SILVER LAKE LAST WEEKEND, AND THERE ARE TWO PIVOTAL CROSS-STATE GAMES INVOLVING WESTERN MASS. TEAMS FROM THE TOP 25 THIS WEEKEND -- NO. 6 LONGMEADOW AT NO. 18 ST. JOHN'S (SHREWSBURY), AND NO. 1 EVERETT AT NO. 15 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL. CAN THE 413 GET ANOTHER WIN OUTSIDE THE REGION?
Barboza: I think Central can give Everett a run for their money, but I don’t see them pulling out the upset in that one. However, after Frankie Elder’s brilliant performance against Chicopee Comp, I like Longmeadow’s chances against the Pioneers. I know Quron Wright is the real deal, but if Holy Name’s shootout with St. John’s last week told us anything, it’s that you run on the Pioneers front. I think the Lancers will be able to do so with Nick St. George continuing Longmeadow’s excellence in the ground game in taking over for Alex Rotsko.
Hall: I'm giving Central a puncher's chance, if only because it hasn't been made clear whether Kenny Calaj (ankle) will play this week. But if there's any legitimate chance, it's got to be Longmeadow over St. John's. Holy Name exploited St. John's weaknesses against the run last week to the tune of five rushing touchdowns, and now they face a group of Longmeadow trenchmen that is bigger and faster than what the Naps have to offer. Slowing down the Pioneers, with their Chip Kelly-esque "blur offense", won't be easier either. Still, just like with Holy Name last week, if there's any year for the Lancers to get that elusive win over their long-time foils from the 508, it's this year.
Botelho: The best chance for the 413 to pick up a win this week is Longmeadow. Central is a very good team, but plenty of very good teams have lost to Everett during their 26-game winning streak. That said, I think the 413 is in for a rough weekend against those from different zip codes and Shadrah Abrokwah will lead St. John's past the defending Div. 1 West champs.
Kurkjian: Everett should be able to handle Springfield Central, but I think this is the year Longmeadow takes down St. John's. The Lancers almost pulled it off last year but fell just short. Still, like Holy Name, you have to wonder if St. John's is just one of those teams Longmeadow can't get over the hump against.
King: With an athletic line averaging about 260 pounds and skill players loaded with experience, Longmeadow should be able to compete with any team in the state. The Lancers' Wing T offense is difficult to prepare against, especially when Longmeadow can get a great push at the line of scrimmage like they should be able to all season. A lot of tears were shed after the Lancers lost 26-21 to St. John's last year on a 55-yard, last-minute touchdown pass. They might not get revenge this year, but they're hunting for it with a scowl of remembrance on their faces.
Central didn't execute flawlessly during its Week 1 victory against Putnam, but showed a stubborn commitment to the game plan that coach Valdamar Brower loved. This time last season, Central was preparing to meet Everett with a sophomore quarterback making his first start. Now that signal-caller, Cody Williams, is a junior and one of the best players in WMass. The Golden Eagles might not down Everett, but they should at least provide a much stiffer test than they did a year ago in a 42-13 defeat.
5. ARE YOU CHANGING YOUR MIND ABOUT THE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE WINNER AFTER WEEK 1?
Barboza: I went with BC High in our preseason picks, so it might be easy for me to jump off the bandwagon after a Week 1 loss to Brockton and a mounting number of injuries to key players on either side of the ball. That said, I’m going to pick it and stick it with the Eagles. Even without Brendan Craven, BC High still has athletes on offense with top target Lincoln Collins and Brandon Owens in the backfield. There’s still a lot of time for the Eagles to solidify before they take to their Catholic Conference schedule, so that’s good news.
Hall: Not yet, but the injuries from BC High are cause for concern. It's my understanding that quarterbakc Brendan Craven's injury last week at Brockton is not as severe as we all were initially led to believe, and he could be back in a month. The absence of Craven and returning All-State linebacker Luke Catarius is huge, but not a knockout blow. The Eagles will benefit from this wakeup call, after all they hype they've been receiving on the recruiting front and from the media (we're guilty as charged, so be it). With their program depth, and all the talent still left on the field, I expect BC High to figure this all out before Catholic Conference season gets under way.
Botelho: No. I'm stubborn. In all seriousness, the road got a lot tougher when Brendan Craven was carted off the field last Friday night against Brockton. Luke Catarius, who leads the defense from his linebacker spot, is already out until late October or so, and now they'll be without their starting signal caller. Not an enviable situation. If Xaverian stays healthy, they could be the current favorite to win the league. It's going to be a fun race to watch.
Kurkjian: A little. To overreact to the BC High loss would be a mistake. Luke Catarius was a huge loss but he will be back by the time league play rolls around. Don't forget that the Eagles were missing three starters on the defensive line against the Boxers for most of the night. The Prep looks very solid right now and I would not be surprised to see them take it this year. Xaverian will be right there too and I feel Catholic Memorial is the fourth team.
6. DENNIS-YARMOUTH VISITS BARNSTABLE ON FRIDAY IN WHAT HAS BECOME THE CAPE'S MOST HEATED RIVALRY. THE LAST THREE MEETINGS BETWEEN THE TWO HAVE BEEN DECIDED BY A TOTAL OF FIVE POINTS. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE NON-LEAGUE, NON-THANKSGIVING RIVALRIES?
Barboza: I’m going to stoke up some passion for our upcoming kickoff to our Game of the Week program and go with Barnstable and Dennis-Yarmouth. I’m sure Brendan will be better able to regale about inter-Cape tensions, but even though you have to think the Red Raider juggernaut would have the upper hand in this one going in, don’t discount the passion that’s going to be brought on both sides. It should be a fun night.
Hall: Scott, I know what you're getting at. Some will say the alleged confrontation between D-Y coach Paul Funk and some Barnstable fans during a scrimmage is overblown, while others called it epic. I'll tell you what though, driving through Hyannis on my way to last year's DY-Barnstable contest, I passed at least two stop signs that had been spray-painted over with the words "D-Y SWAGGG". I love this rivalry like Scott Barboza loves indie rock. Barnstable High should be swelling on Friday night, and I can't wait.
Anyways, for me, it's got to be Everett vs. the Catholic Conference. Last year the Crimson Tide easily steamrolled through Prep, Xaverian and BC High in succession, and the league as a whole is 0-7 against the Tide since the 2009 Division 1 Super Bowl. But in most years, this is one-score, defensive-minded football with a big fourth-quarter play breaking the game open. The crowds are always into it from both sides, and the stands are always packed. It has been must-see football theatre for about 15 years now.
Botelho: Brockton/BC High is generally a pretty good one. As is Bridgewater-Raynham/Xaverian. Rockland/Abington, which is a league game now that both are in the South Shore League, was always a tremendous rivalry, even when Rockland was in the Patriot League. The schools are small, but both communities get real fired up, and both teams seem to deliver their best performances of the year in that one. Plus, any opportunity to bring up the "nuts and bolts" video that went viral after they played in 2010 is one that can't be missed.
Kurkjian: Brockton-BC High, Xaverian-Brockton, Xaverian-Everett, Chelmsford-Acton-Boxboro, St. John's Prep-Central Catholic, Bridgewater-Raynham-Xaverian all probably rank up there as the ones I've covered the most and had the most fun doing so. Back in the day, North Attleboro-Bishop Feehan would have been on that list.