Quick-hit thoughts from around the Massachusetts football landscape from this past weekend:
1. A year ago, Plymouth South’s Dylan Oxsen had just three touchdowns as the Panthers went 2-9. This year, he has over 30 (29 rushing), and has led them to their first Atlantic Coast League title and playoff berth in school history. Why the sudden jump? Credit an overhaul to the offensive system, switching to an unorthodox scheme more suited to his personnel.
The Wing-T wasn’t working for the Panthers, and so head coach Scott Fry opted for a modified “Pistol” scheme, which puts the tailback deep behind the quarterback in a shotgun snap, made popular by college programs such as Nevada (though South’s version is far more run-oriented than the Wolf Pack’s). Oxsen moved from wingback to tailback, and the results have exploded.
Fry’s version of the pistol, which he likens more to a modified I-formation, features plenty of pulling action by the down linemen, and will often motion a player across the formation, adding an element of misdirection. Against Nauset, the Panthers completed just two passes before winning the game on a hook-and-ladder play in the final seconds.
It’s a scheme much more suited to the traits of Oxsen, who stands about 5-foot-8 but demonstrates great leg strength, quick acceleration and north-south instincts. Headed into the game, Oxsen led the state in rushing touchdowns, since surpassed by Holy Name’s Quron Wright.
“Once I heard this year that we were running kind of a pistol form, I was happy to try it out,” Oxsen said following the Panthers’ thrilling win Friday night over Nauset. “It’s worked out great for us, our offensive line is blocking great, we’re executing, and we love it. It’s a great offense.
“I love how I get five or six yards behind the quarterback, so I can build up speed. It’s a great offense, and as a team we execute it great.”
Hey, when you’re in a rut like South was, might as well try something different, right?
“We built this offense really for him [Oxsen] to get the ball 15-20 times, and get him in the I,” Fry said. “It’s a modified I is what it is. You get him the ball deep, and he’s got great vision, able to make cutbacks and make them miss.”
2. Hats off to Roxbury Latin’s MacKay Lowrie, who finished his high school career by setting the ISL’s single-season record for touchdown passes (35), tossing four in a 35-0 shutout of Rivers. By all accounts, the Foxborough resident was a bona fide stud this year for the Foxes, and led the charges in what was thoroughly an explosion of offense this year in a league that has historically played conservatively. Lowrie is headed to Boston College next fall, and while doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other quarterbacks in the state due to the league he plays in, but trust us when we say this kid is the real deal.
3. With three Central Mass. squads in this week’s poll, and none of them coming from the top division, it appears Division 1 Central is as wide open as it’s ever been. Between Leominster, St. John’s (Shrewsbury), Wachusett and Shrewsbury, how do you pick a favorite? Convention might say to go with Leominster or St. John’s, but both of those teams have lost to Shrewsbury.
If it’s St. John’s in the end, they’re going to have to put up Oregon-like numbers in their Oregon-style offense to do it, because the run defense has been mostly poor in this second half of the season. Offensively, there are few questions, if any. Drew Smiley just broke a single-season Central Mass. passing record, and last weekend the Pioneers had their highest output of the season in offensive yards (572).
Yet still, they managed to beat Milford by just two, 41-39. But at this point, like the Patriots and their shaky secondary, you’ve got to make the most of what you’re good at. I’m wondering if the Pioneers might have to put up 50 to win at this point.
4. Auburn and Nashoba’s dominant undefeated runs have stirred up conversation in some pockets of the interwebs about where these two squads would sit historically among the all-time great Central Mass. teams. Would they stack up to the Morris brothers of Ayer, Sandy Ruggles’ powerhouse North Middlesex teams of the 1990’s, or any of the St. Peter-Marian squads led by Jerry Azumah? Who knows.
All I know is that any such conversation has to start with the 2000 Fitchburg Red Raiders squad that went unblemished en route to a 12-0 campaign and Division 1 Super Bowl title. That year they were led by quarterback (and future Boston Red Sox draft pick) Jason Twomley, and running backs Frank McDonald and Norman Cole. Most notable to me was the fact they beat both Brockton and Xaverian, shutting out the latter; while there was no true statewide poll at that time, those two wins cemented the Raiders’ status as the state’s No. 1 squad.
5. In a few weeks, we’ll be unveiling our third annual MIAA All-State Team. The quarterback, running back and linebacker selections are always the most heavily elaborated upon and scrutinized, just by the sheer volume of quality candidates. But an underrated one is the two designated “Athlete” positions.
The past two years, the selection has typically been a running back who happens to catch a few passes, but I think we’ll have an interesting race this year. Everett’s Gilly De Souza figures to be one leader, having played integral roles in a half-dozen positions for the Crimson Tide this season – and that’s not even counting his natural role as kicker and punter – including quarterback for the first half of the season when they were depleted of able bodies.
Another interesting candidate is Weymouth junior David Harrison. He began the year as a wide receiver, and caught six touchdown passes in his first two games. Then he switched to quarterback in Week 4, and tossed for four touchdowns – including the game-winner with 20 seconds left. On the season, Harrison has accounted for 28 touchdowns (10 passing, 10 rushing, eight receiving).