Some of the best talent in Central Mass was on the field at Foley Stadium in Worcester Thursday, as No. 22 Doherty hosted No. 11 St. John's (Shrewsbury) for a scrimmage.
Each team's varsity starters scored a pair of touchdowns, and the both defenses showed flashes that they may be forces in 2013.
Some notes and observations from Thursday's scrimmage:
Doherty's Dynamic Duo: The Highlanders will have to replace star tight end/linebacker Noah Robinson and, at least on the offensive end, they seem to have found their answer. Alfred Adarkwah is listed as a wide receiver, but the 6-foot-4 senior lined up at tight end frequently, creating mismatches against the St. John's linebackers. On Doherty's first drive of the game, Adarkwah got just behind the linebackers and split the safeties on an out-up-and in, then broke a tackle on his way to a 30 yard score.
Isaac Yiadom, a do-it-all athlete and ESPN Boston Preseason All-State selection, lived up to his star billing. The versatile senior made a fantastic catch on a wheel route up the left sideline for 30 yards, displaying great body control and concentration on a ball that was slightly underthrown. Yiadom also scored Doherty's other varsity touchdown, breaking contain on a receiver sweep, then cutting back against the grain for a 35-yard touchdown run.
Defenses clearly fear Yiadom, and the emergence of Adarkwah at both receiver and tight end should help ease the loss of Robinson. The two were particularly effective when lined up on the same side of the formation, with quarterback Luke Brennan rolling their way.
"They both have strengths," Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said. "Isaac is obviously a dual-threat as a runner and receiver, and Alfred is a really tough matchup for anyone that's not really tall. We have a quarterback that can get them both the ball, and as we go we'll figure out, team-to-team, how we can use them best."
Pioneer Defense Continues to Improve: They're not there yet. At least, not according to St. John's coach John Andreoli, but the Pioneer defense does look significantly better than last year's group that surrendered nearly 30 points a game. After giving up a quick score to the Highlanders, St. John's tightened things up on the defensive line, thanks largely to sophomore nose tackle Josh Angel. The young tackle is still a work in progress according to his coach, but he sure is hard to move at the point of attack.
A week after facing Brockton's power running game, the Pioneers were given the challenge of adjusting to Doherty's spread formations. Andreoli gave his defense passing marks on that adjustment.
"Early in the game we had three third down situations where we just lost contain," Andreoli said. "That's just about us being disciplined, and we did a better job of that after the first drive. On the other hand, we did a real good job against the run, especially against the inside run game.
But I was encouraged about the first two weeks here, after facing two totally different offenses and the way our defense has adjusted to what we've seen."
Smiley Shaking the Rust Off: Preseason All State quarterback Drew Smiley looked a little rusty in the Pioneers' scrimmage against Brockton last week, but he was back to running the St. John's "Blur Offense" efficiently Thursday. Smiley led the Pioneers on a quick 75-yard touchdown drive on his first series, connecting on three of three passes for 30 yards, and rushing for another five yards. The drive was capped by junior running back Shane Combs taking a read handoff for a 45-yard score off left tackle.
On the next St. John's drive, Smiley threw a perfect fade route for a 22-yard touchdown just over the outstretched arms of Adarkwah who was back playing safety. Smiley did fumble when he was sacked by three different Highlanders on his team's next drive, but it looked like he was trying to do too much when he just should've eaten the ball. Other than that one play, it was a pretty perfect day for Smiley.
"Overall we got enough snaps for Drew and he looked good," Andreoli said. "Next week we'll get him a little more, and we're hoping to get some guys back on that side of the ball next week, so we want to be at full strength and getting to game speed by the time we scrimmage New Bedford next Saturday."
Doherty's Young Talent: The star of the scrimmage after the starters left the field was easily Doherty's Ricky Webster. The younger brother of Doherty's 2012 leading rusher Abdulla Webster, the speedy sophomore scored two touchdowns in the second half of the scrimmage. The first was an uneventful five-yard dive, but the second was a 75-yard highlight reel run where Webster got the corner, broke a tackle, then outran everybody down the left sideline. He also looked good in coverage as a corner on defense. No matter what he was doing, Webster just looked fast.
Mulcahy knows that Webster is a great athlete, but he wants him to become a great football player.
"He's gonna be a very good player, but he needs to get to practice," Mulcahy said. "He's very talented. He's good enough, talent-wise, to probably get in the mix for some carries this year. But we've got to get him here every day getting better."
Jones and Brennan Leave With Minor Injuries: On the injury front, both teams played without key players in the second quarter, but both should be back after the long weekend. St. John's junior receiver/safety Davon Jones didn't reenter the game after the first quarter ended, and Doherty quarterback Luke Brennan sat out the second quarter as well. Both injuries are considered minor and both coaches feel they will have their stars back after Labor Day in preparation for the start of the season.
Before Brennan went out, he delivered several memorable plays, including a Ben Roethlisberger-like scramble were he stepped up into the pocket, pounced back off a would-be tackler, turned around and scrambled to his right before flinging it 30 yards for a first down. He also delivered a big hit while running down the sideline on a busted play during the scrimmage’s first drive, lowering the boom on a St. John's linebacker that was probably expecting him to step out of bounds.
Jones was his usual versatile self, splitting time between receiver and running back on offense. He got around five touches and broke two runs for first downs. On defense, he nearly recorded the scrimmages only interception as he sat deep in coverage, and baited Brennan into throwing the post to Yiadom. Jones broke hard on the ball, undercutting the route perfectly, but just couldn't hold onto it.