Some notes and observations from a wild first weekend of MIAA football:
Bombers Go Big
There were plenty of big statements made all weekend, from Agawam’s upset of Longmeadow to Bridgewater-Raynham’s surgical defeat of preseason No. 1 St. John’s Prep. But for pure offense, is there any team that made as big a statement as No. 21 Westfield?
The Bombers avenged last year’s blowout 46-14 loss to Amherst in convincing fashion, throttling the Hurricanes to the tune of 375 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns, for a 60-14 win. It marks the most points they’ve scored in a single game in over a decade and a half, dating back to the late 1990’s.
Sure, Amherst’s lightning-quick receiver, Taj-Amir Torres, did not play. But this is still considered one of the top squads in Western Mass. Division 4, and coach David Thompson has the program on the up and up.
Asked about what kind of statement this makes for the Bombers out West, head coach Bill Moore was dismissive.
“We’re not interested in making statements. We want to get a win under our belt, that’s the first step for us,” he said. “We’ve gotta get ready for the next one. I don’t think anybody thinks of it like that.”
Still, it’s hard to overlook that big 6-0, especially when senior running back Ben Geschwind is operating the way he did on Friday night. A three-year starter and the all-important fullback in Moore’s triple option scheme, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Geschwind is an upright runner who can create running lanes, set the edge, and maintain balance driving through arm tackles. On this night, he led the way with 183 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’re looking for big things this year from him,” Moore sadi. “He’s a horse at fullback… He’s physical, tough, he can make some moves. Just a good, hard runner, who has the ability to make people miss.”
‘Second Nature’ for Spencer
Since Paul Funk first installed the no-huddle read option nearly a decade ago at Dennis-Yarmouth, offense at the high school level has gotten quite sophisticated. Within their own league, the Dolphins see a garden variety of offensive schemes, ranging from the Pistol (Plymouth South) to the Single Wing (Nauset) to the Wing-T (Marshfield) and beyond.
But over in South Yarmouth, it’s been a seamless transition from quarterback to quarterback, from Nick Montalto to Bryan Burch to Nick’s younger brother, former ESPN Boston All-Stater Matt, to current starter Spencer Tyler. When it comes their turn, it seems, the new kid under center always appears ready.
Years in the making, if you will.
“We have a system in place that is installed in our youth system at age nine,” Funk said. “They believe in it, they coach it, we use the same terminology down there as we do up here, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”
With the 6-foot-2 Tyler, a senior, Funk says “It’s really second nature” at this point. Like the Montalto brothers of years past, Tyler is an extension of the coach on the field at this point. And like those Montaltos, perhaps to a lesser degree, Tyler can make defenders miss, extending the pocket to the sidelines and churning upfield with his deceivingly-quick, long strides.
“He’s really smart, his grade point average is really high, it’s in the mid 3.5’s, he’s really intelligent,” Funk said. “And he’s a quiet leader. He’s cool and calm under pressure.”
All of it came to a head in the season opener on Friday night, against rival Barnstable, for a margin of victory that almost never happens. Prior to last year’s 55-14 Barnstable blowout, the previous three meetings between the Cape’s two premier programs had been decided by a grand total of five points. This year’s 37-9 win might come as a surprise, as Tyler danced around the field to the tune of 320 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, working with a deep arsenal of receivers that includes Jacob Pawlina, Michael Dunn, Liam Matheson, L.K. Matz, Andrew Jamiel, Mike Anderson and Cory DeSimone.
At their apex, the Dolphins run their offense at a frenetic pace, and when they’re playing fast, they can put up points in a hurry. With 16 returning starters from a team that peaked towards the end of 2012, when they were out of ACL title contention, this should give the Dolphins a good momentum boost as they get set to open league play this week and compete for a Division 4 state title.
“It’s a nice win for the school and for the kids,” Funk said. “Any time we move up to their level, it’s a good win for our program. We expect to play at that level and that’s something we’ve established the last 5-7 years, and the execution was there Friday night.”
Some Parting Parallels
Following their loss to Bridgewater-Raynham last weekend, St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary made an interesting comparison, chalking it up to his own squad a season ago.
The parallel, for the unfamiliar, was that both of these teams have come out hungry after disappointing finishes the year prior. In 2011, the Eagles skated to a 4-6 finish, losing three of their last four. Last season, the Eagles exploded for their first MIAA Division 1 Super Bowl Championship in 15 seasons, tallying over 3,000 yards on the ground behind the state’s best running back tandem of Alex Moore and Johnathan Thomas. Both Moore and Thomas were named finalists for ESPN Boston’s Mr. Football Award, with Moore taking the honors as well as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
This year, the Trojans have come out of the gates firing on all cylinders behind a nasty offensive line and a stingy linebacking corps. Following Saturday’s win over Prep, the unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the land, Trojans head coach Dan Buron went as far as to call it “one of the best non-conference wins we’ve had.”
The tailback tandem of senior Arcel Armstead and junior Brandon Gallagher (a preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection) could make B-R one of the top rushing attacks across Massachusetts. Junior Matt Clement dazzled in his first start at quarterback, making plays on the run and hitting receivers downfield in stride on Buron’s trademark “waggle” play.
Could the Trojans be in for similar success in 2013?
“They looked like us two years ago coming into last year,” O’Leary said. “Same kind of team. They had a tough season, they lost a lot of tough games the year before. Our young secondary got burned a couple times on play action, because they’re running the ball so well. That’s a tough combination."
Early leader for the state’s sharpest turnaround has to go to Agawam. Two years ago, the Brownies slouched to an 0-11 campaign getting outscored 364-106, including a 66-0 rout by Putnam in which All-State running back Melquawn Pinkney broke the Western Mass single-game rushing record. Friday night, the Brownies took down Longmeadow in convincing fashion, 35-12, their first win over the Lancers since 2004. ... Among the popular names in the discussion for state’s best defense, Lowell is not frequently found. But consider the Red Raiders’ 21-0 shutout of Westford, their first shutout since a 21-0 decision two years ago over Lawrence, a sign of good things to come. ... Last spring, new Cambridge coach Ryan Saulnier hinted that the quarterback position may be deeper than perceived following David Maaghul’s transfer to prep school. Perhaps Cameron McMillian is a sign of good things to come, then. In his first varsity start for the Falcons, the dual-threat gunslinger was 5-of-9 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns (including a spectacular 70-yard TD throw to running back Shaq Anderson), and added 158 yards and two scores on the ground on just five carries. This week’s battle with Acton-Boxborough should serve as a quality litmus test.