With the MIAA Western Mass. district beginning football playoffs this Friday, we took a quick look at the semifinal matchups and predicted champs for each division.
Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor
Too much talent to handle on both sides of the ball, whether it's Monmouth-bound QB Cody Williams and the passing attack of skilled receivers Ju'an Williams and Malik Johnson, as well as scatback Troy Morrow; or the defense, where Kahlil Walker and Kenneth Marshall control the front seven and safety Day Day Clemons is a wrecking ball out of the secondary (his hit on Everett's Lukas Denis in the opening week might have caused the Earth to shake a little).
Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor
Considering the way the Golden Eagles walloped Westfield last week, I feel as though Central was sending a message to the rest of the field that this is their tournament. If Troy Morrow continues to run the ball as he has in recent weeks, there's no reason to believe Central doesn't advance with the sectional title in tow.
Ben Larsen, ESPN Boston correspondent
In the end, it will be the two best teams in the region but if last week's rout was any indication, Westfield won't be able to match the powerful Eagles. Speed, size, athleticism and a program just hitting its stride.
Brownies made one of the biggest statements of the year in the season's opening weekend rout of Longmeadow, long the region's gold standard, just two years after a forgettable 0-11 campaign. You like to see a good story keep rolling, but more than that I just plain think Steve Comee is one of the best two-way players in Western Mass. He will be the difference.
Hate to rain on the Brownies' parade -- truly one of the better stories in MIAA football this year -- but I see the Warriors coming away with a win in a projected battle of undefeated squads. Coming off a Super Bowl victory last year, a strong junior class has Wahconah primed for some deep postseason runs to come.
The Brownies will have a tall task against top-seeded Wahconah but a perfect regular season with wins over solid teams, including perennial powerhouse Longmeadow, means the Brownies are ready for the prime time.
Hall: Springfield Cathedral
Some impressive stats for you here: With its double wing scheme, the Panthers have run for a total of 2,142 yards and 31 touchdowns with 16 different ball-carriers, including a season-high 408 yards and seven touchdowns in last week's 54-7 rout of Turners Falls. But they are quite balanced for running such a traditionally run-heavy attack, with leading rusher Josh Wyzik producing as much through the air (747 yards, 5 TD) as the ground (643 yards, 13 TD, 8.9 yards per carry). That's got to be tricky to defend, and it's already a difficult enough offense to prepare for.
Hoosac Valley's seniors notched their first-ever win over Greylock in September, winning the turnover battle. I see the tables turning in the teams' semi-final matchup as the Mounties exact revenge en route to the district title.
The Eagles are flying high at 7-1 entering the postseason and the program has had plenty of success against its Western Mass. counterparts in the playoffs.
Hall: Franklin County Tech
Sensing a trend here? I like double wing teams' chances in playoff games. Kyle Laffey is averaging nearly seven yards per carry, with 16 touchdowns, and I don't see him slowing down this postseason.
Going with the prevailing wind, and Mohawk's early season win over Franklin Tech, in the game that will decide the bracket.
Larsen: McCann Tech
The Hornets have built a heck of a program and this year's team can withstand even the impressive depth the Division VI field has to offer.
Western Mass. 1st-round playoff picks
No. 4 LONGMEADOW (5-3) at No. 1 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL (7-1)
Hall: As I said earlier this week, Longmeadow had the best game plan for slowing Central that I've seen yet. It turned out a Central win, yes, but it was easily the Golden Eagles' worst performance of the year. I expect them to clean up their mistakes on offense this time around. Central, 25-14
Larsen: We wanted a rivalry between these two and we’ve got it. This will mark the third straight postseason in which the two perennial regional powers meet. The last two have come in the Super Bowl. With superior size, athleticism and the best quarterback in Western Mass., Central will win --- but it won’t be a blowout. Central, 21-15
No. 3 EAST LONGMEADOW (6-2) at No. 2 WESTFIELD (7-1)
Hall: No joke, sophomore Mike Maggipinto is playing himself into All-State consideration right now. Last week's blowout loss to Central exposed some flaws in Westfield, and I think the Bombers are in for another hard time here against the super soph. East Longmeadow, 30-17.
Ben Larsen: In their regular-season meeting, the Spartans and Bombers produced one of the season’s more memorable games. Westfield was hit with a reality check in its first loss of the season last week to Central and will come out sharp and executing its ferocious ground game to perfection, not needing a second-half rally to dispatch of the feisty Spartans. Westfield, 35-21
No. 4 SOUTH HADLEY (3-4) at No. 1 WAHCONAH (8-0)
Hall: That South Hadley pistol offense is dangerous. They've got T.J. Fitzell running behind some big hoggies back there, and don't count out the vengeance factor here. Give me the Tigers in a rematch of last year's D2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. South Hadley, 20-17.
Larsen: You can never discount a South Hadley team in the postseason --- no matter the sport. But T.J. Fitzell and the red-hot Tigers won’t have enough to withstand the power of the Berkshires. Wahconah, 28-14
No. 3 NORTHAMPTON (5-3) at No. 2 AGAWAM (8-0)
Hall: Hard to believe two years ago this was a team that took one on the chin 66-0 to Springfield Putnam, surrendering a record 420 rushing yards to All-State running back Melquawn Pinkney. This has been a program-defining season for the Brownies, who have picked themselves off the canvas mightily, and a second win over Northampton would further cement it. Agawam, 25-10.
Larsen: It wasn’t until Agawam defeated the Blue Devils in early October that Northampton found what it needed to make a playoff push. It won three straight to punch its ticket but history is bound to repeat, for the Brownies are on a mission in their first postseason appearance. Agawam, 28-12
No. 4 CATHEDRAL (6-2) at No. 1. EASTHAMPTON (7-1)
Hall: Convention says go with Easthampton, which has done little to suggest they won't take this field. But I like the Panthers' chances of an upset if they can hold onto the ball and eliminate turnovers. Cathedral, 10-9.
Larsen: The fourth-seeded Panthers hung with Eastampton in their Oct. 5 regular-season matchup --- throughout the first half. Expect things to be a bit closer than that final (46-24) but for the Eagles to win and move on. Easthampton, 28-15
No. 3 MOUNT GREYLOCK (6-2) at No. 2 HOOSAC VALLEY (7-1)
Hall: It's always tougher to beat an opponent the second time around, but Hoosac gets the season sweep here. Hoosac, 14-13.
Larsen: The Division V field is deep with four solid teams, including Berkshire rivals Greylock and Hoosac. In their regular-season matchup, Hoosac Valley prevailed 20-12 thanks to a pair of Greylock turnovers. This might be the tightest game of the week and you can expect Mount Greylock to play a bit tighter. Mount Greylock 21-20.
No. 4 TURNERS FALLS (6-2) at No. 1 MCCANN TECH (7-1)
Hall: The Hornets have a bunch of home run hitters in the backfield, with Dylan Darling, Brett Pecor, Eathan Heller and Levi Lawson all averaging seven yards or more per carry. It's going to be a tall task for Turners. McCann Tech, 35-16
Larsen: McCann Tech has been quietly building a contender in the northwest corner of the state. Expect the Hornets to use its balanced rushing attack, including Dylan Darling and Brett Pecor, to outgun the Indians. McCann Tech, 40-15
No. 3 FRANKLIN TECH (6-2) at No. 2 MOHAWK (7-1)
Hall: Kyle Laffey has come on strong in the second half of the season, including a season-high 214 yards last week in a shutout of Dean Tech. I smell an upset. Franklin Tech, 18-13
Larsen: The two teams met in early October with Mohawk prevailing 32-20. The top-seed needed 26 fourth-quarter points to pull out the victory. Kyle Laffey, who’s rushed for 1,044 yards and 15 touchdowns already this season, will lead Frankin to an early-round upset. Franklin Tech 24-20