Ahead of Saturday's six MIAA Football State Championships at Gillette Stadium, today we are bringing back our "Tale of the Tape" series to break down each participating team's matchups headed into the game.
In the Division 5 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at Central champ Northbridge and North champ Bishop Fenwick, respectively.
Division 5 State Championship
NORTHBRIDGE (10-2) vs. BISHOP FENWICK (12-0)
at Gillette Stadium, 8 p.m.
When Northbridge has the ball: It was once said that Rams head coach Ken LaChapelle -– he of 300-plus wins and counting, 10 Super Bowl titles and just three losing seasons since he took over in 1976 -– would like to just once coach a game in his career where he calls nothing but pass plays. The Rams’ affinity for the air, and the spread is well-documented -– LaChapelle was among the first coaches in Massachusetts to fully adopt and run-and-shoot scheme, and has found exponential success with it ever since.
The Rams have found plenty of success, however, on the ground with sophomore quarterback Koby Schofer (187 carries, 1,511 yards, 22 TD). When a running lane opens up in the tackle box, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Schofer is unafraid to take off downfield; and with some live hips, he is a bit underrated when it comes to shiftiness. One of the staples of the running game with Schofer has been the inverted veer play. Out of an empty formation, they will often motion either sophomores Jake Wood (140 carries, 717 yards, 10 TD) or Michael Quinn from the slot for a jet sweep look, and from there they read the defensive tackle for the mesh point.
But it wouldn’t be Northbridge football without a nifty passing game. LaChapelle is a sharp, innovative mind, and one of the best ever -– period –- when it comes to dialing up the right play calls. Schofer (131-of-221, 1,300 yards, 11 TD) has thrown some terrific balls in a garden variety of a passing game, which includes an array of slip screens, swing passes, slants, wheels and even double posts -– any of which may come under center or in the shotgun. Look for sophomore leading receiver Chandler Brooks (43 catches, 518 yards, 5 TD) to be active in the air.
When Bishop Fenwick has the ball: In particular, when Rufus Rushins has the ball in his hands, you can almost knowingly expect a run up the middle. With his 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame, Rushins (1,296 yards, 20 TD) is a north-south runner. While looks might be deceiving, with the Crusaders typically lined up in spread formations, they carry the mentality of a power-I team. However, what makes Fenwick’s rushing attack that much more difficult to diagnose is senior quarterback Nick Bona. The undersized signal-caller is an ideal spread option quarterback, who runs the Crusaders' inside zone reads with Rushins to near perfection. Once Bona’s in the clear, he’s an elusive runner as well.
What really makes Fenwick’s ground game click is the right side of its line. Road-grading, 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior and three-year starter Charlie St. Pierre is among the best on the North Shore. Along with sparkplug Tyler Kaufman (5-foot-9, 180 pounds), the Crusaders use the pair interchangeably at the right guard and tackle positions to great success.
But, also, let’s not discount Fenwick’s vertical passing game. Once establishing the run, the Crusaders like to take chances downfield, employing a stable of wide receivers, including senior speedster Charlie Maistrellis.
When Northbridge is on defense: The Rams have seen a lot of different looks this fall, and have usually been pretty consistent in the back end, especially when it comes to the pass. Wood (3 INTs) and junior Robert Fraser (3) have been a solid tandem at the free and strong safety positions, respectively, while senior Jurrell Cromwell (3 INTs) is the team’s top option at cornerback, saddled with taking their top man.
How these guys match up with Fenwick in the trenches, especially with the Crusaders’ bullish Rufus Rushins returning to the backfield, will be one of the key storylines to this game. I feel the Rams can do some damage in this area, with seniors Tom Tabur (6-3, 285) and Connor Gatto (6-1, 290) controlling the interior gaps. Both are relentless, one-gap pluggers who can blow guys back with a bit of momentum. Both have received varying degrees of Division 1 FCS interest, while Gatto has impressive upper-body strength, putting up 34 bench press reps at 185 pounds in last May’s annual Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association combine.
Sometimes Tabur and Gatto will pinch down inside the A-gaps, lined up over opposite shades of the center, seemingly taking the middle of the field by brute force. That seems to serve as a quality compliment to speed rushers Damion McFetridge and Derek Chace off the edges.
When Bishop Fenwick is on defense: The mainstays of Fenwick’s offense also figure prominently in its defensive game schemes. With Rushins at defensive end and Bona at inside linebacker, they bring physicality to the Crusaders’ front seven. They will be the keys to shutting down Schofer in the ground game out of Fenwick’s varying 3- and 4-man fronts.
Kaufman is an intriguing player to watch in this matchup. He’s played anywhere from a 1-technique defensive tackle to a weak side defensive end. But from whichever angle he’s played, Kaufman has a motor that simply has no quit, evidenced by his many tackles in pursuit.
But make no bones about it, Fenwick’s chances for victory will likely rest with its secondary. The group comprised Tommy Parsons, Eric Razney and Maistrallis, among others, is capable of making plays, but doesn’t often see prodigious spread offenses in the rush-heavy Catholic Central portion of the team’s schedule. They will be the difference-makers.