READING, Mass. -- The No. 2 Central Catholic Raiders took to the road in their MIAA Division 1 State Championship defense this morning, heading to Reading High to take on the Middlesex League power Rockets in a controlled scrimmage.
You can forgive the Raiders if they looked rusty early -- there's been a lot on the minds of the Central Catholic community this week. Incoming senior Will Wheeler passed away suddenly last weekend, less than 48 hours before the Raiders' first practice of the season.
Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos made it clear after the scrimmage that there was nothing he was more proud of than the way his team came together to finish the week. After Thursday morning's practice, the team loaded up the buses and made their way to Wheeler's funeral services. With hearts heavy following the conclusion of services, Adamopoulos told his players they understandably didn't need to attend their scheduled afternoon session of practice if they weren't up for it.
Instead, hours after the burial of one of their beloved teammates, the players went back out for their next practice, a powerful moment Adamopoulos called "something I'll never forget."
“It’s been a tough week for these kids,” explained an emotional Adamopoulos. “For them to go through what they have this week and for them to respond the way they have, it’s amazing."
Describing the week's emotions, Adamopoulos continued, "What these kids had to go through this week, I would never wish upon my worst enemy."
Slow start, strong finish: The Raiders struggled on their first offensive series, having two plays go for losses, a bad snap and an interception. But as the scrimmage went on, Central was able to get into a groove with a balance of both run and pass.
Senior quarterback Mike Milano, a preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection, looked more and more impressive as the scrimmage went on. His highlight of the day came on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Steven Jackson. Milano showed a quick release on short routes and was a big factor for the offense improving after the first series.
Defensively for the Raiders, two players that stood out were linebacker Blake Shield and nose tackle Jorge Elias III. Shield had a huge hit that resulted in a tackle for loss, while Elias filled gaps and had several tackles after coming off blocks.
Rockets glare: For Reading, the Rockets started the scrimmage off with a bang on both sides of the ball. On defense, players were swarming to the ball and forced an interception that was brought down by safety Will Connery. On offense, junior running back D’Aundray Burcy did his best Barry Sanders impression, tight roping down the sideline 40 yards before diving into the end zone for the score.
After the first series, Reading struggled to move the ball consistently. Their only other noteworthy long gain on the day came from Burcy again, taking a screen pass and eking out a 22-yard reception. While Reading coach John Fiore was pleased overall with his team’s effort, he knows there’s still areas to improve on before the team’s next scrimmage versus Andover on Friday.
“I was real pleased with our run defense and how we tackled out there,” said coach Fiore. “There are definitely areas we can improve on and that goes for everybody. Every guy on this roster and every coach has something we have to work on. But it’s a great barometer to see where we’re at from playing a talented team like that.”