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Monday, September 16, 2013
Quick-hit thoughts from Week 2

By Brendan Hall

Some quick-hit thoughts from Week 2 football action around the state:

1. In my first year as a Boston Globe correspondent back in 2006, I covered the Division 1 Super Bowl between Everett and Brockton, a game that will forever be remembered as one of Everett coach John DiBiaso’s shrewdest coaching decisions in recent years. Facing 4th and 1 at their own 16, Everett went for it, reeled off an 84-yard Isaac Johnson touchdown run to make it 21-0, and completely changed the game’s dynamic. When I asked DiBiaso about how much risk he weighed in deciding to go for it, he simply smiled back with a wink, “That was fourth down?”

I bring up that anecdote because on Friday night, facing a deficit in the fourth quarter to Xaverian, DiBiaso decided to go for it on 4th and 2 at their own 23 with seven minutes to go. They failed to convert, and on the next play Jake Farrell hit D.J. Sperzel in the end zone to seal the upset victory for the Hawks. That decision left some fans in Everett no doubt frustrated, but consider what kind of a team he has this year. There is top-end talent, but this is a green group with 18 new starters – most of them callow, unpolished – still trying to feel their way through and find an identity. Nobody was satisfied with the Tide’s Week 1 win over Springfield Central; this was likely a test for DiBiaso to see what kind of backbone they’ve got.

Patriots fans no doubt turn back to Bill Belichick’s famous “Fourth and 2” decision against Indianapolis in 2009, but also consider what it did for the 1995 Dallas Cowboys when coach Barry Switzer elected to go for it – they failed to convert, giving the Eagles the game, but they never lost a game the rest of the season. Friday night was a tough one to swallow in Everett, but “In DiBiaso We Trust” remains the motto.

2. Amherst receiver Taj-Amir Torres is suddenly a hot name on the recruiting scene in Massachusetts, already holding offers from UMass, Boston College and UConn headed into his junior season this fall. After missing last week’s 60-14 blowout loss to Westfield, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster had seven catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the Hurricanes’ 28-14 loss to East Longmeadow.

How important is Torres to the Hurricanes’ offense? In Sept. 6’s loss to Westfield, without him, they were outgained 413-103 in total yardage. Last Friday, with him in the lineup, they outgained the Spartans 340-332. Torres has legitimate speed, winning New England’s in the 100-meter dash last spring and being honored as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year. He’ll definitely be one to monitor.

3. Two Fridays ago, Sept. 6, Boston College pulled out a nice 24-10 win over Wake Forest in a nationally-televised Atlantic Coast Conference opener. Last Friday, Merrimack outlasted Northeast-10 rival American International College, 62-50, in a wild shootout where the two teams combined for 1,122 yards of offense. Exciting games like these perhaps justify the continuing trend of Friday night college football, but realistically I am wondering how much this could potentially hinder participating New England schools on the recruiting front.

Advancements in game/highlight film technology (particularly Hudl) have allowed coaches to make hundreds of evaluations quicker, and there are still many opportunities to watch a prospect in practice. But there is still plenty of value in scouting a top prospect live. You can't pick up mental makeup, body language, attitude, or work ethic from watching a highlight film. Attending a game also shows a prospect how committed you are to recruiting them. Going the other way, there are probably hundreds of recruits who would be unable to visit campus on a Friday night because they are playing in a game themselves.

4. Heading into Friday night's battle between Leominster and St. John's of Shrewsbury, some of us wondered out loud if Leominster would consider taking safety Neil O'Connor, their top defensive back, and bringing him down to the boundary to match up with Preseason All-Stater Davon Jones, mano a mano. The Blue Devils opted not to match up with Jones, instead playing the corners five yards off the line of scrimmage in a zone scheme, with some "Robber" technique mixed in.

Jones finished the night with four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, though it should be noted O'Connor was on the sideline during the touchdown grab, battling cramps in both of his legs. St. John's passing game is typically predicated on exploiting zone holes, but perhaps Leominster has laid out a good blueprint for slowing them down. Jones is as dangerous an athlete as they come in Massachusetts.

5. Bridgewater-Raynham is thoroughly an "old school" program, from their logo-less helmets to their three-yards-and-dust offense to their legendary "anyone, any time" schedule. Two techniques in particular that are seen less and less in today's game have me intrigued: punter Josh Monson's "coffin corner" ability, and tailback Brandon Gallagher's over-the-top leaping technique.

Monson has come close to nailing the coffin corner two straight weeks now -- in last weekend's fourth-quarter attempt against Duxbury, he landed the ball just a foot in front of the pylon as it rolled out. Gallagher's move is seen less and less in today's game because of its high-risk factor -- both for ball security, and for injury. Yet in two straight weeks, Gallagher has scored on a one-yard leap over the top. The Trojans even incorporate Gallagher's leap over the top into their play actions.