Monday, September 12, 2011
What We Learned: Week 1
The best and brightest from a helter-skelter Week 1 of MIAA football:
A RAM-BUNCTIOUS UPSET Catholic Memorial plummets 15 spots to No. 19 after getting shut out 24-0 at Marshfield, and today there is undoubtedly some intense conversation going down on Baker Street. But to totally make the story about the heavily-favored Knights failing to get out of first gear is to forget what a well-coached team Marshfield is.
As we predicted last Thursday, this was going to be a bad matchup for the Knights. The talk at CM is often centered around its four BCS commits in Armani Reeves, Cam Williams, A.J. Doyle and Donovan Henry, while the line is considered a weakness in spite of its size.
Let's not forget that Marshfield is one of the South Shore's more historic programs over the last two decades (Sean Morey, Austin Giles, anyone?). For as long as we can remember, Lou Silva has been running an unorthodox Wing-T scheme and has always been strong in the trenches. Think back 10 years ago when Sean Morris was the Rams' feature back, and remember that every starter on that line went on to earn a college scholarship. Like those gritty Acton-Boxborough squads of the early 2000s, year after year the Rams' emphasis has been on beating you at the point of attack not with size, but speed.
For the Knights, who have garnered a lion's share of preseason hype the past few seasons, a hard lesson was learned. Games are still won on grass, not paper.
BE ON GUARD FOR ST. PETE St. Peter-Marian debuts in the poll this week at No. 23 after scoring one of the more significant victories west of I-495 traveling up to Crocker Field and taking down a Quinton Perkins-less Fitchburg squad, 20-6. Those in the know will tell you it's far from an upset.
Could we be headed for a return to the golden era of Jerry Azumah, Ricky Appiah and the late legendary coach Owen Kilcoyne? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Still, the Guardians certainly have some talent that is blooming late, but worth your consideration.
Senior defensive end Jordan Knowles is a force coming off the edge at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, able to overpower with a bull rush but also come across the face with a shifty swim move. He racked up two sacks and nine tackles in the loss, and barring injury could end up with 12 to 15 this season. Meanwhile, the Guardians were stout in the secondary, with Roosevelt Westbrook, Tyler Kmon, and Jonathan Harrigan all coming up with a pick each. Tre Watson, a star during basketball season, is another key cog.
But the sleeper of the bunch might be senior quarterback Steve Flynn, who threw for 240 yards and two scores, and also led the way defensively with 11 tackles from the defensive end spot opposite Knowles. This is Flynn’s first season as the full-time starter under center, and he’s still somewhat new to the sport (he didn’t pick up a football until his sophomore year).
You might remember his older brother Frankie –- a baseball standout at SPM, and one of the stars of the 2002 Jesse Burkett squad that lost to Louisville, Ky. in the Little League World Series final –- and the apple hasn’t fallen too far. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Steve is an imposing force on the mound for the Guardians’ baseball squad, with a fastball that has touched 90 miles per hour.
On the gridiron, though, he’s just as intimidating.
“He’s definitely the real deal,” Guardians head coach Tom Henrickson said of Flynn. “He’s thrown the ball 75 yards downfield. It’s insane. You have to see his arm to appreciate it. He’s thrown a 20-yard out from the short side of the field all the way across, and it’s a laser. You just don’t see that in high school football, he’s a real good one.”
Not to mention, Flynn will be a tough one to tackle this season. While he runs a 4.9 40-yard dash, he also reportedly benches upwards of 350 pounds, one of several reasons he’s just starting to get Division 1 looks.
“He’s not fast, but he’s not slow either,” Henrickson said. “People go to sack him, you try and grab him and he just tosses you…[against Fitchburg] our running back didn’t pick up a blitz, so he took a sack once, but it took four guys to take him down. He’s like an unknown commodity.”
ANOTHER NAIL-BITER, ANOTHER CLASSIC Once again, the Central Mass clash between St. John's of Shrewsbury and Holy Name went down to the wire. And, once again, the Pioneers emerged victorious over the Naps.
What also was displayed in the annual rite of autumn, in rare form, was the gut and determination of Mike Pucko's team to overcome what they might lack in depth. With an unseasonably warm day and playing on artificial turf at Assumption College, the matchup was a battle of attrition. Pucko commented postgame that his team was "gassed" by halftime.
"We knew we were going to be in for a long second half," he told Scott Barboza on Saturday.
With many of his players running on empty by the third quarter, three of the Naps starters would be taken to the hospital by ambulance while fighting dehydration. Lineman Sean Zuromsky was overcome by the heat at the end of the third. After receiving a double-team block from the Pioneers offensive line, Zuromsky doubled over, face first into the turf, unable to breathe.
"He was so dehydrated, his mouth was white," Pucko said.
Outsiders might think it extreme, the savagery of a brutal game, which football can be. But the underlying truth is that pound-for-pound, Holy Name teams remain toughest team in the state. Pucko gets his players to show up and play, no matter who the opponent, no matter what the circumstance.
That doesn't necessarily fit into the "What We Learned" category, but it's worth reaffirming.
CRIMSON CHURNING The feeling among the Everett contingent following last Friday’s 47-12 win over Leominster was not of satisfaction, to say the least.
“We take good out of it, but we have a long way to go,” quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso said.
“There are a lot of things we need to improve upon,” said his father, long time head coach John DiBiaso.
Fact: right now, there isn’t a player in the No. 1 Crimson Tide’s program at the talent level of either of its graduated wide receivers Matt Costello (Princeton) and Manny Asprilla (Boston College), considered two of the greatest in program history.
But here’s another fact: The Tide could have put up 60 on Friday if not for a few drops in the end zone. Jakarrie Washington and Jaylen McRae are two potential home-run threats with burners (filling Costello’s deep-ball role) while Kenny Calaj and Vondell Langston are tough to bring down, when taking handoffs out of the backfield or coming over the middle (much like Asprilla’s role there).
Consider Everett’s new batch of receivers like a baseball glove. It’s going to take a few games to get broken in.
But when they’re broken in, look out.
DEFENSE IS KING As much as folks might dwell on the 42 points the Eagles posted on the Boxers at Viola Stadium, equally if not more impressive was the true shutout the BC High defense posted.
The Eagles' defense thrives behind junior middle linebacker Luke Catarius, who again set the tone with 15 tackles, including three for a loss, along with 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries.
"We just really practiced the coverages and where they set up," Catarius told ESPN Boston correspondent Adam Kurkjian on Friday. "I just read my keys well and made the plays."
Easier said than done, but the Eagles were effective in shutting down the Boxers' ground game behind Josh Brewster and quarterback Paul Mroz was held to completing just two passes for 10 yards with an interception.
The Eagles simply never Brockton in the game.
BIG WEEKEND FOR THE SMALL The Merrimack Valley Small went 4-1 on this opening weekend, including eye-opening upsets by Lawrence (33-14, over then-No. 17 Reading) and Dracut (13-7, over then-No. 12 St. John’s Prep). If you can recall, the Small had another strong start a season ago, but this time around the feeling is that momentum will stick.
By now, Dracut’s read-option attack is a well-oiled machine, and despite some obvious signs of rust – and without returning MVC lineman of the year Peter Salem due to injury – the Middies sold play fakes well and at times took the outside lanes at will. It’s also got a strong junior class led by quarterback Jimmy Ryan and running back/linebacker Zach Bassett.
For anybody that saw Reading this summer or in scrimmages, this Lawrence upset comes as a surprise. The Rockets are stout at the line of scrimmage and feature a core of youngsters that is talented in spite of its inexperience. But what the Lancers lack in size they more than make up for in speed, and that should make waves in this spread-happy conference.
Some predicted a drop-off at Methuen after the graduation of Cal Carroll and Raudy Minaya, and the departure of head coach Pat Graham. But they’ve picked up right where they left off, with quarterback Eric Lacroix racking up nearly 300 yards of total offense and having a hand in every score, as the Rangers exacted revenge on Plymouth North with a 27-13 win.
And last but not least, Haverhill snapped a 32-game losing streak forcefully, with an impressive 39-12 win over a Malden squad that isn’t as thin as some people are saying. The Hillies reportedly took it to Central Catholic in a preseason scrimmage, so don’t be surprised if they make some noise when it comes to the gauntlet that is the MVC slate. It’s too early to predict hypothesize on the chances of their first postseason berth since 2002, but this will be a fun team to watch.
STREAKING NO MORE While Auburn extended its state best 37-game winning streak on Friday, Eastern Massachusetts' longest football winning streak came to an end for Gloucester. The Fishermen's 26-game winning streak was derailed by a motivated Lynn English team at the Manning Bowl.
Bulldogs quarterback Jermaine Kelley went off for six touchdowns and 279 yards while earning ESPN Boston Player of the Week honors for Week 1. Kelley, a transfer from Swampscott, spread the ball around with Josh Batista accounting for four touchdowns and top target Malcolm Brown-Simpson, a Pope John transfer, providing big-play potential to the aerial attack.
Lynn English head coach Peter Holey wasn't about to get ahead of himself even after the victory, adding that there's a long way to go before deeming the season a success during practice in Lynn on Monday afternoon. However, with a talented offense led by Kelley and a talented running back in senior P.J. Dorsey, the Bulldogs will be worth watching all season long.
BAROMETER OF THE WEST? Springfield's Putnam High beat previously ranked Central (No. 20 in preseason poll) on Friday, showing that the Beavers are the early favorites to claim the Division 2 crown in Western Mass. While the Division 1 race out West always runs through Longmeadow, the question is who will be the team to stand up to the Lancers this year?
We think Central can still be that team -- this weekend's test against No. 1 Everett will be an every greater indication -- but Putnam could serve as a great measuring stick. With a schedule that includes Westfield, Chicopee and West Springfield, the Beavers should prove a barometer as to who can take the fight to Longmeadow. After all, that is because Putnam might be the best team in Western Mass not named the Lancers.