Boston High School: Anthony Schena

Tale of the Tape: Tewksbury vs. Plymouth South

December, 4, 2013
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 4 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at North champ Tewksbury and South champ Plymouth South, respectively.

Division 3 State Championship
at Gillette Stadium, 6 p.m.

When Tewksbury has the ball: Bar none, this has got to be the most fascinating high school offense in Massachusetts to watch. You may see as many as 25 different formations in a game, and from just about every family of offense imaginable. Their game-opening drive against Melrose in the D3 North Final featured a half-dozen formations, for starters – starting with a gun empty with two tight ends, followed by a Wing-T, a Flex Bone look, the I-Formation, an unbalanced Power-I, and the dated “Notre Dame Box” formation made famous by Knute Rockne nearly 100 years ago.

And that was just one drive. When you’re scouting Tewksbury’s offense, there is a lot to digest in a short window of time. One of the concepts they’ve been pretty effective with is their ability to set up the run, not the pass, out of empty formations, with quarterback Johnny Aylward leading the way on an inverted veer or a power. But to single out one guy is like picking one’s favorite grandchild – between James Sullivan (21 TDs), Eddie Matovu, tight end Tom Casey and receiver Kevin Dick, there is a load to handle. In another offense, Dick might catch 100 passes. But in Tewksbury, he is one of a half-dozen dangerous weapons, making the Redmen that much more intimidating.

In the trenches, look out for a senior-laden line led by Matt Lacascia, Alex Hamilton, John Melloni, John DeVito and Dan Donovan. This is a unit that moves quick off the ball, and should provide a quality matchup for a beefy South line led by Shaun Duncombe.

When Plymouth South has the ball: No running back has seen the ball more the last two seasons in Massachusetts football than Panthers senior running back Dylan Oxsen. After setting the state’s single-season rushing touchdowns record (40) in 2012, Oxsen’s already surpassed 2,000 rushing yards (2,145) on the season, while averaging just about 30 carries per game.

Of course, for Oxsen’s success, much credit is due to the Panther’s line, as well as lead blocker Matt Bremis, running out of South’s I-formation and pistol looks. Senior captain and Bryant University commit Shaun Duncombe is a true road-grader, while senior center Brendan Harty has been a solid two-year starter. Meanwhile, Bremis has been a steady two-way contributor for South for a few years now. While South might not have faced such a hard-hitting defense as Tewksbury’s throughout this season, the Panthers have the size to match a physical Redmen front eight at the point of attack.

When Tewksbury is on defense: In their previous two playoff games, against Melrose (D3 North Final) and Marblehead (D3 Northeast Final), the Redmen found success with quarters looks, sprinkled with enough pre-snap movement to disguise coverage or simply create some confusion. That’s led to a monster season at safety for Sullivan, who came up with three picks in a game earlier this season. We’re just going to assume they come out with something new for this game, because South presents a wholly different offensive attack than Melrose’s read option.

Lucky for Tewksbury, the guys they have in the back seven are versatile, and they embrace contact. With Matovu and Casey at linebacker, and Johnny Aylward roaming at strong safety, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Redmen load up the box to combat South’s “22” personnel and heavy pistol looks. If grit and grind is the name of the game, Tewksbury can play right along with it.

When Plymouth South is on defense: In what could be a defensive struggle in a ball control-oriented game, turnovers should loom large. The Panthers won the turnover battle in the Division 3 South final, thanks to a last-minute interception from senior captain Anthony Schena, against Stoughton.

The matchup will likely be determined on the lines, so the impetus is on the down linemen in South’s 4-4 stack to control the gaps against Tewksbury’s multipronged ground game. Duncombe and Harty anchor the line, alongside Nick Eaton and Justin Lamb.

But the difference-maker is Bremis, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder can lay down the lumber, so expect plenty of car wreck-caliber hits laid out by both defenses.

D3 South final: Plymouth South 14, Stoughton 12

November, 23, 2013

BROCKTON, Mass. -- A season ago, the Plymouth South High School football team surged to the program’s first ever playoff appearance, but fell in the first round of the playoffs, one win shy of a Super Bowl appearance at Gillette Stadium.

Fast forward one year, and star running Dylan Oxsen made sure the Panthers would finally get to find out what the turf in Foxborough felt like as he powered Plymouth South past Stoughton, 14-12, in the Div. 3 South final to punch a ticket to the state title game.

“The feeling is so good to be the senior group to finally make it to Gillette,” Oxsen said. “Before last year, South had never even made the playoffs. Last year, we made it to this game and we lost. There is no better feeling than this right now.”

Added South coach Scott Fry: “It’s not a very old program; we've only been around for 20 years. Relatively speaking, when you’re talking Stoughton years, that’s not very long. We’ve always kind of been the step sister of Plymouth so it says so much about our kids and the student body.”

Oxsen, who got off to a slow start against rival Plymouth North last week, hit the ground running Friday night under the lights of Marciano Stadium at Brockton High. He ripped off both of his touchdown runs and ran for 150 of his whopping 214 yards before halftime against the Knights.

After the team’s traded three-and-outs on the first two drives of the game, Oxsen took advantage of the good field position South was given after Stoughton punted from deep in their territory.

He took the first carry eight yards up the middle before gashing Stoughton on the second touch of the drive for the final 29 that stood between him and the end zone to put the Panthers up 7-0.

Early in the second quarter, South forced another punt, this time taking over at their own 25.

Their leading man went to work once again, this time taking eight of the Panthers’ nine carries on the drive, racking up an impressive 72 yards, finally capping the drive with a 6-yard plunge to extend the lead to 14-0 with 4:07 remaining in the first half.

Plymouth South appeared on the verge of putting the game out of reach as Stoughton’s ensuing drive seemed to stall when a long pass on third down tipped off the hands of a would-be receiver.

Facing a fourth-and-8 at the South 15, Stoughton head coach Greg Burke opted to bypass a field goal attempt, instead putting the ball back into the hands of sophomore quarterback Jake Gibb.

Gibb, who took over as the starter midway through the season, responded like a true veteran as he delivered a perfectly lofted pass into the outstretched hands of Lennox Green. For the second straight week, South blocked what would prove to be a big extra point.

With just over a minute remaining in the half, a muffed kickoff looked more the part of an onside kick attempt, but the Black Knights fell on the ball just over 10 yards down field. A long pass looked to have the Knights in business, but South quickly forced and recovered a fumble.

Just three plays later, with the Panthers trying to run out the clock, a pitch ended up on the turf, and Stoughton returned the favor by recovering a fumble.

With just 25 seconds to go in the second quarter after the fumble recovery, Stoughton once again turned to the budding sophomore slinger.

After an incomplete pass on first down, Gibb connected with Joe Girolamo on a bubble screen over the middle. Girolamo followed his pulling offensive line 37 yards into the end zone for another score. A two-point rushing try was stuffed by the Panthers, sending the team’s into the break with Plymouth South leading 14-12.

Both sides came out in the second half playing their best defense of the night, and the offenses combined on one third quarter first down.

“Our defense doesn’t get a lot of credit because we have Dylan Oxsen on our team so it’s kind of the Dylan Oxsen show when everybody comes to see us play,” said Fry, “but our defense has played awesome all year minus the [Dennis-Yarmouth] game where we didn’t have everybody. Outside of that game, we’re probably averaging less than seven points against this year.”

Late in the contest, South’s defense forced a turnover on downs, leaving the Panthers looking to Oxsen for one more trip down the field.

The senior running back obliged, taking every carry during an 11-play drive that left Stoughton at their own 30 with just 2:04 remaining.

A couple of big pass completions by Gibb and a defensive pass interference moved Stoughton all the way to the South 24, but the defense came up big once again as Anthony Schena intercepted a pass near the end zone to seal the victory.

“He’s a kid who is a two-sport captain, and doesn’t always get all the credit he deserves,” said Fry. “Kids who are leaders seem to just step up and make big plays and that’s what he did there.”

Added Schena: “Our team is mentally tough and we make sure its not over ‘til the clock says zero. We just keep playing ‘til the end, that’s how football is played. That’s why we’re able to make big plays.”

Chips remain on shoulders of No. 20 Plymouth South

August, 23, 2013
PLYMOUTH, Mass. -- The 2012 football season may have been the finest Plymouth South has ever seen, as the Panthers captured their first Atlantic Coast League crown and earned a first-ever playoff berth.

In the Division 2A playoffs, they took Natick and Boston College commit Troy Flutie to the wire before falling 38-33 to end the Panthers season. South’s star running back, Dylan Oxsen, capped a remarkable season with perhaps his best game ever.

He finished that game with 310 rushing yards on 29 carries, and scored all five of the Panthers touchdowns. Oxsen finished the season with 2,100 rushing yards and a state-best 40 scores, earning him a spot on the 2012 ESPN Boston All-State team.

“A lot of people didn’t even give us a chance that night. That game was sort of our coming out party,” said South coach Scott Fry. “It was really Dylan’s coming out party too. People got see what he, and what we, were capable of.”

Even after all of that, the Panthers are entering 2013 with something of a chip on their collective shoulders.

“Dylan is one inch too short,” said South coach Scott Fry. “If he was another inch taller, he’d be looking at places like UConn or UMass. He’s not the only one -- we have probably five or six guys on our team who can play football in college. Our linemen are also a little bit undersized, but these guys are all good football players.

"They see kids they’ll play against committing and getting scholarship offers, and it just motivates our guys. They cannot wait to play against them and prove they can play at the same level.”

In addition to Oxsen -- who hasn’t yielded an official scholarship offer yet, the Panthers also have guys like offensive tackle 6-4, 265-pound Shaun Duncombe, a Bryant commit; and 6-foot, 235-pound center Brendan Harty (who Oxsen and Fry both believe to be the best lineman in the ACL), who remains uncommitted.

“It does get frustrating sometimes,” said Oxsen. “You know a lot of schools have given out their available scholarships already. There’s been a whole bunch of interest, but not a lot of talk about offers. It’s driven us to work even harder this offseason to prove last year wasn’t just a one-time thing.”

Oxsen -- who ran seven miles on the eve of the first day of the 2013 season -- and his Panther teammates know they’ll play all year with a target on their backs, after clinching the ACL title by scoring on a hook-and-ladder in the final minute against Nauset last fall.

“We’re not going to sneak up on anyone this year,” Oxsen said. “We’ve worked hard all offseason though, so we’re hoping we don’t need any last minute scores like that to win games. We know we’re good enough to do it, but we also know it won’t be easy. All year, we’ll have to show up with our best football.”

A few holes will need to be filled this season, one of which will be responsible for getting the ball to Oxsen after quarterback Jason Lamb. Even if teams hope to exploit a new QB by stacking the box and limiting Oxsen’s output, they will find it quite challenging.

“Dylan didn’t pile up 40 scores from one yard out,” Fry said. “I think 25 of them came from more than 40 yards. We kind of welcome of it if teams want to put eight or nine guys in the box because he’s strong enough to break initial tackles and break off big runs. You’re talking about 185-pound kid who bench presses more than 300 pounds. He doesn’t go down very easily.”

And because of that, the Panthers won’t go down very easily on any Friday night this season.

Coach: Scott Fry
Last Season: 8-4, lost in Div. 2A Playoffs
Returning Starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)
Key Returnees: Sr. RB/LB Dylan Oxsen, Sr. C Brendan Harty, Sr. RB/LB Anthony Schena, Sr. OL/DL Shaun Duncombe, Sr. LB Matt Bremis
Strengths: Running backs, offensive line, linebackers.
Weaknesses: Quarterback experience.
Outlook: With All-State running back Dylan Oxsen (2,100 rushing yards, 40 touchdowns in 2012) back in the fold, this team is among the favorites in the Division 3 Southeast. With three starting linemen back in front of Oxsen, the Panthers could be primed to repeat as Atlantic Coast League champs. If South can develop a passer to throw enough screen and dump passes to keep defenses honest, the Panthers could have one of the best offenses in the state this season.

Summer Snapshot: Plymouth South Panthers

August, 14, 2013
This is the fourth installment in our "Summer Snapshot" series, checking in with some of Massachusetts' top teams leading into the MIAA football season. To see all of our Summer Snapshots, CLICK HERE.

Whether it was the wild hook-and-ladder to clinch its first playoff berth in school history, the see-saw playoff battle with Natick, or the ensuing controversy, Plymouth South sure had a flair for the dramatic in 2012. The question now remains, after an historic season for the ages, and returning most of its core intact -- including tailback Dylan Oxsen, last year's state leader in rushing touchdowns -- do the Panthers have another magical run in them?

In the newly-aligned MIAA State Championship format, the Panthers will be one of several favorites in Division 3 Southeast. We checked in with the Panthers in an afternoon trip to the world-famous Plimoth Plantation living museum, in one of the most entertaining photo shoots of our operation's four-year history.

Coach: Scott Fry
Last Season: 8-4, lost in Div. 2A Playoffs
Final ESPN Boston Rank: 22
Returning Starers: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)
Key Losses: QB Jason Lamb, OL/LB Derek Anderson
Key Returnees: Sr. RB/LB Dylan Oxsen, Sr. C Brendan Harty, Sr. RB/LB Anthony Schena, Sr. OL/DL Shaun Duncombe, Sr. LB Matt Bremis
Overview: After a dismal 2011 campaign, the Panthers had one of the state's most dramatic turnarounds in 2012, led by an explosive breakthrough by Oxsen (2,100 rushing yards), who led the state in rushing touchdowns (40) to earn a spot on ESPN Boston's All-State Team. The switch to a pistol offense last summer seemed to work wonders for the Panthers, maintaining Wing-T and I-formation principles, but creating new angles and elements of unpredictability with them for one of the state's most potent rushing attacks. They will have to find a suitable replacement for Lamb, but most of the offensive line returns and the defensive front seven should be solid again with a linebacking corps led by Schena and Bremis. Overall, Oxsen was as tough as they come between the tackles last season, and will be expected to shoulder another Yeoman's workload this fall if the Panthers are to repeat their success from last fall. Especially when you consider how many contenders lie in the South region of D3, between Nauset, Dartmouth and Whitman-Hanson in the southeast or Bishop Feehan, North Attleborough and Walpole in the southwest.