Boston High School: Brendan Hill

NORTH EASTON, Mass. -- Some leftover notes from today's Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 South Regional tournament, from the campus of Oliver Ames High School:

Hill recovering well, favoring UConn: It's been a long recovery for Mansfield two-sport star Brendan Hill, who's been reduced to gritting his teeth in frustration on the sidelines for most of the last nine months.

The 6-foot-5 Hill was an ESPN Boston All-State selection last fall for the Hornets, who captured the inaugural MIAA Division 2 State Championship at Gillette Stadium. But the tight end didn't play a snap in that game; a week and a half prior, he tore up his knee in the Hornets' Thanksgiving contest with archrival Foxborough.

Where his impact might have most been felt was on the hardwood. Hill was named MVP of the Hockomock League as a sophomore in 2012-13, and also an ESPN Boston All-Stater, as the Hornets reached the Division 1 State Final for the first time in school history. He missed his entire junior season this winter as the Hornets, a preseason favorite, fell to Catholic Memorial in a triple-overtime D1 South semifinal that was regarded as one of the state's most thrilling playoff games in years.

The good news is Hill appears to be on schedule. He was cleared to make cuts and other conditioning-related moves this summer, though he was held out of today's action. He goes back to the doctors for re-evaluation next month, and says he anticipates being cleared for contact.

"I feel perfect right now, I’d be surprised if it was anything else," Hill said.

The recruitment for Hill hasn't simmered. If anything, it's picked up. In addition to UMass and UConn, a slew of Division 1 FCS schools have extended an offer, among them New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Holy Cross, Coastal Carolina, Lafayette, Monmouth, Colgate and Villanova.

Hill says he currently favors UConn, though he says he doesn't have any timetable yet on when he'll make a commitment, or when he'll make visits.

Each school is offering Hill as a tight end, though UConn has said they may also try him at outside linebacker. Hill pulled double-duty at defensive end last fall, registering 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

"Their facilities are really great. I went and visited a couple weeks ago and their staff was awesome," Hill said of UConn. "Just talking to the different coaches . . . I really like [head coach Bob] Diaco too. It seems like he has a great program, great philosophy, I really like his philosophy. When I went on the visit, everything was great. It’s definitely my No. 1, but a lot of other schools have told me they want to wait and see how I do this fall."

Hill operated mostly as a "move" tight end last season, creating mismatches in the slot or opposite strength of the formation, for some big gains. He led the Hornets in every major receiving statistic last season, catching 53 passes for 811 yards and 10 touchdowns. With a number of talented skill players graduated from a year ago -- including quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, running back Miguel Villar-Perez, and UNH walk-on receiver Mike Hershman -- Hill hinted that he may play a little more in-line this season.

Either way, it's good to be back. There appears to finally be an end in sight to the long-drawn frustrations.

"That was obviously some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do," Hill said. "But I think at the end of the day it made me a better person. I learned a lot throughout the whole process and stuff like that, so as tough as it was I just can’t wait to get back at it. It’s a lot more motivation."

Merit-ing attention: In our summer football preview last week, we discussed the wide cornucopia of skill sets from this year's crop of running backs, from the bullish to the diminutive to the slippery. Another name to keep an eye on is Pope John Paul II tailback Diego Meritus, who looks like he's put on some more muscle after a dedicated offseason.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Meritus looked solid at middle linebacker today as the Lions advanced to the round of 16. A number of schools from each level of college football have taken interest in the Yarmouth resident's services, from Division 1 (Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth, New Hampshire) to Division 2 (Stonehill, St. Anselm) to the traditional local NESCAC schools that dot Division 3.

With his powerful frame, Meritus proved tough to tangle with on inside runs last fall. But he also flashed some finesse at outside zone plays, accelerating quickly to the edge to stretch the defense and exploit an over-pursuit.

The Lions are licking their chops after a frustrating end to the 2013 season. Despite having the fourth-best power ranking in Division 6 South, they failed to get one of the district's eight playoff spots by virtue of league automatic qualifiers awarded other member schools. As a result the Lions -- who finished third in their league, the Catholic Central Small, disqualifying them from an automatic bid -- were one of just two teams in Eastern Mass. not to make a postseason tournament despite posting a record above .500 during the regular season.

"We feel like we have a lot to prove," Meritus said. "We want to show the MIAA that we should have been in the state tournament last year."

If they are to get their vengeance, it will be behind Mertius and quarterback Ryan Barabe, a potential Division 2 prospect who demonstrates above-average arm strength and a quick release.

"I’ve known him pretty much my whole life,' Meritus said of Barabe. "I mean, he’s such a great quarterback, and one of my best friends off the field. He can go anywhere. He’s a great quarterback."

Our 2014 Summer Football Primer

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
11:52
AM ET
Don't look now, but the first day of MIAA football practices is just 40 days away. Per our tradition every summer, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan C. Hall and Scott Barboza whet your appetite for the gridiron with some players on the rise, surprise teams to watch, top teams and some food for thought.

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Drew Jean-Guillaume, Sr. QB/DB, Shepherd Hill
With a powerful frame and impressive speed honed during track and field season, Jean-Guillaume is a throwback-type option quarterback, a converted running back who’s as adept at powering through defenders as he is at evading or blowing by them. The Rams will be heavy favorites in Division 4, and Jean-Guillaume will have plenty of room to work behind a reportedly heavy line led by Boston College commit Chris Lindstrom.

Mekhi Henderson, Soph. DB, Xaverian
In a defense full of household names, Henderson is one of the Hawks’ brightest young stars. Often last season, he was left on an island against an opponent’s top target, and often he held his own. With his coverage skills and raw ability, the coaching staff has a luxury to get creative in the secondary.

Shane Combs, Sr. ATH, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
It’s assumed that Combs, a Notre Dame baseball commit and ESPN Boston All-State selection during the spring, will take the reins at quarterback from last year’s Mr. Football finalist Drew Smiley. The Missouri transplant was one of the state’s most productive rushers during the playoffs, going over the century mark in all five postseason contests as the Pioneers reached the Division 2 state final.

Mike Maggipinto, Jr. RB, East Longmeadow
Somewhat quietly, the 5-foot-5 scatback eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark last year for the Spartans, running behind a great blocking scheme that continued to find unique ways to get him in space. Between Maggipinto and Plymouth North’s Christian Carr, this could be the year of the pint-sized running back.

Jahkari Carpenter, Sr. RB, Doherty
Among the area’s most elusive, Carpenter was a weekly highlight reel during the Highlanders’ run to the Division 4 state title, with runs like THIS, or THIS, or THIS. Junior Tavian Vassar is expected to have a bigger role in the backfield this year, which could make for an imposing thunder-and-lightning combination.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Billerica
The Indians hit a home run this offseason with the hiring of Duane Sigsbury as their new head coach, though they are considered a year or two away. Still, Sigsbury is one of the area’s brightest offensive minds, with a track record of making programs relevant in a hurry (see: Boston Cathedral). Similar to his other stops, there are already some terrific talents coming up the pipe.

Boston English
The Blue and Blue made history last fall to end Brian Vaughn’s first season at the helm, beating Boston Latin for the first time since 1997. Now, with dynamic dual threat Emmanuel Almonte leading the offense, they’ll look to continue last year’s momentum.

Cambridge
Long considered a powder keg for skill talent, head coach Ryan Saulnier has tapped into it, and found a lot of success running his brand of spread offense in his first season last fall. With Marcus Collins returning under center, and a new home in the Dual County League, the Falcons ought to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in Division 2 North.

Leominster
Blue Devils graduated one of their most talented classes ever, but this is a program built to reload, not rebuild, under a great offensive mind in Dave Palazzi. Defensive coordinator Charlie Raff left to take over at Oakmont, but in his place comes former North Middlesex coach John Margarita. It’s too early – not to mention, lofty – to make any Neil O’Connor comparisons yet, but keep an eye on sophomore Noah Gray this fall.

Springfield Central
Similar to Leominster, the Golden Eagles have many holes to fill on the heels of its most successful season in school history. But they should have a solid defense again, led by lineman Kaleb Hunter-Sams, and the coaching staff should get a boost from the addition of former Putnam head coach Bill Watson.

Hall's Preseason Top 10:

[+] EnlargeJoe Gaziano
Brendan Hall/ESPNESPN Boston's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano, leads a stacked Xaverian defense.
1. Xaverian
Little drama here as to who’s the top dog. With a star-studded defense that includes the likes of Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano, ESPN Boston’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013; linebackers Noah Sorrento, Kenny Kern and D’Aundre Holmes; and defensive backs Damion Wood and Mekhi Henderson; as well as a potent running game behind UMass-bound tackle Joe Parsons, and an innovative playmaker in quarterback Jake Farrell; the Hawks figure to start the year No. 1 in many polls.

2. Everett
Crimson Tide are licking their chops after a disappointing end to 2013 season, and as usual they reload with some of the most gifted skill players in the area. The interesting question is how they’ll fit Boston College-bound cornerback Lukas Denis into the offense; originally slotted as the successor to Jonathan DiBiaso at quarterback before injuries derailed his sophomore season in 2012, Denis showed flashes of brilliance in a multitude of positions last year.

3. Central Catholic
The Raiders’ featured one of the state’s best defenses a year ago in their D1 state title run, and they’ll be held in high regard again thanks to linebacker Markus Edmunds and safety Mike Balsamo, who is fielding multiple Division 1 FCS offers at the moment. Also keep an eye on Matt Milano, who was statistically one of the state’s most productive quarterbacks in the playoffs last year.

4. Mansfield
The Hornets dramatically altered their offense on the fly late in the season following a season-ending injury to wideout Brendan Hill, and it worked out as they took the D2 state title. A fully healthy Hill and another year of running back Miguel Villar-Perez, one of last fall’s most pleasant revelations, should make the Hornets the favorite in a tough D2 South.

5. Bridgewater-Raynham
Trojans always get the benefit of the doubt for their powerful running game and their “anyone, anywhere, anytime” approach to scheduling, and they’ll be a force again with Brandon Gallagher returning at tailback. But the question is whether the Trojans can sustain momentum and avoid last year’s fate, when they reached No. 1 in our statewide poll early, only to sputter in the second half.

6. Shepherd Hill
In short, Boston College-bound offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom Jr. is a force. But the fact that he is the Rams’ most dominant, yet possibly their lightest, should tell you something about what to expect in 2014. They’re arguably Central Mass.’s most talented team this fall, and while there’s a couple other heavy hitters contending in D4 – Holliston, Dennis-Yarmouth and Wahconah, for starters – these guys are my odds-on favorite. Look for them to put up a ton of rushing yards in head coach Chris Lindstrom Sr.’s double wing scheme.

7. Lowell
The Red Raiders made one of the biggest statements of the playoffs last fall in blanking St. John’s Prep 41-0 in the first round of the D1 North tournament. Syracuse commit Shyheim Cullen was exceptional at interior gap blitzes, baiting and confusing potential blockers to create chaos up the middle, and he’ll lead a talented defense that includes linebacker Nicolau Coury and defensive back Theo Bryant.

8. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Boston College-bound free safety Davon Jones is one of several early candidates for Defensive Player of the Year after recording 125 tackles and eight picks a year ago. Offensive coordinator Chris Moriarty is as creative as they come, and how he utilizes Jones and athlete Shane Combs in the offense will be one of the more interesting storylines of the season’s earlygoings.

9. Brockton
We’re still in wait-and-see mode after another season of unrealized expectations in Brockton, but it’s hard to deny the talent the Boxers have coming back. Keep an eye on Boston College-bound lineman Aaron Monteiro, who has some raw potential and a powerful frame at 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds.

10. Dennis-Yarmouth
Division 1 recruit Michael Dunn lined up at nearly every offensive position last year for the Dolphins in their run to the D4 state final, and he may very well do it again. Defensively, this kid is a treat, regarded as one of the state’s premier shutdown corners. As usual, Paul Funk’s frenetic read option scheme will be a tall task to keep up with.

Others to Watch: Attleboro, Barnstable, BC High, Doherty, Holliston, Marblehead, Oliver Ames, Plymouth North, Pope John Paul II, St. John’s Prep, St. Peter-Marian, Tewksbury, Wahconah, Walpole

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

1. Spread offense has been the growing trend in Massachusetts over the last decade, and we’re now seeing its influence at all levels of the game. But at the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing more and more teams dip into playbooks from decades and decades ago for some wild success in the running game. We’ve romanticized Nauset’s Single Wing offense for years. At Holy Name, Mike Pucko dug into Dutch Meyer’s World War II-era playbook and installed a fullback-less “Triple Wing” offense for the Naps’ Thanksgiving contest with Milford, a game they won 35-14. Last year’s D5 West Final featured a Pistol Flex Bone (Hoosac Valley) versus a Wishbone (Easthampton). Tewksbury, last year’s D3 state champ, calls running plays out of an encyclopedia of formations from every family of offense. Factor in all of the traditional Double Wing success stories like Shepherd Hill, Holy Name and Somerset-Berkley, too. Running offense continues to diversify in this corner of the country, and if you’re an X’s and O’s junkie like me, you are having a blast watching it.

2. LSU took some negative backlash last fall when they received a verbal commitment from a freshman early in his season after an apparently intense summer of recruitment from a number of SEC schools, but this doesn’t appear to be a trend going away any time soon. Early offers are still fairly uncommon for football prospects in this part of the country, though it’s worth noting St. Sebastian’s incoming sophomore Blake Gallagher received an offer from Nebraska last month. Beyond the concerns about pressure and bloated expectations, the biggest question I have is this: What if the recruit stops growing, or has just peaked earlier than his peers? I’m interested to see if Maryland head coach Randy Edsall’s proposals for recruiting reform gain any traction. Among other things, his plan stipulates schools can’t make a written offer until a player’s senior year, and that the offer must come with permission from the school’s admissions department.

3. I’m on record as saying I hope the true state championship format the MIAA rolled out last year is here to stay, but I’m also in favor of giving it some tweaks. First and foremost, get rid of the second automatic qualifier for leagues. Weak leagues were rewarded at the expense of teams like Medway and Pope John Paul II, teams who finished with winning records in qualification period but were pushed all the way out of the eight-team field in their respective divisions to satisfy undeserved automatic berths. Leagues should be restricted to one automatic qualifier, or two if it is a two-tier league. I also question whether a seven-game regular season is enough of a window to properly gauge a team’s strength. Expanding to an eight-game season and starting it on Labor Day Weekend could satisfy that, and could be a good gate opportunity for many schools as well.

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Michael Balsalmo, Sr. RB/FS, Central Catholic
A standout on the Raiders’ Division 1 championship season a year ago, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder holds a couple of offers (Bryant, Wofford) entering the season. Here’s better there will be more to follow.

Christian Carr, Sr. RB, Plymouth North
For what Carr might lack in stature, he makes up for in elusiveness. A consistent 100-yard-per-game rusher in his junior season, he broke out with a 351-yard performance in the Eagles’ playoff win against Dighton-Rehoboth.

Jake Gibb, Jr. QB, Stoughton
In his first season under center, Gibb led the Knights to the Division 3 South final before falling to Plymouth South. Gibb will have them contending for the Davenport division title again.

Kyle Murphy, Jr. OL/DL, Attleboro
The two-way lineman was a driving force behind the Blue Bombardiers’ breakout season last year. It’s only a matter of time before the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder starts getting colleges’ attention.

James Sullivan, Sr. RB/S, Tewksbury
Sullivan announced himself to a statewide audience on the biggest stage last year, racking up 125 yards and three touchdowns in the Redmen’s win over Plymouth South in the Division 3 state title game. With graduations, Sullivan will take on an even bigger role this year.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Braintree
The Bay State Carey should again be one of the more interesting races to watch across the state this year, and the Wamps might be primed to take a big step forward after last year’s 4-7 mark. One to watch is inside linebacker Derek Anson, who’s only added to his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame.

Doherty
The Highlanders were historically good in 2013, capturing their first state title while beating Dennis-Yarmouth for the Division 4 championship. Although several key contributors have graduated, they can still make a run

Natick
It might not be the aerial display we’ve seen in recent years with Troy Flutie at quarterback, but the Redhawks will be one worth watching as Brian Dunlap returns from a season missed due to injury (Lisfranc fracture) last year.

Quincy
After a 7-4 campaign last season, are the Presidents ready to challenge for the Patriot Keenan title? With promising running back Jhave Handsom-Fields (8 TD as a sophomore) and quarterback James Lam returning, the time could be now.

Somerset-Berkley
The Raiders return a big class of juniors, including feature back Chip Wood back in the fold and Jacob Cabana rushing off the edge. Another EAC title could be in the cards.

Barboza's Preseason Top 10:

1. Xaverian
The Hawks will have some questions to answer on offense, but deserve the top spot on defense alone, with Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano returning along with the state’s best secondary group.

2. Central Catholic
The Raiders peaked at precisely the right time last year, capturing the first true statewide Division 1 title. Some of their biggest playmakers have graduated, but Michael Balsamo’s primed for a breakout year.

3. Everett
The Crimson Tide are undoubtedly still smarting over last year’s home playoff loss to Central Catholic. We all know what that means.

4. Bridgewater-Raynham
Here’s betting tight end/defensive end Connor Reagan is one of next year’s breakout performers.

5. St. John’s (S)
You never know what you’re getting from the Pioneers’ offense game to game, and it’ll be intriguing to see how the group develops this season. But you have to like any group with athletes of ilk of Shane Combs and Davon Jones.

6. Lowell
I’ll take my chances with the linebacking corps the Red Raiders have returning, anchored by Shyheim Cullen and Nicolau Coury.

7. Brockton
The Boxers will not be pushed around inside the tackle box, with perhaps the biggest returning offensive line in the state, including Aaron Monteiro (6-6, 300) and Uzziah Hilliard (6-0, 280)

8. Mansfield
Mike Redding will come up with creative schemes to avoid Brendan Hill being double-teamed on both sides of the ball. Connor Finerty will also look to expand on a promising sophomore season.

9. Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins fell just shy of the Div. 4 state title in a riveting matchup with Doherty. They might not be denied this year.

10. Tewksbury
The Redmen might not match the size and physicality of last year’s state championship squad, but having James Sullivan in the backfield is still enough to win.

Others to watch: Arlington, Attleboro, Billerica, BC High, Holliston, Leominster, Oliver Ames, Shepherd Hill, Stoughton, Wahconah, Walpole.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

1. The football playoff system is here to stay – well, at the very least for two more years. While there are still pockets of dissent, the sentiment across the state is that the first year determining true state champions across six divisions was a success. It even drew over some who’d been opposed to the playoff proposal originally and voted against the measure. The build up and drama of the first seven weeks leading up the start of the tournament brought a different dimension of intrigue to the season. Still, detractors remain and, as Brendan ruminated earlier in this feature, there’s still room for improvement regarding the means of automatic qualifiers and the discrepancies that exist between the respective athletic conferences’ rubrics – including, most importantly, the weight of league games. But with one year in the books, I declare the system to be a success. Now, let’s start tweaking the framework.

2. Which brings me to my next point: get rid of Thanksgiving. This is going to be a highly unpopular opinion in some neck of the woods, but it’s simply a reality of what’s put in front of us. At the end of last season, I talked to many athletic directors who complained about a diminished gate return from their Thanksgiving Day games. That’s a natural feedback of the playoff system – which in some place requires teams to “double up” with their Thankgiving rivals. In change, that has deemphasized the pomp and circumstance surrounding Turkey Day. As a result, that left some Thanksgiving Day matchups to resemble more of an exhibition game in tone – althought don’t tell that to St. John’s Prep and Xaverian, or Foxborough and Mansfield. The result is a hodgepodge of situations that follow teams into what used to be the biggest day of the regular-season football calendar: ie a non-playoff team vs. a team that’s bound for a championship game, or two teams who are playing out the string on a season that’s already ended. I counter those scenario’s are really no different than what existed in the year B.P. (Before Playoffs), but the current arrangement has only emphasized was already apparent – Thanksgiving is an exhibition. Minus the Catholic Conference or Merrimack Valley Conference duels which resulted in playoff berths in previous years, Thanksgiving largely was such. Only now have the detractors used the playoff system to highlight the faults in Thanksgiving Day that already existed. What Thanksgiving Day has always been about is the rivalry. I ventured to North Attleborough last year when the Red Rocketeers (already eliminated from the playoffs) hosted Attleboro (who were just eliminated the previous week in the sectional final). The scene was what you’d become accustomed to – with an overflow crowd at Community Field. They were all there to watch an exhibition game. Why not make that game mean something more again? Why not play the game before the first frost?

Recap: No. 2 Mansfield 63, No. 14 BC High 49

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
10:52
PM ET


MANSFIELD, Mass. -- Anytime that No. 14 BC High was able to come up with some offense, No. 2 Mansfield had an answer.

The Hornets never trailed and pulled away in the fourth quarter to clip the Eagles 63-49 on Monday night.

Mansfield had an 11-point lead in the first quarter, and then a 10-point lead early in the second. But the Eagles continued to close the gap, heading into halftime down just 31-26. The Hornets used a 14-3 run in the third quarter, but a couple of baskets late made it just a 45-38 game after three.

In the fourth quarter, Ryan Boulter opened the scoring with a bucket and then senior Kyle Wisnieski hit back-to-back three-pointers to turn a nine-point game into a 15-point game at 53-38 and Mansfield never looked back.

"Especially in the first, I thought we got some really good looks and the ball didn't go in," BC High coach Bill Loughnane said, after his team shot just 24 percent from the field in the first quarter. "When [Mansfield] got the open looks, it went in."

The Eagles went to a man-to-man defensive strategy early on, while the Hornets switched into a 2-3 zone after starting with man-to-man. The zone allowed for more looks from distance for BC High (4-of-7 from three in the second quarter) but really frustrated their offense and limited their offensive rebounds.

"We had to mix up a little 2-3 [zone], with guys logging a lot of minutes, to see if they could still be playing a high level at the end," Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughan said. "I thought it changed up their flow a little bit. [BC High] is a pretty aggressive team so I thought by changing up the zone it kind of made them a passive team. They did get a lot of three's out of it so we kind of had to manage it so they didn't make three after three."

The Eagles went from five offensive rebounds in the first quarter to zero in the second, and just three in the second half.

"When you have a team you're playing playing five or six guys a lot of minutes, you start looking at foul trouble and match ups," Vaughan said about the zone. "I thought we rebounded better once we went zone. I thought [Michael] Boen did a fantastic job rebounding the ball on both ends of the floor."

Not only did Boen own the boards -- a game-high 14 rebounds (7 defensive, 7 offensive) -- he led the game in scoring with 19 points, including eight points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter.

"That's a quiet 19," Vaughan said. "He's gotten better since game one. He was kind of passive and didn't do a whole lot offensively. Last game, he did real well and tonight obviously too. He's steady -- he's going inside-out, he's getting in transition and hitting his foul shots so I'm very happy about that."

Beyond Boen's 19, Mansfield had three other scorers reach double figures: Rocky DeAndrade and Boulter each had 12 ,and Wisnieski added 11, which all turned out to be momentum points at the time.

"He's that type of kid," Vaughan said about Wisnieski. "He said it in the locker room when we met before the game, 'This is a good statement game.' He knows what this is all about, he knows how big this game is. He plays the best in those situations."

As for the balanced scoring, this is something that's going to be needed with Brendan Hill on the shelf for a while and Kevin Conner still working back to full health.

"Different guys will have different match ups and we'll get different guys stepping up but you're going to for the most part see those four are going to be the consistent scorers and then you hope the other guys can step in," Vaughan said.

Isaiah Bowman led BC High in scoring at 16 points, Jack Loughnane added 11 points, Tom Galanek had 9 points and Phil Leotsakos added 6 blocks.

"Offensively [Mansfield] has a lot of weapons and they do a nice job spreading the ball out," Loughnane said. "They have our number right now."

Tale of the Tape: St. John's vs. Mansfield

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
2:09
AM ET
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 2 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at Central champ St. John's and South champ Mansfield, respectively.

MIAA Division 2 State Championship
ST. JOHN'S (9-3) vs. MANSFIELD (12-0)
at Gillette Stadium, 1:30 p.m.


When St. John’s has the ball: Be prepared for a blitzkrieg. In these playoffs, the Pioneers are averaging 49.7 points per game -– including 51 or more points in all three of their Division 2 Central contests –- and an unheard-of 482.5 yards of offense, both bests among teams playing on Saturday. Much has been made over the past two years of the Oregon-like offense they’ve installed, looking to push a hyperactive tempo that is nearly unmatched across Massachusetts, and at the forefront of this offensive renaissance has been quarterback and Navy lacrosse commit Andrew Smiley (170-for-245, 2,368 yards, 28 TD, 4 INT; 97 carries, 866 yards, 12 TD). A true dual-threat quarterback, he has perfected the zone read, and demonstrated the ability to make difficult throws in tight windows throughout the state tournament. Smiley left the Thanksgiving matchup with St. Peter-Marian with a shoulder injury, but he is expected to play on Saturday.

A critical part of the Pioneers’ passing game is predicated on finding weak spots in the defense and sitting in the holes, creating a short but fluid rhythm that allows them to keep the chains moving and therefore play fast. In accomplishing this, they may package any number of screens and route combinations on the backside of zone read plays. It’s hard to ascertain who is truly the key receiver in the passing game: Mike McGillicuddy (46 catches, 817 yards, 10 TD), master of the underneath routes; senior T.J. Kelly (30 catches, 502 yards, 6 TD), a prominent basketball forward who can take the safeties deep off the ball; or junior Davon Jones (46 catches, 634 yards, 7 TD), a freakish athlete with a 40-inch vertical, who high-points balls like few others in the state.

Arguably the most crucial element, however, has been their ability to run the ball effectively in these playoffs – and not just with Smiley, who can pull the ball and slip through the first line of defense with his lacrosse-bred running skills. Junior tailback Shane Combs (149 carries, 1,143 yards, 15 TD), a Notre Dame baseball commit, has been incremental in these playoffs, going over the century mark in all four playoff games for a total of 524 yards and 10 touchdowns. As the season has progressed, Combs has transformed from fleet-footed to bullish, a tough downhill runner who can keep his legs churning after first contact.

When Mansfield has the ball: Wednesday's state championship breakfast at Gillette Stadium was dominated by the news that Hornets tight end Brendan Hill, their leading receiver on the season, will miss the game after an ACL injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day against Foxborough. While the loss of an All-State caliber receiver is never a positive, Mansfield still has dangerous targets on the outside to choose from. However, instead of spreading out the ball distribution, an increased number of targets (and the Pioneers' defensive scheming) will shift to Mike Hershman (37 catches, 645 yards, 6 TD) and Kyle Hurley (21 catches, 311 yards, 4 TD).

Leading us to the real X-factor of Saturday's game, which is what does Miguel Villar-Perez have left in the tank? The Hornets' leading rusher (890 yards, 11 TD) has been hobbled in recent weeks and was again banged up during their Thanksgiving game. Also, a dependable pass-catcher out of the backfield and in the slot, Villar-Perez has given Mansfield its dynamism on offense and, with Hill already out of the picture, its imperative that Mansfield maximize his snaps despite perhaps playing at less than 100 percent. If not ready to go, expect a greater dose of senior running back Chris Buchanan out of Mansfield's heavy sets.

Yet, for all the seeming uncertainty now surrounding the Hornets leading in, the constant has been senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski. Throughout the season, Wisnieski has completed passes at clip of greater than 65 percent, including a very strong postseason run. The supremely efficient passer has also held on to the ball, with a touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of greater than 5:1 (27 TD, 5 INT).

When St. John’s is on defense: Judging from the scores this fall, one may get the impression this is a suspect defense. All but one opponent has put up double-digits on the Pioneers; nine have reached the 20’s, and three have eclipsed 30. But some of that may be due in part to the type of offense the Pioneers run. With such quick offensive drives, that leads to more possessions for the opposition, which has often led to shootouts this season.

But that isn’t to take away from what has been an athletic unit. At the forefront is the junior Jones, a three-year starter who has gone over 100 tackles for the second straight season (108 tackles, 7 INT, 5 TFL, 3 forced fumbles). Often playing as a high free safety, Jones covers a lot of ground in the deep field, and has developed a reputation as a violent hitter. Occasionally, the Pioneers will split the deep field with Jones and Smiley (3 INT), who made one of the playoffs’ most acrobatic feats with a one-handed interception to ice the Central/West semifinal win over favored Springfield Central.

In the front seven, the Pioneers aren’t overbearing, but they are definitely quick, led by linebackers Patch Ryan (105 tackles, 2 INT, 2 forced fumbles) and Alex Pappas (108 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks). Keep a special eye on defensive end Jeff DeMango (68 tackles, 12 TFL, 8 sacks, 6 passes deflected), who demonstrates exceptional hand skills that are usually good for a batted pass or two.

When Mansfield is on defense: The Hornets' success on defense stems from its interior line, with a couple of underrated pluggers in Andrew Horstmann and Dhruv Patel. Their inside gap responsibilities will be put to the test with Combs and Smiley working the option game. But recent history sides with the Hornets, who held Barnstable's Hayden Murphy to just 21 rushing yards in the teams' Div. 2 South playoff game. Also, on the line, Steve Zieselman has enjoyed a strong senior season, earning Hockomock League All-Star honorers as a dependable two-way contributor, as well as John Keefe (56 tackles).

Junior linebacker Q'Ra Guichard has quietly led the Hornets in tackles (58 solo) to date, but last year's returning top tackler Alex Ruddy has caught up with 56 tackles, despite missing several games to start the season.

Not only will the loss of Hill set back Mansfield's passing game, the Hornets also lost their top pass rusher. Hill leads the team with 7.5 sacks.

Hornets senior Mike Barresi could draw the coverage assignment on Davon Jones, as Barresi leads the team with six passes defended.

Player of the Week: St. John's Andrew Smiley

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
12:56
AM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- In addition to his exploits at quarterback, which have come to be expected at St. John's of Shrewsbury, senior signal-caller Andrew Smiley has also taken on a new role with the Pioneers -- that of a defensive closer.

While again surpassing 300 combined offensive yards, Smiley also came away with a game-saving interception in a wild 37-32 win over West sectional champion Springfield Central.

Along with the pick, Smiley was his usual self on the flip side of the ball, throwing for 223 yards and two touchdowns in addition to 109 rushing yards.

For that, Smiley is our Player of the Week.

Editor Brendan Hall caught up with Smiley on Monday for this interview:



Along with Smiley, here are our Top Performers for state semifinals weekend:
  • Drew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – Accumulated more than 300 all-purpose yards and secured a game-saving interception in a Div. 2 state semifnal vs. Springfield Central.
  • Brendan Hill, Jr. TE, Mansfield – Hauled in six catches, including two touchdowns, for 127 yards vs. Waltham in the Div. 2 EMass final.
  • Cole Kissick, Jr. RB, Cohasset – Went off for 250 yards on 28 carries with 3 TD vs. St. Clement in the Div. 6 EMass final
  • Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South – Ran for 214 yards on 39 carries and scored both South’s touchdowns in the Div. 3 South final vs. Stoughton.
  • Koby Schofer, Soph. QB, Northbridge – Ran for 170 yards on 28 carries while completing 14 of 23 pass attempts for 112 yards, along with a game-winning touchdown pass vs. Hoosac Valley in the Div. 5 state semifinals.

Mr. Football Watch: Playoffs, Week 2

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
3:16
PM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch", following the second weekend of MIAA State Championship Playoffs. As always, coaches and/or statisticians are encouraged to send statistics to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)

THE CONTENDERS

Zach Elkinson, Jr. ATH, Holliston
In two playoff games, Elkinson is averaging 16.9 yards per touch. That includes nine carries for 91 yards and four touchdowns, and nine catches for 221 yards and four more scores.

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Threw his 102nd career touchdown pass in Friday night's loss to Barnstable. He needs one more TD pass to tie the state's all-time mark, and he has two more chances, starting this Friday against Needham.

Brendan Hill, Jr. TE, Mansfield
Caught seven passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the Hornets' win over Needham.

Hayden Murphy, Sr. RB, Barnstable
Recorded 21 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns, four catches for 36 yards, 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the Red Raiders' 27-13 win over Natick.

Neil O'Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
In two playoff games, he has amassed 487 yards of offense, including 11.2 yards per rush, with seven touchdowns.

Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South
Ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns in the Panthers' 21-7 win over Dartmouth, punching their ticket to the D3 Southeast Final.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Carried 23 times for 182 yards and two scores in the Rockets' loss to Mansfield

Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Completed 13 of 16 passes for 193 yards and three scores, and added five carries for 73 yards and two more scores, in the Pioneers' throttling of Marlborough in D2 Central.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
Totaled 134 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' 35-12 win over Longmeadow

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 14 of 18 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns, in the Hornets' 42-35 win over Needham.

FIVE ON THE RISE

Christian Carr, Jr. RB, Plymouth North
Ran for 351 yards and three touchdowns in the Blue Eagles' win over Dighton-Rehoboth, setting up a much-anticipated battle with cross-town rival Plymouth South for the D3 Southeast Championship this Friday.

Mike Elcock, Sr. WR, Needham
Caught six passes for 148 yards and a score in the Rockets' loss to Mansfield. He leads D2 Eastern Mass with 13 touchdown receptions.

Lubern Figaro, Sr. DB, Everett
The Wisconsin commit came up with two crucial interceptions, and some tremendous defense on top receiver Jack Galvin, in the Crimson Tide's 21-0 shutout of Lowell.

Malik Garrett, Sr. QB, Melrose
Through two playoff games, the dual threat signal-caller has accumulated nearly 550 yards of offense. He has 364 yards rushing and five TDs on just 29 carries, while he is 12-for-20 through the air for 185 yards and two more scores.

Tim Walsh, Attleboro
Led the Blue Bombardiers in rushing with 122 yards on 11 carries, while completing 7 of 11 pass attempts for 146 yards and 3 TD in their Div. 1 South semi-final win over Bridgewater-Raynham.

PLAYOFF LEADERS

Passing
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 528 yards, 5 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 504 yards, 6 TD
Kyle Wisnieski, Sr., Mansfield – 405 yards, 5 TD
Mike Milano, Jr., Central Catholic – 371 yards, 3 TD
Ryan Charter, Sr., Needham – 361 yards, 4 TD
Luke Brennan, Sr., Doherty – 359 yards, 7 TD
Marcus Collins, Jr., Cambridge – 355 yards, 4 TD
Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – 338 yards, 7 TD
Dana Parello, Sr., Waltham – 312 yards, 4 TD
Neil O'Connor, Sr., Leominster - 286 yards, 3 TD

Rushing
Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South – 577 yards, 7 TD
Christian Carr, Jr., Plymouth North – 551 yards, 7 TD
Alex Givins-Perry, Sr., Bartlett – 477 yards, 3 TD
Mike Panepinto, Sr., Needham – 418 yards, 6 TD
Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead – 383 yards, 5 TD
Malik Garrett, Sr., Melrose – 364 yards, 5 TD
Hayden Murphy, Sr., Barnstable – 353 yards, 6 TD
Chris Dumont, Sr., Manchester-Essex - 321 yards, 5 TD
D.J. Engelke, Sr., Pentucket – 299 yards, 3 TD
Kevin Rosado, Jr., Northeast – 284 yards, 6 TD

Receiving
Alex Hilger, Sr., Natick – 278 yards, 4 TD
Mike Elcock, Sr., Needham – 258 yards, 3 TD
Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield – 228 yards, 3 TD
Elijah Booker, Sr., Cambridge – 225 yards, 2 TD
Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston – 221 yards, 4 TD

Quick hits from last weekend, looking ahead

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
1:13
AM ET
Some quick thoughts from last weekend’s second round of MIAA State Championship football playoffs, and looking ahead to this week’s sectional finals:

1a. Springfield Central’s Valdamar Brower and Leominster’s Dave Palazzi were my two front-runners for Coach of the Year headed into Friday, but Barnstable’s Chris Whidden has to be firmly in any discussion from herein, following Friday’s impressive stifling of Natick. At the beginning of the year, Whidden righted the ship before it even began to sink, making conditioning a high point of emphasis following their season-opening 37-9 whupping at the hands of archrival Dennis-Yarmouth. The Red Raiders came out of their bye week and proceeded to take down two Catholic Conference teams, BC High and Xaverian, in back to back weeks.

Last week, Whidden installed a Cover 2 defense –- a look they’ve never run all season long –- in three days to combat the wizardry of Troy Flutie. In what some would consider a shrewd move, Whidden opted not to match up his top defensive back (Derek Estes) with Natick’s most dangerous target (Alex Hilger), instead sticking a linebacker on Hilger and sagging the corners into zones. Whidden is a smart, smart coach, who knows how to quickly evaluate his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and devise a flexible gameplan to counter. This was a team that some thought would not compete as well as they did a year ago, when they reached the D1A Super Bowl, yet here they are, two wins away from a return to Gillette Stadium.

We’re three years into the Whidden era, and I’ve already lost count of how many wins the Raiders have had over Top 10 opponents. By now, this is no fluke. The guy can flat out coach.

1b. All that said, this Friday’s D2 South Final could be Whidden’s best challenge yet. Long-time Mansfield coach Mike Redding is a chess grand master, but he’s never had a king piece quite like Brendan Hill. The 6-foot-6 junior already holds a Division 1 FBS offer (UMass), leads the Hornets in receiving (43 catches, 631 yards, 7 TD) and lines up everywhere on the perimeter, from tight end to slot receiver to split end. Back in Week 6, King Philip held Hill to his lowest receiving total of the season (3 catches, 43 yards) in a 20-7 loss to the Hornets, and they mixed up their coverage quite a bit on him – rolling coverages, pressing, bumping and passing him along to another zone.

But here’s the thing. If they decide to deploy special coverage on Hill, I think the Hornets are that kind of team that would use him as a decoy to open up other parts of the field for two of their other most dangerous targets, Michael Hershman and Miguel Villar-Perez. Just a great matchup here between two of the best schemers across the state. Expect some funky stuff.

2. Crazy stat line of the week, singles division: In two playoff games, Doherty wide receiver Alfred Adarkwah has four catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns. That’s right, literally every touch this postseason for the lanky 6-foot-4 senior has been for a score.

During the summer, coaches and players over on Highland St. hinted that the Highlanders had been experimenting Boston College-bound athlete Isaac YIadom and Adarkwah on the same side of formations during passing leagues, to positive results. For the most part, that hasn’t been the case. Rather, leaving Adarkwah on an island opposite Yiadom’s side of the formation has yielded dramatic results (see: Quabbin, first round). And here’s the dilemma: the moment you shade off of Yiadom, the threat of him ripping off a big gain increases threefold.

Monday film sessions at Doherty are called “Moss Monday” for a reason. When talking about players who have elevated their stock for All-State consideration with their playoff performances, Adarkwah is certainly in the discussion.

3. Crazy stat line of the week, pairs division: In two playoff games, Plymouth South’s Dylan Oxsen and Plymouth North’s Christian Carr have combined for 1,128 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Apart, they are the state’s two top playoff rushing leaders, with both scoring seven times and Oxsen holding a 26-yard edge. That alone should be reason enough to go see these two teams square off. Now put the Division 3 Southeast title on the line, and factor in the intensity of his heated cross-town rivalry (Romano Field was over capacity in the first meeting in September, a 4 p.m. start), and this has the makings of something special.

4. Leominster is going for an unprecedented sixth straight win over rival St. John’s of Shrewsbury, dating back to the start of 2011, when the two teams meet on Friday at Doyle Field for the D2 Central title, but I don’t think this is such a shoe-in for the Blue Devils. How quickly people forget that, after a dismal first half, quarterback Andrew Smiley lit up the Leominster defense in the second half with a slew of screen passes, with Mike McGillicuddy the primary benefactor. If they get off to a good start in the screen game, and stay committed to it, I think an upset is in play here for the Pioneers.

5. Another reason to love the new playoff format: four teams from the Hockomock League and three from the Atlantic Coast Leagues are playing for district titles this weekend. Under the former system, Hockomock Kelley-Rex runner-up Attleboro would not be playing for a D1 South title on Friday night, nor would Davenport runner-up Stoughton (D3 Southwest), while Kelley-Rex champ Mansfield (D2 South) and Oliver Ames (D3 Southwest) would be still in play. Meanwhile, ACL champ Plymouth South (D3 Southeast) would be playing while Plymouth North (D3 Southeast) and Dennis-Yarmouth (D4 South) would be sitting at home. Up North, we have an All-DCL D2 Final (Lincoln-Sudbury vs. Waltham) and an All-Middlesex D3 Northwest Final (Woburn vs. Melrose). Honestly, what’s not to like about that?

6a. I’ve asked to several coaches playing non-playoff games about their approach, and whether they try to get underclassmen experience or let the seniors finish out their glory. Most of them said the same thing –- you have to balance the two. But the overarching theme I sensed with their talks was that, like a lower-tier college bowl game, there isn’t a lot of pressure so you might as well have some fun.

There’s still some interesting storylines to be played out there. For a football junkie like me, I actually look forward to some of these unique matchups, such as last weekend’s matchup between Somerset-Berkley’s “double wing” scheme and Nauset’s unique “Notre Dame Box” variation of the Single Wing, complete with spinning fullbacks. Elsewhere, Natick’s Troy Flutie needs one touchdown pass to tie the state’s all-time mark, and assuming he’s healthy enough to play, he could very well do it Friday against Needham.

6b. Which brings us to our final crazy stat line of the week, non-playoff division: In two post-qualification games, Pope John Paul II junior quarterback Ryan Barabe is completing 86 percent of his passes (31-of-36) for 488 yards and six touchdowns. That’s right, 86 percent, or 18 points higher than his regular season percentage. I’m on record saying the Lions were snubbed in D6 South, an unfair casualty of second league automatic qualifiers, and I’m wondering if this non-playoff run will help build a case for detractors.

D2 South: Mansfield 42, Needham 35

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
11:46
PM ET
MANSFIELD, Mass. – Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Tom Brady had Wes Welker.

Kyle Wisnieski has Brendan Hill.

The latter of the above trio is a major reason why No. 1 Mansfield remained undefeated Friday night and out-gunned No. 4 Needham, 42-35, in a Division 2-South semifinal game.

Wisnieski completed a mind-boggling 14-of-16 passes (87.5 percent) for 216 yards and four touchdowns.

Hill caught seven of those passes for 152 yards and three scores.

“It’s obviously been a lot of hard work,” said Wisnieski. “As a freshman, (Hill) played on jayvees so I’ve been throwing to him for three years. We’ve played in passing leagues in the summer … coming out on the turf and just working out in the summer. It’s been a lot of reps and a lot of time has been put in and it’s paying off now.

“I figure this goes back to the chemistry we have between us. I know he’s going to get open at some point for me. I know he’s obviously a mismatch nightmare at 6-5. I know he’s eventually going to get open for me so I know if I can buy enough time, if he’s not open initially, I know I’ll be able to find him eventually.”

If there was one play that underscored the chemistry that exists between Wisnieski and Hill, as well as the confidence coach Mike Redding has in this duo, it was the one that came late in the fourth quarter with the Hornets nursing a 42-35 lead.

Mansfield faced a second-and-10 on the Rockets’ 38 and virtually everybody this side of the Berkshire Mountains expected the Hornets to run the ball and take more time off the clock.

Wrong.

Instead, Wisnieski completed a 29-yard pass to Hill for a first down, which enabled Mansfield to run out the clock and advance to next week’s sectional finals.

“I think their whole defense was expecting a run,” said Wisnieski. “I think Coach [Mike] Redding recognized that. It was a good play call by him and it worked.”

Even though the Hornets stung the Rockets en route to a seemingly comfortable 35-7 lead late in the third quarter, Mansfield needed everything to work down the stretch because it was unable to stop Needham running back Mike Panepinto.

Panepinto torched Mansfield for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and, after the Hornets’ Miguel Villar-Perez (17-123 yards, 2 TD) scored on a one-yard dive for a 35-7 lead, returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a score which sparked a Needham rally.

“We thought we had it kind of put away at 35-7 but we made the mistake of kicking to Mike [Panepinto] and he hurt us with the return,” Redding said in a massive understatement. “It seemed like all of a sudden their juices started flowing. They played good ‘D.’ They score again. They get the onside kick.

“I thought both teams showed unbelievable character. A lot of teams would have quit at 35-7. They kept battling. Then, all the momentum went their way and we sucked it up and found a way to get a score to get the lead back to 14 (42-28), which we needed. It was great playoff football and a lot of great efforts on both sides of the ball.”

The sequence Redding referred to went as follows.

After Panepinto’s kickoff return, quarterback Ryan Charter (8 of 14, 166 yards, 2 TD) threw a 68-yard touchdown bomb to Mike Elcock (6-148 yards) on the first play of the final quarter which pulled Needham within 35-21.

Then, Needham successfully executed an onside kick with Carter Christensen smothering Auggie Coll’s kick at Mansfield’s 44.

Four plays player, Panepinto broke one tackle and ran 13 yards for a touchdown that sliced Mansfield’s lead to 35-28.

After the ensuing kickoff, Wisnieski cranked up his right arm and heaved a 51-yard touchdown pass to Hill with 5:51 left which gave Mansfield a 42-28 lead.

Needham needed just 2:42 to get back on the board when Charter threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Elcock.

But after Wisnieski completed that 29-yard pass to Hill, Mansfield fans finally were able to exhale.

“I’m glad we’ve got Brendan Hill catching the football for us,” said Redding. “Throw it near him and he’s going to make a play.

“Kyle’s a cool customer. Most teams would have run the ball (on that aforementioned second-and-10 play). But we just have so much faith in our guys to be able to throw it late in the game. I thought that got us a big first down which didn’t let them get the ball back one more time.”

MANSFIELD 42, NEEDHAM 35
Needham (7-2) 7-0-7-21 - 35
Mansfield (9-0) 14-21-0-7 - 42

First quarter
M – Miguel Villar-Perez 19 pass from Kyle Wisnieski (Alex Thompson kick)
N – Mike Panepinto 76 run (Auggie Coll kick)
M – Villar-Perez 1 run (Thompson kick)

Second quarter
M – Brendan Hill 18 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
M – Hill 25 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)

Third quarter
M – Villar-Perez 1 run (Thompson kick)
N – Panepinto 91 kickoff return (Coll kick)

Fourth quarter
N – Mike Elcock 66 pass from Ryan Charter (Coll kick)
N – Panepinto 13 run (Coll kick)
M – Hill 51 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
N – Elcock 13 pass from Charter (Coll kick)

D2 South: Mansfield 31, Wellesley 14

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
11:34
PM ET
MANSFIELD, Mass. -- When it looked like Wellesley's defense found a way to limit Mansfield's high-power offense, the Hornets displayed yet another weapon.

Quarterback Kyle Wisnieski ran for a team-high 80 yards helping to spark Mansfield to a 31-14 win over Wellesley in an MIAA Division 2 South Quarterfinal game.

Wisnieski is known for his accurate passing to weapons like Brendan Hill, Michael Hershman, and Kyle Hurley and the Hornets have even established a strong run game this season behind Miguel Villar-Perez and Chris Buchanon, but it was Wisnieski's legs that did the trick Friday night.

After punting on their first offensive series, the Raiders' defense held Mansfield to a 35-yard field goal from senior Alex Thompson. On just their second play of the next drive after recovering a surprise onside kick attempt, Wellesley quarterback John Fadule took it 54 yards for a touchdown to give Wellesley a 7-3 lead, but that would be their only one of the night.

"We tried to steal the onside kick and it backfired," said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. "We gave them a short field and they made us pay. After that I thought we settled down on defense. We gave them some hitches and slants but nothing big. Defense just played great."

Mansfield responded in a fashion they have used all season, mixing in runs and counters with big gain passes. Starting at their own 14-yard line, Villar-Perez and Buchanon combined for 16 yards on three rushes before Wisnieski hit Hurley over the middle for 18 yards and then Hill on the sideline for 33 more. Villar-Perez then went 19 yards almost untouched to give Mansfield the lead back at 10-7.

A quick three-and-out from Wellesley gave Mansfield the ball back at their own 31. Wisnieski dropped back to pass twice in a run but on both occasions, the Raiders had strong coverage and Wisnieski took off running, picking up 21 yards and then 15 yards. With the defense forced to respect Wisnieski's mobility, he connects with a wide-open Hurley on the left side for a 19-yard touchdown to put Mansfield up 17-7.

"They were dropping a lot of guys in coverage so it kind of opened it up," said Wisnieski. "The pass rushers got past me and there was a lot of room to run so I just took advantage of that."

Redding credited both Wellesley for their coverage scheme as well as Wisnieski for being able to make a play.

"They did a good job of covering and had a good scheme in the secondary and kind of clogged things up on Mike Hershman, Brendan Hill, and Kyle Hurley but they did give us some running lanes," he said. "Kyle [Wisnieski] is well respected for throwing the ball to those guys but he's a very good athlete. If he wasn't a quarterback, he'd be a heck of a receiver and defensive back. He makes a lot of bad calls into good ones by getting out and running for some yardage."

The Hornet defense again came up strong, forcing another three-and-out from the Raider offense and their punt was partially blocked by Hill, setting the Hornets up at their own 37. Wisnieski elected to stay in the pocket this time, hitting Villar-Perez over the middle on back to back passes to gain 30 yards. A pass interference call put the Hornets at the Raiders 5-yard line and two plays later, Buchanon punched it in from less than a yard out.

Mansfield almost tacked on another score but Wisnieski was picked off in the end zone, only his third interception thrown all season, and Mansfield took a 24-7 lead into halftime.

Mansfield went three-and-out to start the second half and Wellesley ate up a lot of clock on their first drive but it was ended when Aurian Dawkins came away with his second pick of Fadule. The Hornets then used eight rushing plays and one pass completion to get to the Wellesley 3-yard line as the third quarter ended.

On the first play of the final quarter, Buchanon took the toss to the right before cutting back in and scoring his second touchdown of the game to make it 31-7 with 10:55 left. Wellesley's final touchdown came with just 28 seconds left in the game with back ups from both sides in. Sophomore Myles Cole rushed to the left for a 19-yard touchdown for the Raiders.

"On offense we're pretty explosive at times," Redding said. "We didn't have to punt a whole lot which is good in the playoffs. Kyle was a little dinged up and we really didn't want him running much. He ended up running more than he has in the last month. Brendan made some big, big catches for us."

The top-seeded Hornets will now continue in the playoffs and will host No. 4 Needham, who defeated Duxbury 42-28 on Friday night.

"I like were we are," said Redding. "We're playing good defense and we're balanced on offense but the next round gets even tougher whether its Duxbury or Needham, the level just gets tougher and tougher. You have to bring your A game every Friday if you want to move on."

Recap: No. 1 Mansfield 20, No. 14 KP 7

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
11:43
PM ET
WRENTHAM, Mass. -- With all of the focus locked in on Mansfield's high power offense and King Philip's stout defense before the game, it was the Hornet defense that stood tall after it.

No. 1 Mansfield scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns on their way to a 20-7 win over Hockomock rival No. 14 King Philip.

"I think the story of the night was our defense," said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. "We gave up one early and then settled down and played great run defense against a very physical team that can run the ball. All week that was what we were preaching. Everyone was going to talk about our offense against the defense but the story of the game is going to be our defense playing against their run game and if we could stop them we have a chance to win."

The Warriors gained the momentum early as their defense forced three straight incompletions from Mansfield QB Kyle Wisnieski and their offense took the ball 63 yards on six plays -- helped by a 15-yard face mask penalty -- and scored first on a Mark Glebus 4-yard touchdown run. But that would be all the Warrior offense would be able to muster up the entire game.

"That was just good old fashioned Hockomock league football," Redding said. "A dirt field, two teams physically hitting each other hard. They were as advertised on defense -- very, very good. They're athletic and they're physical. I just thank God we have some playmakers that made some things happen."

After the teams traded punts three times each, the last being a Christian Flaherty punt that pinned Mansfield at their own 12, the Hornets found their first playmaker. Senior running back Miguel Villar-Perez came in motion and took the hand off and headed right before meeting a host of King Philip defenders. He quickly cut back left through a whole before turning on the jets, running it 88 yards for a touchdown and the extra point made it 7-7 with 5:55 left in the second quarter.

The play was a hint of luck for Mansfield, as Redding admitted after the game that it wasn't exactly run correctly.

"We had nothing going and I couldn't come up with the call," he said. "We actually lined up wrong and blocked it wrong but we adjusted and Miguel made a great cut back. He's been a clutch guy all year. That was definitely a big play. You don't want to go into halftime shutout and have them feeding off that."

The score would remain 7-7 through the rest of the first half and all through the third quarter as the two squads both were unable to get anything going offensive.

Neither King Philip's rushing attack or Mansfield's passing game found a rhythm until early in the fourth quarter, when Mansfield came up with a new simple strategy: get the ball to junior Brendan Hill. On their last play of the third quarter they started doing so, finding Hill for his first catch on a short 7-yard pass. That then opened the door for other Mansfield receivers.

On a first-and-10 from their own 42, Wisnieski's play-action pass over the middle looked like it was going to be broken up but Kyle Hurley made a move back to the ball, tipping it up before catching it and completing a 26 yard gain. On the next play, Wisnieski mishandled the ball but quickly picked it up and tossed it to a wide open Hurley, who ran it in for a 22-yard touchdown play, giving the Hornets a 14-7 lead with 9:20 left in the game.

King Philip looked to strike back quickly and almost did when quarterback J.J. Dillon heaved one to Peter Garrity downfield, but the ball slipped through his hands and the Warriors settled with a three and out and a punt.

The Hornets continued with their strategy of getting the ball to Hill, who was held without a catch in the first half. Facing third and 10 in their own half, Wisnieski threw one towards the sideline but a King Philip defender jumped the route, getting his hands on it but it slipped through and Hill was able to catch it while falling down. Three plays later, another play-action led to a 21-yard catch for Hill, at the KP 5-yard line. Villar-Perez was able to just get across the goal line and the extra point missed as Mansfield led 20-7 with 4:20 left in the game.

"He's just unbelievable," Redding said of Hill. "We kind of just got to the point were we said just throw it to him, I don't care if he's covered, just throw it and get a little height on it and he's going to make the catch. He's a clutch guy and they were all over him with the double coverage, banging under and the safety over the top and they did a great job of trying to take him out but it got to the point where we said just get him the ball and let him make plays."

Hill was there again on KP's last ditch effort drive, as a high snap forced a fumble and Hill pounced on it to get the ball back for the Hornets.

With a strong performance from Mansfield's defense came disappointment from KP head coach Brian Lee about his offense.

"I think our offense needed to help our defense out in the second half a little bit," Lee said. "You know, if you leave them out there and leave them out there, eventually those caliber of dudes are going to make plays and thats what happened. When you're playing a team like that, you know they're going to make their plays We said 20 all week long was what we wanted to hold them to so offensively we just didn't do the job but defensively I'm pretty proud of how we played."

Mansfield improves to 6-0 overall and 4-0 and clinches at least a share of the Hockomock Kelley-Rex division and KP falls to 5-1 and 3-1 in the division. The Hornets will look to sweep their league games with a trip to Franklin next week while KP will host Attleboro, fresh off a 45-0 beating of Taunton.

A REMATCH?
Normally when it comes to the Hock, you see a team once and whoever comes out on top keeps bragging rights for a year. But with the new playoff system in place, a rematch between these two is not just possible, it's likely.

With both teams in Division 2 South and both teams top quality squads, a playoff rematch looks promising. Mansfield will continue to be at the top of the ratings while KP won't drop much because of this loss. If you ask Mike Redding what he think's of a rematch, he's pretty clear.

"Mark my words, we'll play again," he said. "I hope its in the sectional championship but these two teams are going to meet up again and it should be a heck of a game because we're both going to make some progress in the Division 2 playoffs, I just hope its the last round."

Mr. Football Watch: Week 5

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
5:45
PM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch" following Week 5 of the 2013 season. Statistics can be sent to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)

THE CONTENDERS*

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Boston College commit completed 14 of 27 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns, and added 47 yards on the ground, in a 28-0 shutout of Norwood.

Brendan Hill, Jr. TE, Mansfield
Caught four passes for 76 yards and a score in the Hornets’ 49-42 win over Attleboro.

Hayden Murphy, Sr. ATH, Barnstable
Ran for 115 yards and three touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ 35-14 win over New Bedford.

Neil O’Connor, Sr. QB/S, Leominster
In just one half of football in the Blue Devils’ 34-0 shutout of Wachusett, accounted for 201 yards of offense and capped things off with a nifty 90-yard interception return to the house.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns in the Rockets’ 34-12 win over Framingham.

Rufus Rushins, Jr. RB, Bishop Fenwick
Carried 24 times for 233 yards and four touchdowns in the Crusaders’ commanding 42-20 rout of Cardinal Spellman.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
In the Pioneers’ 49-21 win over Nashoba, completed 23 of 29 passes for 335 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 67 rushing yards.

Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
Monmouth commit completed 13 of 18 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, and added 118 yards and a third score on the ground, in the Golden Eagles’ 19-7 win over Longmeadow.

Ju’an Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
Caught five passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in the Golden Eagles’ 19-7 win over Longmeadow

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 19 of 28 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns in the Hornets’ 49-42 thriller over Attleboro.

Isaac Yiadom, Sr. WR/DB, Doherty
Recorded a touchdown catch, his second of the year, in the Highlanders’ 40-12 rout of Worcester South. Through four games he is averaging 30.9 yards per catch, and has recorded 37 tackles on defense.


FIVE ON THE RISE

Bo Berluti, Sr. QB, Westwood
Accounted for 255 yards of offense and three total touchdowns in the Wolverines’ 43-41 double-overtime epic over archrival Holliston. But it will be his gutsy 25-yard, fourth and goal TD pass in the second overtime that will go down in folklore.

Derrell Fernandez, Sr. RB, Weymouth
Carried 225 times for 264 yards and five touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 42-18 win over Brookline.

Mike McGillicuddy, Sr. WR, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
The elusive slot receiver caught nine passes for 113 yards in the Pioneers’ 49-21 win over Nashoba.

Tom Rodrick, Sr. LB, Leicester
The UConn commit recorded 12 tackles, a sack, and blocked field goal in the Wolverines’ 15-6 win over Auburn.

Alex Valles, Sr. RB, Danvers
Carried 24 times for 211 yards and three scores in the Falcons’ 20-12 win over Revere.


TOP STATISTICAL LEADERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Rushing
Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead – 889 yards, 9 total TD
Johnathan Thomas, Sr., St. John’s Prep – 748 yards, 8 total TD
Mark Wright, Sr., Auburn – 760 yards, 8 TD
Olan Abner, Sr., Bedford – 733 yards, 7 TD
Christian Perez, Sr., Northeast – 725 yards, 8 total TD

Passing
Dylan Kierman, Sr., Quabbin – 1,230 yards, 19 TD
John Rumney, Sr., Marlborough – 1,086 yards, 14 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 1,072 yards, 11 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 1,035 yards, 17 TD
Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – 955 yards, 11 TD

Receiving
Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston – 405 yards, 7 TD
Brian Daly, Sr., Marblehead – 395 yards, 8 TD
Dan Henrickson, Sr., St. Peter-Marian – 380 yards, 5 TD
Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty – 371 yards, 2 TD
Mike Bombard, Sr., Chicopee Comp – 369 yards, 3 TD

Dual Threat
Dylan Kierman, Sr., Quabbin – 1,230 passing yards, 284 rushing yards, 21 total TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 1,035 passing yards, 316 rushing yards, 18 total TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 1,072 passing yards, 167 rushing yards, 14 total TD
Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) 955 passing yards, 169 rushing yards, 16 total TD
Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central – 851 passing yards, 254 rushing yards, 13 total TD



*Not including teams who were idle last weekend.

Mr. Football Watch: Week 4

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
5:03
PM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch" following Week 4 of the 2013 season. Statistics can be sent to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)

THE CONTENDERS*

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Did it all in the Redhawks’ 35-14 win over Wellesley, completing 20 of 30 passes for 236 yards and five touchdowns, and adding 170 rushing yards.

Brandon Gallagher, Jr. RB, Bridgewater-Raynham
Carried 20 times for 232 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans’ 32-0 shutout of New Bedford.

Jack Galvin, Sr. WR, Lowell
Caught four passes for 39 yards and a score in the Red Raiders’ 32-6 win over Billerica.

Brendan Hill, Jr. TE/DE, Mansfield
Caught four passes for 31 yards in the Hornets’ 35-14 win over North Attleborough, but where he did most of his damage was on the defensive side, setting the edge and containing.

Neil O’Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
Threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns, and added 40 rushing yards, in the Blue Devils’ 41-14 win over Shepherd Hill.

Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South
Ran for 191 yards and a touchdown, and added a 90-yard interception return – his second pick-six and three games – in the Panthers’ 21-14 win over cross-town rival Plymouth North.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Carried 12 times for 147 yards and two scores in the Rockets’ 41-12 rout of Newton North.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Completed 12 of 21 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Pioneers’ wild 20-15 thriller over rival Fitchburg.

Johnathan Thomas, Sr. RB, St. John’s Prep
Carried 19 times for 96 yards in the Eagles’ loss to Everett. But even worse, he is reportedly undergoing season-ending knee surgery later this week after getting hurt in the second half of the game.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
In another easy rout, this one a 49-0 drubbing of Holyoke, Williams completed 9 of 12 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

Ju’an Williams, Sr. WR, Springfield Central
Caught two passes for 42 yards and score in the Golden Eagles’ 49-0 blanking of Holyoke.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 11 of 16 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Hornets’ 35-14 win over North Attleborough.

FIVE ON THE RISE

Ryan Barabe, Jr. QB, Pope John Paul II
In the Lions’ 26-22 loss to Boston Cathedral, completed 18 of 25 passes for 279 yards and three scores and an interception. On the season, he is completing 68 percent of his passes for 776 yards and eight scores, which is among the state’s best.

Derek Estes, Sr. CB, Barnstable
Came up with two interceptions in the Red Raiders’ upset of then-No. 1 Xaverian last Friday, helping seal a 15-14 win at the end. He leads the Raiders with three interceptions through three games.

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
Slowly establishing himself as one of the premier pass-catching tailbacks in Eastern Mass. Through four games he has 245 receiving yards and three touchdowns to go along with 331 rushing yards and five more scores.

Dylan Kierman, Sr. QB, Quabbin
Currently leads all passers in Central Mass. with 774 yards and nine touchdowns.

Brooks Tyrrell, Jr. RB, Marblehead
The Notre Dame lacrosse commit continues his torrid tear through the first half of the season, the latest a 27-carry, 181-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 35-7 win over rival Swampscott.

TOP STATISTICAL LEADERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Rushing
Johnathan Thomas, Sr., St. John’s Prep – 748 yards, 8 total TD
Mark Wright, Sr., Auburn – 728 yards, 8 TD
Isaiah White, Sr., Beverly - 682 yards, 6 total TD
Brooks Tyrell, Jr., Marblehead – 634 yards, 7 total TD
Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South – 609 yards, 10 total TD

Passing
Jordan Bolarinho, Sr., Billerica – 955 yards, 7 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 807 yards, 13 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 785 yards, 8 TD
Michael Whitsett, Jr., Chicopee Comp – 781 yards, 4 TD
Ryan Barabe, Jr., Pope John Paul II – 776 yards, 8 TD

Receiving
Cole Bernier, Jr., Old Colony – 339 yards, 3 TD
Mike Bombard, Sr., Chicopee Comp – 335 yards, 3 TD
Brian Daly, Sr., Marblehead – 328 yards, 7 TD
Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell – 322 yards, 7 TD
Jeff Trainor, Soph., Billerica – 317 yards, 3 TD

Dual Threat**
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 807 passing yards, 269 rushing yards, 14 total TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 785 passing yards, 156 rushing yards, 10 total TD
Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central – 647 passing yards, 169 rushing yards, 10 total TD
Jermal Brevard Jackson, Jr., Boston Cathedral – 262 passing yards, 514 rushing yards, 6 total TD
Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster – 542 passing yards, 193 rushing yards, 12 total TD



*Not including teams who were idle last weekend.
**To qualify, quarterbacks must have rushing yards account for at least 15 percent of their total offensive production.


Video: Mansfield vs. North highlights

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
6:55
PM ET
Editor Scott Barboza checks in with highlights from No. 2 Mansfield's 35-14 win over Hockomock rival North Attleborough on Friday night in our Game of the Week:

(Highlights produced by Greg Story)


Recap: No. 2 Mansfield 35, North Attleborough 14

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
11:30
PM ET


MANSFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield coach Mike Redding is like a kid in a toy store.

But unlike a kid who has an abundance of toys from which to choose, Redding has an abundance of offensive weapons that are designed to dissect the opposition.

That was the case – again – Friday night as the defending Hockomock League champion and No. 2-ranked Hornets began league play by belting North Attleborough, 35-14.

“Miguel (Villar-Perez) is very valuable,” Redding said of one of his weapons. “He’s a good receiver and a really good runner.

“With Mike Hershman and Brendan Hill out there to cover, you have to line up your defense to take away the pass and it opens up things for Miguel, Chris Buchanan and Matt Bukuras. We really have five good skill kids out there. It’s kind of a rare treat for a coach to be able to call plays for five different guys and they all can make plays. We’re developing some nice balance with all five skill guys contributing.”

After opening their Kelley-Rex division slate with a win, Redding talked about the Hornets’ intent to become a more diversified offense.

“That’s what it takes in this league,” Redding said. “If you try to get the ball to one guy too much you’re going to end up getting beat sooner or later. We have the five guys and we’re trying to spread it around.”

Bombs away: The only Hornet not mentioned above was senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, who completed 11-of-16 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns (sans interceptions).

Wisnieski and Hershman were never better than on two plays, one near the end of the second quarter and the other midway through the fourth.

Mansfield was leading 14-7 when Wisnieski guided an eight-play, 81-yard drive that culminated with him throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Hershman.

Then, with Mansfield up 21-7 and facing a third-and-nine on the Rocketeers 23, Wisnieski unloaded a pass to Hershman who was so wide-open in the end zone he had time to write a term paper before snaring the ball.

“It was a combination of a lot of things,” Wisnieski said while explaining why Hershman was so wide-open. “They were coming with a lot of heat all night. They were blitzing linebackers. The line did a great job of picking up the blitzes and that’s where it started.

“We got lucky. With Brendan out there, he’s obviously going to draw a lot of attention. On the first touchdown they tried to man-up Mike and that’s going to be a tough match-up for anyone to cover Mike one-on-one. He was able to beat them on the inside. On the second touchdown, they were all over Brendan and Mike just came free.”

“Wis’ does a great job running the show,” Redding said. “He’s smart. He’s poised. He handles pressure and does a lot of great things for us. I thought the big one was when they scored and we were able to answer at the end of the half (i.e. the 28-yard TD pass to Hershman). That was the drive that kind of kept them at arms’ length.”

Moving the pile: One Green Hornet who drove through North Attleborough’s defense all night was Villar-Perez, who gained 114 yards and scored twice on 14 carries.

Villar-Perez, in fact, scored Mansfield’s first touchdown when he capped a six-play, 70-yard drive by taking a pitchout and sprinting 15 yards to the end zone.

Then, late in that first quarter, Mansfield capitalized on a short North Attleborough punt and Villar-Perez wedged into the end zone from the 2 for a 14-0 lead.

The Rocketeers countered with a four-yard touchdown pass from James Kummer to Mike Lambert.

But Wisnieski’s 28-yarder to Hershman gave Mansfield that 21-7 lead at the half.

After Wisnieski and Hershman hooked up for that 23-yard touchdown pass, Mansfield closed out the scoring late in the fourth when Buchanan busted 16 yards off right tackle to make it 35-7.

Despite the impressive victory, Redding echoed a note of caution.

“It’s only a beginning,” he said. “Next week we have to go to an Attleboro team that’s probably going to be 3-0. It’s a battle. We’re getting healthier and we’re getting better. But it’s a long road here in the Kelly-Rex.”

MANSFIELD 35, NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH 14
NA (2-1, 0-1) 0-7-0-7 - 14
MAN (3-0, 1-0)

First quarter
M – Miguel Villar-Perez 15 run (Alex Thompson kick)
M – Villar-Perez 2 run (Thompson kick)

Second quarter
N – Mike Lambert 4 pass from James Kummer (Connor Flynn kick)
M – Mike Hershman 28 pass from Kyle Wisnieski (Thompson kick)

Fourth quarter
M – Hershman 23 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
M – Chris Buchanan 16 run (Thompson kick)
N – Lambert 12 pass from Justin Gallagher (Flynn kick)

Roundtable: Bigger things to come for Xaverian?

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
1:59
PM ET
1. SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYED A MAJOR FACTOR IN XAVERIAN'S 49-13 DRUBBING OF BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM, RETURNING TWO BLOCKED PUNTS FOR TOUCHDOWNSW, BUT A.J. KING (2 TDs) DIDN'T HAVE A BAD DAY EITHER. IS THIS XAVERIAN SQUAD CAPABLE OF ROUTINELY PUTTING UP BIG NUMBERS?

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: If this were 2012, or any other recent year for that matter, I would lean towards labeling that game an anomaly. Xaverian squads typically aren't known for blowing up the scoreboard, instead moving the chains rather steadily behind a conservative multiple offense and relying on change-of-pace backs to grind out the tough yardage. I've been in this for 10 years, and this year's Xaverian team feels like one of the more unpredictable squads that I can recall. And when I say that, I mean you just don't know that they're going to throw at you. Certainly, Jake Farrell brings about an escapeability intangible they typically haven't had with quarterbacks, and there is some promising sophomore talent.

By the way, whoever the special teams coach is at Xaverian, give that man a raise. If you think the B-R game was an aberration, ask the BB&N coaches how their scrimmage with the Hawks went.

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: I know we all thought the Hawks’ defense would be ahead of the offense entering the season, but this looks like a much-improved group thus far. I like the one-two punch Shayne Kaminski and Noah Sorrento provide in the backfield. They have some legit targets in the passing game with King and D.J. Sperzel and Jake Farrell has looked great at quarterback. If the offensive line keeps creating holes and pass protecting the way they have in the first two weeks, I don’t foresee a slowdown.

John McGuirk, ESPN Boston correspondent: With the talent Xaverian has they should continue to put up decent numbers. They have four 'big' games left on the schedule in Barnstable, Brockton, BC High and St. John's Prep. All four of those programs are outstanding but all have issues on defense as well which should work in the Hawks' favor.

2. NASHOBA OWNS THE STATE'S LONGEST ACTIVE WIN STREAK (28 GAMES), BUT TWO TOUGH OPPONENTS LAY AHEAD IN WACHUSETT AND ST. JOHN'S OF SHREWSBURY. DO YOU SEE THE CHIEFTAINS MAKING IT TO 30 STRAIGHT?

Hall: Wachusett matches up evenly on paper with Nashoba, but watch out for St. John's. Andrew Smiley is heating up (380 passing yards the last six quarters), and the running game seems to be hitting a groove with St. Louis transplant Shane Combs taking over the feature role. The "blur" offense is a whirlwind to handle when all is going right, and you always have to watch where Davon Jones lines up. I see the Pioneers stopping Nashoba's streak at 29.

Barboza: I think it’ll end at No. 29. The Chieftains will get by Wachusett, but I think the Pioneers’ athletes, particularly on the perimeter, will prove too much to handle.

McGuirk: I see Nashoba reaching 30 straight wins. Wachusett is going through a down year, having already lost to St. Peter-Marian and Fitchburg. And what has been noted many times, St. John's biggest weakness the last couple of seasons has been its porous defense and inability to make tackles consistently. If you look past those next two games, the Chieftains will face a pair of unbeatens (Marlborough and Leominster). That is where the streak could possibly come to a close.

3. BETWEEN THE SUPERB STARTS FROM BROCKTON, TAUNTON, TEWKSBURY AND WESTFIELD, THE TRIPLE OPTION IS MAKING A COMEBACK. WHICH TEAM RUNS IT BEST?

Hall: It's tough to argue against Westfield's ridiculous numbers -- there are running backs that will go a whole season not putting up as many rushing yards as the Bombers have their first two games of the season. But it's hard to argue against Brockton's talent. Aaron LeClair and Jamal Williams get to the perimeter quick, and the Boxers can steamroll you inside with counters and dives. All four of these teams have a dynamic playmaker in the backfield -- LeClair, Tewksbury's Eddie Matovu, Westfield's Ben Geschwind and Taunton's Domingo Jenkins -- but I will give Brockton the edge here because of what they have in the trenches. Aaron Monteiro, the Boxers' prized prospect at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, is a road grader at left guard with a pretty high ceiling.

Barboza: As of right now, I don’t see how you can argue with Westfield. The Bombers are running roughshod over opponents behind senior fullback Ben Geschwind. After running for 348 yards and six touchdowns as a team during last week's 49-20 win over West Springfield, Westfield has scored 109 points in two games, with Geschwind averaging more than 150 yards per game.

Josh Perry, HockomockSports.com: I can’t say whether or not Taunton runs it better than other teams in the state, but I can say that the Tigers do make it look fun. With Gerald Cortijo and Steven Harrison giving star back Domingo Jenkins some help in the backfield, the Tigers have speedy and shifty runners. It’s almost enough to make you forget just how good the ground game would have been without Jamal Williams’ move to Brockton. Taunton’s ability to run the triple option will of course get a much tougher test this week against King Philip and its strong defense, but the Tigers are unique among the other Hockomock teams and it can be fun to watch.

McGuirk: The way Westfield is dominating the competition (109 points in two games), I would say the the triple option is working best for them. They have the right personnel to execute it and coach Bill Moore is very good at putting the right players in place to keep it rolling effectively, especially his tandem of Ben Geschwind and Jake Toomey, who are both averaging over 10 yards-per-carry.

4. TWO OF THE MERRIMACK VALLEY CONFERENCE'S BEST SQUADS, CENTRAL CATHOLIC AND LOWELL, SURRENDERED A COMBINED 73 POINTS AGAINST NON-LEAGUE TOP 10 OPPONENTS LAST WEEKEND. ARE WE HEADED FOR ANOTHER SEASON OF HIGH SCORES IN THE MVC?

Hall: Tough to tell, because Tewksbury has more than pulled its weight in the defensive end so far. If there's one team that can avoid track meets, it's the Redmen. Everyone else, good luck. We anointed the MVC "Death By 1,000 Shallow Crosses" a year ago, and with the amount of spread offense and no-huddle tempo deployed in this league, we could very well be in for another season of Wild West scores.

Barboza: I'd take my chances with the defensive units of Andover, Central Catholic, Lowell and Tewksbury against just about any offense in the state, but what comes into play in the MVC is the teams' offensive style of play. With so many teams in its ranks adopting the spread offense, the big numbers put up seemingly on a weekly basis are more a function of the pace of the game, with shortened drives as opposed to rushing-oriented, ball-control styles of play. But as long as MVC teams continue to live and die by the sword (or the spread), I think we'll continue to see some lopsided numbers.

Mike Abelson, ESPN Boston correspondent: Yes and no. Central and Lowell, when the blur is working as advertised, can drop basketball scores on lesser teams because of the athletic talent. That being said, through three weeks there are only two MVC teams averaging 30 or more points. Central is one, and the other, North Andover, hasn't won a game. The only two remaining undefeated teams, Tewksbury and Methuen, are averaging 27 and 18 points a game, respectively, and winning games without all the flash and dash of putting up buckets of points. Yes, the MVC will have it's share of high-scoring contests (I'll put the over/under for Central-Chelmsford at 90.5), but it won't consistently translate to W's.

5. AFTER A ROUGH FIRST WEEK, HAS BARNSTABLE FIGURED IT OUT? CAN THEY KNOCK OFF NO. 1 XAVERIAN?

Hall: I feel like this is a sneaky good matchup. Let's not forget Barnstable was our preseason No. 12 before getting shell-shocked by Dennis-Yarmouth in the opening weekend. There is talent, between versatile athlete Hayden Murphy, shutdown corner Derek Estes and elusive scatback Justus Chafee.

Defensively, Barnstable typically likes to stretch vertically and keep everything in front of them, which can be a bad matchup against spread teams like Dennis-Yarmouth. Last week against BC High, they looked like they cleaned up a lot of their mistakes. Xaverian's offense, while a bit more creative, has some similarities to BC High's. Going the other way, the Red Raiders use some funky misdirection in the run game to prevent linebackers from filling gaps. On their first touchdown against BC, for instance, a receiver backpedaled off the line of scrimmage, feigning a bubble screen, putting several defenders on their heels as Chafee came up the gut on a zone read.

That kind of stuff can keep even the best defenses on their toes. Expect some fireworks, and some dynamic playcalling, in this one.

Barboza: This is a yes-and-no proposition to me. I think the Raiders righted ship after an embarrassing loss to Cape rival Dennis-Yarmouth in Week 1, going on the road to beat another Catholic Conference foe in BC High. But I think Barnstable would need to play a near perfect game, while forcing the Hawks into some turnovers in order to make it four straight defeats of an ESPN Boston No. 1 squad. I'm not saying it will not be a close game, I just like Xaverian a little bit more.

Perry: In a preseason roundtable, I said that Barnstable was a team that was getting overlooked because of the players that it lost from last year. I’ll stick by that and say that the Raiders give Xaverian a run for their money. The No. 1 ranking has been more of an albatross than an honor this year, so I’ll say that Barnstable has a good chance of causing the Hawks problems.

McGuirk: Barnstable is good but Xaverian is playing with a lot of confidence, especially following the huge win over B-R last week. The Hawks should take care of the Red Raiders who gave up 37 points to D-Y in Week One but did bounce back nicely last week against BC High.

Abelson: In Hayden Murphy I trust. In the ESPN Boston poll curse I believe. Barnstable, 27-21.

6. THE HOCKOMOCK LEAGUE'S KELLY-REX DIVISION MIGHT BE THE STATE'S MOST UNPREDICTABLE RACE THIS FALL. AS LEAGUE PLAY OPENS UP THIS WEEK, PROJECT YOUR CHAMPION AND DARK HORSE.

Hall: Mansfield was the prohibitive favorite in most minds heading into the season, and so far they've done little to suggest otherwise. Consider that nearly three weeks out from their shocking upset of Dunbar (Md.), the Hornets are still without five starters. They're already a dynamic offense, between quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, 6-foot-5 flex tight end Brendan Hill, and space-carving tailback Miguel Villar-Perez. Hard to go against that.

For dark horses, I like Attleboro. I think it's understated how big their line is, particularly at defensive tackle, and there are plenty of weapons on offense between quarterback Tim Walsh, tight end Luke Morrison and receiver Brendan Massey. This program has long been a sleeping giant, and new coach Mike Strachan has re-awakened those sentiments.

Barboza: All along, I've penciled in Mansfield as the team to beat in the Kelley-Rex. I believe they had the most complete group of talent on either side of the ball, and also had the most upside. The scary part is that, due to injury, the Hornets might not have yet hit their apogee and will continue to strengthen as the season progresses.

Now, for the sleeper, I know we've talked up Attleboro up a lot in the early going -- to the point that I really think they're a threat in Division 1 South. Seeing that the Blue Bombardiers are for real in the first two weeks of the season, I'm going to go with Taunton. I don't think Chris Greding has gotten enough credit for the job he's done turning around the Tigers program in short order. Of course, an infusion of talent led by Domingo Jenkins helps, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Taunton knocks off one of the Hock's "Big Three" -- King Philip, Mansfield, North Attleborough -- at some point this season.

Perry: The favorite heading into the Hockomock League season is defending champions Mansfield and its new spread attack that takes advantage of its great weapons like senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski and junior tight end Brendan Hill. Attleboro has gotten a lot of hype from media, me included, in the preseason as a sleeper in the Hock. A new coaching staff, a new field, and new schemes on both sides of the ball have made the Bombardiers a much more confident crew and better utilize the weapons that it has. The Bombardiers were only a few mental mistakes from beating Mansfield last season and Tim Walsh is on fire running the spread formation – watch out for Attleboro. Of course, watch out for KP, Franklin, and North Attleborough, too. It really is up for grabs

McGuirk: The Kelly-Rex Division is solid with four teams still unbeaten (Mansfield, Attleboro, North Attleboro and Taunton). When it is all said and done. I believe it will come down to Mansfield and North Attleborough for the title because of their high-octane offenses. Attleboro has to be considered the darkhorse here because of its stingy defense which could carry them through. It will be interesting to watch all four of these team beat up one another during the season and see who survives.

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