Boston High School: Brian Dolan

D1 North: Everett 21, Lowell 0

November, 9, 2013

EVERETT, Mass. -– While making the Division 1 North championship game may be reason to celebrate for many teams, the Everett Crimson Tide (8-1) were all business following their 21-0 victory over an energized Lowell (6-3) squad on Friday night.

The Crimson Tide defense was outstanding, forcing Lowell star quarterback Brian Dolan into three interceptions and a forced fumble. Wisconsin-commit Lubern Figaro had two of those interceptions, while Lukas Denis reeled in a pick and Angel Duarte had a bevy of tackles for the secondary.

“It feels amazing, but we’re not done yet," Figaro said. "It’s the road to Gillette...We’re not done yet, there’s still business to be done."

Figaro, who was on Lowell receiver Jack Galvin in the first half before switching to safety in the second, helped keep one of the top receivers in the state to just two catches all night.

“I’ve been watching film on him all week,” Figaro astutely announced. “I had to keep him quiet, cause he’s the best player on their team. They put me on him, so I had to stop him.”

Everett running back Isiah Davis got the Tide on the board first in the second quarter, running in a 13-yard touchdown to put the finishing touches on a 12-play, 62-yard drive that cut a significant amount of time off the clock. By keeping Lowell off the field and the ball out of Dolan’s hands when they were on the field, Everett was able to control set the tempo for the game very early on.

“We decided early on that we were going to put heat on Dolan, we weren’t going to sit back. We saw what he did to St. John’s Prep -- he picked them apart,” Everett coach John DiBiaso said. “We gambled and we put some heat on and we got to him quite a few times. I thought our defensive line and linebackers did a good job. If you’re gonna do that, your DB’s have to play well, and they did.”

The Red Raiders were able to accomplish very little offensively, as 68 of Ngaiiva Mason’s 113 yards rushing came on one play early in the first quarter.

“The defense effort was strong the whole game, we came out and were shooting ourselves in the foot on offense. I thought our defense held us in the game during the first half,” DiBiaso said.

Davis took a helmet to the knee on the last play of the first half, suffering a bone bruise that would leave him out the rest of the game. The Everett crowd and sideline was silent after Davis hobbled off the field, but the Crimson Tide didn’t appear flustered at all following the break.

“Luckily we punched one in and it was 7-0, but it was the defense that kept us in it early, and set the tone the entire game,” DiBiaso said. “When Isaiah went down, we didn’t miss a beat. We moved Lubern back to safety and he had two picks, Lukas had a pick there, but it was more of the defense.”

Josh Palmer recovered Dolan’s fumble midway through the second half, setting up the Crimson Tide with prime field position at the Lowell 17. Marquis Holman got the ball on three straight carries, and scored on the third, extending the Tide lead to 14-0.

“I thought the key to the entire offense was Holman, he ran his fanny off. He softened them up the entire game, he set the tone for the outside, he set up all the outside plays. We pounded them inside, and the offensive line, they deserve the credit,” DiBiaso said.

The offensive line, with just one senior, stands as the least experience position of the squad, but DiBiaso is hoping that the standout running performance against Lowell will carry over to Central Catholic next week.

“I’m hoping we can build on this. We’re getting better and getting a lot of maturity out of some young kids—hopefully we can step it up one more time,” DiBiaso said. “We’ll be playing a very good team in Central who won [35-0] tonight. We have another challenge.”

The younger players sure won’t have a problem with being held accountable. Figaro, like his coach, has high expectations for the defense.

“We’re trying to be the best defensive team in the state. Always stepping up and doing what we have to do on defense,” Figaro said, “I had to show out for my team. It’s the playoffs, and big time players make big time plays.”

D1 North: Lowell 41, St. John's Prep 0

November, 3, 2013
DANVERS, Mass. -– Keagan Latta was just trying to get rowdy.

The Lowell (6-2) senior defensive back led a spirited and intimidating defensive charge against St. John’s Prep (4-4) on Saturday afternoon, reeling in three interceptions -- one of which was a pick-six -- recovering a fumble and bringing it back for a touchdown, and catching a scoring pass from his own quarterback, Brian Dolan.

The result: a 41-0 victory over a traditional power and a statement to the rest of the MIAA.

“We got here early, [St. John’s Prep] were nowhere to be found. We just wanted to get rowdy and show their fans we were ready to play,” Latta said, face caked with eye black. “Hopefully everybody knows Lowell’s not somebody that you mess with anymore. We’re making our mark on the state football tournament.”

From the opening kick the Lowell sideline was loud, jumping up and down and excitedly yelling every time a big play was made on defense, which came early and often. Offensively, Latta caught the first touchdown of the game, a 26-yard pass from Dolan (9-14, 173 yards, TD), assisted by a bone-crushing block from fellow receiver Mike Holder to allow Latta the space to get in the end zone.

“[Offensive coordinator Brian] Christopher drew up some nice stuff on offense, the offensive line blocked and gave Dolan some time," Lowell coach John Florence said. "I think early in the year we were struggling with that, but we were able to get kids open and he hit them in stride."

Moments later, the Lowell sideline reached its most animated point of the day. On fourth down from the Prep 35, Eagles’ quarterback Mike Geaslen rolled out and was stopped far short of the first down. The Red Raiders defense and players on the sideline erupted. Ngaiiva Mason (90 yards rushing, 3 TD) scored a touchdown three plays later.

Prep started with the ball on their own 29 on the next drive, and it looked like the passing game might be able to get going when Geaslen found Owen Rockett on second down, but Rockett fumbled the catch one step after he pulled it in; Latta recovered the fumble and brought it back for a touchdown.

One could hear a pin drop on the Prep sideline after falling into what felt like an insurmountable 20-0 lead in the second quarter, a theme that went unchanged the rest of the game.

By blitzing often and jumbling up the middle of the field, Lowell forced Prep to throw the football all afternoon. Latta picked off Geaslen twice before the end of the first half, and the Prep quarterback was sacked seven times overall in the game. Prep mustered just 52 yards of offense in the first half.

“We definitely got some lucky breaks early with our defense causing turnovers and scoring, anytime you can do that in a football game it definitely increases your chances of winning. We got that going, we got some momentum, we just kept rolling with it,” Florence said. “We shut [the running game] down, and forced them to try to throw the ball on us. The kids stepped up.”

Latta picked Geaslen off one last time about halfway through the third quarter, and wouldn’t you know it, it was Mason who scored a 34-yard touchdown on the very next play to put an exclamation point on the victory.

“That was really just him making a lot of reads,” Florence said of Latta. “It’s really hard to describe, it was quite a performance. The kid made quite a day for himself. He really made a difference in the game.”

EVERETT AWAITS: Next week’s semifinal matchup with Everett isn’t just another game for Lowell, a fact that Florence and his team don’t just acknowledge, but embrace. The Crimson Tide are in a league of their own in terms of tradition and championships, while this year’s Lowell team may very well go down as the best team the school has seen in the last half-century -- further adding to the emotion of next Friday’s game for the Red Raiders.

“We went harder this week than we did any other week of the year, and I hope we do that again next week," Latta said. "We know Everett’s one of the best teams in the state every year. Hopefully we put it together again."

The Crimson Tide beat Malden with ease last night, by a score of 39-6. Preparation won’t change in the slightest, though. Florence will try to prepare his team and staff the same way they would any other game.

“We’re going to sit down and watch a lot of film tomorrow,” Florence said, “We know they’re a come right at you, smash-mouth type of football team, so we’ve gotta be ready and prepared for that.”

Recap: No. 16 Lowell 28, Andover 7

October, 26, 2013
LOWELL, Mass. -– Following up one of his best performances of the season, Brian Dolan couldn’t contain his excitement following Lowell’s 28-7 victory over Andover (3-4) Friday night.

“We just made history!” Dolan exclaimed while running to partake in the celebration with his teammates.

This Red Raiders (6-1) team, the first playoff squad to come from Lowell, was elevated in the offseason when Dolan decided to transfer from Lawrence Academy. Though it took the dual threat signal-caller some time to fit into Lowell’s offense, and get to know his teammates, he’s playing his best football of the season at the right time.

Dolan finished 13-19 for 104 yards and three touchdowns, giving the Red Raiders a quick lead in the first half that they were able to keep throughout the game.

“It’s reps, experience, him feeling comfortable with things, understanding what a defense is doing. Just progression and reps, he’s done a good job [this year],” Lowell coach John Florence said.

Two-way star Shyheim Cullen (73 yards rushing, one sack, one fumble forced) and Ngaiiva Mason (58 yards rushing, TD) also helped led the charge, as Mason’s consistent running in the first half and Cullen’s ability to make plays all over the field ultimately made a big contribution to the playoff clinching victory.

“We did great, we did awesome," Cullen said. "We almost had the shutout, but that doesn’t mean anything. We worked all week on [defense], our defense is probably the best in the league...We work hard on it every day. Coach just tells us never give up, never quit, 100% effort all the time."

Florence agreed, praising Cullen for his on-field leadership on both sides of the ball.

“He’s a great kid, a great teammate -- he prepares hard during the week,” Florence said. “He’s very intense, he practices hit technique, his reads, he watches film, and him and Ngaiiva running the ball they kind of have a little one-two punch right there. They’re good friends, good teammates—they don’t care who gets the ball. They’re always kind of rooting for each other.”

Dolan got the Lowell offense started quickly, leading an 11-play, 62-yard attack on the Red Raiders’ first drive in the first quarter. He found Keagan Latta (2 TD) from 14 yards out to give Lowell the first lead of the game in the opening minutes. Dolan threw a 17-yard strike to Jack Galvin late in the second quarter to extend the lead to 14-0 at halftime.

“It was definitely one of our most complete games of the year," Florence said. "We’ve gotten better slowly but surely, progressively better with that -- we were sloppy at that last year. Last week we played about three and a half quarters of football, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to. We did a better job this week."

Dolan found Latta once again in the third quarter to make it 21-0, then Mason ran it in from just over the goal line late in the fourth quarter to render the lead insurmountable. Oliver Eberth scored Andover’s only touchdown of the game with 10 seconds left in regulation, breaking through for an 86-yard run.

“We’re just gonna enjoy this for a couple minutes, and then we’ll put it behind us and we’ll find out tonight or tomorrow morning," Florence said. "We talk about it every week…we can’t worry about what happened in the past, we’re gonna focus on who we have next."

Cullen said he was ecstatic to make school history, especially going into the playoffs in grand fashion following one of their best team efforts of the season.

“It means a lot to us," Cullen said. "It means something to take our program to the next level, hopefully we take it further than the playoffs and go to the super bowl. It’s the first time we’ve ever been to the playoffs ever, and to be on the first team that goes to the playoffs—it’s incredible, it’s surreal.”

Recap: No. 12 Central Catholic 14, No. 16 Lowell 12

October, 12, 2013

LAWRENCE, Mass. –- Defense was the story on Friday night as Central Catholic and Lowell locked horns in a battle of Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 powers.

Both teams proved that the MVC is more than just high-powered offenses as Central Catholic outlasted Lowell 14-12 to remain in first place in the MVC D1 and also maintain favorable position in the Division 1 playoff picture.

“Both defenses played awesome tonight,” Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos said after the game. “It was a hard-hitting game and the kids came up with the plays when we needed them.”

With both squads coming off bye weeks the preparation on both sidelines was evident. Early in the game the battle for field position was crucial, as three-and-outs and defensive stands were becoming increasingly popular.

“It was a weird game,” Adamopoulos said. “The atmosphere was strange at times. Both teams were just treading water back and forth.”

After a scoreless first quarter both teams would find the end zone in the second as Central Catholic quarterback Mike Milano, who was 12-of-23 for 175 yards passing, and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), would cap off the only scoring drive for Central in the first half, when he took it in from 10 yards out to give Central a 7-0 lead.

Milano’s touchdown with 5:43 remaining in the first half was answered by Lowell as quarterback Brian Dolan would hit wide receiver Jack Galvin on a deep slant, over the middle, for a 27-yard touchdown strike on third-and-20 with 3:08 remaining in the half. A failed extra point attempt would preserve Central’s 7-6 lead.

“We made some big defensive stands,” Adamopoulos said. “I thought in the first quarter that they had the field position the whole time and our defense came up really huge at the beginning of the game and set the tone.”

Central Catholic wide receiver and return man Cody Demers would provide the necessary lift in the first half as he hauled in 97 of his game-high 127 receiving yards in the opening half, to go with some big returns and an important touchdown-drive-preserving fumble recovery.

The second half of play was eerily similar to the first as both teams played to a scoreless third quarter, with many of the same penalties and field position dilemmas repeating themselves again for both teams.

The scoreless second half would end when Milano found running back D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie on a big touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

The University of New Hampshire commit made one of the plays of the game as he leaped to haul in Milano’s pass, spun away from a would-be tackler, and split two more to find the end zone on a 32-yard touchdown reception to give Central a 14-6 lead with 8:29 remaining in the game.

Lowell would answer back again on the following possession as running back Ngaiiva Mason (80 yards rushing) would take it in from 20 yards out to cut the lead to 14-12. A failed conversion attempt would leave the score at 14-12.

The Punt: One of the biggest plays of the game occurred in the final minutes of the game as Central Catholic punter Dan Wilson blasted a punt that netted 66 yards and was downed on the Lowell 4-yard line. The punt helped Central Catholic flip the field with time running out in the game.

“Danny is an awesome kid and that is his biggest punt of the season,” Adamopoulos said. “It could not have come at a better time. We were punting from our end and they have a great player at kick returner. The punt was big and the coverage got down to down it. It made defense a lot easier for that last minute.

Sealing the Win: After Wilson’s punt Central Catholic came up with their final defensive stand as defensive back Mike Balsamo made the game-sealing interception to preserve the victory.

“Mike Balsamo came up with a huge interception and Gavin Anderson, on that same play I thought, gave us some great coverage,” Adamopoulos said. “Mike came over from his safety spot in good position and made the pick.”

Balsmo’s play capped off a nice night for the junior as he continued to produce on both sides of the ball all game long.

“I saw him rolling out and just read the quarterback and played the ball,” Balsamo said. “It all comes down to practice and we worked real hard these two weeks to prepare.”

Lowell received strong games from linebacker Shy Cullen (2 Sacks) and Galvin (Seven catches, 141 yards).

“They are tough,” Adamopoulos said of Lowell. “There is a real good chance we will play each other again in a few weeks.”

Central was led defensively by the strong inebacker play of Markus Edmunds and Cam Manning.

Recap: No. 8 Leominster 33, No. 9 Lowell 20

September, 21, 2013

LOWELL, Mass. -- Since the beginning of the preseason, much has been made about Lowell's funky, frenetic offense, a blur-paced spread scheme sprinkled with enough smattering of screens, draws, crossing routes and zone reads to keep a defense on its heels in no-man's land trying to envelop it all.

It was enough of a concern for Leominster head coach Dave Palazzi that earlier this week, he said he called his players and coaching staff "on the carpet", challenging their toughness and mental discipline. As it turns out, the best defense tonight against the Red Raiders' Oregon-like scheme was to keep them off the field.

[+] EnlargeNeil O'Connor
Ryan Kilian for ESPNBoston.comQB Neil O'Connor (222 offensive yards, 4 TDs) and the Leominster offense dominated time of possession in their 33-20 win over Lowell.
The Blue Devils (2-0) dominated time of possession in this highly-anticipated regional battle between two state title contenders, rolling out to a 26-6 lead in the third quarter en route to a breezy 33-20 defeat of Lowell (2-1) where the aggressor was never in question.

"We just said, to a man I asked them to step up and be the man at your own position, and respond to their first punch," Palazzi said. "I thought they did that."

The Red Raiders drew first blood, marching 64 yards in nine plays, punching it in from five yards out on an inside zone from Ngaiiva Mason (15 carries, 86 yards) for a 6-0 score less than three minutes into the contest.

Leominster responded with an offensive look trademark of Blue Devils teams past, but not used yet in 2013 -- preseason, or last week's home-opener. Palazzi rolled out a "double wing" formation -- a red zone staple for Blue Devil squads prior to the coach's arrival in 2011 -- on the next series, and took Lowell's 3-5 defensive front by surprise. They marched 77 yards in 14 plays and six minutes, twice converting fourth and one in their own end, punching it in on a 17-yard strike from quarterback Neil O'Connor (156 passing yards, 3 TD; 16 carries, 66 yards, TD) to fullback Matt Banchs (4 catches, 69 yards) for his first of two touchdown catches.

Lowell's next two drives were three-and-out's that lasted a combined 2:09, and Leominster responded each time with scores. First, they capped a 63-yard, 12-play, six-minute drive with a 36-yard strike from O'Connor to Mayson Williams, running a fade route down the left sideline. The next trip down, the Blue Devils went 66 yards in 17 plays, eating up all but 13 seconds of the final 6:08 of the first half. James Gurley (26 carries, 91 yards) punched it in from a yard out on fourth and goal for the 18-6 halftime margin.

Leominster received to start the second half, and opened with another monster drive, this one going 80 yards in 15 plays and seven minutes, capped with a nifty 10-yard option keeper by O'Connor, followed by a rollout pass to Jarell Addo on the two-point conversion for the 26-6 score.

In the fourth quarter, Leominster sandwiched another O'Connor-Banchs touchdown pass, this one for 19 yards, in between two pretty scoring strikes from Brian Dolan to Jack Galvin.

Owning the clock: Between Leominster's six-minute drive to end the first half, a 15-minute halftime break, and the Devils' seven-minute opening drive of the second, it felt like Lowell's offense was off the field for an hour of real time.

Leominster dominated time of possession in the first half, holding on to the ball for 17:33 of the first half to Lowell's paltry 4:27 on four offensive drives. A big part of that was Lowell's combination of uber-fast no-huddle tempo and failure to convert on third downs. In the first half, the Red Raiders averaged 20 seconds, sometimes less, between plays; after their game-opening scoring drive, they failed to convert another third down the rest of the game, finishing 2-of-7 on the night.

Part of Leominster's practice week involves what players call "Intensity Tuesdays", a grueling mixture of sprints and suicides coordinated by assistant coach Charlie Raff. Against this high-powered scheme, O'Connor felt he and his teammates were conditioned well enough to hang around with them.

"He [Raff] definitely pushes us," O'Connor said. "We know why we’re doing it, and it’s for these reasons. They’re not doing it because they hate us, they're doing it to help us. We understand that, and it pays off."

As a result, Leominster out-gained the Raiders 207-68 in first half yardage, running 43 plays to just 14 by Lowell. For the game, they outgained Lowell 386-211 from scrimmage. Superstar receiver Galvin, an ESPN Boston Preseason All-State selection, finished with two catches for 90 yards and two scores; but he was held without catch until the final 8:41 of the game.

Such is the mortal flaw with many of these uptempo, copious "Blur" schemes. When everything is clicking, these offenses look exotic. But, as tonight explicated, they sure can unravel in a hurry.

Asked if he contemplated slowing the pace down at all, Lowell head coach John Florence said simply, "It’s not really our style. We want to go put the defense under duress and go from there."

Fourth and guts: Everett coach John DiBiaso's decision last week to go for it on fourth and two from his own 23 last Friday in a loss to Xaverian, and it has been a topic of discussion this week. DiBiaso's gamble, while not his first rodeo, ended up backfiring. Palazzi's gamble with it tonight, meanwhile, showed how big gambles can pay off.

The Blue Devils were a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth downs tonight, all of them coming within their own end. Twice on their first drive of the night they converted on fourth and one, first from their own 32, then from their own 43. Later in the first half, the Blue Devils converted a fourth down from their own 29.

Asked about how much he weighed the risk of such decisions, Palazzi said there was "no doubt in my mind" he was going to go for it on those fourth downs.

"What I saw the first half, the first drive out of Lowell, I thought this could get out of hand quickly," Palazzi said. "I just thought that was the play of the game, it was intuition. It was an out of control call, I agree, but I just felt it in my gut that we needed to get a first down there.

"The tables could have turned there. We punt there, and they go down and score, we’re down 14 now. It’s a different ball game, we’re [probably] spread out, trying to throw the ball around and that’s really not what we’re trying to do."

Often, such a maneuver is meant to test the skin of his players -- experienced or inexperienced, proven or unproven -- and see what kind of backbone they possess. No question, that factor weighed into the decision making.

"We knew we were coming up here to an Eastern Mass. team, a Division 1 team, we’ve played big games before but we had to match their intensity," Palazzi said. "That was part of the call, we just had to see if we were tough enough because as you see they’re a great team, great players, they were real physical on film."

Double Wing catches Raiders off-guard: The "Double Wing" package was often a staple of Leominster squads under legendary former coach John Dubzinski, particularly in the red zone, and it had been a novelty package seen in spurts the first two seasons under Palazzi. But neither in the preseason, nor last week's home-opener against St. John's of Shrewsbury, did we see any shred of the formation.

Suffice it to say when the Blue Devils opened up in the package early in the first quarter, and stayed in it for the most part throughout the half, it took Lowell by surprise. The Red Raiders deploy a 3-5-3 defensive front, a scheme known for its ability to disguise its blitzes, and one that better suits its speedy personnel. The linemen's one-inch splits in the double wing strip a defense of virtually all of its blitz packages, and Florence admitted this typically isn't a look they've had great success against.

"We see a little bit of it, with Tewksbury, it’s obviously something we haven’t played well [against] the last three years, and tonight was another example of that," he said. "With our style of defense, and the linemen we have, that’s a weakness for us to be in. We have to come ready [for that].

"It was obviously very difficult [defending it]. They chewed the clock the second quarter, and I think we knew it was coming on the sidelines, we just didn’t hit our gaps correctly and just let them push the pile. We were playing with our pad level too high."

Palazzi didn't want to get into a track meet with the Raiders, and felt this was their best method at keeping the game at a comfortable tempo. In basketball terms, Leominster matched Lowell's full-court press with a Princeton offense.

"[They run a] 3-5 with some very good athletes in there," Palazzi said. "We just thought with this league, and the way they run football, and a lot of the teams they play are throwing the ball like it’s backyard football, we just decided we’re going to go a little power football and see where we’d start. It kept on working, so we kept running it, and the kids were fired up about it. But Lowell made a lot of adjustments, they’ve got a great staff, they did a great job adjusting to it at the end."

Banchs moves the chains: Gurley took on a Yeoman's load, and paid for it after the game ("I’m feeling sore, but it’s a great win for the team," he chuckled), but an underrated part of Leominster's success on offense tonight came from the fullback Banchs. In addition to blocking for Gurley, Banchs was a vital part of the passing game.

All four of Banchs catches, including the two TD strikes, came in the flats. Out of the I-formation, Banchs would shoot up through the middle of the line and release to the flat, where a Lowell defender often failed to pick him up. O'Connor, rolling to his left or right, would hit him perfectly in stride for an easy first down and possibly more.


LEO 6 12 8 7 --- 33
LOW 6 0 0 14 --- 20

First Quarter
Low - Ngaiiva Mason 5 run (kick failed) 8:38
Leo - Matt Banchs 22 pass from Neil O'Connor (kick blocked) 2:31

Second Quarter
Leo - Mayson Williams 36 pass from O'Connor (pass failed) 7:10
Leo - James Gurley 1 run (rush failed) :08

Third Quarter
Leo - O'Connor 10 run (Tim DeCarolis pass from O'Connor) 3:59

Fourth Quarter
Low - Jack Galvin 73 pass from Brian Dolan (Evan McHugh kick) 8:41
Leo - Banchs 19 pass from O'Connor (Christian Lewis kick) 5:52
Low - Galvin 17 pass from Dolan (McHugh kick) 5:02

ESPN Boston Week 3 football picks

September, 19, 2013
BOSTON LATIN ACADEMY (2-0) at DORCHESTER (1-0), Friday 6 p.m.

Scott Barboza: The other day when we visited Dragons QB Kyle Dance for our Player of the Week interview, he was wearing a Cam Newton t-shirt. He does his best on-field impression again. Latin, 22-14.

Brendan Hall: Everything we’re taught in this business cautions against cliché, pun-filled headlines. But when you have a quarterback as elusive and fleet-footed as Kyle Dance, you can’t help yourself. Latin Academy, 22-12.

ACTON-BOXBOROUGH (1-0) at No. 7 NATICK (1-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Hate to upset loyal reader and former A-B gridder Mark Martin after picking against the Colonials last week in their win over Cambridge, but I just don’t think this is the week to change my tune. Natick, 34-24.

Hall: Just wait until Troy Flutie really gets untracked. Natick, 31-20.

BARNSTABLE (0-1) at BC HIGH (1-1), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Red Raiders are going to enter hungry and desperate not to fall to 0-2, but Eagles defense wins out. BC High, 20-17.

Hall: Barnstable is going to need to show a lot more aggression, and discipline, on both sides of the ball if it is going to stay afloat in the competitive D2 South standings. Eagles could use the points for this win, considering the tough road ahead. BC High, 20-10.

No. 15 ST. JOHN’S OF SHREWSBURY (0-1) at CATHOLIC MEMORIAL (1-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Kevin Bletzer is the type of player an offensive coordinator will have fits about, but ultimately too much to stop with the Pioneers. St. John’s, 32-28.

Hall: After some early struggles, the St. John’s passing game came alive in the second half, thanks to a flurry of screens and a couple of deep completions down the sidelines from returning All-Stater Andrew Smiley. There are some excellent individual talents at CM, but how good they are on the whole remains to be see. St. John’s, 28-14.

No. 6 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL (0-1) at EAST LONGMEADOW (2-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: This will be a one-possession game with Ju’an Williams being the difference for the Eagles. Central, 23-20.

Hall: Spartans proving they are an underrated bunch, after a solid win last weekend, but there is too much perimeter speed to harness here. Central, 25-14.

WEYMOUTH (0-1) at No. 11 BROCKTON (0-1), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: A game of turnovers, or at least whichever team is able to hold onto the football best. I’m sure it was a point of emphasis for both squads coming off their performances last week. Brockton, 30-21.

Hall: Wildcats licking their chops after Brockton gassed them for 432 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the Division 1 playoffs last year. Flat out, to be perfectly blunt, I just don’t see Brockton losing to a team from the Bay State Conference. I can’t recall the last time they did. Brockton, 27-13.

No. 12 WALPOLE (1-0) at NEEDHAM (0-1), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: As I wrote in our Roundtable earlier, I really think this classifies as a near must-win for Needham in the stacked Division 2 South sectional. Think the Rebels are too well-rounded though. Walpole, 36-28.

Hall: Wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset here, considering the Rebels’ relative inexperience. But they’ve had two weeks to prepare for this one. Walpole, 17-10.

No. 4 ST. JOHN’S PREP (1-1) at No. 13 CENTRAL CATHOLIC (2-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: A defensive struggle in its truest sense. Prep, 17-14.

Hall: That was some vintage defense by the defensively-sound Raiders in last weekend’s shutout of Haverhill. I don’t see Central doing the same to Prep, but I’m curious to see what kind of gameplan Chuck Adamopoulos devises for Johnathan Thomas. The last two defensive coordinators failed. Expect the Raiders to muck it up here. Prep, 17-14.

No. 8 LEOMINSTER (1-0) at No. 9 LOWELL(2-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Brian Dolan and the Red Raiders offense opposes their greatest competition – and, most likely – the best secondary they’ll see all season. They find a way to squeak by the Blue Devils. Lowell, 28-21.

Hall: I’ve been saying for a few weeks now that Leominster has the best safety tandem in the state, between Neil O’Connor and Jarell Addo. Lowell is about to find out on Friday night what kind of pass defense they’re up against. Going the other way, I’m intrigued to see how Jack Galvin squares up with Addo at tight end. Leominster, 35-31.


Barboza: I like the Mustangs’ backfield depth with Luke McDonald and Drew Jacobs; they’re the difference. Milton Academy, 24-14.

Hall: Connor Strachan gets the job done. St. Seb’s, 19-15.


Barboza: Gov’s streak will end this year, just not this week. Governor’s, 17-14.

Hall: LA’s Chris Garrison might be the most impressive player on the field on either side of the ball, and the Spartans will surely get him involved in a variety of ways. Still, I think the sum of the Govs’ lacrosse-bred talent will win out here. Governor’s, 24-14.

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 1 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM (2-0) at No. 10 XAVERIAN (1-0), Saturday 1 p.m.

Barboza: The Trojans make it four in a row over the Hawks and break out of the early season curse of the ESPN Boston No. 1. B-R, 16-14.

Hall: First there was #CropTopOverTheTop, then came #FakeCropTopOverTheTop. Can we get some #CropTopOverThePylon action to complete the cycle here? B-R, 16-10.

Last Week’s Picks

Barboza: 10-2 (15-8 overall)

Hall: 7-5 (14-9 overall)

Recap: No. 9 Lowell 21, Westford 0

September, 7, 2013
WESTFORD, Mass. –- With overwhelming speed and a knack for getting to the ball, Lowell’s defense was all over the field on Friday night. As a result, the Red Raiders (1-0) pitched a shutout on opening night, picking up the road victory over Westford Academy, 21-0.

The Lowell offense got a quick start in the first quarter, putting up two touchdowns in the opening minutes.

The Red Raiders went right to running back Ngaiiva Mason on their first drive; he had 39 yards in the series, 28 of which on a second down run to put Lowell on the seven yard line. Moments later, senior quarterback Brian Dolan (10-of-15, 105 yards, 2 total TD) kept it himself and put his team on the scoreboard first.

A few minutes later, following a Westford (0-1) fumble forced by defensive end Malik Settles, Lowell came up with great field position on the Grey Ghosts’ 31 yard line. On third down, Dolan hooked up with highly-touted receiver Jack Galvin (5 catches, 68 yards) for a 29-yard touchdown, bringing the lead to 14-0.

“Those guys work well together,” Lowell coach John Florence said about the friendship between Galvin and Dolan. “They’ve grown up together, they’ve played since junior high together and they’ve been friends, so they already had that kind of bond.”

Westford had an opportunity to put points on the board at the end of the first half, but a dropped would-be touchdown in the endzone resulted in a turnover on downs.

The Grey Ghosts ended the first half with just 35 total yards. The defensive theme stood true early in the second half as well, as Lowell was able to pick up two stops in the red zone to keep the shutout alive.

Following a long punt return by Mason that brought Lowell to Westford’s 13 yard line, the Red Raiders scored on a run via Mason two plays later to extend the lead to 21-0. However, Westford wasn’t quite done yet.

Grey Ghosts quarterback Luke Moran helped manufacture a 68-yard drive thanks in part to two receptions for 41 yards from Will Puduski, and a 28-yard reception from tight end Matt Cardeiro. Two plays later though, Lowell defensive back Musa Mansary picked a Moran pass off in the endzone to, at least at the time, take the win out of Westford’s sails.

“Coach called man coverage. He thought I was nice, so I just covered the kid up pretty well,” Mansary said after the game.

The excitement on the Red Raiders’ sideline was anticlimactic, however, as Mason fumbled the ball on the very next play—putting Lowell’s defense back on the field and giving Westford position at the Red Raiders’ six yard line.

“Offensive line and run blocking…we need to clean it up,” Florence said regarding the fumble.

The Grey Ghosts’ would get the ball all the down the one yard line, but couldn’t finish off the opportunity, as running back Ben Rodman simply couldn’t get through Lowell’s linebackers. It was a sense of relief from Mansary and the rest of the defense, and he had high praise for his teammates:

“Give a lot of credit to the linebackers: Shyheim [Cullen], Nicolau Coury, and John Healy. Those guys are the best,” he said.

The defensive emphasis was a long time coming for Florence’s team, as the coach has worked hard at improving his defense over the past couple of years.

“We’ve been stressing ball security at practice, but obviously it’s something we need to work on a little bit more," Florence said. "It was great to see the defense make those stops, defensive backs made some plays there, the linebackers, the d-line, it was really a team effort on defense there.”

He continued, “It’s something we’ve been building for three years. We’ve been stressing tackling, we do a tackling circuit almost every day in practice. With these guys who have been playing for a few years, they’re kind of feeling more comfortable with things.”

Mansary, a senior who has learned a lot from Florence over the past couple of years, said the coach and his staff constantly put an emphasis on getting eleven men to the ball and playing fast on defense. He was quick to give credit to his coaches for the team’s success on Friday night:

“Give the credit to all the coaches: Coach Florence, Coach Casey, Coach Harris. It’s all them, it’s not us. They prepare us every week to play like we’re champions, every week.”

ESPN Boston Week 1 football picks

September, 5, 2013
ESPN Boston High Schools editors Scott Barboza and Brendan Hall give their Week 1 MIAA football picks:

No. 19 BC HIGH at NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Friday, 7 p.m.

Scott Barboza: I really like this Eagles linebacking corps, led by Steve DiCienzo. BC High, 27-17.

Brendan Hall: What better way to kick off BC High’s redemption tour than with a team that ran circles around them last year. Methinks Eagles coach Joe Gaff has a few tricks up his sleeve for this one. BC High, 21-7.

No. 4 MANSFIELD at DUNBAR (Md.), Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: I think the Hornets keep it close for a half, then the Poets’ depth bears its head. Dunbar, 35-27.

Hall: There isn’t a quarterback in New England as gifted as Dunbar’s William Crest, a West Virginia commit and one of the Old Line State’s top prospects. Hornets are already snakebitten, but injuries aside this is not a matchup you want to make a track meet out of. And unfortunately for the Hornets, I feel their game plan plays right into the Poets’ hands. Dunbar, 35-14.

No. 12 BARNSTABLE at DENNIS-YARMOUTH, Friday, 6 p.m.

Barboza: I still maintain the Dolphins will be a playoff team in Div. 4 South, but damn this Red Raiders’ secondary is going to be tough for anybody to beat this year. Barnstable, 33-27.

Hall: The three games prior to last year’s blowout were decided by a total of five points. I think we’re in for another thriller here, but the Barnstable secondary does just enough in the end to preserve the win. Barnstable, 25-21.

ANDOVER at NORTH ANDOVER, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Sounds as though the Golden Warriors were another squad hit hard by the injury bug in the preseason. I’m going with the “upset” here. North Andover, 17-10.

Hall: I predict a big night on the ground for whoever gets the start at tailback, and an even bigger night on defense for Will Eikenberry. Andover, 24-10.

No. 14 WALPOLE at FOXBOROUGH, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Man, this one shapes up as an appointment viewing date for years to come. It’s a shame we never got a chance to see these games earlier. Walpole, 20-13.

Hall: Clean, old-fashioned border rivalry. This one has lots of potential. Lots. Walpole, 10-7.

ABINGTON at No. 13 DUXBURY, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Having picked against the Dragons in last year’s playoffs, I fear I’m going to have to lay low in Duxbury for a while. Abington, 12-7.

Hall: Losing Matt Kilmain hurts Abington in this one, but their defense is going to keep them in the game. But it’s just a simple matter of being overpowered at the line of scrimmage. Duxbury, 20-10

No. 9 LOWELL at WESTFORD ACADEMY, Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Watch for wide receiver/ defensive back Keagan Latta to have a breakout year this year. Lowell, 28-20.

Hall: Expect gaudy numbers for Brian Dolan in his first start under center for the Red Raiders. Lowell, 38-31.


Barboza: Watch out for the Redmen as a sleep for the Division 3 state title. Mark it down. Tewksbury, 17-10.

Hall: It’s not every year the Redmen are favored in this matchup. But that’s the kind of power Brian Aylward has built at Tewksbury. Expect a big game from Eddie Matovu. Tewksbury, 28-17.

HAVERHILL at BEVERLY, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Barboza: Panthers’ cupboard isn’t completely bare after their historic 2012 season, but the winning streak ends against the Hillies. Haverhill, 21-13.

Hall: All preseason, all we kept hearing with regards to Haverhill is “How do you replace Chance Brady”? Two words: Ian Kessel. The young sophomore is going to one to watch in the coming years. Haverhill, 21-13.

No. 10 BRIDGEWATER–RAYNHAM at No. 1 ST. JOHN’S PREP, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Barboza: I think there are some defensive questions the Eagles will have to answer against a top-flight ground game such as B-R’s on Saturday, but I give the edge to the Prep’s passing game. Prep, 14-7.

Hall: Trojans play ball control and put together a monster drive early to stay ahead in what should be some trench warfare. You can’t cage Johnathan Thomas, the state’s most explosive player, but somehow they’ll limit his trips to the end zone. B-R, 14-7.

No. 6 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL at No. 2 EVERETT, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: The Golden Eagles will show they belong at the state’s big boys table, but I’m giving the edge to the home side – with the advantage of not having to shack off Friday night bus legs.Everett, 24-21.

Hall: The Golden Eagles are going to have to control the line of scrimmage in this one if they are going to keep pace. But something tells me Cody Williams has some more magic up his sleeve after last season’s historic run. Springfield Central, 24-23.


Galvin ensuring legacy at No. 9 Lowell

August, 29, 2013
LOWELL, Mass. – It’s in Jack Galvin’s blood, but he doesn’t let on.

When asked about his family’s athletic exploits, he shyly mentions that his dad once played in the NFL. The Lowell senior wide receiver and outside linebacker, like his father, Blake, before him, has already carved out a niche in Red Raiders’ history. It’s difficult to live in the shadow of a program great, who went on to star at Boston College and, later, was drafted.

[+] EnlargeLowell's Jack Galvin
Michael Thorpe for ESPNBostonLowell wide receiver Jack Galvin has 1,862 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches since the start of his sophomore season.
But the Galvin clan seems to have it all in perspective.

“My dad has always wanted me to do my own thing, whatever that is,” Jack said before a recent practice at Cawley Stadium. “There’s no pressure. If I want help, I can ask him, but otherwise, he just wants me to do what makes me happy.”

With that guidance, the younger Galvin is well on his way to cementing his own legacy at Lowell. Having tallied at least 60 receptions and 800 receiving yards in the last two seasons, including a career high 72 catches for 916 yards in 2012. He also caught 10 touchdown passes in both his sophomore and junior years.

That production has garnered Galvin interest from Division 1 FBS and FCS schools. Galvin’s keen to watch his college options play out, but says the Ivy League would be an ideal destination.

Yet, for a third straight season, Galvin and the Red Raiders’ receivers will have a new quarterback distributing the ball: enter Lawrence Academy senior transfer Brian Dolan.

Whether it was R.J. Noel (now starting at Sacred Heart) or Cam Latta in the previous years, Galvin and the Red Raiders offense has operated at a prodigious clip, averaging more than 30 points per game for the greater part of the last two seasons.

To ensure the trend continues, Galvin has spent just about every day of the summer months huddled up with his fellow receivers running the spread on Cawley’s turf.

“I think every time I passed by here, they were out on the field,” Red Raiders head coach John Florence said.

Whether it was 7-on-7 passing leagues or work on their own, Galvin says football is the currency to a tight senior group’s friendship.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what we do,” Galvin chuckled. “We really love football, and we like hanging out together, so that’s what we do.”

Coach: John Florence (Third season, 15-7 overall)
Last Season: 9-2
Key Returnees: Jack Galvin, Sr. WR/LB; Alex Quintero, Sr. OL/DE; Ndeiiva Mason, Sr. RB; Keagan Latta, Sr. WR/DB; Shyheim Cullen, Jr. LB; Nicolau Coury, Jr. LB; Tom Smith, Sr. WR; Michael Holder, Sr. WR/DB; Musa Mansaray, Sr. LB; Angel Brito, Jr. OL/DL.
Strengths: Skill positions, athleticism.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience at quarterback.

Outlook: While the Red Raiders’ high-flying aerial attack gets its fair shake of attention, let’s not overlook half back Ndeiiva Mason. Operating in an offense that is inclined to the passing game, Mason still rushed for more than 800 yards. Florence feels the stat doesn’t tell the whole truth. “He’s a pretty good back, and if he worked in some other offenses, I think he’d put up some really big numbers,” Florence said.

On defense, the Red Raiders are big, physical and fast. With Alex Quintero rushing off the edge and juniors Shyheim Cullen and Nicolau Coury filling the holes at linebacker, Lowell might finally have the defensive corps it needs to make a postseason run in a loaded Division 1 North.

Northeast 7v7: Reading wins second straight East title

July, 28, 2013
PEABODY, Mass. -- Many are anticipating a different dynamic in Reading this year, with different faces. But there is one constant under center: the rifling arm of rising senior Drew Belcher.

When we last saw the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Belcher, he led the Rockets to a 27-7 win over Mansfield in the MIAA Division 2 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl, brushing the final stroke in what was a dominant 2012 season to earn ESPN Boston All-State honors. With his long, powerful frame accompanying exemplary arm strength, Belcher was one of the most dangerous dual threats in Massachusetts, bulling through the inside gaps on Tebow-like power plays.

Yesterday afternoon at Bishop Fenwick High School, in the third annual Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 East Regional tournament, Belcher was breaking in some new targets, what with the graduation of deep threat Ryan Maney. For Belcher, the needle hit the groove early in the day, and rolled in clockwork fashion to the Rockets' second straight East Regional championship, beating Chelmsford 29-12 in the final.

Reading and Chelmsford both earned automatic bids to Tuesday night's New England Championship, at Bishop Fenwick. Andover won last year's New England title at Gillette Stadium by beating Reading, 19-7, in the finals.

"It feels great to win it again. I mean, it was much more important this year, because we had a lot of young guys," Belcher said. "We lost all our receivers, so we had a lot of juniors who were great today. It really helped working routes, figuring out our offense, getting all those guys in with the varsity. That was big."

Belcher found success with targets such as Will Murray and Mike Senfuma, but where he scored biggest was with receiver Rob DiLoreto.

In the semifinals against Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, the Rockets continually exploited a seam over the deep middle with vertical routes. DiLoreto continuously ran posts from the slots, splitting the safeties downfield, and Belcher went to him over and over.

Against Chelmsford in the finals, DiLoreto exposed the sidelines for big gains. On the Rockets' second offensive drive, coming after a tip-drill interception, the Rockets marched the entire 40 yards in one play, DiLoreto running a corner route to the first-down marker at the 25-yard line, side-stepping a defender and reversing direction for an easy scamper into the end zone. On the first play of the next Reading drive, Belcher hooked up with DiLoreto deep down the right sideline for first and goal at the nine; Belcher found a receiver for a touchdown on an inside slant the next play.

"After last year, we really know [each other]," Belcher said. "I can just tell him to run a seam, and I'll know if he's going to stop, I'll know if he's going to keep going, if he's going to break out. We have a lot of flexibility with that route, and we have really good chemistry on it, and it worked well today."

Two plays into the ensuing Chelmsford drive, the Rockets defense came up with another tip-drill pick, and Belcher put on the finishing touches. On the first play, the Rockets ran a post-wheel combination down the left sideline, leaving Murray wide open for the final score of the day.

Some other notes and observations from yesterday's tournament:

Fun and Gun: Lowell is a preseason favorite in the Merrimack Valley Conference, thanks to a well-oiled offense that returns many integral pieces from a season ago, when they finished 9-2.

Plain and simple, this is going to be one of the most entertaining offenses to watch, up there with Natick and St. John's of Shrewsbury. Offensive coordinator Brian Christopher draws up some funky stuff, utilizing pistol sets with spread principles as well as some zone read and an array of screens. In pool play yesterday, they put defenses in a bind with layered route combinations, including a unique “double wheel” set that had two receivers breaking off at different depths from the same path.

For an idea of what all of this looks like on film, take a look at rising senior wide receiver Jack Galvin’s Hudl highlights (take note of the packaged plays, particularly the zone read triple option).

The Red Raiders had a good showing, going 3-1 in pool play with their lone loss coming to Lynn English on the final play of the game. They lost to Arlington in overtime in the “Sweet 16” round, but not before impressing those in attendance with their deep arsenal of quality skill players.

Galvin is the biggest name of the bunch, a precise route-runner whose quick reflexes help him get great leverage on defenders and catch difficult balls in traffic. His speed is also a factor -- Galvin was one of the fastest hurdlers during indoor track season, with a 7.94 time in the 55-meter. But also take note of Musa Mansaray, a two-way player who is pretty physical at cornerback, and has recorded a time as fast as 15.5 in the 110-meter hurdles during outdoor track season. Scatback Ndeiva Mason, a waterbug who is shifty in space, will attract attention as well.

The biggest question mark for Lowell will be at quarterback, where they must replace the dynamic Cam Latta. Keep an eye on senior Brian Dolan, a baseball star who transferred from Lawrence Academy midway through last school year and has plenty of zip on his throws. Latta’s younger brother, Keegan, should have a breakthrough campaign as well.

Nothing new on Belcher recruiting: Scouts seem to be divided on how Belcher projects at the next level. He has heard from a wide variety of Division 1 FCS schools, including Delaware, Villanova and Lafayette. There has also been varying degrees of inquiry at the FBS level, including UMass and Boston College (his uncle, Bedford head coach Jack Belcher, is a former BC player). Still, Belcher has no offers to report at this time.

"A lot of them want to see senior film," Belcher said.

Asked about rumors college scouts would consider moving him to another position, such as tight end, Belcher said, "I haven't been talked to for any other position. I've been talked to only for quarterback."

Dream come true for McCaffrey: BB&N's showing at the tournament came less than 24 hours after senior wide receiver/defensive back Mike McCaffrey gave a verbal commitment to Holy Cross, a school where his last name carries some heavy weight.

Both his parents are Holy Cross alums. His father, James McCaffrey, was a basketball standout in the mid-80's, getting picked in the sixth round by the Phoenix Suns in the 1986 NBA Draft and being inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 1992. Mike has been to the campus many times over the years, mostly for basketball, and has always been fond of the place.

"It was a place I always wanted to go, ever since I was a little kid," McCaffrey said. "It was just a place that I loved. I went there in the winter, and it was just a place I always wanted to go. It's got great people, great football, great academics, it just has it all."

Of his anticipated role with the Crusaders, McCaffrey says he was told by head coach Tom Gilmore he thinks he can fit at cornerback. But more importantly, McCaffrey said, "after the one-day camp in June, he [Gilmore] said I was a very, very competitive kid, and that's what they like in me."

McCaffrey has been timed as fast as 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and that speed showed well on Saturday, playing mostly split out wide and beating defenders deep. Speed runs in the McCaffrey gene; his brother, Jimmy, is a defensive back for Boston College, and at BB&N established himself as one of the most dynamic kick returners to come through Massachusetts in recent years.

During summers, when Jimmy is home, the two will often head to the FieldTurf at their hometown Winchester High School and work on a number of drills.

"He's been a real big influence in my life," Mike said.

A number of BB&N players stood out on the day in addition to McCaffrey. Quarterback Cole O'Connor timed his throws well with targets like running back Frank Williams, but on the defensive side Augie Lin was among the more impressive coverage players. In pool play against Watertown, Lin was paired against 6-foot-4 receiver T.J. Hairston, a long, lanky prospect with good agility. Giving up half a foot to Hairston, Lin played him tight in press coverage. Hairston had a great rip move to the outside against his press, and towards the end of the game came up with a tip-drill pick on defense. But most of the time, Lin got good shove off the line and jammed him inside.

Small-school stars show well: Hairston figures to be an imposing target with his slender, basketball-esque frame able to out-reach defenders on 50/50 balls. Several other small-school stars stood out as players to keep an eye on the next months.

Boston Cathedral junior wide receiver/safety Trehme Haney gave defensive backs fits all day in pool play, as the 6-foot-1, 184-poounder routinely reaching over or out-leaping double coverage for jump balls. His teammate Justice Turner, who came in third in Massachusetts in the 200-meter dash last fall, will be tough to man up.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Bedford running back/defensive back Olan Abner, who passes the eye test with his physical maturity. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder has heard from UMass, UNH and Central Connecticut State so far, and figures to project at strong safety for the next level.