Boston High School: Bryant Tuff

Recap: Billerica 40, No. 22 Dracut 14

September, 30, 2011
DRACUT, Mass. -- For the first half at least, it looked like Friday night’s Billerica-Dracut game was going to rival last year’s shootout, where the teams combined for 102 points in a blowout Middies win.

Billerica put an end to those thoughts in the second half, however, shutting down the hosts in a 40-14 rout that sends a message to the rest of the Merrimack Valley Conference -- that the Indians have the defense to match the explosive offensive arsenal they’ve seemingly always had.

Overall, Billerica (3-1) held Dracut (2-2) to just 172 total yards of offense, including 12 in the second half. The Indians did not allow a first down in the final 22 minutes, and Matt Clifford and Nick LaSpada made interceptions in the fourth quarter.

Of course, the Indians did a lot of damage with the ball in their hands, as Clifford scored a touchdown on a kickoff return, a pass reception and a handoff in the first half and finished with 249 all-purpose yards. LaSpada completed 14-of-23 passes for 239 yards and two scores, while rushing for another. Byron Ramirez rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, and receiver Willie Ricard was LaSpada’s favorite target, with eight catches for 134 yards and a touchdown.

A few observations from Billerica’s dominant win...

Laying it on the line: Coming into the game, one would have thought Dracut’s line play would be a little superior to Billerica’s. But that was not quite the case Friday night, as the Indians held their own against an active Dracut front. One player in particular who had a phenomenal night was 6-foot, 195-pound senior Billy McInnis. Although he was clearly one of the smaller linemen on the field, McInnis may have been the quickest, as he found his way into the Dracut backfield consistently and protected LaSpada from his right tackle spot. Dracut also had some solid play up front, particularly seniors Peter Salem and Jacob MacShane, but it was Billerica that had the edge there, which came as a mild surprise.

More than just LaSpada: Everyone knows how well LaSpada has played over his career at Billerica, and the hype around the senior signal-caller and safety has been justified. However, there was a lot of talk last year that he didn’t have much around him in terms of skill players.

Well, that’s not the case anymore. Clifford, a junior, is an explosive weapon no matter where you put him. Ramirez is a bruising runner with good vision. Ricard is a tall and fast option to throw to on the outside. While LaSpada gets a lot of just praise, let’s put to bed the notion that he is doing it all by himself out there, because he really isn’t. There’s more to Billerica’s offense than just him.

Middies show their Tuff-ness: It was a rough night for the Dracut offense, which has seemed to have hit a lull at this point in the season. However, one player to keep an eye on for the future is 5-8, 170-pound junior Bryant Tuff. The speedy Tuff gets moved around a lot on offense and just makes plays wherever he goes. He had Dracut’s longest play from scrimmage with a 46-yard run that set up Zach Bassett’s first touchdown. Tuff also made an interception deep in Dracut territory early on that helped keep the Middies in the game. While Dracut seems to be struggling a little on offense right now, the Middies can look forward to getting revved back up by getting Tuff the ball in space and watching him work.

Billerica (3-1, 2-0 MVC) 12 14 0 14 --- 40
Dracut (2-2, 0-2 MVC) 0 14 0 0 --- 14

First Quarter
B - Matt Clifford 94 kickoff return (kick blocked)
B - Clifford 49 pass from Nick LaSpada (pass failed)

Second Quarter
D - Zach Bassett 2 run (Jacob MacShane kick)
B - Willie Ricard 55 pass from LaSpada (pass failed)
D - Bassett 14 pass from Jimmy Ryan (MacShane kick)
B - Clifford 50 run (Matt Shannon rush)

Fourth Quarter
B - Byron Ramirez 14 run (Jason Ferri pass from LaSpada)
B - LaSpada 1 run (rush failed)

Recap: No. 19 Dracut 13, No. 12 SJP 7

September, 10, 2011
Dracut PrepBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comDracut junior Zach Bassett came up with the game's first score and was in on a slew of tackles on Saturday.

DANVERS, Mass. -- St. John’s Prep is usually the team with the big, experienced offensive line and overpowering ground attack.

Saturday at Cronin Memorial Stadium, however, it was visiting Dracut which fit that bill, and the result was a 13-7 win.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Dracut coach Jason Houston said. “It wasn’t pretty.”

Indeed, it was a sloppy game on both ends. But if you think a senior group of linemen pushing its way forward on both sides of the ball is attractive, yesterday’s performance by the Middies (1-0) was a thing of beauty. Dracut, looking to reach its fourth consecutive postseason appearance and third straight out of the Merrimack Valley Conference’s Small Division, received the requisite might from seniors Anthony Metzler (5-10, 280), Mike Schiavi (6-4, 285), Conor McAnespie (5-10, 185), Jack Whelton (6-3, 200), Shawn Butt (5-11, 260) and Jacob MacShane (5-11, 200) to make up for the loss of reigning MVC Lineman of the Year Peter Salem, who was out nursing a minor injury.

Quarterback Jimmy Ryan, a junior making his first start, rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and completed 10-of-15 passes for 113 yards. The Middies scored on a 2-yard Zach Bassett rush and a 16-yard zone-read keeper by Ryan in the second quarter to take a 13-0 lead into halftime.

Alex Moore (26 yards rushing, 74 receiving) dove over from a yard out for the Prep’s only score with 2:58 to go, but the Middies picked up three first downs and forced the Eagles to burn their remaining four timeouts.

Game over.

“I look at it as a win is a win,” said Bassett, who rushed for 47 yards and also made a key fourth-down stop on Prep quarterback Tommy Gaudet to start the third quarter. “Every win is huge, especially one like St. John’s Prep. But we’re going to look back, enjoy it tonight and go after it on Monday.”

Some other observations...

Middies swarming: Dracut’s defense was billed as a strength coming into the season and it lived up to that reputation Saturday. In addition to the play from the linemen, the linebackers out of Dracut’s 3-5-3 alignment were all over the field. Tony Ngeth, Bassett, Matt Ferrazzani, junior Pat Noonan and Ryan Schwartz were suffocating. St. John’s Prep inexperienced offensive line opened very few holes and those that did appear closed fast.

“I wouldn’t want to play this defense,” Ryan said with a smile. “They’re phenomenal. They’re fast. They’re strong. They just know where to be at all times.”

Filling big shoes: Ryan stepped in for his first varsity start and wasn’t fazed one bit by an excellent group of defenders on the other side of the ball. He executed the zone read properly and made accurate throws in the short-range passing game. He did exactly what the offense asked him to do and more, and it looks like Dracut is going to be set at the quarterback position for another two years. He has a good group of skill players to work with in junior Bryant Tuff, Dante Torres, Ferrazzani, Bassett and Leo Lakmany. All four showed good hands and nice toughness after the catch.

Green in the trenches: The Prep replaced every offensive lineman and it showed. The youth up front resulted in a lot of false starts and missed assignments. That will work itself out in time, though, as the Eagles were cleaner in that regard in the second half. The Prep was also missing senior Brennan Giles (6-2, 286), maybe the team’s most experienced player in the trenches. Either way, Dracut had the advantage up front.

Promising Prep D: The Eagles are going to be excellent on defense. Even with the offense sputtering like it did for most of the game, the Prep defense managed to shut out a good Dracut offense in the second half. Junior nose guard Corey Jean-Jacques (5-11, 291), a wrestling standout who just came out for football this year, is a nice anchor with ends Owen Lynch and junior Anthony Bongiorno providing speed off the edge. Junior Lucas Bavaro, sophomore Sean Smerczynski, junior R.J. Pizzano and sophomore Jonathan Thomas are a nice corps of young linebackers, while juniors Moore, Gerald Kahari and Jack Sharrio are hard hitters in the secondary. Once this offense starts clicking, look out, because the Prep’s defense is good and will be even better in 2012.


DHS (1-0) --- 0 13 0 0 - 13
SJP (0-1) --- 0 0 0 7 - 7

Second Quarter
D - Zach Bassett 2 run (Jacob MacShane kick)
D - Jimmy Ryan 16 run (kick failed)

Fourth Quarter
SJP - Alex Moore 1 run (Connor Shaw kick)