- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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WESTWOOD, Mass. – After meeting in a preseason scrimmage before last season, Central Catholic and Xaverian exchanged pleasantries before departing. Many of the players, while cycling through the handshake line offered sentiment of good luck with the idea that the teams would meet in the Division 1 state championship game. Both teams got their wish as the Raiders met the Hawks in the first Div. 1 state title at Gillette Stadium.
The teams partook in their annual preseason meeting on Tuesday, but unlike the last meeting at Gillette, Xaverian held the upper hand, looking a step quicker and crisper than the defending champions.
Here are a couple of takeaways from today’s two-hour long work session at the Hawl Bowl:
Tinkering continues: As in their prior scrimmage Saturday against Bridgewater-Raynham, Xaverian continued to sprinkle in some different faces into their spread formations. Reigning ESPN Boston Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano was again seen split out wide in a four-receiver set which also featured starting inside linebacker D’Aundre Holmes seeing snaps in the slot.
The Hawks already have a deep corps of receivers, including returning contributors like Princewell Iwejuo, Ernest Simon, Peter Thorbahn, Coby Tippett and Damion Wood. But the big bodies out wide give Xaverian a different look while presenting matchup problems for undersized defensive backs.
On Tuesday, the Hawks again had to be impressed by senior quarterback Jake Farrell, who has turned in efficient performances in both of the team’s scrimmages.
“I was happy with the way our skills players matched up with them today,” Hawks head coach Charlie Stevenson said.
Xaverian had success moving the ball through the air throughout against a Central Catholic secondary that is still rounding into form. After losing a couple of All-Staters from the group in Cody Demers and D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Raiders head coach Chuck Adamopoulos is using the preseason period to test out a host of competitors in a couple of positions.
“Reading didn’t really throw the ball downfield in our last scrimmage,” Adamopoulos said. “And we’re really young in the secondary, so we need to figure out who’s going to play there. Today, with Xaverian, they threw the ball downfield, they threw the ball in the flat with quick hits, so we got a chance to look at our secondary kids.”
Round 2 adjustments: Both squads came in with agendas different from their Saturday debuts.
For one, Xaverian incorporated the running game – after having a pass only scrimmage with B-R. While the Hawks still do not have their full complement of backs, as John Dean continues to be held out with an injury, they look more themselves with Noah Sorrento and sophomore Devon Piccinin pounding Central’s front seven.
“I think when we’re able to throw him into our offensive mix, we’re a lot better team,” Stevenson said of Sorrento.
Meanwhile, the Raiders countered with some different blitz packages and defensive looks, with inside linebacker Markus Edmunds making a strong showing.
“It’s an opportunity to see some different things,” Stevenson said. “With their 3-on-2 blitz packages, any time they did that they caught us off guard. There’s stuff in there that we haven’t practiced.”
Here and there: While the intensity was nowhere near that of last December, the pace of Tuesday’s scrimmage was brisk and the competition was spirited. “There was a lot of bad blood out there still from the championship game, so it was good for us to grind it out,” Central senior running back/ safety Michael Balsamo said. “We saw them last year this time in the preseason and we all told them if they made it we’d see them in the playoffs.” … Injuries curtailed a couple of key players from participating or staying in the scrimmage. Xaverian right tackle and UMass commit Joe Parsons was held out and is listed as day-to-day. Also, Central lineman Jorge Elias missed the last half of the proceedings after having a Hawks player fall on his ankle. … How do you improve on a Super Bowl season? For Central four-year returning starting quarterback Michael Milano, that means an increased leadership role. “He always was a leader, but he’s taken that to a new level this year,” Adamopoulos said. “It’s really impressive. He did it all for us last season.” … Reflecting on his team’s progress through the first week-plus of the preseason, Adamopoulos had this to offer about the top-ranked Hawks: “They deserve to be ranked where they are; we don’t.” The No. 2 Raiders have another tuneup scheduled Friday at Mansfield. “Last year, at this time, we weren’t what we were at the end of last year,” Adamopoulos said. “There’s a long way to go.”