Boston High School: Davon Jones

D1 Central: St. John's (S) 61, St. Peter-Marian 59

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
1:43
AM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. –- Just when it looked as if St. Peter-Marian might finally get past archrival St. John’s in the Division 1 tournament, the Pioneers had one more comeback up their sleeve.

In front of an electric, standing room-only crowd at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Harrington Auditorium on Sunday night, the Pioneers overcame a seven point halftime deficit to knock SPM out of the Division 1 Central tournament for the second time in three years, sealing a 61-59 victory via two free throws by senior captain Charlie Murray with ten seconds left.

“I never look at the guy at the free throw line, 'cause it doesn’t do you any good,” St. John’s coach Bob Foley joked after the game, “He’s a kid who sometimes struggles from the free throw line, but our kids have the confidence to put the chips on the table and put those [free throws] in...and he put those right down the middle.”

Murray, the Pioneers’ “energy-guy” who is known for his ferocity on the defensive glass and his ability to get to the free throw line, got to the free throw line in the closing moments following a perfect no-look pass from sophomore Adham Floyd (14 points).

“It’s hard, it’s definitely hard,” said of the pressure of hitting the free throws, “Just a lot of practice. It’s great that I got to the line and made the free throws, hard work pays off, but at the end of the day it takes the hard work of all 15 of us to get where we are now. It’s great I made them, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without anyone else.”

Floyd leads Pioneer defense: Floyd, who suffered a serious injury to his knee last spring, helped anchor a second half where St. John’s was able to dictate the pace of the game. The Pioneers struggled to keep up with Guardians’ star sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford (25 points) in the first half, but Foley made the decision to go to a man defense in the second half.

The decision paid dividends quickly for St. John’s, as they forced turnovers on the first three SPM possessions of the second half. Following each turnover, the Pioneers added two points quickly on the other end. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Guardians’ lead had disappeared.

“It’s a chess match. We had played zone most of the first half and came out man-to-man, and played a whole lot of man-to-man in the second half. You never know what’s going to work until you try it in a game, you just have to bounce back and forth,” Foley said.

Floyd made two big stops for the Pioneers in the closing moments of the game, blocking a putback attempt by SPM senior Connor Brown that would have put the Guardians ahead. After he found Charlie Murray in the post and Murray converted the free throws at the other end, it was on Floyd to stop Ashton-Langford, one of the best scorers in the state, from getting a basket.

“I thought Adham Floyd did a great job, he played great defense coming off a bad knee injury. His speed isn’t there yet but he’s so good with his hands and getting his hand on the ball,” Foley said.

Murray added: “[Floyd] stepped up, he had a great game. Even on that last play, he made that drive and made a great dish to me – very unselfish. He’s a great player, he played hard today.”

The streak continues: The win puts the Pioneers in the Central Mass. Division 1 title game this coming week against Franklin. The game will be St. John's seventh consecutive appearance in the Division 1 Central title game. As a program they have made the championship game 31 times. Foley was quick to point out that not all of those championship games were his teams, but getting deep into the tournament all those times has given him plenty of experience in tuning out crowds.

“You pray a lot,” Foley said with a laugh, “I don’t hear the crowd, I never hear the crowd at the game because I focus on what’s happening. It’s no problem for me, you’re just hoping that your kids do the right thing. I thought we just did everything right at the end of the game.”

They’re a great group of kids, they hung together. It’s a game that just drains you emotionally, physically, and whatever, but they hung in there at the end.”

Floyd agreed, saying that the Pioneers’ confidence in Foley’s gameplan was the difference down the stretch:

“We just listen to coach. It comes with confidence...and being a team. I think we’re a better team than them, we stayed together.”

Far from his first appearance at WPI, Murray said the Pioneers are motivated to avenge their loss to Milford in last year’s Central Mass. final.

“We’re back, it seems to be a habitual thing, but I’m just happy I get to play another game with these guys. I love the team I’m on.”

TJ Kelley and Davon Jones scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, while Greg Kuakumensah contributed 13 points for the Guardians.

Recap: No. 18 SPM 64, No. 7 St. John's (S) 57

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:36
AM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. – Having lost five of its last six games going into Friday night’s showdown with Central Mass. Conference rival St. John’s, St. Peter-Marian had hopes that its brutally tough schedule the past couple weeks would benefit in the end.

On Friday the Guardians, led by sophomore phenom Makai Ashton-Langford’s 26 points, did what they were unable to do on the road against St. John’s (12-2) a few weeks ago -- put the Pioneers away in the closing minutes. The result, a 64-57 victory for the St. Peter-Marian (6-5).

St. Peter-Marian suffered a devastating loss on Jan. 7 against the Pioneers, blowing an 11-point lead with three minutes to go. As if SPM didn’t have reason enough to circle this game on their schedule, losing to St. John’s in dramatic fashion only added fuel to the fire.

“We were hungry for this game, we’d been looking forward to this game ever since we lost to them,” Ashton-Langford said. “After we lost to them the first time we kind of went into a little slump, we were just inexperienced down the stretch. With four minutes to go we gave up…we knew that couldn’t happen again.”

In the past few weeks the Guardians have played against some of the state’s best teams, including the heartbreaking loss to No. 24, St. John’s three weeks ago, as well as losses to No. 1 Putnam, No. 6 Catholic Memorial and No. 9 Cambridge.

Though a tough stretch for the Guardians, the schedule gave them an opportunity to come together and fix their mistakes in a hurry. Their coach has seen progress each game, yet every loss too was a fresh reminder that the young Guardians weren’t quite “there” yet.

“We had a five game stretch where we played one of the toughest schedules in Central Mass.," SPM coach Marcus Watson said. "Through those lumps and bumps and lessons, we learned. We learned last time against St. John’s with four minutes to go up 11, that we can give a game away. It was these kids learning, persevering, and coming together as a group.”

Brown, Sweeney bring the hustle: Seniors Connor Brown and Sean Sweeney brought just the mentality that Watson had been looking for against St. John’s. The two each made several hustle plays that eventually swung the score in the Guardians’ direction.

Sweeney helped set the tone early in the first half, first diving out of bounds to save a ball that would have otherwise resulted in a St. Peter-Marian turnover. Minutes later, it was Sweeney who dove on the floor to beat St. John’s point guard Davon Jones to a loose ball, drawing a roar from the Guardians’ fan section.

“We’ve talked about [hustle] from day one, but they’re the ones that have to go out and do it. Sean, to get on the floor for the loose ball and kick it up the court to someone else who got fouled—that’s tremendous,” Watson said.

Brown had plenty of hustle plays as well, on several occasions diving on the floor for the loose ball or jumping to save a ball that was bouncing out of bounds.

His biggest play came with about 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Up 59-54, Brown pulled up for a jumper to beat the shotclock, then got into the lane to pick up his own rebound to reset the clock and give SPM an opportunity to burn even more time off the clock -- much to his coach’s delight.

“And again, those are all thing we learned through our five losses. The kids realize that every time we step on the floor we’re going to get the other team’s best shot,” Watson said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes. We run a lot of drills running out the clock and executing...We’ve really prepared, through our losses, how to deal with things.”

Murray cleans up the glass: The Guardians were able to keep St. John’s forwards Alex Fisher and Drew Vittum very quiet, but they couldn’t do the same to Charlie Murray. Finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds, Murray proved to be one of the most impactful players on the floor, using his body to create space and finish through contact in the paint.

Sophomore Adham Floyd, who is still adding strength after seriously injuring his knee during last spring’s AAU season, had perhaps his best game of the season, knocking down two treys and backing up Murray with 13 points of his own.

“Give St. John’s credit, they’re not gonna’ roll over and die. We jokingly said you have to be up by 30 to win by two,” Watson said, “I have nothing but respect for that locker room and for Coach Foley and all he does for those kids. This is a great win, but it’s just another win, just another game for us.”

Recap: No. 10 St. John's (S) 68, No. 11 SPM 62

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
12:51
AM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- When Davon Jones got fouled and fell hard on his elbow late in the fourth quarter, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) head coach Bob Foley asked his star point guard a question that the coach probably already knew the answer to.

“Davon, you OK?” Foley shouted from the end of the bench.

Wincing in pain and holding his elbow, Jones jumped up and waved off his coach — he wanted to be the one to shoot the free throws. He swooshed the first, then the second, giving the Pioneers their first lead of the second half, 64-62, with less than a minute to go in the game.

As an encore, he nailed two more from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach just moments later. Senior T.J. Kelley (14 points, 10 rebounds) sealed the deal by hitting two free throws of his own with 12 seconds left, giving the No. 10 Pioneers a 68-62 victory over rival No. 11 St. Peter-Marian in front of a standing-room only crowd.

The standout defensive back has taken plenty of hits in his career though, and for Jones the hard foul certainly wasn’t worse than some of the hits he’s taken on the gridiron.

“I’m fine," Jones said. "I play football, so I’m kind of used to it."

Jones is a rare breed in Foley’s system — a junior point guard who is also a three-year starter. An exceptional on-ball defender with lightning-quick bursts of speed with or without the ball, Jones’ poise and hard-nosed style of play gave Foley no choice but to put him in the starting lineup nearly from the time he arrived at St. John’s.

“He’s such a tough kid that he banged it really good and I was all set to send a sub in … and he just goes ‘No, no, no,'" Foley said. "It’s great to have tough kids."

The Pioneers’ comeback was one that will be talked about for a long time.

When St. Peter-Marian coach Marcus Watson called timeout with 3:23 left in the game, the Guardians (4-2) led St. John’s, 62-51. Despite the eleven-point deficit, Foley encouraged his team to stay together and stick to their gameplan of putting ball pressure on SPM and get the ball inside the paint offensively.

“Coach Foley just told us to stay together," Jones said. "Whenever we listen to coach, good things happen. I just think we came out and said together that we’ll play defense, we’ll talk, and we just played together."

To little surprise, it was Jones (11 points) who helped set fire to the comeback. Shortly after the timeout, Jones drove into the paint and fed big man Alex Fisher (15 points) with a beautiful no-look pass, Fisher finished off the conventional three-point play after getting fouled. The next time down Jones did the exact same thing, this time feeding sophomore guard Nick Lukasevicz, who hit two free throws after getting fouled.

“The kid I thought did a great job tonight was Nick Lukasevicz — the sophomore who had barely even played in the game,” Foley said, “he played a couple minutes earlier, but he got in there and we feel like he’s a very steady kid who never turns the ball over. When he was in there we didn’t turn the ball over.”

The Pioneers (7-1) were able to capitalize on SPM’s inexperience down the stretch, putting a trap on their guards defensively while the Guardians forced shots and got away from the ball movement that helped them pull away at the end of the first half.

“The kids believe in each other and I believe in them," Foley said. "We threw that half-court trap at [St. Peter-Marian] and got them to turn the ball over. They took a couple long shots and we got every rebound off that situation, we got every rebound, I thought we got every loose ball at the end, and everyone just kind of did their job.”

St. John’s had no answer for Guardians’ star sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford (18 points) in the first half. Ashton-Langford, a heralded Division 1 recruit who was playing in front of University of Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli, got to the rim nearly at will in the middle quarters — enabling SPM to go on a 15-1 run spanning from the end of the second quarter to the middle of the third.

Another sophomore, Greg Kuakumensah (13 points, 8 rebounds) was the only other Guardians’ player who finished in double-figures. Tom Annan and Jamal Smith each scored eight points for SPM, which will face No. 1-ranked Putnam in Springfield on Sunday.

The Pioneers, who have now won five in a row after losing to Leominster in their second game of the year, will host another league foe, St. Bernard’s, on Friday night.

“[Beating St. Peter-Marian] doesn’t boost our confidence as much as it just makes us work harder. We understand where we stand now,” Jones said, “tomorrow we’ll be back at practice ready to go.”

Recap: No. 10 St. John's (S) 63, Fitchburg 51

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
1:01
AM ET
FITCHBURG, Mass. –- St. John’s coach Bob Foley has no problem admitting it. The inside toughness was lacking in the Pioneers’ loss to Leominster last week, especially with Co-captain Charlie Murray out of the lineup.

But the opposite was true on Monday night’s showdown with rival Fitchburg. Behind a spirited post attack led by Alex Fisher (16 points, 9 rebounds), Drew Vittum (8 points, 12 rebounds), and Murray (8 points, 8 rebounds), the Pioneers (2-1) knocked off the Red Raiders (3-1) on their home floor at Doug Grutchfield Fieldhouse, 63-51.

"I was just so happy with this game, Fitchburg’s got a heck of a club and [Fitchburg coach] Jack Scott’s doing a great job with them," Foley said. "They’ve got a very, very good team. To come out of the gates, get our lead...in their gym you kind of wait for them to make their run, and every time they started to make a run our kids responded."

With two practices in the days following the Leominster loss, St. John’s made a concerted effort in those two practices to get the ball into the paint more often offensively, as well as ease the transition from football to basketball for point guard Davon Jones (8 points, 5 steals) and forward T.J. Kelley (12 points) -- both of whom were integral members of the Pioneers’ MIAA Division 2 State Finalist football squad.

“They seemed like they were ready to go tonight. They let us make runs to get it to nine, 11, and then they’d make a couple plays to stretch it out to 12 or 14 -- and that’s the sign of a good team,” Scott said. "They’re playing like we want to be playing in February, they’re playing like that right now -- at least they did tonight."

Fitchburg was led in scoring by junior guard Anthony Salome, who nailed four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points. The Red Raiders’ usual go-to scorer, Mick Snowden, was contained to just three points -- an outside jumper that came midway through the first quarter.

Murray, Jones the backbone for Pioneers: Jones and Murray may not have led the Pioneers in scoring against Fitchburg, but Foley came away most impressed by the play of the duo whom he considers to be the Pioneers’ leaders. Playing with a wrist that was heavily taped up didn’t stop Murray from making hustle plays -- whether that was pulling down offensive rebounds, or nearly tackling the players on the Pioneers’ bench in pursuit of a loose ball.

"He’s our co-captain, he’s a pretty tough kid under there -- a real competitor. He’s a leader, he’s encouraging all the other players. We still don’t play that many seniors, he’s always encouraging the other kids, he mixes it up under the boards, he’s always on the floor rolling around," Foley said. "The big thing there is that the other kids on our team see that…it makes them raise their level of toughness a little bit."

Jones has built a reputation for making plays all over the football field the last two years, but it was his playmaking ability on the hardwood that gave Scott and the Red Raiders headaches all night.

Scott called a timeout in the third quarter for the sole reason of strategizing how to keep Jones out of the paint, as the point guard was penetrating the Red Raiders’ defense at will, giving the Pioneers’ bigs plenty of open looks inside. Jones proceeded to, again, get into the paint on Fitchburg and set up three of the Pioneers’ next five baskets following the timeout.

"We were consciously trying to prevent that, and yet he still managed to weave his way into the lane," Scott said.

Foley had major praise for his point guard.

"Davon is ultimate quickness," Foley said. "It’s not very often you have a kid with that speed, but he’s not only fast, he’s a strong kid out there. He’s our leader out on the court, and Charlie is our emotional leader overall."

SJ owns the glass
The major difference in the game was the rebounding margin, which St. John’s won 37-18. Boasting the aforementioned front line, Foley came away satisfied with the Pioneers’ effort on the glass—particularly on the defensive end.

"I thought the defensive glass in the second half was the key to the game," Foley said. "On the offensive game we got a lot of shots, unfortunately we should have put more of them in, but pounding away out there in that last six or seven minutes they got one offensive rebound."

Scott agreed, mentioning that the box out will certainly need to be a point of emphasis in practice for Fitchburg for the foreseeable future.

“It was just a dominant performance on the offensive glass," he said. "We didn’t do a good job of rotating on the swings around the perimeter and get in good position to get a weak side rebound here and there. It was a combination of us failing to do what we wanted to do on the defensive end and them capitalizing on it."

Defense does it for Mansfield

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
8:56
PM ET


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mansfield made a living off of their vaunted and talented offense this year, but it was the defense that won them the Division 2 state championship against St. John’s (Shrewsbury) on Saturday afternoon.

The biggest focus for Mansfield coach Mike Redding coming into the game was game-planning for St. John’s dual-threat quarterback Andrew Smiley, an offensive player of the year candidate who has torched opposing defenses this year with his feet as well as his arm.

“Oh man, he’s a great athlete, we knew we had our hands full with him and Combs running the zone read, they do that so well and they keep you honest with the four great receivers,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said.

Smiley has found his deep core of receivers early and often this year, especially junior Davon Jones and seniors T.J. Kelley and Mike McGillicudy. On Saturday though, Jones and McGillicudy were only able to pull in a combined three catches for 22 yards. Smiley, who threw two interceptions and scored a rushing touchdown, was able to muster just 80 total yards.

“The goal was to try to get six in the box to handle the run game, we tried to double Davon Jones because he’s an exceptional athlete. Then we got away from that and we got seven in the box because of the run game and to mix it up,” Redding said, “we played man, we played zone, we mixed in some blitzes. If you stay with any one thing their coordinator and their guys will eat you alive. They hit us now and then and we bent a little at times but never broke, never gave up the big one, and really played tough in the red zone.”

Michael Hershman, who has been playing the majority of this year with a sports hernia, picked Smiley off in the second quarter to help the Hornets stay in it after five first half turnovers—which resulted in a 14-7 halftime lead for the Pioneers. Mike Barresi intercepted a Smiley pass of his own early in the third quarter, initiating an 89-yard drive that brought the Hornets back to 14-13.

“To have five turnovers and only be down seven, we felt good about things at halftime. I thought the big thing in the third quarter was if they scored next then we were in trouble. We were trying to get a stop, we had to get the next one, then Barresi makes the pick and we punch it in. It’s a whole new game, you’ve got your confidence back, you’ve got momentum,” Redding said.

St. John’s was held scoreless after halftime—managing just over 100 total yards in the final two quarters. Shane Combs finished with 100 yards on 14 carries on the afternoon for the Pioneers, one of the lone bright spots for St. John’s in the second half.

“We’ve thrown the ball very well, but tonight it was defense and it was running the football. Bottom line, to win championships you have to do both of those—our O-line did a great job blocking and we threw a little bit, but we just didn’t have to,” Redding said, “to shut them out in a half, I don’t think they’ve been shut out all year, just an unbelievable defensive effort. Mark DeGeronimo just made this young defense so good over the course of the year—it won us a championship today.”

Smiley, a Navy lacrosse commit, received high praise from Redding after the game for his play this year, as well as a very bright future waiting for him:

“The thing I’m most proud of playing against a guy like that who goes off to Navy to play lacrosse, he’s gonna serve his country. It’s so neat to compete against young men like this who are great athletes and will be doing even bigger things after high school.”


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.

Mr. Football Watch: Playoffs, Week 3

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
2:21
AM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch", following the third 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)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This will be the final "Mr. Football Watch" of the 2013 season. The five finalists for our Mr. Football Award will be announced on Monday, Nov. 25, with the winner announced on Dec. 9.

***

THE CONTENDERS

Luke Brennan, Sr. QB, Doherty
Threw for 191 yards and three touchdowns, but most importantly delivered the game-winning touchdown pass to Isaac Yiadom with five seconds left, as the Highlanders captured their first Central Mass. title since 1980 with a thrilling win over Shepherd Hill.

Davon Jones, Jr. FS, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Totaled 10 tackles and an interception, in the Pioneers' 51-42 thriller over Leominster for the D2 Central title. He leads the team in tackles (91) and interceptions (5).

Neil O'Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
Totaled 289 passing yards and two touchdowns, in a 51-42 loss to St. John's in the D2 Central Final.

Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South
Carried a career-high 39 times for 160 yards and a touchdown in the Panthers' 7-6 win over rival Plymouth North for the D3 Southeast title. He is the state's leader in playoff rushing yardage, with 737.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Completed 14 of 22 passes for 250 yards and three scores, and added 201 yards rushing and three more scores on 20 carries, in the win over Leominster. That puts him over the 2,000-yard passing mark for the second straight season; he currently has 2,787 yards of offense with 38 touchdowns.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
Completed 15 of 22 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' win over Westfield in the D2 West Final.

Ju'an Williams, Sr. WR, Springfield Central
Made five catches for 119 yards in the Golden Eagles' 48-22 dismantling of Westfield in the D2 West Final.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 20 of 27 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns in the Hornets' 41-16 win over Barnstable in the D2 South Final. He is completing 70 percent of his passes in the playoffs.

FIVE ON THE RISE

Olan Abner, Sr. RB, Bedford
Ran for 139 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers' overtime win over Pentucket for the D4 North title, his third straight week going over 100 yards rushing.

Jahkari Carpenter, Jr. RB, Doherty
Ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Highlanders past Shepherd Hill for the D4 Central title. He has 230 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the last two weeks.

Michael Dunn, Jr. CB, Dennis-Yarmouth
Held Holliston's top target Zach Elkinson without a catch, and made an interception for his own cause -- his sixth of the season -- as the Dolphins captured the D4 South title.

Michael Hershman, Sr. WR, Mansfield
Exploded for seven catches for 132 yards in the Hornets' 41-16 win over Barnstable, for the D2 South title.

Shayne Kaminski, Sr. RB, Xaverian
Ran for 200 yards and two scores to help rally the Hawks past Attleboro for the D1 South title, his second 200-yard rushing game in three playoff games.

PLAYOFF STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing
Kyle Wisnieski, Sr., Mansfield – 689 yards, 9 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 647 yards, 5 TD
Luke Brennan, Sr., Doherty - 607 yards, 11 TD
Drew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – 588 yards, 10 TD
Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster – 575 yards, 5 TD
Mike Milano, Sr., Central Catholic – 516 yards, 4 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 504 yards, 6 TD
Dana Parello, Sr., Waltham – 494 yards, 6 TD
Tim Walsh, Sr., Attleboro - 469 yards, 8 TD
Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central – 417 yards, 5 TD

Rushing
Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South – 737 yards, 8 TD
Alex Givins-Perry, Sr., Bartlett – 710 yards, 5 TD
Christian Carr, Jr., Plymouth North – 618 yards, 8 TD
Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead – 512 yards, 6 TD
Koby Schofer, Soph., Northbridge – 466 yards, 8 TD
Malik Garrett, Sr., Melrose – 466 yards, 7 TD
Shayne Kaminski, Sr., Xaverian – 447 yards, 5 TD
Mike Panepinto, Sr., Needham – 418 yards, 6 TD
Olan Abner, Sr., Bedford – 395 yards, 3 TD
Shane Combs, Jr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – 386 yards, 5 TD

D2 Central: St. John's (S) 56, Marlborough 20

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
6:12
PM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- St. John's senior quarterback Drew Smiley threw for three touchdowns and added a pair on the ground as the Pioneers (7-2) routed visiting Marlborough (7-2) 56-20 in Saturday’s Division 2 Central semifinal.

The Pioneers started things quickly, forcing the Panthers into a three-and-out on their opening drive, before explosive athlete Davon Jones (4 catches, 92 yards; 5 kick returns, 155 yards, TD) returned a punt 45 yards for the game's first score. The Pioneer defense forced another Panther punt moments later, but this time it would be Smiley (12-of-14 passing, 205 yards, 3 TD; 4 carries, 70 yards 2 TD) scoring for St. John's, keeping it himself for a 58-yard touchdown run on the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage.

Less than two minutes in, St. John's led 14-0. It was a stark contrast to the first time these teams met.

"We've been talking all week about winning the moment," Pioneers coach John Andreoli said. "We came out last time (against Marlboro) and did not have a good first half, and I think we were relaxed today. We were well prepared, and we had confidence in our reads and in our mechanics. Our kids played to their ability, and it was a complete game for us."

The Panthers answered with a Will Cowdrey one-yard touchdown run, but Smiley responded with an 11-play, 90-yard drive that took up just over two minutes of game time before he found junior running back Shane Combs (15 carries, 100 yards, 2 TD; 2 catches, 3 yards, TD) for a 15-yard passing score.

Smiley would punch in a one-yard score on the next St. John's drive before Pioneer linebacker Patrick Ryan intercepted Panther quarterback John Rumney, setting up another Smiley touchdown pass, this one a 44-yard strike to leading receiver Michael McGillicuddy (2 catches, 50 yards). Three plays later, linebacker Anthony Moroski picked off another Rumney pass, running it back inside the Marlborough 20, and setting up Smiley's final touchdown of the day to senior T.J. Kelly.

St. John's led 42-7 at that point.

"Last time we played Marlborough it was pretty windy, so we couldn't really throw it," Smiley said. "So this time we tried to open it up and throw it around a little bit. Then, (on the zone read) it opened up room for Shane, and when they committed to him I just kept it and had space."

Marlborough scored on the following drive, after senior receiver Matt Thall drew back-to-back pass interference calls, and the Panthers threatened to pull within 21. But, with a first and goal at the Pioneer one-yard line, Rumney was stopped for a four-yard loss by senior defensive end Jeff DeMango, then forced into two incompletions by the stingy Pioneer secondary. The half ended with St. John's leading 42-14.

The second half started with a bang for St. John's, as Combs took the first play from scrimmage for a 55-yard rushing touchdown. Rumney answered with a 23-yard passing touchdown to Jose Caquias, but Combs' 15-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter pushed the score to 56-20 in favor of St. John's, and brought the Pioneer backups into the game.

"I think our offensive line really set the tone," Combs, a recent Notre Dame baseball commit, said. "From the get-go they were coming off the line and pounding (Marlborough) back, and by the end of the game they didn't want to line up against us. All the credit to the O-line for pushing them back all day."

Next up for St. John's is a highly anticipated rematch of their season opener against rival Leominster. The Blue Devils defeated the Pioneers 33-22 at home the first time around, and the Division 2 Central final will also be played at Leominster's Doyle Field.

Coach Andreoli and his team know it won't be easy. After all, the Pioneers have yet to defeat Leominster with head coach Dave Palazzi at the helm, but St. John's is still relishing the second chance it's getting.

"They're the defending champions, they're undefeated," Andreoli said. "We know it's going to be a challenge, but we're just going to try to line up and win every snap. I think it's a great opportunity for us to have a great week and go up there and play our best game.

"This season was my first indoctrination into the Leominster-St. John's rivalry," Combs, a transfer from St. Louis, said. "The first game I was amazed by the energy of this rivalry. Right now it comes down to preparation, and I know we have a chip on our shoulder, and we're going to out-prepare them."

St. John’s will face Leominster in the D2 Central final Friday at 7 p.m., at Doyle Field.

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.

Scrimmage Slants: St. John's (S) at Doherty

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
11:46
PM ET
Some of the best talent in Central Mass was on the field at Foley Stadium in Worcester Thursday, as No. 22 Doherty hosted No. 11 St. John's (Shrewsbury) for a scrimmage.

Each team's varsity starters scored a pair of touchdowns, and the both defenses showed flashes that they may be forces in 2013.

Some notes and observations from Thursday's scrimmage:

Doherty's Dynamic Duo: The Highlanders will have to replace star tight end/linebacker Noah Robinson and, at least on the offensive end, they seem to have found their answer. Alfred Adarkwah is listed as a wide receiver, but the 6-foot-4 senior lined up at tight end frequently, creating mismatches against the St. John's linebackers. On Doherty's first drive of the game, Adarkwah got just behind the linebackers and split the safeties on an out-up-and in, then broke a tackle on his way to a 30 yard score.

Isaac Yiadom, a do-it-all athlete and ESPN Boston Preseason All-State selection, lived up to his star billing. The versatile senior made a fantastic catch on a wheel route up the left sideline for 30 yards, displaying great body control and concentration on a ball that was slightly underthrown. Yiadom also scored Doherty's other varsity touchdown, breaking contain on a receiver sweep, then cutting back against the grain for a 35-yard touchdown run.

Defenses clearly fear Yiadom, and the emergence of Adarkwah at both receiver and tight end should help ease the loss of Robinson. The two were particularly effective when lined up on the same side of the formation, with quarterback Luke Brennan rolling their way.

"They both have strengths," Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said. "Isaac is obviously a dual-threat as a runner and receiver, and Alfred is a really tough matchup for anyone that's not really tall. We have a quarterback that can get them both the ball, and as we go we'll figure out, team-to-team, how we can use them best."

Pioneer Defense Continues to Improve: They're not there yet. At least, not according to St. John's coach John Andreoli, but the Pioneer defense does look significantly better than last year's group that surrendered nearly 30 points a game. After giving up a quick score to the Highlanders, St. John's tightened things up on the defensive line, thanks largely to sophomore nose tackle Josh Angel. The young tackle is still a work in progress according to his coach, but he sure is hard to move at the point of attack.

A week after facing Brockton's power running game, the Pioneers were given the challenge of adjusting to Doherty's spread formations. Andreoli gave his defense passing marks on that adjustment.

"Early in the game we had three third down situations where we just lost contain," Andreoli said. "That's just about us being disciplined, and we did a better job of that after the first drive. On the other hand, we did a real good job against the run, especially against the inside run game.

But I was encouraged about the first two weeks here, after facing two totally different offenses and the way our defense has adjusted to what we've seen."

Smiley Shaking the Rust Off: Preseason All State quarterback Drew Smiley looked a little rusty in the Pioneers' scrimmage against Brockton last week, but he was back to running the St. John's "Blur Offense" efficiently Thursday. Smiley led the Pioneers on a quick 75-yard touchdown drive on his first series, connecting on three of three passes for 30 yards, and rushing for another five yards. The drive was capped by junior running back Shane Combs taking a read handoff for a 45-yard score off left tackle.

On the next St. John's drive, Smiley threw a perfect fade route for a 22-yard touchdown just over the outstretched arms of Adarkwah who was back playing safety. Smiley did fumble when he was sacked by three different Highlanders on his team's next drive, but it looked like he was trying to do too much when he just should've eaten the ball. Other than that one play, it was a pretty perfect day for Smiley.

"Overall we got enough snaps for Drew and he looked good," Andreoli said. "Next week we'll get him a little more, and we're hoping to get some guys back on that side of the ball next week, so we want to be at full strength and getting to game speed by the time we scrimmage New Bedford next Saturday."

Doherty's Young Talent: The star of the scrimmage after the starters left the field was easily Doherty's Ricky Webster. The younger brother of Doherty's 2012 leading rusher Abdulla Webster, the speedy sophomore scored two touchdowns in the second half of the scrimmage. The first was an uneventful five-yard dive, but the second was a 75-yard highlight reel run where Webster got the corner, broke a tackle, then outran everybody down the left sideline. He also looked good in coverage as a corner on defense. No matter what he was doing, Webster just looked fast.

Mulcahy knows that Webster is a great athlete, but he wants him to become a great football player.

"He's gonna be a very good player, but he needs to get to practice," Mulcahy said. "He's very talented. He's good enough, talent-wise, to probably get in the mix for some carries this year. But we've got to get him here every day getting better."

Jones and Brennan Leave With Minor Injuries: On the injury front, both teams played without key players in the second quarter, but both should be back after the long weekend. St. John's junior receiver/safety Davon Jones didn't reenter the game after the first quarter ended, and Doherty quarterback Luke Brennan sat out the second quarter as well. Both injuries are considered minor and both coaches feel they will have their stars back after Labor Day in preparation for the start of the season.

Before Brennan went out, he delivered several memorable plays, including a Ben Roethlisberger-like scramble were he stepped up into the pocket, pounced back off a would-be tackler, turned around and scrambled to his right before flinging it 30 yards for a first down. He also delivered a big hit while running down the sideline on a busted play during the scrimmage’s first drive, lowering the boom on a St. John's linebacker that was probably expecting him to step out of bounds.

Jones was his usual versatile self, splitting time between receiver and running back on offense. He got around five touches and broke two runs for first downs. On defense, he nearly recorded the scrimmages only interception as he sat deep in coverage, and baited Brennan into throwing the post to Yiadom. Jones broke hard on the ball, undercutting the route perfectly, but just couldn't hold onto it.

No. 11 SJS looking for answers on defense

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
1:00
AM ET


St. John's of Shrewsbury will look to reclaim its spot atop Central Mass., and will lean on one of the state's best quarterbacks to do so.

Andrew Smiley took the region by storm in 2012, setting the Central Mass single-season passing record in his first year as the Pioneers' starter. Now a senior, Smiley will again lead the St. John's "Blur" attack, an offense similar to the no huddle scheme Chip Kelly made famous at the University of Oregon.

With a combination of numerous receiver sets, a zone read style option attack and break neck pacing, the Pioneers should again boast one of the best attacks in state.

But, there is the issue of defense…

Last season, the Pioneers gave up over 29 points per game, and allowed opponents to score 33 points or more each week during a mid-season four game losing streak. The defense did show flashes, and finished the year strong, allowing only a touchdown to rival St. Peter-Marian and 19 points in the first round of the CMass playoffs against Wachusett.

Coach John Andreoli knows his group has a ways to go on that side of the ball, but he's been encouraged by what he's seen so far in camp, and during the Pioneers’ scrimmage with state power Brockton.

"Our one's against (Brockton's) one's, I think it was pretty much a stalemate (Monday)," Andreoli said. "We've had a great week of practice… Particularly, working against our offense every day, it gives us something to work against that's a pretty good test."

One player that should help the Pioneers thrive on both sides is receiver/defensive back Davon Jones. The talented junior is expected to be Smiley's go-to receiver on offense, and close passing lanes in a hurry as a ball-hawking safety on defense.

A two-sport star that excels on the hardwood for the Pioneer basketball team, Jones' physicality and intelligence have caught the eye of his coach.

"First of all, (Jones) is a football player," Andreoli said. "He's always around the ball, and he's a physical kid on both sides of the ball. His yards after catch are yards that he earned by grinding it out and being physical… I think he's just continuing to develop as a player, and there's no doubt he has a real high ceiling, just on his football IQ and ability to play the game physically."

While St. John's always has numerous high profile games, they don't get much bigger than the season opener at rival Leominster. The Blue Devils have bested the Pioneers in the last two Division 1 Central Mass Super Bowls, and won their last four overall against St. John's.

Leominster scored 79 points in two games against St. John's last season, so that improving defense will be tested immediately.

ST. JOHN'S AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Andreoli (8th year, 66-18 overall)
Last Season: 8-5, Lost in Div. 1 Central Super Bowl.
Key Returnees: Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, Davon Jones, Jr. WR/DB, Pat Ryan, Jr. LB, Jeff DeMango, Jr. DE.
Strengths: Experience at quarterback and speed at the skill positions.
Weaknesses: Inexperience and inconsistency on defense.
Overview: St. John's has, potentially, one of the best QB-WR duos in the state in Smiley and Jones, but will need to replace running back Shadrach Abrokwah and receivers Micah Cummins and John Giacoppe. Having a senior quarterback and a scheme that gives defenses no time to rest should help, but Smiley was hit early and often in a scrimmage against Brockton Monday, and he forced a few throws into coverage. But we'll chalk that up to early season growing pains, and assume an offense that averaged over 38 points per game last season will figure things out. Surprisingly, the defense was the star of the scrimmage, forcing three different “three-and-outs” and a turnover against the Boxers. The Pioneer defensive front isn't huge, but it holds the point of attack and has the speed to string out runs to the outside. If the Pioneer defense continues to improve, it could be a banner year for St. John's in brutal Division 2.

Scrimmage Slants: St. John's (S) at Brockton

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
2:02
AM ET
BROCKTON, Mass. -- The No. 8 Brockton Boxers hosted No. 11 St. John's of Shrewsbury in their annual preseason scrimmage late Monday afternoon, at Marciano Stadium.

Since Brockton coach Peter Colombo and St. John's coach John Andreoli -- former teammates at Holy Cross -- began scheduling this yearly, it has become one of the most anticipated scrimmages of the preseason. In three 10-play series each of varsity on varsity, the Boxers scored twice while the Pioneers scored once.

A few notes and observations from Monday's scrimmage:

Ground and Pound: In last year's installment of this annual scrimmage, Brockton debuted a Georgia Tech-style "Flex Bone" scheme, a radical departure from the multiple offense the Boxers had been running for decades. But the look suited the exploits of tough-as-nails quarterback Augie Roberts very comfortably, and they put together one of the state's most fluid rushing attacks en route to the MIAA Division 1 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl.

There had been some light speculation during the offseason as to how much longer they would stick in the scheme, with Roberts graduating, but it looks like the Boxers are staying with it. Good thing, because it looks like they will be sharp once again, with Pat Burke assuming the reigns under center, fleet-footed seniors Aaron LeClair and Jamal Williams at the wingback spots, and promising sophomore Kerry Raymond at fullback.

"People thought we might have to abandon this when Augie left, but Pat's done a pretty good job with it," head coach Peter Colombo said. "He doesn't have to do everything Augie did, but spread it around."

By far, the most effective play was the "rocket toss", sending either LeClair and Williams circling in motion from the backside and pitching to them on the perimeter at full speed. The Boxers called the play three times on the first series, out of two-receiver sets, and gained a total of 52 yards.

Eventually, more ripples will be added as the new backfield pieces get accustomed -- Williams, for one, is already pretty familiar, having run a similar scheme at Taunton High last year.

"We've gotta be able to throw off of it, and do other things off of that," Colombo said. "We're just working on base stuff right now, but we'll add in some [more] throws, and some misdirection, and just keep getting better at it, because no matter how much ... it's hard to defend. It puts stress on them side to side, widen things out, and then we hit you in between. We'll see where it goes, but it's a good start with that."

The Boxers are hoping Raymond can provide a good counterpunch to the shifty LeClair and Williams. Already measuring 6-foot and close to 220 pounds, there are high hopes that he can be tough in between the tackles, and today's returns were encouraging. It's not every day you have a back this size in Brockton, which had Colombo recalling back to some of the most successful Brockton teams of the last few decades.

"He's a throwback to the Junior Penn, Darnell Campbell, Rudy Harris type of back," Colombo said. "Again, just a sophomore, so he's still just learning his plays. We've got him playing some fullback and some tailback, and I think at times he's confused about exactly what the concepts are. But with the ball in his hands, going north and south, he's a load, definitely.

Colombo added with a laugh, "He's not a fun guy to tackle -- not that I've ever tried, I'm just glad I don't have to. He's a big strong kid that we have to take advantage of."

Davon dazzles: One of the most interesting camp questions this preseason was where star athlete Davon Jones would line up on the offense. Jones, a starter at free safety since his freshman season of 2011, is already being hailed as one of the state's best defensive backs, named a Preseason All-State selection last week by ESPN Boston. Offensively, Jones is expected to have a bigger role this fall following the graduation of Shadrach Abrokwah at running back.

Today, Jones played wide receiver exclusively, mostly lining up opposite the strength of the formation in isolation, and he made several highlight-reel plays. On the fifth play of the first series, with his defender playing five yards off the line of scrimmage, Jones took one step forward and turned back to the line of scrimmage, where quarterback Andrew Smiley threw him a ball on the numbers. Jones turned back to his defender, shook his hips, and then juked another defender for good measure.

In the second series, Jones went deep down the left sideline on a go route, and Smiley delivered a deep ball towards his back shoulder. With a safety coming over the top, Jones looked back to the ball, turned mid-air, and acrobatically came down with the ball, his arms outstretched behind his head.

"He's always around the ball," Pioneers head coach John Andreoli said. "On both sides of the ball, he's an impact player that we need to have on the field. Offense, it's good to have him in the slot, open area, and we can get pretty good matchups against him."

Asked if Jones will stick at wide receiver, Andreoli said, "We like him there, because it gives us a matchup in space."

Monteiro shows promise: Right now, this is a young offensive line that is green with talent, breaking in a slew of new blood. But this is also a big line, consisting of tackles Dan Estrella (6-2, 235) and Sebastian Porter (6-2, 240), guards Aaron Monteiro (6-5, 290) and Junior Silva (6-0, 230), and center Terrence Thorpe (6-3, 240).

"The line is a work in progress, and they're working hard. I see definite hope there," Colombo said.

The Brockton coaching staff is especially excited about the potential of Monteiro, who showed flashes of potential in the run game, getting out into the second level, but also in the passing game. On the Boxers' second touchdown, a 40-yard strike from Burke to Watna Cunha, Monteiro initially chipped the nose guard in the gap to his right, then recovered and sealed off the defensive tackle attacking his outside gap.

Monteiro is an aggressive run blocker, but his technique is still raw. Right now, he plays a bit stiff, and has a tendency to over-extend himself. His intangibles, though, have plenty of folks in Brockton excited about what he could become.

"He's athletic for a big, big kid," Colombo said. "He plays basketball, so he's used to moving his feet. When he puts a year of experience under his belt, with another year in the weight room, I think he's a Division 1 prospect. We'll see what the other guys think, but certainly he's got the part you can't coach -- the frame, athleticism and the size to play at the next level."

Big hits: Of all the years St. John's and Brockton have been scrimmaging each other, this was one of the more intense meetings. There were plenty of loud, popping hits delivered on both sides; a brief scuffle also broke out in the end zone following a St. John's score, though no punches were thrown.

In the second series, Williams took a quick pitch on the perimeter and shuffled his feet, attempting to juke Jones. But Jones simply squared his shoulders and lunged at Williams' thighs, undercutting him with a loud pop. The next play, Brockton's Justin Ahanon took a swing pass in the flat, turned upfield and ran over Jones on his way to the sideline, one of the day's biggest hits, which fired up the Brockton sideline.

Then early in the third series, Brockton safety Devin Duarte read Smiley's eyes and picked off his pass over the deep middle. Duarte broke to the left sideline, picked up about 20 yards then lowered his shoulder to flatten a would-be Pioneers tackler.

Early rust, but passing marks for Smiley: First scrimmages never go smoothly, and Smiley -- a 2012 ESPN Boston All-State selection -- threw a bad pick early, his intended target having his back turned. But once he got going, he was accurate, hitting receivers in the flats and deep downfield for a number of positive gains. Smiley -- a Navy lacrosse commit -- is one of the state's most dangerous dual threats, and leads an offense that runs parallel to Oregon's "Blur" attack and last year led the state in offensive yards (442 yards per game). But today's gameplan did not call for him to run much.

"We had five sophomores on the offensive side of the ball today due to a couple guys being dinged up, but overall I thought he made some good decisions, threw some good balls," Andreoli said. "He got the ball to guys in space, and that's our offense. We didn't run it a lot today, but he's progressing right along nicely. Where he was now compared to a year ago at this time, he's a completely different player."

Combs comes through: Andreoli feels comfortable sticking Jones at wide receiver, and that's because the Pioneers have picked up a nice running back in junior transfer Shane Combs, who has moved into the area from St. Louis.

Combs took a vicious hit from Jonathan Deroulas on the second play of the day, stuffed on a dive up the middle after a minimal gain and his back looking like it got the worst of the collision. Looking dazed, Combs struggled to get to his feet, but he returned to the field two plays later and was serviceable the rest of the day.

He also scored the first St. John's touchdown, cutting back on an outside zone to the left and scampering 25 yards to paydirt.

"He sees the field pretty well, is able to run off blocks and change direction without really losing a step," Andreoli said of Combs. "And he can catch out of the backfield too, which is a really nice dimension for us."

Leg Up: Keep an eye on sophomore placekicker Ryan Clifford, who played for Brockton's soccer team last year and has an impressive boot. In the first series, Clifford attempted a 35-yard field goal that sailed wide left, but had plenty of distance.

Clifford is among a small minority of kickers in the MIAA that kick directly off the ground. High school rules allow for the ball to be elevated up to two inches off the ground on field goal attempts, and most kickers use some sort of platform.

"Eventually, I think he's a big strong kid who might play some tight end or some other position for us," Colombo said. "And he kicks off the grass. He's not used to using a tee, and as you saw that was plenty of distance. It's a nice weapon to have."

ESPN Boston Preseason MIAA All-State Team

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
8:17
AM ET
The MIAA football season officially kicks off today with the first sanctioned team practices. Below is our fourth annual ESPN Boston Preseason MIAA All-State Football Team, as well as our expansive "Watch List".

*Indicates returning All-State

OFFENSE

QB – Drew Belcher, Sr., Reading*
QB – Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick*
QB – Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)*
QB – Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
RB – Johnathan Thomas, Sr., St. John’s Prep*
RB – Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South*
RB – Mike Panepinto, Sr., Needham
RB – Brandon Gallagher, Jr., Bridgewater-Raynham
WR – Brian Dunlap, Jr., Natick*
WR – Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty
WR – Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell
WR – Ju’uan Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
TE – Rory Donovan, Sr., Cardinal Spellman
TE – Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
OL – Jon Baker, Sr., Millis/Hopedale*
OL – Kent Blaeser, Sr., St. John’s Prep
OL – Shawn Whitaker, Sr., Bridgewater-Raynham
OL – Cam Smith, Sr., Medway
OL – Sean Lee, Sr., Springfield Central
ATH – Dave Harrison, Sr., Weymouth
ATH – Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster

DEFENSE

DL – Andrew Bourque, Sr., Reading
DL – Will Greelish, Sr., Auburn
DL – Alex Quintero, Sr., Lowell
DL – Chris Tinkham, Sr., Lynn English
LB – C.J. Parvelus, Sr., Everett
LB – Sean Smerczynski, Sr., St. John’s Prep*
LB – Brett McEvoy, Sr., King Philip
LB – Liam Kenneally, Sr., Reading
LB – Shayne Kaminski, Sr., Xaverian
LB – Tom Rodrick, Sr., Leicester
DB – Lubern Figaro, Sr., Everett
DB – Davon Jones, Jr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
DB – D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Sr., Central Catholic
DB – Jarell Addo, Sr., Leominster
D-ATH – Kevin Bletzer, Sr., Catholic Memorial

***

WATCH LIST

Olan Abner, Sr. RB, Bedford
Mike Abruzzese, Sr. DB, Natick
Justin Ahanon, Sr. ATH, Brockton
Shaquille Anderson, Sr. RB, Cambridge
Nick Andreas, Jr. QB, Danvers
Charlie Aylward, Sr. LB, Catholic Memorial
Jordan Balarinho, Sr. QB, Billerica
Michael Balsamo, Jr. DB, Central Catholic
Malachi Baugh, Sr. RB, Stoughton
Joe Bellomo, Jr. RB, Holliston
Aidan Beresford, Sr. OL, Marshfield
Will Blumenberg, Jr. QB, Concord-Carlisle
Will Bolster, Sr. QB, Walpole
Ommel Bonilla, Jr. DL, Andover
Ryan Boucher, Sr. OL, North Reading
Andrew Boynton, Sr. WR, Natick
Luke Brennan, Sr. QB, Doherty
Joe Brown, Sr. OL, Central Catholic
Jake Burt, Jr. TE, St. John’s Prep
Ryan Charter, Sr. QB, Needham
Max Chipouras, Sr. RB, Longmeadow
Jordan Collier, Sr. RB, St. Mary’s (Lynn)
Nick Cordopatri, Sr. OL, Walpole
Nicolau Coury, Jr. LB, Lowell
Shyheim Cullen, Jr. LB, Lowell
Jeff D’Auria, Sr. RB, Chelmsford
Kyle Dance, Sr. QB, Latin Academy
Lukas Denis, Jr. DB, Everett
Joe DeNucci, Sr. ATH, Newton North
Kevin DiBona, Sr. LB, Duxbury
Steve DiCienzo, Sr. LB, BC High
Rob DiLoreto, Sr. WR, Reading
Brian Dolan, Sr. QB, Lowell
John Donnellan, Sr. DL, Reading
Isaiah Douglas, Sr. DB, Bishop Feehan
Angel Duarte, Sr. LB, Everett
Michael Dunn, Jr. ATH, Dennis-Yarmouth
Markus Edmonds, Jr. LB, Central Catholic
Derek Estes, Sr. DB, Barnstable
Michael Fawhemini, Sr. DB, St. John’s Prep
Joey Fitton, Sr. OL/DL, Holy Name
Connor Gatto, Sr. OL, Northbridge
Joe Gaziano, Jr. DL, Xaverian
Micah Gregory, Sr. DB, Barnstable
T.J. Hairston, Jr. WR, Watertown
Jack Herlihy, Sr. OL, Duxbury
Michael Hershman, Sr. WR, Mansfield
Kejonte Hickman, Jr. QB, Boston Cathedral
Alex Hilger, Sr. WR, Natick
Sean Hoey, Sr. OL, St. John’s Prep
Jon Holdgate, Sr. LB, Nantucket
Jeff Holland, Sr. ATH, Holy Name
Dom Hooven, Sr. OL, St. John’s Prep
Jack Hubley, Sr. LB, Lincoln-Sudbury
Phoenix Huerta, Sr. QB, Somerville
Jordan Javier, Jr. ATH, Lynn English
Kervin Jean-Claude, Sr. LB, Brockton
Domingo Jenkins, Sr. RB, Taunton
Austin Jones, Sr. OL, Shepherd Hill
Anderson Jupiter, Sr. RB, Somerville
Brandon Kahari, Soph. DB, St. John’s Prep
Devon Kellner, Sr. LB, Taunton
Rory Keohane, Sr. DL, BC High
Chris Kennedy, Sr. LB, Barnstable
Dylan Kierman, Sr. QB, Quabbin
A.J. King, Sr. ATH, Xaverian
Jimmy King, Sr. DL, Reading
Grant Kramer, Sr. OL, Duxbury
Fodee Kromah, Sr. DB, Holy Name
Noah Kung, Sr. OL, Walpole
Michael Kwegyir-Attah, Sr. LB, Haverhill
Jaleel Kyles, Sr. DB, Springfield Putnam
Mitch Laferriere, Sr. LB, BC High
Keagan Latta, Sr. WR, Lowell
Aaron LeClair, Sr. RB, Brockton
Matt Long, Soph. RB, Weymouth
Wayne Lowery, Sr. DB, Springfield Putnam
Steve Manning, Sr. DL, Abington
Kenneth Marshall, Sr. LB, Springfield Central
Ryan Martin, Sr. WR, Bridgewater-Raynham
Ngaiiva Mason, Sr. RB, Lowell
Liam Matheson, Sr. RB, Dennis-Yarmouth
Eddie Matovu, Sr. LB, Tewksbury
Sean McCarthy, Sr. QB, Duxbury
Eric Mercer, Sr. LB, Melrose
Kens Morantus, Sr. LB, Waltham
Connor Moriarty, Sr. ATH, Walpole
Luke Morrison, Sr. TE, Attleboro
Hayden Murphy, Sr. ATH, Barnstable
Kevin Nunes, Sr. WR, New Bedford
Nick Orekoya, Jr. DB, Billerica
Luis Ortiz, Sr. TE/LB, Springfield Central
Derek Pacheco, Sr. DL, Barnstable
Connor Peck, Sr. OL, Catholic Memorial
Khai Perry, Sr. RB, Duxbury
Kylan Philbert-Richardson, Sr. RB, Archbishop Williams
Wes Quinzani, Sr. DB, Duxbury
Aaron Rabb, Sr. DL, Whitman-Hanson
Deion Raper, Sr. DB, Brockton
Kerry Raymond, Soph. RB, Brockton
Eddie Rivera, Jr. RB, Leominster
Justin Robinson, Sr. WR, Natick
Owen Rocket, Jr. WR, St. John’s Prep
Sergio Rodriguez, Sr. OL, Somerville
Rufus Rushins, Jr. RB/LB, Bishop Fenwick
D’Vante Sewell, Sr. DB, Springfield Commerce
Ben Sheehan, Jr. RB, Minnechaug
Tim Smith, Sr. RB, Dartmouth
Joel Sodeinde, Sr. OL, Dartmouth
Jimmy Sullivan, Sr. QB, Nauset
Jack Sylvester, Sr. RB, Andover
Thomas Tabur, Sr. OL, Northbridge
Tyrone Thornton, Sr. DB, Newton South
Nick Thyden, Sr. WR, Quabbin
Griffin Tighe, Sr. DL, Franklin
Coby Tippett, Soph. ATH, Xaverian
Taj-Amir Torres, Jr. WR/DB, Amherst
Spencer Tyler, Sr. QB, Dennis-Yarmouth
Luc Valenza, Sr. LB, Foxborough
Jason Valera, Sr. LB, Leominster
Alex Valles, Sr. DB, Danvers
Kahlil Walker, Sr. DL, Springfield Central
Casey Walsh, Sr. QB, North Andover
Isaiah White, Sr. RB, Beverly
Jamal Williams, Sr. RB, Brockton
Mayson Williams, Sr. ATH, Leominster
Raheem Wingard, Sr. QB, Everett
Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield

Final Thoughts from 2012-13, and looking ahead

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
8:15
PM ET
Some final thoughts as we put a close on the 2012-13 high school basketball season...

***

A FLU SHOT HE'LL NEVER FORGET

After committing to Vanderbilt last August, Lynn English's Ben Bowden told ESPNBoston.com he was leaning towards not coming back out for basketball his senior year, saying "it delayed my pitching", that he lost "alot of interest" from some colleges "because I didn't throw hard as they wanted me to."

"I'm leaning that way so I can be fully prepared, because we've got the [MLB] draft and everything," Bowden told us at the time. "Where it's at right now, I don't see myself playing. But it was fun while it lasted."

Bowden, a 6-foot-4 lefty flreballer, is one of the state's most heralded prospects following his junior season, which started with a perfect game against Marblehead and ended with a spot on ESPN Boston's All-State Team and whispers of draft potential. He was 10 minutes away from spending his winter in the gym sharpening his craft, on his own; but a chance encounter on the first day of basketball tryouts changed all that.

The school was conducting flu shots that day, and the location just happened to be near basketball coach Mike Carr's office. As Bowden's girlfriend was getting her shot, Carr light-heartedly ribbed him about spurning one last winter with the team. After Bowden wished Carr good luck and the two parted ways, Bowden bumped into a half-dozen Bulldogs players, who gave him even more ribbing.

Bowden went home, thought about it, and by 5 p.m. had changed his mind.

And boy, was he glad. The Bulldogs captivated the City of Lynn over the second half of the season and throughout their sudden run to the MIAA Division 1 North finals, with Bowden starting at power forwrad, drawing fans from all four of the high schools to come see their wildly-entertaining brand of run-and-gun. He called the Bulldogs' wild 94-87 win over Everett in the D1 North semifinals "the best atmosphere I've ever played in any sport", and doesn't regret a minute of his time this winter.

"It got me into very good shape, obviously I have no regrets at all," he said. "Even if I got hurt, I wouldn’t have regretted playing at all. It was an awesome experience."

Vandy head coach Tim Corbin encourages multi-sport activity out of his high school recruits, a sentiment many high school baseball coaches support for a multitude of reasons -- primarily, that it encourages competitive spirit, and also works different muscle groups to keep the body in prime shape.

Carr heavily emphasized conditioning this year with his team, concluding practice each day with a grueling 10-minute session up and down the school's four flights of stairs, and it's paid off for Bowden. Headed into his first start of the spring, currently slated for April 10, he says this is the "best I've ever felt going into a baseball season."

"I feel my legs are stronger, I'm pushing off the mound better," Bowden said. "My core has gotten stronger. Everything we did for basketball has helped me in a positive way for baseball."

Talking about keeping his arm loose, he added, "I feel the best I've ever felt going into a baseball seasons, and I think it's because I've lost quite a bit of weight. I'm feeling a lot better and a lot lighter, and also because I was throwing more...By the time baseball started [this season] I was on my seventh week of throwing. I was a lot more ready than I was in any other season. I was smart about my decision to play basketball because I knew I had to get throws in."

As basketball becomes more individualized at younger and younger ages in this AAU-ized era of specialization, we sometimes forget that these sports can bleed into each other. Notre Dame hoop coach Mike Brey first heard about Pat Connaughton after a tip from the Irish's baseball coach. Soccer prowess helped Danvers' Eric Martin and Melrose's Frantdzy Pierrot become more elusive runners in the open floor. And some are quietly wondering if football may end up being the meal ticket for Wakefield super-sophomore Bruce Brown, who excels with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) but also turned in a pretty nice campaign last fall at wide receiver. Same with another budding BABC star, Brendan Hill of Mansfield.

Unless you're one of the top players in the country at your position, I'll never understand why some physically-mature high school guards don't at least give an additional sport a try -- but that's a probably a topic for a whole other day. Know that for as much accolades as we've all poured on English's talented trio of guards, Bowden may have played the most important position of all -- the Joey Dorsey, the rock-solid post player down low counted on for rebounds that can keep possessions alive, and facilitate a whip-quick fast break going the other way.

And to think, if his girlfriend hadn't gone to get a flu shot that first day of tryouts, we might be talking about a whole different story in Lynn.

***

MORE THAN JUST 'WANTING IT MORE'

You have to think long and hard to find the last time a kid in the Merrimack Valley Conference went from benchwarmer on one team in one season, to league MVP on another team the next.

Chris Bardwell's transformation from garbage-time go-getter at Central Catholic in 2012 to an ESPN Boston Super Team selection at North Andover in 2013 is one that will be held up as a model example of will power. At least, that was the rhetoric being told this winter -- that if you want it bad enough as Bardwell, if you train hard enough, you can make the jump.

Sure, some of this transformation has to do with the mental element. But Mansfield wanted it just as bad as Putnam in the Division 1 state title game, and was unable to prevent the Beavers from continuously leaking out for some uncontested fast break points. Scituate wanted to just as bad as Brighton in the Division 2 Eastern Mass. title game at the Garden, but couldn't cleanly escape on-ball pressure from Nate Hogan long enough to prevent Malik James' last-second heroics.

I think of Bardwell -- also a lefty pitcher with reportedly mid to high-80's velocity -- and I think back to my first months at ESPNBoston.com, in the summer of 2010, when St. John's Prep star Pat Connaughton was one of the hottest names nationally on the recruiting front. In basketball, he was an ESPN 100 prospect with a lengthy list of suitors east of the Mississippi. On the mound, he was an overpowering righty with first five round potential, named by Baseball America as one of the nation's top 100 high school prospects.

Connaughton had big hype, and in turn put in a legendary summer workout regimen to back it up, sometimes putting in eight hours of training a day -- quite literally, treating it like a 9-to-5. After signing with Notre Dame, the results spoke for themselves -- a state championship, All-State recognition in both sports, and a Day 3 selection by the San Diego Padres.

OK, so Bardwell's not Connaughton. The point is, situations like Bardwell's are the product of both opportunity and preparation, and all that will power is for naught if you're not training right. Bardwell came into the last offseason more determined, but he also upped his daily cardio, played more basketball, and changed his diet, cutting out junk and carbonated beverages and increasing his protein intake. Training for both basketball and baseball certainly helped him stay sharp.

Let's not forget had Bardwell stayed at Central, he would have been battling for playing time among a deep stable of forwards, duking it out with the likes of Doug Gemmell, Nick Cambio, Joel Berroa and Aaron Hall. At North Andover, he could fit in snugly as a terrific compliment to one of the state's best bigs in Isaiah Nelsen -- though in the end, obviously, Bardwell turned out to be the star of the show.

Success stories come from anywhere. Just take a look at another former Central Catholic baseball product, Dennis Torres, who was cut four times by the varsity during his high school years yet was drafted by the Orioles last June after walking-on at UMass.

Like Bardwell, he wanted it badly. Clearly, Torres was sick and tired of being sick and tired. But as usual, it's never as simple as pure will power and mental maturation. There's a method, and Bardwell played it right.

***

RE-BIRTH OF THE RUN?

When you think of the MIAA's most dominant running teams of the 21st century, there are two programs that come to mind. One is the Charlestown juggernaut of the early 2000's, ranked nationally by USA Today and led by electric scorers like Rashid Al-Kaleem, Tony Chatman, Ridley Johnson and Tony Lee. The other is Newton North, winners of back-to-back D1 state titles behind one of the East Coast's best backcourts in Anthony Gurley and Corey Lowe.

Not about to call it a renaissance, but if there's one thing I'll take away more than anything else from this MIAA season, it's the return of quality running teams to the upper echelon. The two best running teams we saw this season represented two different styles.

There was Lynn English, pushing a white-knuckle pace, using more than 15 seconds of the shot clock only sparingly, and blitzing the opposition coming the other way with in-your-grill, full court man-to-man pressure. It took about half a season for Mike Carr's unique system to click -- but once it did, they were firing on all cylinders. The Bulldogs' backcourt of Freddy Hogan, Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario was as good as any in the state the second half of the season, with the former two earning ESPN Boston All-State honors earlier this week.

With just one real post pivot, senior Ben Bowden, the Bulldogs relied on their guards to generate transiton by forcing turnovers, sometimes flat out ripping the ball out of players' grips for easy fast break points. Carr's emphasis on conditioning was well-known, the the Bulldogs never looked tired.

Many will point to Central Catholic's stark rebounding advantage as to why they were able to lay a dump truck on English in the D1 North Final (they held a 28-7 advantage at the half), but -- follow me here -- that was practically by design. The Bulldogs flat out bailed on offensive possessions once the shot went up, surrendering the advantage and forcing Central's guards to make plays (they did, and did often).

That philosophy stood in contrast to what I felt was the state's best running team this year, Division 1 state champion Putnam. They seemed to play a physical brand of basketball in the City of Springfield this year, and nobody exemplified this better than the Beavers, who made up for lack of height with plenty of linebacker-like bulk in forwards KayJuan Bynum and David Murrell, both ESPN Boston All-State selections.

Throughout the season, Putnam coach William Shepard demonstrated enough faith in Bynum and Murrell's ability to get defensive rebounds that the Beavers' guards could continually leak out of possessions early to get fast break after fast break (Bynum and Murrell combined for 11.4 defensive rebounds, and 19.6 overall, per game this season). When an opposing team's shot went up, guards started strafing up the sidelines in anticipation of a long outlet pass. This led to a slew of production in the D1 state title game from guards Ty Nichols, Dizel Wright, Ki-Shawn Monroe and Jonathan Garcia.

Best of all, these two squads return a ton of talent to keep them in Top 10 consideration for the next two seasons. Both teams must find a replacement for their best big (English with Bowden, Putnam with Bynum), but feature a slew of talented backcourt and wing players to keep the tempo frenetic and the opposition uncomfortable.

***

INTERVIEWS OF THE YEAR

My personal favorites for interviews of the year. First, the short category...



And now, the long category...



***

WILL JACK EVER COME BACK?

After Brighton won its first ever state title, Bengals coach Hugh Coleman held court in the media room at the DCU Center, dedicating the state title trophy and season to his lifelong mentor, legendary former Charlestown boss Jack O'Brien.

Anyone familiar with the bond between O'Brien and Coleman knows it is strong. O'Brien came into Coleman's life at a very hectic time -- being born when his mother was 20, becoming the man of the house at just 6 years old, and watching a number of his family members get rung up on drug arrests. He was under supervision of the Department of Social Services when he first met O'Brien as a freshman at Charlestown in 1993.

O'Brien is probably most known for his run of five D2 state titles in six seasons from 1999-2005 at Charlestown, and Coleman was an assistant on the last three. It's worth noting the 2003 squad, which Coleman's brother Derek captained, was the last squad to win both a city and state championship before Brighton did it this year.

"The way Jack O’Brien came into my life...He never recruited me, no one ever said I was going to Charlestown, I ended up going there by chance, he ended up going to Charlestown and it was special," Coleman said. "I lucked out and got the Brighton job four years ago. I probably wasn’t supposed to get it, but I did. A lot of people recruited him out of middle school to go to different schools, but he ended up at Brighton with me. So I think that’s such a great blessing. I’m glad that I’ve been able to be a part of his life, and him a part of my life. He’s made me a stronger person and I hope that I was able to rub off on him. He led us to victory this entire season, including today.

"I definitely want to dedicate this to Jack O’Brien. He should be coaching. He should be coaching, and I have no idea why he’s not coaching in the state of Massachusetts. In my opinion, he is the best coach in the state of Massachusetts. He is, and not just because he won games. He changed the lives of so many of us young men at Charlestown during that time. We went on to go to college. We went on to be great men, fathers, husbands, and you know what? It’s because of what he helped us do from the inside out. He helped us to be great men.

"I’ll be honest with you, I coach and I took the coaching job because he’s not coaching. I couldn’t allow that to...When they said he couldn’t coach, or they wouldn’t allow him to coach for whatever reason, I said I’ve got to keep the legacy going. He’s healthy, he’s a 10 times better man, whatever lesson I guess he was supposed to learn. It’s a shame he’s not coaching, because he is all that and then some."

Wherever he has gone, O'Brien has had dramatic results, producing McDonald's All-Americans at Salem High and nationally-ranked squads at Charlestown. But he has remained out of coaching since his 11th-hour departure from Lynn English hours before the first practice of the 2006-07 season. His name has been linked to jobs throughout Eastern Mass. over the years, most notably Somerville in 2008, but it's unclear when he'll return to coaching.

Still, with 400-plus wins, six state titles, some of the Bay State's most captivating running teams of the last quarter-century, and his age (he just turned 55 last month), there remains faith that he will turn up somewhere. Just where is anyone's guess.

***

HALL'S TOP 10 FOR 2013-14

1. Mansfield
Hornets lost just one senior from their 2013 Division 1 state championship run and return the most talent of anyone in the state, including reigning Hockomock MVP Brendan Hill. A healthier Michael Hershman should bolster an already-deep lineup featuring Rocky DeAndrade, Michael Boen, Ryan Boulter, Kevin Conner and Kyle Wisniewski.

2. Lynn English
The returning backcourt of Freddy Hogan, Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario, along with wing Danny Lukanda, makes this team a preseason Top 5. Key will be the development of promising 6-foot-6 sophomore Johnny Hilaire, whose pogo-like leaping ability has begun to draw comparisons to former All-Stater Keandre Stanton.

3. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Pioneers return arguably the state’s best backcourt in Davon Jones and Adham Floyd, along with a dynamic frontcourt of T.J. Kelley, Drew Vittum and Charlie Murray. Next year gets interesting in D1 Central, with stalwarts such as Franklin, Westford and Acton-Boxborough joining the fray.

4. Central Catholic
A returning core of Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio makes the Raiders one of the premier perimeter teams in Eastern Mass once again. Six-foot-6 junior Aaron Hall has big shoes to fill in the frontcourt, with the graduation of center Doug Gemmell.

5. Brookline
If all goes as planned and everyone returns, you’re looking at a coach’s dream. Elijah Rogers is a virtuoso at the point, and a supporting cast of Obi Obiora, Anthony Jennings, Tyler Patterson and Mark Gasperini makes them a formidable foe on size and skill alone.

6. Springfield Putnam
Beavers stand a legitimate chance at going back-to-back as D1 state champs as long as they can find an able replacement for graduating senior post KayJuan Bynum. By season’s end this was the best running team in the state –- who knows what another season of David Murrell, Dizel Wright, Jonathan Garcia, Ty Nichols and Ki-Shawn Monroe will bring?

7. Brighton
All signs point to Malik James having played his last game as a Bengal in the state championship game, but freshman Javaughn Edmonds shows promise to potentially fill the point guard role. Should All-State forward Nick Simpson return, you’re looking at a front line of Simpson and 6-foot-5 sophomore Jason Jones that is as good as any across Division 2.

8. Melrose
Scary as his junior season was, reigning Middlesex League MVP Frantdzy Pierrot could turn in an even more monstrous senior campaign in 2013-14 for the Red Raiders. With realignment shifting many teams in the North, and a quality stable of underclassmen led by freshman point guard Sherron Harris, next year is as good a time as any to strike.

9. Wakefield
Sophomore Bruce Brown is expected to return next season, and that alone makes the Warriors a favorite in D2 North. The question will be whether they can turn their early-season promise into deep playoff production, and whether they can get past the semifinal round.

10. Springfield Central
The Golden Eagles are not without talent, with one of the state's most promising big men in sophomore Chris Baldwin. The question will be if the guards and forwards can get on the same page, and we think after some growing pains this year, cousins Ju'uan and Cody Williams will make this team sharper coming off a disappointing Division 1 state title defense.

Others to watch: Acton-Boxborough, Andover, Braintree, Boston English, Catholic Memorial, Danvers, Haverhill, Holyoke, New Bedford, New Mission, Newton North, St. John’s Prep, Wachusett, Watertown

With strong young talent, future bright for MIAA hoops

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
5:52
PM ET
In the biggest game of the year in MIAA hoops, the Division 1 state title game, it seemed as if the sophomores were hitting all the big shots. With hundreds of Mansfield fans directly behind the basket screaming and waving, Putnam sophomore Ty Nichols nailed two free throws with eight seconds left in overtime to seal the Beavers’ first state title in school history.

But let’s not forget how the game got to that point. Rewind to the end of regulation.

Mansfield sophomore Ryan Boulter put on one of the gutsiest performances that we saw all season. After he was fouled on a three-point attempt with five seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Boulter went to the line with an opportunity to tie the game and send it into overtime. Miss one, and his team, in all likelihood, would lose the game.

Not only did Boulter hit all three free throws, he did so without ever taking his eyes off the rim -— not even to catch the bounce passes that came from the referee following each of the first two free throws. He sent the game into overtime, then hit a three-pointer from the wing to give Mansfield the lead.

Following a four point swing by Putnam, Boulter put the team on his back one last time -— draining a three-pointer to tie the game with just seconds to go in overtime. Enter Nichols, and game over.

While Putnam’s entire team circled around their trophy in the pressroom after the game, a few of Mansfield’s players sat across the room waiting to be interviewed. Boulter fought back tears. Brendan Hill -- a sophomore who was Hockomock League MVP and considered to be a Division 1 prospect in both football and basketball -- stared at the floor, head in hands.

While listening for Putnam senior KayJuan Bynum talk about the pride that Springfield has in basketball, I couldn’t help but glance over at Hill and Boulter across the room. Both fierce competitors with unbelievable poise, they sat in the shadows of the pressroom while Putnam’s players hugged each other in celebration.

That was the ringing overtone talked about for days following the state title game: Mansfield will be back.

It was the same reaction seen on the floor of the Tsongas Center only a week earlier. After a crushing defeat to a more experienced Central Catholic team, Lynn English sophomore guard Stevie Collins pulled his jersey over his face as the final buzzer sounded, hiding tears from watching Central Catholic celebrate the Division 1 North championship.

The playoff run was an unexpected one for the Bulldogs, and English can be expected to be back next year. With Collins’ classmates Johnny Hilaire (6-foot-6 forward) and Erick Rosario (6-foot guard) both returning, as well as juniors Freddy Hogan and Danny Lukanda, expect a big run from English once again. The Bulldogs' run to the North final almost wasn’t possible, mainly because of 20 points from Everett sophomore Gary Clark in the quarterfinal match -- a high-scoring, back-and-forth match that left English the 94-87 victors.

English, Putnam, and Mansfield, and Everett are not alone in boasting talented young players, though. Statewide, the MIAA’s depth in the 2015 and 2016 classes is one of the best we have seen in recent memory.

***

DAVIS, COLLINS LEAD LONG LIST OF POINT GUARDS

Collins leads a long list of talented floor generals in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Those included (and very close behind him) are Lowell sophomore Kareem Davis, who ignited one of the state’s most exciting offenses this year; New Mission's Randy Glenn, a left-handed playmaker who was pivotal in helping the short-handed Titans make a run to the Boston City League championship; St. Peter-Marian freshman Makai Ashton, a fearless point guard who is considered to be the best long-term guard prospect in the Worcester area; and Melrose frosh Sherron Harris, whose "on-court killer" style of play is scarily similar to his cousin, Cushing Academy star Jalen Adams.

-- St. John's (Shrewsbury) sophomore Davon Jones has more big-game experience than any of the point guards listed above, as he has helped lead Bob Foley’s Pioneer squad to WPI each of the last two years. As mentioned with Hill, Jones is considered to be a Division 1 football prospect.

-- Boston English freshman Ernie Chatman will win a lot of games for Boston English over the next three years, Chatman is a great ballhandler who is also lightning quick and a great floor leader.

-- Along with Glenn and Chatman, Brighton freshman Javaughn Edmonds will make a major impact in the Boston City League in the coming years. Edmonds will be looked to to step in and help fill in some of the production missing from departing ESPN Boston Mr. Basketball Malik James.

***

MIAA’S TOP PROSPECT HEADS FORWARDS

There is no question who has the highest ceiling of any player in the MIAA. It is Springfield Central’s 6-foot-8 sophomore Chris Baldwin. A sureshot Division 1 prospect who can block shots, rebound at a high rate, and score in a variety of ways, Baldwin will make sure Central remains one of the state’s best hoops programs after making the Western Mass. Division 1 championship game once again this year.

St. Peter-Marian freshman Greg Kuakumensah will have big shoes to fill next year for the Guardians, especially as they soon graduate forward Tim Berry, the heart and soul of their offense. Kuakumensah, the younger brother of Brown University forward Cedric Kuakumensah, will join Ashton in what should be a very bright future for St. Peter-Marian. At 6-foot-4, he is a great shot blocker like his older brother, but is also tremendous athlete and competitor.

-- SPM isn’t the only squad returning a talented young duo though. Brighton, the Division 2 state champion, will, alongside Edmonds, return 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jason Jones, who played a lead role in helping the Bengals to their first Boston City League championship.

-- Andover's 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Connor Merinder was limited in minutes this year as he recovered from a severe wrist injury. However, he was able to recover by playoff time and led the Warriors to the Division 1 North semifinals, knocking off Medford and St. John’s Prep in order to do so.

-- For all the attention to the prospects at larger Division 1 and 2 schools, keep an eye on 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jake Wisniewski out of Quaboag. After averaging over 20 points per game for Quaboag this past year, the already-experienced post scorer is one of the state’s top prospects in Division 3. A talented forward at Division 3 New Leadership, 6-foot-6 freshman Davidson Pacheco, will take his talents elsewhere after averaging 10 points per game this year, what with the expected closing of the Springfield-based charter school.

***

MOBLEY, JUDSON CAN MAKE IT RAIN

Newton North sophomore Tommy Mobley was one of the state’s most feared scorers this year, leading the Tigers to a 20-4 record and picking up Bay State Carey MVP. Mobley and St. John’s Prep sophomore guard Ben Judson showed that they can be two of the MIAA’s best scorers again next year. Like Mobley, Judson’s three-point range extends all the way out to 25 feet—as both were known to drop a barrage of three-pointers on opponents this year, heavily guarded or not.

New Mission's Juwan Gooding, New Bedford's Tyree Weston, and Catholic Memorial's Guilien Smith, were all early exits from the state tournament this year. But as three of the MIAA’s most talented pure scorers in the 2015 class, they’ll be back for big runs next year. Smith and Gooding are finesse guys who use their quick first step to get to the rim, while Weston uses his sculpted frame to overpower opponents and score inside-out.

-- One other Springfield product to keep an eye on is Cathedral sophomore Darrick Boyd. The young, talented sharpshooter scored 19 points per game this year, leading Cathedral to a 13-9 record. Danvers sophomore Vinny Clifford, also a dead-eye shooter, will be looked at to be a leader for the two-time defending Division 3 state champion. Clifford, the younger brother of Merrimack College forward Mike Clifford, was an integral piece this year for a team led by Eric Martin, Nick Bates, and Nick McKenna.

-- Yet another two-sport star, Wakefield sophomore Bruce Brown, helped the Warriors make a deep run in the Division 2 North tournament this year, eventually falling to a deeper, more experienced North Andover team. Brown is an elite athlete who, at his best, is nearly unstoppable because of his upper body strength. On the football field, Brown caught seven touchdown passes as a wide receiver last fall.

-- Two 14-seed over 3-seed upsets in the first round of the Division 1 North tournament should be remembered going forward. Freshman Saul Phiri’s heroics in a first-round upset win helped lead Haverhill past Westford Academy, while frosh Keyshaad Dixon’s three-pointers sparked perhaps the most surprising win of the first round, as Braintree knocked off heavily-favored BC High.

-- St. John's (Shrewsbury) freshman Adham Floyd, was a very important piece for the Pioneers’ run to the Central Mass. Division 1 title game, starting several games during the season. Bishop Feehan freshman Mike Nelson, a teammate of Floyd's with the Shooting Stars AAU program, showed great poise in leading his team to an impressive run in the Division 3 South tournament, falling narrowly in the quarterfinals to eventual D3 South champion Martha’s Vineyard.

***

Picking the Super Team for this year's ESPN Boston MIAA All-State Team sparked as much debate as any Super Team selection in recent years. The statewide parity, talented young players bolting to prep school, and lack of scholarship-level talent in the upper classes forced careful consideration and a never-ending debate about picking out the MIAA’s elite upperclassmen.

However, with the amount of freshmen and sophomores who made a name for themselves on a big stage this year -- the instant-classic Division 1 state final between Mansfield and Putnam being the prime example -- it's likely we won’t spend too much time worrying about the pipelines of scholarship-level talent coming up the ranks in MIAA basketball.

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