Boston High School: Eric LaCroix

What We Learned: Week 1

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
6:01
PM ET
The best and brightest from a helter-skelter Week 1 of MIAA football:

A RAM-BUNCTIOUS UPSET
Catholic Memorial plummets 15 spots to No. 19 after getting shut out 24-0 at Marshfield, and today there is undoubtedly some intense conversation going down on Baker Street. But to totally make the story about the heavily-favored Knights failing to get out of first gear is to forget what a well-coached team Marshfield is.

As we predicted last Thursday, this was going to be a bad matchup for the Knights. The talk at CM is often centered around its four BCS commits in Armani Reeves, Cam Williams, A.J. Doyle and Donovan Henry, while the line is considered a weakness in spite of its size.

Let's not forget that Marshfield is one of the South Shore's more historic programs over the last two decades (Sean Morey, Austin Giles, anyone?). For as long as we can remember, Lou Silva has been running an unorthodox Wing-T scheme and has always been strong in the trenches. Think back 10 years ago when Sean Morris was the Rams' feature back, and remember that every starter on that line went on to earn a college scholarship. Like those gritty Acton-Boxborough squads of the early 2000s, year after year the Rams' emphasis has been on beating you at the point of attack not with size, but speed.

For the Knights, who have garnered a lion's share of preseason hype the past few seasons, a hard lesson was learned. Games are still won on grass, not paper.

BE ON GUARD FOR ST. PETE
St. Peter-Marian debuts in the poll this week at No. 23 after scoring one of the more significant victories west of I-495 traveling up to Crocker Field and taking down a Quinton Perkins-less Fitchburg squad, 20-6. Those in the know will tell you it's far from an upset.

Could we be headed for a return to the golden era of Jerry Azumah, Ricky Appiah and the late legendary coach Owen Kilcoyne? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Still, the Guardians certainly have some talent that is blooming late, but worth your consideration.

Senior defensive end Jordan Knowles is a force coming off the edge at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, able to overpower with a bull rush but also come across the face with a shifty swim move. He racked up two sacks and nine tackles in the loss, and barring injury could end up with 12 to 15 this season. Meanwhile, the Guardians were stout in the secondary, with Roosevelt Westbrook, Tyler Kmon, and Jonathan Harrigan all coming up with a pick each. Tre Watson, a star during basketball season, is another key cog.

But the sleeper of the bunch might be senior quarterback Steve Flynn, who threw for 240 yards and two scores, and also led the way defensively with 11 tackles from the defensive end spot opposite Knowles. This is Flynn’s first season as the full-time starter under center, and he’s still somewhat new to the sport (he didn’t pick up a football until his sophomore year).

You might remember his older brother Frankie –- a baseball standout at SPM, and one of the stars of the 2002 Jesse Burkett squad that lost to Louisville, Ky. in the Little League World Series final –- and the apple hasn’t fallen too far. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Steve is an imposing force on the mound for the Guardians’ baseball squad, with a fastball that has touched 90 miles per hour.

On the gridiron, though, he’s just as intimidating.

“He’s definitely the real deal,” Guardians head coach Tom Henrickson said of Flynn. “He’s thrown the ball 75 yards downfield. It’s insane. You have to see his arm to appreciate it. He’s thrown a 20-yard out from the short side of the field all the way across, and it’s a laser. You just don’t see that in high school football, he’s a real good one.”

Not to mention, Flynn will be a tough one to tackle this season. While he runs a 4.9 40-yard dash, he also reportedly benches upwards of 350 pounds, one of several reasons he’s just starting to get Division 1 looks.

“He’s not fast, but he’s not slow either,” Henrickson said. “People go to sack him, you try and grab him and he just tosses you…[against Fitchburg] our running back didn’t pick up a blitz, so he took a sack once, but it took four guys to take him down. He’s like an unknown commodity.”

ANOTHER NAIL-BITER, ANOTHER CLASSIC
Once again, the Central Mass clash between St. John's of Shrewsbury and Holy Name went down to the wire. And, once again, the Pioneers emerged victorious over the Naps.

What also was displayed in the annual rite of autumn, in rare form, was the gut and determination of Mike Pucko's team to overcome what they might lack in depth. With an unseasonably warm day and playing on artificial turf at Assumption College, the matchup was a battle of attrition. Pucko commented postgame that his team was "gassed" by halftime.

"We knew we were going to be in for a long second half," he told Scott Barboza on Saturday.

With many of his players running on empty by the third quarter, three of the Naps starters would be taken to the hospital by ambulance while fighting dehydration. Lineman Sean Zuromsky was overcome by the heat at the end of the third. After receiving a double-team block from the Pioneers offensive line, Zuromsky doubled over, face first into the turf, unable to breathe.

"He was so dehydrated, his mouth was white," Pucko said.

Outsiders might think it extreme, the savagery of a brutal game, which football can be. But the underlying truth is that pound-for-pound, Holy Name teams remain toughest team in the state. Pucko gets his players to show up and play, no matter who the opponent, no matter what the circumstance.

That doesn't necessarily fit into the "What We Learned" category, but it's worth reaffirming.

CRIMSON CHURNING
The feeling among the Everett contingent following last Friday’s 47-12 win over Leominster was not of satisfaction, to say the least.

“We take good out of it, but we have a long way to go,” quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso said.

“There are a lot of things we need to improve upon,” said his father, long time head coach John DiBiaso.

Fact: right now, there isn’t a player in the No. 1 Crimson Tide’s program at the talent level of either of its graduated wide receivers Matt Costello (Princeton) and Manny Asprilla (Boston College), considered two of the greatest in program history.

But here’s another fact: The Tide could have put up 60 on Friday if not for a few drops in the end zone. Jakarrie Washington and Jaylen McRae are two potential home-run threats with burners (filling Costello’s deep-ball role) while Kenny Calaj and Vondell Langston are tough to bring down, when taking handoffs out of the backfield or coming over the middle (much like Asprilla’s role there).

Consider Everett’s new batch of receivers like a baseball glove. It’s going to take a few games to get broken in.

But when they’re broken in, look out.

DEFENSE IS KING
As much as folks might dwell on the 42 points the Eagles posted on the Boxers at Viola Stadium, equally if not more impressive was the true shutout the BC High defense posted.

The Eagles' defense thrives behind junior middle linebacker Luke Catarius, who again set the tone with 15 tackles, including three for a loss, along with 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries.

"We just really practiced the coverages and where they set up," Catarius told ESPN Boston correspondent Adam Kurkjian on Friday. "I just read my keys well and made the plays."

Easier said than done, but the Eagles were effective in shutting down the Boxers' ground game behind Josh Brewster and quarterback Paul Mroz was held to completing just two passes for 10 yards with an interception.

The Eagles simply never Brockton in the game.

BIG WEEKEND FOR THE SMALL
The Merrimack Valley Small went 4-1 on this opening weekend, including eye-opening upsets by Lawrence (33-14, over then-No. 17 Reading) and Dracut (13-7, over then-No. 12 St. John’s Prep). If you can recall, the Small had another strong start a season ago, but this time around the feeling is that momentum will stick.

By now, Dracut’s read-option attack is a well-oiled machine, and despite some obvious signs of rust – and without returning MVC lineman of the year Peter Salem due to injury – the Middies sold play fakes well and at times took the outside lanes at will. It’s also got a strong junior class led by quarterback Jimmy Ryan and running back/linebacker Zach Bassett.

For anybody that saw Reading this summer or in scrimmages, this Lawrence upset comes as a surprise. The Rockets are stout at the line of scrimmage and feature a core of youngsters that is talented in spite of its inexperience. But what the Lancers lack in size they more than make up for in speed, and that should make waves in this spread-happy conference.

Some predicted a drop-off at Methuen after the graduation of Cal Carroll and Raudy Minaya, and the departure of head coach Pat Graham. But they’ve picked up right where they left off, with quarterback Eric Lacroix racking up nearly 300 yards of total offense and having a hand in every score, as the Rangers exacted revenge on Plymouth North with a 27-13 win.

And last but not least, Haverhill snapped a 32-game losing streak forcefully, with an impressive 39-12 win over a Malden squad that isn’t as thin as some people are saying. The Hillies reportedly took it to Central Catholic in a preseason scrimmage, so don’t be surprised if they make some noise when it comes to the gauntlet that is the MVC slate. It’s too early to predict hypothesize on the chances of their first postseason berth since 2002, but this will be a fun team to watch.

STREAKING NO MORE
While Auburn extended its state best 37-game winning streak on Friday, Eastern Massachusetts' longest football winning streak came to an end for Gloucester. The Fishermen's 26-game winning streak was derailed by a motivated Lynn English team at the Manning Bowl.

Bulldogs quarterback Jermaine Kelley went off for six touchdowns and 279 yards while earning ESPN Boston Player of the Week honors for Week 1. Kelley, a transfer from Swampscott, spread the ball around with Josh Batista accounting for four touchdowns and top target Malcolm Brown-Simpson, a Pope John transfer, providing big-play potential to the aerial attack.

Lynn English head coach Peter Holey wasn't about to get ahead of himself even after the victory, adding that there's a long way to go before deeming the season a success during practice in Lynn on Monday afternoon. However, with a talented offense led by Kelley and a talented running back in senior P.J. Dorsey, the Bulldogs will be worth watching all season long.

BAROMETER OF THE WEST?
Springfield's Putnam High beat previously ranked Central (No. 20 in preseason poll) on Friday, showing that the Beavers are the early favorites to claim the Division 2 crown in Western Mass. While the Division 1 race out West always runs through Longmeadow, the question is who will be the team to stand up to the Lancers this year?

We think Central can still be that team -- this weekend's test against No. 1 Everett will be an every greater indication -- but Putnam could serve as a great measuring stick. With a schedule that includes Westfield, Chicopee and West Springfield, the Beavers should prove a barometer as to who can take the fight to Longmeadow. After all, that is because Putnam might be the best team in Western Mass not named the Lancers.

Mr. Football Watch: Week 2

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
1:02
PM ET
Last week, we introduced our initial list of 15 players expected to be in contention for our annual ESPN Boston Mr. Football Award. After a wild first weekend, the running is decidedly wide open. Here's how we break it down this week:

HOW THE CONTENDERS FARED

Andrew Coke, Sr. RB, Andover - Carried the ball 21 times for 130 yards and score, and had a hand in the game-changing flea flicker, as the Golden Warriors beat rival North Andover 30-20.
Preston Cooper, Sr. RB, BC High - Ran for 98 yards and three scores in a 42-0 blanking of Brockton.
George Craan, Sr. RB, Concord-Carlisle - Ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-7 win over defending Division 3 Super Bowl champion Beverly.
Jonathan DiBiaso, Sr. QB, Everett - Threw for 256 yards and four scores in a 47-12 win over Leominster.
Matt Montalto, Sr. QB, Dennis-Yarmouth - Was nearly perfect through the air, completing 12 of 14 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns, and added a fourth on the ground, in a 41-7 rout of Taunton.
T.J. Norris, Sr. RB, Longmeadow - Carried 10 times for 114 yards and two scores in a 35-6 win over Chicopee Comp.
Nick LaSpada, Sr. QB, Billerica - Threw for 189 yards and added 70 on the ground, totaling five scores, in a 49-28 win over Burlington.
Michael Walsh, Sr. QB, Swampscott - Completed 13 of 19 passes for 193 yards and two scores, and added 149 rushing yards and a score on 10 carries, as the Big Blue rolled to a 33-14 win over Somerville. He also had an interception on defense.

ON THE RISE

Khary Bailey-Smith, Sr. WR, Weymouth - Caught three of Cam McLevedge's six touchdown passes in a 48-6 rout of Milton.
D.J. Crook, Sr. QB, Barnstable - In a 65-0 rout of Durfee (the Red Raiders' first shutout since 2003), Crook was 18 of 27 passing for 247 yards and two scores, and added a third touchdown on the ground. That brings him to 67 career touchdown passes, 18 away from the state record.
Greg Finley, Sr. QB, Framingham - Threw for 196 yards and ran for 119 more, totaling three touchdowns in a 41-10 win over Wellesley.
Troy Flutie, Soph. QB, Natick - Darren's son threw for 270 yards and three scores, and added 101 yards on the ground, in a 21-7 win over Brookline. Also notable is the debut of freshman wideout Brian Dunlap, who had 11 catches for 240 yards and two scores.
Steve Flynn, Sr. QB/DE, St. Peter-Marian - Threw for 240 yards and two scores in the Guardians' 20-6 win over Fitchburg. He also made 11 tackles and batted two passes on defense.
Greg Heineman, Sr. QB, Minnechaug - Was 23 of 36 passing for 230 yards and a touchdown in a 33-14 win over Silver Lake.
Jermaine Kelly, Sr. QB, Lynn English - The Swampscott transfer made his presence felt in his first start for the Bulldogs, leading a 41-0 rout of Gloucester with 279 passing yards and six touchdowns.
Jordan Knowles, Sr. DE, St. Peter-Marian - Recorded two sacks and nine tackles in a 20-6 win over Fitchburg.
Eric LaCroix, Sr. QB, Methuen - Totaled 292 yards of offense and all four of the Rangers' scores in a 27-13 win over Plymouth North, avenging last year's season-opening loss.
Cam McLevedge, Sr. QB, Weymouth - Led a quick dismantling in a 48-6 rout of Milton, completing 11 of 15 passes for 267 yards and six touchdowns.
Jimmy Ryan, Jr. QB, Dracut - In his first start taking over for Matt Silva, Ryan threw for 113 yards and ran for 103, totaling one score, as the Middies upset St. John's Prep, 13-7.
Sean Wilson, Sr. RB, St. John's (Shrewsbury) - Carried 26 times for 179 yards and three touchdowns in a 22-21 thriller over Holy Name.

Thanksgiving football leftovers

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
7:00
PM ET
WHALERS' ACES IN THE HOLE
No. 21 New Bedford's worst fears were realized in the first quarter against Durfee. Although mired in a scoreless tie, the Hilltoppers carried play early behind their Wing-T attack and running back Keith Omosefunmi. Things only got worse when Whalers offensive and defensive lineman Lance Burlingame when down with a meniscus injury on a defensive play in the first quarter. Durfee later scored the first touchdown of the game, but New Bedford got it right back on the ensuing kickoff with Nate Lewis' 72-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Although the Whalers had to mix and match their line, New Bedford was more efficient on offense in the second half. The line provided ample time for junior quarterback Myles Medeiros to throw and created the lanes in which running back Phito Gondre could run. Darian Sousa-Bizarro moved over from guard to left tackle in Burlingame's absence and Tyler Ollivierre filled in at left guard, showcasing New Bedford's depth on the line. Ollivierre was also instrumental in clogging up the middle at defensive tackle.

"The way Coach [Dennis Golden] runs practices, all the linemen get time to practice," Medeiros told Scott Barboza on Thursday, "so when somebody goes down we have the confidence that the next guy can get the job done."

However, the Whalers might miss Burlingame more on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to Tuesday's Division I semifinal playoff game against St. John's Prep. Burlingame was dominant in New Bedford's Big Three win over Brockton in neutralizing Boxers running back Trevon Offley. The same could be said for the Eagles' physicla offensive line and speedy running back Tyler Coppola.

"We're just taking it one game at a time and one day at a time," Medeiros said. "We got to where we wanted to be. We're Big Three champions. Now, we'll focus on what comes next."


IT IS NOT A THIN LINE

The St. John’s Prep offensive line is becoming somewhat legendary. Besides from opening up holes, they also escort their running backs down the field for touchdowns.

“Those are the plays that you get pumped for,” said Dan Culkeen, a 5’11’’, 252-pound senior. “As a lineman, you don’t get much glory, but those are the plays that people will see. I’m out there leading my best friend Tyler, and he does his thing. I get one block and he’s gone.”

The quarterback draws worked well for St. John’s, running them through almost every hole on the line, to the point that it seemed that Tommy Gaudet was just looking to run through an open space, but that wasn’t the case.

“We’re not a read team,” Gaudet said. “On the option we are, but mostly we’re running where we’re blocking. We try to move it up and down the line...get them to where they’re not comfortable in their defense. We were just trying to make it hard for them.”

“Every lineman on our team is All-Conference,” lauded Gaudet. “No matter what hole we run to, it’s the same. They’re all unbelievable at what they do.”

MIDDIES UP TO TASK
Dracut turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season during Thursday’s 19-12 triumph over No. 6 Methuen, which entered the contest averaging 31.6 points per game.

The Middies held the Rangers to 268 yards of total offense, but 105 of those 268 yards came on two plays – a 58-yard pass from quarterback Cal Carroll to Eric Lacroix, and Ryan Savastano’s 47-yard run.

“They got a couple of big plays, but they didn’t really drive the ball against us,” Dracut head coach Jason Houston said. “We wanted to stop the run. We felt that was the key, and we did a pretty good job of doing that.”

Dracut came up with three turnovers, including two interceptions in the second half.

Savastano, who entered the game with 1,225 yards rushing, was held to 75 yards on eight carries. The Middies (8-3) had surrendered at least 21 points in six of their other 10 games.

“It was one of the better defensive efforts I’ve seen in a while,” Houston said.

The victory gave Dracut a 26-19-3 edge in its series with Methuen, which dates back to 1963.

BIG PLUNGE FOR 'BIG A'

Malden senior Aaron Samano, the team's captain and a humanitarian (literally) off the field, was rewarded for his dedication on Thanksgiving morning in a unique way only befitting for a 6-foot-1, 300-pound nose tackle -- with the rock.

On the Golden Tornadoes' opening drive of their 29-0 win over storied archrival Medford, with the ball at the Mustangs' one yard line, head coach Joe Pappagallo called for a "tackle right", one of their standard plays, only with Samano as the ballcarrier. Samano admitted he was nervous at first when quarterback Kevin Valley came into the huddle with the call.

"It was almost like, I can't believe he's actually calling this right now," said the humble lineman, affectionately called "Big A" by his teammates. "I never thought it would come so early in the game, that we'd open up with it. I didn't want to let anyone down, so I held the ball as tight as I could."

Samano followed his blockers left, then took a reverse pivot and plunged right for the one-yard score, and then celebrated his score with a LaDainian Tomlinson-style flip of the ball and jumping around with his teammates.

"I was excited, I was fired up," Samano said. "It felt great to actually score a touchdown, after four years of blocking, then to actually run one in, it just feels great."

After a slew of preseason hype, the 2010 season was a disappointing one for the Tornadoes, who finished 5-5 and 3-1 in the Greater Boston League. But things are just heating up for Samano, who is being recruited by several Division 1 schools, including Harvard and Duke.

TWO JARRING COINCIDENCES

Flashback #1: It was two years ago, when Longmeadow traveled to East Longmeadow riding a state-best 47-game win streak into Thanksgiving Day weekend 2008. Longmeadow was trailing 16-13 but rallied behind junior quarterback Conor Hobert on a drive in the final minutes.

The game came down to a Longmeadow fourth down with 19 seconds left, when Hobert lobbed up a pass from around 20-yards out to Niko Sierra. Sierra dove for the ball but was covered well by East Longmeadow’s Dave Fraboni. Fraboni swatted the ball down in the end zone, and EL upset Longmeadow in thrilling fashion.

2010 implications: Sophomore Austin Sierra, younger brother of Niko, recovered a fumble in the end zone to upend the Spartans 13-7 in overtime on Thanksgiving. The fumble was recovered in about the same spot in the end zone (in front of the right side goal post) where Fraboni knocked down Hobert’s pass in 2008.

The fumble recovery won the AA conference title for the Lancers.

“I just saw it drop and all I was thinking was, ‘jump on it!’” Austin laughed about after the game. “I think it was great, kind of a hard game and we just came out with the win.

“Defensively we did great, offensively, well -- we had a couple of fumbles.”

The Lancers did have several fumbles but only one was recovered by East Longmeadow. It’s safe to say that the Lancers will be alright if Austin keeps picking up the mistakes like he did on Thanksgiving.

Flashback #2: Longmeadow had not lost a home game since 2004, and to lose to East Longmeadow would compound the pain. The Lancers had gone up 21-19 over the Spartans on Thanksgiving but were crossing their fingers on a 45-yard field goal that could win the game for EL.

EL’s Ray Holloway was well short on the field goal (which was pushed back after an intentional grounding call on the previous play) and took the brunt of the blame for the loss after time expired.

2010 implications: Holloway had a chance at redemption. After his team cut up the Longmeadow defense in the fourth quarter. EL was looking to take the lead 10-7 with 18 seconds left. Instead of going for the end zone though, coach Scott Raymond wanted to play it safer with a field goal attempt. He called a timeout, and the team ran a belly to the left to center the ball between the hashes.

Raymond then called another timeout and after a Longmeadow timeout, Holloway stepped up to the plate again. It is hard to imagine that in a rivalry so close and intense, a circumstance would present itself in such similar circumstances two years in a row.

The crowd hushed as Holloway’s kick was pushed well right and short of the goal posts, and Longmeadow survived an epic defensive collapse. The Lancers then seized momentum stopping EL first in overtime and then scoring afterwards.

After the game, it was a tough scene as Holloway and his co-captains let their emotions show on the field. When the fans cleared from East Longmeadow High School, almost 10 minutes had gone by and Holloway was still going over the kick in his mind standing in the same spot.

“You hate to lose the way we lost at the end here, but what are you going to do?” Raymond said after the game.

“I hate to see them hurt. I hate to see them hurt as bad as they are right now,” “Especially a kid like Ray…its an awful lot to put that pressure on a kid two years in a row.”

No one can blame Raymond for the call. No one can blame Holloway for the kick.

Holloway played his heart out on Thanksgiving even if the numbers didn’t show it. He was an integral part of a defense that shut down the number one offense in Western Mass, and a top-15 offense in the state.

Holloway is a stud running back, emotional leader, and certainly in contention for the Daegenais, Bertelli and ESPNBoston.com WMass Player of the Year Award.

COACHING DUEL

Longmeadow coach Alex Rotsko and East Longmeadow coach Scott Raymond both run the Wing-T offense. Both coaches are sticklers for leverage, positioning, timing and execution, and around Western Mass, anyone can tell you that neither call “sexy” plays.

However their bland running styles took a turn on Thanksgiving and both debuted some new additions. In fact, both even showed off an inside shovel pass -- which is uncharacteristic of the Wing-T disciples. East Longmeadow actually brought out a Wildcat set, early in the second half, and used an empty backfield to spread the field on their fourth quarter drive.

“We were trying some different things, but its just that they played so tough,” Raymond said. “…it was pretty good football.”

“I don’t think you could ask for two more evenly matched teams at this point,” Raymond said. “Both teams are the best in Western Mass and they’re so competitive -- you can’t deny that it’s been exciting.”

“Our defense played really well -- except for the last series of the game,” Longmeadow senior Jeff Anderson said. “Our teams run identical offense so we know the insides and outs of them. So we knew basically it was going to come down to who was going to make plays.”

“We couldn’t establish anything with the inside run game or the outside run game,” Rotsko said. “They were just pressing the line of scrimmage.”

Both coaches will have to rally their teams back into shape quickly. The first playoff game is set for Tuesday and both teams are hoping for super bowls this year. After the game Rotsko’s team was very somber during the post game speech listening to the coach intently.

However when asked about the speech Rotsko paused, and then answered: “I actually don’t remember what I said,” Rotsko said with a laugh.

Coaches, players and families were caught up in the emotion across the state on Thanksgiving Day 2010, and it was surely one for the ages.

Super Silva clinches playoffs for Dracut

November, 25, 2010
11/25/10
4:38
PM ET
METHUEN, Mass. -- No one contributed more to Dracut’s 19-12 triumph over Methuen on Thanksgiving Day than senior quarterback Matt Silva.

Silva threw two touchdown passes, ran for another, made an extra-point attempt and delivered a 71-yard punt late in the fourth quarter, when the Middies were protecting a seven-point lead.

The victory improved Dracut’s record to 8-3 and earned the Middies a Division 2 playoff berth. Dracut will face Reading, champion of the Middlesex League, on Tuesday night. Reading earned a Super Bowl berth by beating Dracut 20-6 in the playoffs last season.

“This feels great,” Silva said “Everyone was doubting us, saying we didn’t have a lot coming back and that Methuen was at the top of the league this year. We showed we have the players and the coaches. We’re going back to the playoffs.”

It was a 12-12 game until Silva scored on a 2-yard run with 8:22 to play. The TD was set up by a 47-yard pass from Silva to Keith Hamel down the left sideline and came two plays after Dracut’s Greg Brody intercepted a Cal Carroll pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

Dracut trailed 12-6 at halftime, but tied the game on a broken play on its first second-half possession. Silva picked up a bad snap and was nearly sacked before he tossed the ball to Chris Malonis near the right sideline. Malonis outran the Methuen defense for a 57-yard TD.

“We didn’t really expect it to go like that,” Malonis said. “I was supposed to get the ball a lot earlier. It worked out, so it’s all good.”

Malonis, who also caught a 60-yard TD pass in the first quarter, has 20 touchdown receptions this season.

Methuen, which was seeking its first Merrimack Valley Conference championship since 1992, completed its season with a 9-2 record.

“Obviously the kid Silva made some plays,” Methuen coach Pat Graham said. “We didn’t move the ball great offensively today and we ended up with three turnovers – that hurt us. Give them some credit too. They do some pretty good things on defense.

“I thought we should have made a lot of plays earlier that we didn’t. We didn’t play well on special teams today and we had a couple breakdowns (defensively) that shouldn’t have happened.”

“It’s a special group of kids and I feel bad for them that they didn’t get this win today. They had extremely good character, they played hard and they had a great season. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t get it done today and go to the playoffs.”

Methuen made it a 6-6 game when Ryan Savastano scored on a 47-yard run with 6:01 left in the second quarter.

The Rangers took a 12-6 lead when Carroll completed a 58-yard TD pass to Eric Lacroix with 1:12 left in the half. It was his 19th touchdown pass of the season.

“I felt OK at halftime,” Dracut coach Jason Houston said. “We just had to start playing Dracut football.”

Silva completed nine of 16 passes for 216 yards in the victory, which earned Dracut its third straight Merrimack Valley Conference title. He has thrown 24 touchdown passes and run for 12 more scores this season.

“He’s a playmaker, and he made some plays today,” Houston said. “Haven’t had a chance to see a lot of Reading this year, but we’re looking forward to it.”

DRACUT 19, NO. 6 METHUEN 12

DRA 6 0 6 7 --- 19
MET 0 12 0 0 --- 12

1st quarter
D – Chris Malonis 60 pass from Matt Silva (kick blocked)

2nd quarter
M – Ryan Savastano 47 run (kick failed)
M – Eric Lacroix 58 pass from Cal Carroll (kick failed)

3rd quarter
D – Malonis 57 pass from Silva (kick blocked)

4th quarter
D – Silva 2 run (Silva kick)

Carroll leads No. 7 Methuen to 8th straight 'W'

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
1:21
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Against Central Catholic, Cal Carroll found yet another way to impact a game. And this time, Methuen’s dual-threat quarterback wasn’t even on the field.

With eight and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Central Catholic scored on a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matt McDermott and trailed, 17-16. Conventional wisdom would have told Raiders coach Chuck Adamopoulos to tie the game with an extra point. But across the field, on the opposing sideline, Carroll loomed.

"I wanted to go for two because I thought our best chance to win the game was to win in regulation," Adamopoulos said. "I didn’t want to have to defend Carroll in overtime."

The Raiders’ two-point try failed and left them trying to catch up for the remainder of a wild fourth quarter that ended with Methuen taking its eighth straight win, 24-22.

"It’s awesome," said Carroll. "Methuen hasn’t been 8-0 in the [Merrimack Valley Conference] in a long time…To be on top feels great."

After Central Catholic’s failed conversion, Carroll made the Raiders’ comeback climb even tougher. He capped a 67-yard drive by hitting Bobby Cole on a 35-yard touchdown pass to make the score 24-16.

Down eight, Central Catholic had one last scoring drive left in them. The second half of the Raiders’ two-headed quarterback attack, Ben Onett (5-11, 65 yards), found Xavier Peralta (4 rec., 86 yards) in the end zone for a 23-yard score with 1:55 left.

Facing a two-point deficit, Adamopoulos was forced to go for two points again. The second try was similarly unsuccessful as the snap sailed over the head of running back Santino Brancato, forcing Brancato (10 carries, 45 yards) to fall on the ball for a loss.

Cole recovered the ensuing Central Catholic onside kick attempt to seal the Methuen victory.

It was a dramatic end to a firework-filled fourth quarter dominated by Carroll. He finished the game with a touchdown and 123 yards rushing on 28 carries, and 6-15 passing for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Both his touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter, and came with the Rangers’ leading receiver, Raudy Minaya, out of the game. Minaya left with a right knee injury suffered on a punt return late in the second quarter. He did not return.

Before Carroll’s touchdown pass to Cole, he started the fourth quarter by rolling out to his right to find Corey Shepherd for a 42-yard score. Shepherd was one of four Rangers receivers to catch a pass.

"Down the stretch everyone’s taking away our run," said Methuen coach Patrick Graham, who also watched his running back Ryan Savastano rush for 123 yards on 16 carries. "So we’re going to have to throw and [Carroll] has done a good job."

Methuen went into the half with a 10-0 lead after a Carroll one-yard touchdown plunge and an Eric Lacroix 29-yard field goal, but Central Catholic got those points back in the third quarter thanks to Cam Walsh.

Walsh kicked a 30-yard field goal to bring the Raiders within a touchdown of Methuen. Just over three minutes later, on Central Catholic’s next drive, Walsh (4 carries, 87 yards) took a handoff, burst through the line of scrimmage and sprinted 78 yards for the game-tying score.

Methuen answered with Shepherd’s touchdown catch and Central Catholic was left to catch up from there after McDermott (5-10, 58 yards passing) scored from two yards out and the following two-point try failed.

"It’s big," said Graham of the win. "There’s a lot of Methuen kids [on Central Catholic]. They grew up with those kids. They grew up playing with them in Pop Warner and other sports. When you lose to someone you don’t know, it doesn’t hurt as bad as when you lose to someone you do know."

Other notes:

- Methuen called up sophomore junior varsity center Dicky Aziz to play in place of starter Matt Whittaker, who missed the game with an injury. He fit into the Rangers zone blocking scheme just fine, helping to pave the way for 268 yards rushing. He also was on point with his shotgun snaps, as the Rangers’ offense almost exclusively uses the shotgun.

“[Aziz] did an excellent job,” said Carroll. “His snaps were all on target, and most of all he did a great job double teaming with our guards. That’s great to see we can trust him.”

- Methuen was unsure if Minaya would miss future games because of his injury. He was on crutches on the sidelines for the entire second half.

- This was Methuen’s third straight win over Central Catholic.

- Central Catholic continued to platoon quarterbacks as McDermott and Onett took the snaps on every other series.

- The national anthem was performed by six-year-old Olivia DiFiore, daughter of Raiders assistant coach Ernie DiFiore.


METHUEN 24, CENTRAL CATHOLIC 22

MET (8-1) 0 10 0 14 --- 24
CEN (6-3) 0 0 10 12 –-- 22

Second quarter
M – Lacroix 29 kick
M – Carroll 1 run (Lacroix kick)

Third quarter
C – Walsh 30 kick
C – Walsh 78 run (Walsh kick)

Fourth quarter
M – Carroll 42 pass to Shepard (Lacroix kick)
C – McDermott 2 run (run failed)
M – Carroll 35 pass to Cole (Lacroix kick)
C – Onett 23 pass to Peralta (run failed)

Statement night for Carroll, Savastano

October, 9, 2010
10/09/10
12:21
AM ET



METHUEN, Mass. -- Cal Carroll checked in with Dr. David St. Pierre at his Danvers office last Monday and got the OK to lead his No. 11 Methuen Rangers tonight at home against No. 10 Chelmsford. It was a hairline fracture to his left thumb (non-throwing), suffered in Saturday's win over Lowell, but if he treaded carefully with his heavily-wrapped cast, he'd be healed in three weeks.

Thumbs up or down, though, St. Pierre could probably guess what the reaction would have been.

"God, you'd have to chain him inside his house to keep him from playing," running back Ryan Savastano said of Carroll. "He plays hurt, he plays whenever he can...he loves this sport. Nothing can keep him away from it."

Yet not even Chelmsford's stalwart defense, led by a trio of fierce linebackers and allowing just seven points a game, could keep these guys chained down -- least not tonight. The gameplan didn't deviate an inch in spite of the injury, the Rangers line plowed away, and Carroll kept it steady all night -- inside zone left, inside zone right, keeper here or there -- as they took down the Lions, 31-21, before a capacity crowd at Nicholson Stadium.

"They caught on, I thought they were going to shut us down fast," said Savastano (32 carries, 221 yards, TD) of the game plan. "But we still put it to them. We drove it right up the hole."

The diminutive Savastano ended up shouldering the bulk of the load, repeatedly taking zone read handoffs from Carroll and darting between and around his linemen as they repeatedly drove Chelmsford linemen off the ball -- sometimes straght into their linebackers -- with a surgical zone-blocking scheme. But Methuen head coach Pat Graham insists that wasn't by design.

"I think if the reads were there, he (Carroll) would have kept it," Graham said. "He wanted to run the ball. He's not that type of kid. At the end of the game, we told him to hold the ball, to hand the ball off, and he didn't want to do that. He's not that type of guy, if the read's there, he's not a selfish kid but he wants the ball in his hand."

Carroll admitted there was little pain tonight, despite the repeated dives through the middle of the line and ensuing pile-ups.

"Throwing passes, I kinda have to fiddle with the ball a little more, try to find the right grip with this thing (cast) on," said Carroll, who had a seven-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target Raudy Minaya in the third quarter. "Running up the middle, I actually had to use this (right) hand to cover it up, usually I like to use my left to stiff-arm."

He then added, laughing, "I didn't fumble tonight, so that's a plus."

After a scoreless first quarter that saw Chelmsford feature back Joe Gennaro leave the game following a collision with Methuen linebacker Mike Harper (he returned in the second half), the Rangers (4-1, 3-0 MVC) took the initial lead when Carroll plunged in from three yards out and Eric LaCroix split the uprights on the point after. Savastano shouldered most of the load on the drive, carrying four times for 24 yards, and that became a reoccurring theme throughout the night.

Methuen's next scoring drive was more of the same, with Savastano eating up most of the yards of shifty scampers up the middle and Carroll scoring from a yard out on fourth and goal on the second half's opening drive. But the Lions responded immediately with an 85-yard pass from A.J. Rotella (14 of 24, 269 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) to Colby Emanouil. A muffed kickoff return gave Chelmsford (4-1, 2-1) a starting drive at their own 11, but on the second play Rotella found Emanouil with an underthrown deep ball in double coverage. But Emanouil, facing his quarterback, faked with his shoulder to his left and burst to his right, going unscathed the final 60 yards to paydirt.

In the final minutes of the third, the Methuen defense came alive. First, LaCroix came up with his second pick of the night on Rotella, setting up Carroll's seven-yard touchdown pass to Minaya. On Chelmsford's next possession, junior linebacker Kevin Nickerson ripped the ball out of Gennaro's hands as the senior pushed the pile for extra yardage, setting up a 22-yard LaCroix field goal. Savastano then made it 31-14 with a 12-yard scamper into the end zone, preceded by a 30-yard strike from Carroll to Kevin Higgins.

"We knew we wanted to be physical with them," said LaCroix, who also picked off Rotella to end the first half. "People have said the secondary was our weakness, and we've been using that as momentum all year. I'm glad the secondary stepped up tonight. Hopefully they start realizing we're not a weakness, that we're a strength."

METHUEN 31, CHELMSFORD 21

CHE 0 6 8 7 --- 21
MET 0 7 14 10 --- 31

Second Quarter
M - Cal Carroll 3 run (Eric LaCroix kick) 6:46
C - Anthony Andre 18 pass from AJ Rotella (kick blocked) 4:12

Third Quarter
M - Carroll 1 run (LaCroix kick) 8:25
C - Colby Emanouil 85 pass from Rotella (Pat McLaughlin pass from Rotella) 7:12
M - Raudy Minaya 7 pass from Carroll (LaCroix kick) 3:28

Fourth Quarter
M - LaCroix 22 field goal 7:41
M - Savastano 12 run (LaCroix kick) 5:29
C - Eddie Sheridan 90 kickoff return (Charlie Calenda kick) 5:13

What We Learned: Week 3

September, 27, 2010
9/27/10
12:06
PM ET


Now that the dust has settled on Week 3 of the Massachusetts football schedule, here’s what we learned from this weekend’s action:

OK, so we were slightly wrong about Xaverian...
Turns out our friends at the Boston newspapers had it right and we had this No. 1-2 thing in the wrong order. Xaverian, on the heels of a 23-20 double overtime instant classic over Brockton, is our new No. 1.

But differences aside, we've all agreed that, man oh man, last Saturday's showdown at the Hawk Bowl was one of the best in the history of the series. And these two teams almost always seem to fight to a seven-point win or four-point defensive stalemate.

The Boxers have plenty of hype this season, and rightly so with the likes of Miami-bound Albert Louis-Jean joined by fellow seniors Ralph Cherry, Paul Mroz, William Carruthers, Trevon Offley and Jacques Janvier. But the Hawks showed plenty of toughness in the win. Junior quarterback Chris Calvanese fought through cramps to orchestrate the comeback win, delivering the game-tying pass to Mike Muir -- who, a few plays prior, separated his shoulder and popped it back in.

Hey, who said Xaverian kids aren't tough?

...But when healthy, Brockton's Trevon Offley is a bull to take down
Mahar's Isaiah Jones put it ever so simply last week in our Q&A: "My coach always says squatting is going to do everything for you."

It's clear after last weekend that the 5-foot-6 Offley abides by a similar mantra. And, as All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew demonstrates every Sunday, leg power with a low center of gravity is a vicious combination.

From the second quarter on, Offley was just a chore to take down. Just when the Hawks had him for a 5-yard loss, he'd rip through an arm tackle, sidestep and shimmy his way back out to the line of scrimmage and then some. Other times, he'd keep his legs churning and drag the pile for an extra two or three yards. Offley, who carried the rock 19 times for 117 yards and all three of Brockton's scores in the loss, had been out with a shoulder injury since the first half of the Boxers' 16-6 season-opening win over Boston College High. But when he's healthy, he's as reliable as they come.

Methuen's offensive line kicks out and kicks off?
Methuen quarterback Cal Carroll emerged as one of the region's toughest playmakers with the Rangers' 36-26 stunner of No. 9 Billerica, but just as impressive was his offensive line. Since losing to Plymouth North, 13-7, in Week One, the guys in the trenches have been blowing teams off the ball. A week and a half ago, they took it to Malden's massive defensive line in the second half en route to a 42-12 win. Last Friday, the guys paved the way to over 200 yards on the ground against the Indians.

Led by seniors Steve DiZazzo and Dan Cormier on the left side, the Rangers' line might not always be the biggest, but they proved that when on the same page, they can bang heads with anybody on a given night.

"Our o-line, they're tough, man," senior wide receiver Raudy Minaya said. "They hit hard, they hit every single play, and we get extra yards. That last (Carroll carry), we got the first down with ease and Cal got the touchdown, that's because of our o-line. We never give up. Up seven, doesn't matter, we need to get up the field and get the first down, and we ended up getting a touchdown with it."

Said head coach Pat Graham, "Offensive line-wise, it was essential to control the clock and to be able to run the ball, and I think our kids did a good job with that."

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Cormier, by the way, has an impressive right leg. After Eric LaCroix kicks the extra point, the Rangers line up in a standard five-and-five kickoff formation, and some may be surprised to see Cormier raising his hand to the officials. But Cormier's got quite the boot, as he routinely blasted it to around the Billerica 5-yard line Friday night, with plenty of hang time.

Gloucester is really that good...so far, at least
Andover, coming off a 38-13 drubbing by the Fishermen, hung 39 points on MVC Small dark horse Tewksbury last Friday, which makes one wonder: just how good is Gloucester?

The Fish's defense, led by linebacker Chris Unis, was touted as a wagon before the team even started up their famous annual summer beach training regimen. The first unit hasn't allowed more than a score from opponents. Meanwhile, the Gilbert Brown-led offense has been explosive, averaging 38.3 points per game.

The rest of the Northeastern Conference, however, hasn't been sitting idly. Revere, led by bulldozing tailback Trae Weathers, is 3-0 for the first time in a while. Cross-town rivals Lynn Classical and Lynn English have also proven adequate to start the season, too.

We'll find out next month how capable the rest of the NEC Large contenders are of unseating the defending Division 1A Super Bowl champs, but for now we'll enjoy the ride.

Key EAC matchups could have bearing on December
Yeah, it’s a little premature, but we can’t help but wonder how a couple of this weekend’s Eastern Athletic Conference games might impact the long-term playoff picture in Division III.

There was a battle of unbeatens on Slocum Road in Dartmouth with Somerset traveling to meet Bishop Stang. The Blue Raiders rolled to a convincing 43-13 win over Stang, riding running backs Jaron Spear and Seth DeMello, who combined for five rushing touchdowns.

Meanwhile, heading north along Rte. 140, Martha’s Vineyard took care of business against Coyle-Cassidy. The Vineyarders escaped with a 41-32 win over the Warriors thanks to quarterback Randall Jette’s 192 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

While it appears that Somerset and the Vineyard control their own destinies in the EAC, we’ll see if Bishop Feehan has anything to say in the situation. It’s hard to figure what the Shamrocks have after losses to Attleboro, No. 18 North Attleborough and Abington — three quality teams. Feehan has two more games out conference, including next week’s out-of-state matchup with Barrington (R.I.), before hosting C-C.

“This is a tough division,” Somerset head coach Nick Freitas said Saturday after his team’s win.

He continued, “Hopefully, we just remain healthy. I think that will be the key.”

Blue Raiders quarterback Alex Ledoux left the game to an injury during the second quarter of Saturday’s game. At the time, Freitas didn’t have information on the severity of Ledoux’s injury.

What was clear was the Blue Raiders’ statement made on the field.

Playing with heavy hearts
Friday night’s Hockomock game between Attleboro and Franklin almost was for not.

Attleboro’s school community woke Friday morning to the news that senior Myles Brastow had died in a motorcycle accident. Hours before the game administrators and coached from the representative schools huddled to discuss whether it was appropriate to hold the game in light of Brastow’s death.

“We talked to the administrators and the coaches to see what they wanted to do with the game,” Franklin athletic director and head football coach Brad Sidwell said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “We certainly understood if they wanted to reschedule the game. But they felt that they wanted to try have a sense of normalcy and have the game like any other Friday night.”

The Blue Bombardiers paid homage to their fallen classmate with a dramatic 20-13 win over the Panthers. Attleboro was led by quarterback Nate Robitaille, who was cleared for the game after suffering a concussion during the previous game against King Philip, and running back J.J. Jolaoso. Robitaille march the Blue Bombardiers down the field on the game-winning drive inside the two-minute warning and Jolaoso punched in the winning score on a 7-yard touchdown run.

"It's a tribute to the kids," Attleboro head coach Kevin Deschenes told Mark Farinella of The Sun Chronicle after the game. "They had a rough day today, and for these young adults to bounce back after a very traumatic day, losing a friend, I thought they responded very well."

The Franklin football community was also dealing with the loss of one of its own. Longtime Panthers head coach Gerry Leone Sr. passed away last week

“He was a legendary part of Franklin football,” Sidwell said. “I know there are even some parents of current players who played for him and I know the lessons taught to them by coach Leone in high school are things that have stayed with them throughout their lives. That’s the kind of man he was.”

HEAD OF THE CLASS
VALVOLINE PEAK PERFORMER OF THE WEEK: ANTHONY KNIGHT, SR. RB, LAWRENCE ACADEMY
The North Carolina State-bound Knight kicked off the much-hyped Spartans’ ISL title defense in grand fashion, carrying the ball 14 times for 308 yards and two scores in a 36-14 defeat of Milton Academy. We’ve seen 300-yard games before from schoolboy athletes, but on just 14 carries? That averages out to 22 yards a carry, or essentially a first down every time he touched the ball, so in that regard we’ve got to add a shout-out to his offensive line.

THE CLASSMATES
Blaise Branch, Sr. RB, Cardinal Spellman – The 6-foot, 200-pound Branch had three scores on the ground and totaled 201 rushing yards on the day, ironically to give his head coach Ron St. George his 201st win, as the Cardinals rolled to a 35-8 win over Carver.

Andrew Coke, Jr. RB, Andover – Coke accounted for all six of the Warriors’ touchdowns in a 39-32 win over Tewksbury to open MVC play. He rushed 30 times for 214 yards and a school record five touchdowns; was 2 of 2 passing for 28 yards, including a 12-yard scoring strike to Brian Miller; and added 65 return yards for 311 all-purpose yards.

Dylan Colarusso, Sr. RB, Weymouth – He carved quite a name for himself following his performance in Friday’s 41-14 win over Milton, carrying 25 times for 262 yards and three scores.

Dave Dubin, Jr. DE, Holliston – For all of the talk of the Panthers’ offensive weapons, it was Dubin’s work on defense that stood out in the 48-24 win over Millis/Hopedale. He had 11 tackles, including five sacks, and contributed to holding the Mohawks to minus-27 yards of offense in the first half.

Randall Jette, Sr. QB, Martha's Vineyard - Jette captained the Vineyarders' Navy-style option offense with 17 carries for 192 yards and five touchdowns in their 41-32 win over Coyle-Cassidy.

Ben Patrick, Sr. RB, Rivers – The Roxbury resident, who ran for over 900 yards in six games last season, continued his good ways with an impressive ISL debut. He carried 20 times for 269 yards and two scores, and also came up with two interceptions, as the Red Wings downed St. Paul’s, 40-18.

Ben Shelton, Sr. QB, Wayland – The Warriors turned a lot of heads with its stunning 36-7 win over highly-ranked Westford, and Shelton was the catalyst. He was 12 of 17 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and carried the ball 11 times for 97 yards.

Jaron Spear, Sr. RB, Somerset - The Blue Raiders asserted their will on the ground in a 43-13 victory over Bishop Stang and Spear headed the charge with 21 carries for 215 yards and four touchdowns.

Carroll, o-line comes full-circle in upset

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
1:34
AM ET
BILLERICA, Mass. -- Cal Carroll was just looking to move the chains, bring up a new set of downs, and run out the last 40 seconds on this clock to let the celebration begin. With third down and a few yards to go, his team up 29-26, the Methuen quarterback took a direct snap, churned up the right side and -- perhaps in a sign of how much his hogs in front had worn down the Billerica defense in the second half -- sprung loose for a 55-yard touchdown, the last 45 or so unscathed.

And so, on a night already on its way to being a pleasant surprise, the Rangers got some unexpected insurance in the first of what ought to be a handful of "hype games" in the Merrimack Valley Conference. Down 26-20 with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, No. 17 the Rangers rallied with 14 unanswered points to take down the No. 9 Indians, 36-26, for the program's first win over Billerica since 2000.

"I just can't believe it. This is the best win in program history," said Carroll, who racked up 290 yards of offense and four touchdowns in leading the Rangers to victory. "We haven't beaten Billerica in 10 years. This is just a great win for us...We wanted it so bad all week, we were hungry for it. You could tell. I think we proved it on both sides of the ball."

For wideout Raudy Minaya, whose basketball skills have translated well in the open field on the gridiron these last two seasons, tonight's win justifies that decision four years ago to come out for the freshman football team and put on a pair of shoulder pads for the first time in his life.

"It's amazing, it's amazing. Coming into high school, I didn't think I was going to play football," said an ecstatic Minaya, who had four catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. "I tried it out, and now look where I am. It's just the greatest feeling in the world right now."

Carroll and Minaya, best friends off the court and running mates on the hardwood, had their MVC coming-out party before a packed crowd at Marshall Middle School. But the Rangers won this game by buckling down in the trenches, moving the ball steadily with a series of zone-read options behind the guards and tackles. Led by seniors Steve DiZazzo and Dan Cormier on the left side, the Rangers paved their way to well over 200 yards on the ground with Carroll's 113 and another 98 from Ryan Savastano.

"Our line just got after it every play," Carroll said. "They never took a play off. Our tempo was really fast again (no-huddle), like it was last week. We really wore down there defense, and again that's because of our offensive line just taking it to them every play and not giving up."

All-everything quarterback Nick LaSpada (21 carries, 94 yards, TD; 19 of 34 passing, 240 yards, 3 TD) gave the Indians (2-1) a 26-20 lead with a 56-yard strike to Matt Clifford with 4:58 to go in the game (the point-after pass failed). Methuen (2-1) responded with a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive that took just over three minutes to complete. Minaya put the gears in motion by hauling in a 20-yard pass from Carroll in single-coverage on the third play, and the Rangers finished it off with a steady dose of Savastano draws and Carroll keepers. Carroll punched it in from three yards out on first and goal to give the Rangers a 29-26 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Clifford fielded a booming Cormier boot at his own five and brought it all the way down to the Ranger 37, bursting up a seam at the left hashmark before being dragged down near the left sideline. But the Indians stalled immediately.

Methuen head coach Pat Graham called for seven defenders to drop into coverage against LaSpada's precision arm, but the one rusher from the back seven -- linebacker Mike Harper -- caused a whole lot of havoc. Three times he exploded up the A-gap, and three times he created turmoil around LaSpada, first dropping him for a six-yard loss; then hurrying him into a throw out of bounds; and finally hurrying him to scramble up the middle on fourth down, where he was met forcefully by Jeff Sadezwicz and Gio Rivera and turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to go.

"I didn't want to lose. We had a bad kick return (coverage), and I knew I had to make up for it," said Harper, who earlier in the second half blocked an extra point kick and returned it for two points. "(This win) definitely puts us on the map, but we're not done. We're not done at all. We've got alot of work to do."

A few more observations:

-- Minaya's two scores came on the long ball. His first, a 51-yarder in the second quarter, came off a slant from wide left coming over the deep middle, where he easily shed an arm tackle and marched unscathed to paydirt. His second came in similar fashion, beating his man off the blocks off a go route.

It seemed like whenever the Indians left Minaya in single-coverage with no help over the top, the Rangers were going to make them pay for it.

"Me and Cal have that connection, and we just know when...our coaches have the perfect play calls," said Minaya, who now has five touchdown receptions on the season. "They're just perfect plays at the right time, you know? And that's what opens me up. I just run routes."

-- Graham put together a pretty diverse gameplan for stopping LaSpada, the defending Gatorade Player of the Year and an ESPNU 150 recruit for the Class of 2012. The Rangers came out in a 3-3-5 stack look defensively all night, and threw in a few stunts. Graham's assessment?

"We had all kinds of plans to stop him, and we used them all, and I don't think any of them really stopped him," Graham said. "But I think we threw him different looks, and we did alot of different things to him, sometimes we contained him and sometimes we didn't. He's obviously a very special player."

No. 17 Methuen 36, No. 9 Billerica 26

MHS 6 7 9 14 --- 36
BHS 7 7 6 6 --- 26

B - Matt Clifford 18 pass from Nick LaSpada (Steve Trask kick)
M - Ryan Savastano 5 run (kick failed)
M - Raudy Minaya 51 pass from Cal Carroll (Eric LaCroix kick)
B - Ryan Donohoe 8 pass from LaSpada (Trask kick)
B - LaSpada 9 run (Mike Harper blocked kick return)
M - Minaya 61 pass from Carroll (LaCroix kick)
B - Clifford 56 pass from LaSpada (pass failed)
M - Carroll 3 run (LaCroix kick)
M - Carroll 55 run (LaCroix kick)

No. 11 Methuen no longer an underdog

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
1:26
AM ET
METHUEN, Mass. -- Here in this blue-collar city, nestled on the New Hampshire border, lies a certain reputation -- an identity, if you will -- that has come to be embraced.

Some call it toughness, others a chip on the shoulder. At Methuen High, it's a pathos of never initiating, but never relenting.

"It's like our swag, you know. It's kind of a Methuen thing," said Rangers quarterback Cal Carroll. "Kids around school have it, too, not just the football players...I wouldn't say 'cocky', but we never back down. That's a good way to put it."

Says head coach Pat Graham, "We've been known as a tough, scrappy group, which I think is a pretty good description of us. We're usually alot smaller than other teams, but we tend to just play really hard. I think last year, what happened is we won alot of games we weren't expected to win, and this year people have given us more credit."

In a relatively short time, Graham turned the Rangers from the Merrimack Valley Conference's welcome mat (33 straight losses before his hiring in 2007) to a lunch-pail gang capable of pulling the upset on anyone (see: Dracut, Thanksgiving 2008; Andover, Central Catholic, 2009). So try as they might, after quietly going 15-7 over the last two seasons, the Rangers are no longer perceived as the little engine that could.

Spearheading that change of winds is Carroll. The Rangers favor a zone-read look on offense, and without a consistent running game in 2009, the 6-foot, 180-pound signal-caller took matters into his own hands, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in rushing and passing and totaling 26 touchdowns (15 rushing). Lacking the speed of an outside runner and the size to handle continuous punishment up the middle, Carroll merely bulls his neck and plows ahead without regard for his safety -- "I'm here to play, not here to worry about bumps and bruises," he said.

"I'm always trying to crawl for the extra yards," he continued. "Even if it's just a spin move or that extra half-yard, I'll get that. No matter what it takes, I'll get that."

So perhaps it makes sense that Carroll dons the No. 16 in honor of a former Ranger player, wideout Dave Koerner -- "6-3, jumped through the roof," Carroll recalled of Koerner, who currently plays at Coastal Carolina. Carroll fondly recalls Koerner breaking his ankle midway through the 2007 season, and arriving Thanksgiving morning in full gear, taping his ankle "max, as if he was going to try to walk out there and play". He didn't, but two captains carried him out to midfield for the coin toss.

Graham, whose coaching career has taken him extensively through the college ranks before Methuen, doesn't hesitate to call Carroll one of the most competitive players he's ever coached.

"It's just one of those things, I know people like to make the joke, but he's the type of kid that would dive on the ground scraping, no matter what you were playing," Graham said. "His wanting to win, his overachieving, you can just see it. He just practices really hard every day, diving to get that extra inch in practice. Just a very serious kid who's driven and wants to win."

Helping relieve the load this year is senior Raudy Minaya, a close friend and basketball teammate of Carroll's. The two go back quite a ways, and their chemistry pays off on their timed routes. Able to jab-step and turn his hips on a corner route just as well as he can break a tackle, the Rangers will be putting the ball in Minaya's hands in a variety of ways after seeing him get pressed in double-coverage late last season.

With these newfound declarations of respect, of course, come the voices of reason hammering down egos with the stick of humility. But sometimes, you can't help but let that swagger leak through a little bit. Asked about their preseason together so far, Carroll grins about the touchdowns he's connected with his buddy in three scrimmages.

"Five times, right?" Carroll asked Minaya, with a bump of the fists.

It's a Methuen thing.

METHUEN AT A GLANCE
2009:
8-3 (6-3 MVC)
Coach: Pat Graham (fourth year, 17-16)
Players to watch: Cal Carroll, Sr., QB/S, 6-0, 170 lbs (1,058 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns; 1,035 passing yards, 11 touchdowns); Raudy Minaya, Sr., WR/DB, 6-2, 195 lbs; Mike Harper, Sr., LB/RB, 5-10, 200 lbs; Jason Doyle, Sr., OL/DE, 6-0, 195 lbs; Ryan Savastano, Jr., RB/DB, 5-9, 170 lbs; Tyler Bolduc, Sr., OT/DE, 6-1, 190 lbs; Sean Whittaker, Sr., OT/DL, 6-1, 265 lbs; Matt Whittaker, Jr., OG/DL, 6-0, 215 lbs; Dan Cormier, Sr., OL/DL, 6-4, 300 lbs; Steve Dizazzo, Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 250 lbs; Kevin Higgins, Sr., WR/DB, 6-2, 165 lbs; Jimmy Staples, Sr., TE/DB, 6-2, 200 lbs; Jeff McAndrew, Sr., WR/DB, 5-11, 175 lbs; Eric LaCroix, Jr., DB, 6-2, 170 lbs; Matt Delmonte, Sr., LB/RB, 5-9, 200 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive experience, offensive line.
Weaknesses: Inexperience on defense, secondary.
Outlook: The Rangers will be looking for more balance in their offensive gameplan after leaving Carroll to shoulder most of the load as a dual-threat quarterback. Savastano has emerged as the front-runner at running back, but look for Minaya to get involved in a variety of ways, including taking handoffs out of the backfield and -- for the first time -- returning kicks. "He's a special kid as far as making plays and doing big things," Graham said. The experienced offensive line, led by the Whittaker brothers, will be counted upon to open up running lanes again, and match up favorably at the point of attack. Defensively, it will be tough to replace last year's MVC Small Co-Defensive Player of the Year, John McCarthy, and the Rangers may experiment with a three-man front at times. But they will remain a blitz-oriented squad, perhaps even up to 50 percent of the time.

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