We're hours away from kickoff to Tuesday's MIAA football semi-final playoff games across the state, so we're previewing the action with five things to keep an eye on during tonight's action.
High Schools editors Scott Barboza and Brendan Hall break it down here:
THE HEAT IS ON
The race is on Tuesday night for the state’s lead in rushing touchdowns. Currently, Holy Name’s Quron Wright trails Plymouth South’s Dylan Oxsen, 34-33, though Wright has more overall touchdowns than the breakout junior tailback. Barring something crazy, nobody figures to catch Wright for the state’s lead in rushing yardage – he’s over 2,000 headed into the Naps’ Division 2 Central playoff game with Nashoba.
Watching the two, it’s a bit of a contrast in styles, and not just because of the offenses they run (Holy Name with the vaunted double-wing; South with a modified pistol). The generously-listed 5-foot-7 Wright is as Lilliputian as they come, but he accelerates into his cuts, builds up to top speed quickly, and evades direct hits with his low center of gravity (watch highlights HERE). Oxsen isn’t as fleet-footed as Wright, but his combination of above-average leg strength and low pad level – coupled with a very downhill-oriented running scheme – make him a bowling ball (watch highlights HERE).
Both teams figure to be underdogs in their matchups. Nashoba rolled to an easy victory over the Naps in their late-September meeting, while South’s EMass Div. 2A opponent, Natick, averages over 420 yards of offense and features one of the state’s most dynamic passing attacks.
All season long, we’ve jokingly called the Merrimack Valley Conference “Death by 1,000 Shallow Crosses”. Based on some of the scores the league produced this year, we think it’s somewhat justified.
Looking at MVC Large champ Andover, you probably figure these guys could run underneath routes in their sleep. But that is to take away from the deceivingly-quality arm strength of quarterback C.J. Scarpa (watch highlights HERE). Seemingly everybody’s favorite sub-6-foot gunslinger at 5-foot-8, he has a quick release and can gun it downfield with the best of them.
As much attention as Andover’s receivers draw in the short passing game – particularly, speedy waterbug Cam Farnham – the Golden Warriors are known to ably execute “pick plays” aimed at releasing Will Heikkinen or Andrew Deloury into open space, or simply take the top off of the defense.
But that is all to say, the Warriors haven’t seen a defense quite like the one they’re facing Tuesday night in Catholic Conference champion St. John’s Prep. The Eagles have playmakers all over the field, and feature one of the state’s best back sevens in linebacker Sean Smerczysnki, cornerback Gerald Kahari, rover Lucas Bavaro and safety Alex Moore.
On the other side of the ball, Moore and junior Jonathan Thomas make up one of the state’s most feared backfield, if not the best. Last week, both Moore and Thomas were named two of the five finalists for our Mr. Football Award.
The Warriors are in for their biggest prize fight of the season here against a Prep defense. We’re all interested to see how this passing attack fares against a ball-hawking defense with a plus-10 turnover differential.
No Division has been quite as unpredictable as Central Mass. Division 1. Shrewsbury upended cross-town rival St. John’s 51-46, then a month later delivered a last-second 33-32 upset of Leominster, en route to finishing 9-2 and with the top overall seed in the power rankings.
Wachusett, meanwhile, took a 46-14 beating in Week 4 at the hands of St. John’s, only to upset Leominster and Shrewsbury in the following weeks. On Oct. 26, however, they took a surprise 21-20 loss to a Westborough squad that finished 1-10.
We know St. John’s can score points with anyone – Andrew Smiley’s record-setting campaign in his first year starting at quarterback is testament. But how do you explain surrendering 51 points to Shrewsbury, 40 to Holy Name and 39 to Milford?
Leominster appears to be just as enigmatic. This is a team that gave Everett and Brockton everything they could handle, and delivered a thrilling last-second victory over St. John’s. But this is also a team that needed a second-half rally to overcome 2-9 Algonquin, and seemingly let many underdog teams hang around.
Quite frankly, I won’t be surprised by anything that transpires in this division.
* * * * *
The are a couple of interesting storylines to watch in the Division 1A semifinals where Everett meets Masconomet and Barnstable tries to pay back Lincoln-Sudbury.
First, while the Crimson Tide will be heavily favored over the Chieftains, one element worth watching will be Everett’s start. The Crimson Tide will be well-rested after not playing a Thanksgiving Day game this year. While the time off certainly will help heal injuries, Everett now hasn’t seen live action in more than two weeks. And, after closing out their regular season schedule with three straight Greater Boston League games, you can argue the Crimson Tide haven’t played a full game since their Oct. 20 win at BC High.
Of course, if the Crimson Tide advance, they could face the lone team to hand them a loss in more than two years – Barnstable. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders will be looking to exorcise a demon of their own in Lincoln-Sudbury, who dealt Barnstable a 14-13 upset loss in last year’s semifinal.
While you would expect neither the Crimson Tide nor Red Raiders to come out flat on Tuesday, but if either is eying a potential rematch on Saturday, the game we’ve been dying to see might not happen at all.
DUXBURY PUTS IT ON THE LINE AGAIN
After Mt. Greylock lost a few weeks back, Duxbury has laid claim to the longest active winning streak in MIAA football. They’ll put a 37-game unbeaten streak on the line when they face Hockomock League Kelley-Rex winner Mansfield at Bridgewater-Raynham. The Dragons would have a 39-game streak and a string of three-straight Super Bowl championships if they complete this year’s run. But while we’re exploring what could be, let’s go back to what almost was.
In last year’s Division 2 semifinal against King Philip, the Dragons potent spread attack was ground to a halt by the Warriors’ swarming defense. Duxbury escaped with a 7-0 win over KP in their run to a second-straight Super Bowl, but in the days following their win over the Warriors, Duxbury head coach Dave Maimaron remarked that it had been the toughest battle his teams had faced during the entirety of the streak.
While Mansfield might not have the pedigree of last year’s KP group the Hornets present their own problems – primarily on offense. The Dragons will not have seen a playmaking duo quite like Mansfield wide outs Brendan Hill and Mike Hershman, and running back Robbie Rapoza is hard to tackle when breaking into the second tier of the defense. The Hornets will certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to upset the Dragons’ third straight Super Bowl bid, but it’s not impossible.