Boston High School: Jake Wood

Bishop Fenwick stuffs the run in shutout

December, 7, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Coming into the Division 5 Super Bowl on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, a lot was made by each team’s ability to run the ball and put points on the board. Bishop Fenwick took that to heart and wanted to show that its defense was as capable as its offense.

Consider the point proven.

The Crusaders used a swarming and attacking front seven to overwhelm the prolific Northbridge ground game. Led by linebackers Nick Bona, David Hurley, James Traversy, and Kevin Hannon, Bishop Fenwick consistently had Rams sophomore quarterback Koby Schofer guessing as to which read he should make.

Bishop Fenwick held Northbridge to negative-10 rushing yards in the first half and it was not until the fourth quarter that the Rams were able to get into positive yards and by then Rufus Rushins and the offense had put up 28 points. Northbirdge finished with 11 rushing yards.

Traversy, one of the Crusaders senior captains, commented after the game that the week of preparation for the Super Bowl had gotten the players ready for what the Rams were going to throw at them.

He said, “All week we ran their three bread and butter plays — the veer, the call, and the draw and we ran and we ran them until we could recognize it on the spot.”

Bona, the 5-foot-6 senior captain that finished with double-digit tackles, added, “Defense wins games, defense wins championships. That’s it. Every week we stop the run. A lot of teams like to run the ball first and when you take that away from them, there’s not much else they can do.”

A number of Crusaders mentioned that there was a lot of pregame talk about the size of the front line that Northbridge possesses (on both sides of the ball) and Bishop Fenwick head coach Dave Woods explained that his team used its speed to counteract any Rams advantage up front.

“Their coaches … he said, ‘You guys have got speed. You have a great team and you’ve got speed.’ And when you have speed in high school football it makes all the difference in the world,” remarked Woods.

Bona agreed, “We have a lot of speed on our team, which a lot of teams don’t have and we take advantage of that. I think it works on offense and defense – swarming to the ball.”

Coming into the game, Schofer had rushed for more than 1,500 yards and Jake Wood had more than 700 for Northbridge. On Saturday, Schofer was held to minus six yards on 13 carries. Wood had 18 yards on four carries. By contrast, Bishop Fenwick rushed for 230 yards as a team.

Traversy admitted that the Crusaders used predictions of a close game or a Northbridge win as motivation to prove just how talented they were this season. In completing the perfect season with the rare Super Bowl shutout, he explained that it took a strong effort by the entire team not just a few key players.

“We have those standout players but at the same time we’re a team and we work together as a team. We work well together,” he said. “We came out here and showed what the Crusaders can do.”

Tale of the Tape: Northbridge vs. Bishop Fenwick

December, 3, 2013
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 5 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at Central champ Northbridge and North champ Bishop Fenwick, respectively.

Division 5 State Championship
at Gillette Stadium, 8 p.m.

When Northbridge has the ball: It was once said that Rams head coach Ken LaChapelle -– he of 300-plus wins and counting, 10 Super Bowl titles and just three losing seasons since he took over in 1976 -– would like to just once coach a game in his career where he calls nothing but pass plays. The Rams’ affinity for the air, and the spread is well-documented -– LaChapelle was among the first coaches in Massachusetts to fully adopt and run-and-shoot scheme, and has found exponential success with it ever since.

The Rams have found plenty of success, however, on the ground with sophomore quarterback Koby Schofer (187 carries, 1,511 yards, 22 TD). When a running lane opens up in the tackle box, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Schofer is unafraid to take off downfield; and with some live hips, he is a bit underrated when it comes to shiftiness. One of the staples of the running game with Schofer has been the inverted veer play. Out of an empty formation, they will often motion either sophomores Jake Wood (140 carries, 717 yards, 10 TD) or Michael Quinn from the slot for a jet sweep look, and from there they read the defensive tackle for the mesh point.

But it wouldn’t be Northbridge football without a nifty passing game. LaChapelle is a sharp, innovative mind, and one of the best ever -– period –- when it comes to dialing up the right play calls. Schofer (131-of-221, 1,300 yards, 11 TD) has thrown some terrific balls in a garden variety of a passing game, which includes an array of slip screens, swing passes, slants, wheels and even double posts -– any of which may come under center or in the shotgun. Look for sophomore leading receiver Chandler Brooks (43 catches, 518 yards, 5 TD) to be active in the air.

When Bishop Fenwick has the ball: In particular, when Rufus Rushins has the ball in his hands, you can almost knowingly expect a run up the middle. With his 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame, Rushins (1,296 yards, 20 TD) is a north-south runner. While looks might be deceiving, with the Crusaders typically lined up in spread formations, they carry the mentality of a power-I team. However, what makes Fenwick’s rushing attack that much more difficult to diagnose is senior quarterback Nick Bona. The undersized signal-caller is an ideal spread option quarterback, who runs the Crusaders' inside zone reads with Rushins to near perfection. Once Bona’s in the clear, he’s an elusive runner as well.

What really makes Fenwick’s ground game click is the right side of its line. Road-grading, 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior and three-year starter Charlie St. Pierre is among the best on the North Shore. Along with sparkplug Tyler Kaufman (5-foot-9, 180 pounds), the Crusaders use the pair interchangeably at the right guard and tackle positions to great success.

But, also, let’s not discount Fenwick’s vertical passing game. Once establishing the run, the Crusaders like to take chances downfield, employing a stable of wide receivers, including senior speedster Charlie Maistrellis.

When Northbridge is on defense: The Rams have seen a lot of different looks this fall, and have usually been pretty consistent in the back end, especially when it comes to the pass. Wood (3 INTs) and junior Robert Fraser (3) have been a solid tandem at the free and strong safety positions, respectively, while senior Jurrell Cromwell (3 INTs) is the team’s top option at cornerback, saddled with taking their top man.

How these guys match up with Fenwick in the trenches, especially with the Crusaders’ bullish Rufus Rushins returning to the backfield, will be one of the key storylines to this game. I feel the Rams can do some damage in this area, with seniors Tom Tabur (6-3, 285) and Connor Gatto (6-1, 290) controlling the interior gaps. Both are relentless, one-gap pluggers who can blow guys back with a bit of momentum. Both have received varying degrees of Division 1 FCS interest, while Gatto has impressive upper-body strength, putting up 34 bench press reps at 185 pounds in last May’s annual Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association combine.

Sometimes Tabur and Gatto will pinch down inside the A-gaps, lined up over opposite shades of the center, seemingly taking the middle of the field by brute force. That seems to serve as a quality compliment to speed rushers Damion McFetridge and Derek Chace off the edges.

When Bishop Fenwick is on defense: The mainstays of Fenwick’s offense also figure prominently in its defensive game schemes. With Rushins at defensive end and Bona at inside linebacker, they bring physicality to the Crusaders’ front seven. They will be the keys to shutting down Schofer in the ground game out of Fenwick’s varying 3- and 4-man fronts.

Kaufman is an intriguing player to watch in this matchup. He’s played anywhere from a 1-technique defensive tackle to a weak side defensive end. But from whichever angle he’s played, Kaufman has a motor that simply has no quit, evidenced by his many tackles in pursuit.

But make no bones about it, Fenwick’s chances for victory will likely rest with its secondary. The group comprised Tommy Parsons, Eric Razney and Maistrallis, among others, is capable of making plays, but doesn’t often see prodigious spread offenses in the rush-heavy Catholic Central portion of the team’s schedule. They will be the difference-makers.

D5 semifinal: Northbridge 29, Hoosac Valley 22

November, 23, 2013
LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- After Hoosac Valley punched in the go-ahead touchdown and ensuing two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter to take a 1-point lead over Northbridge, Hurricane coaches quietly muttered to themselves that perhaps they might have left to much time on the clock for the Rams to orchestrate one final push.

Northbridge got the ball back with just over two minutes to remaining in this afternoon's Division 5 state semifinal held at Doyle Field. Starting from its own 35, the Rams, led by quarterback Koby Schofer, showed a collective calmness as they started a drive that would, one way or the other, dictate the future of their postseason aspirations.

After accumulating just two yards on its first three plays of the series, Northbridge was faced with a fourth-and-8 from his own 37. Schofer, just a sophomore but plays with tremendous poise, completed a 10-yard pass to receiver Chandler Brooks to keep the march alive. A short time later, Schofer hit Brooks again on a 15-yard crossing route to move the chains. The duo would hook up one last time drive — only this time it was Brooks hauling in a 25-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone with 30 seconds remaining to give Northbridge an improbable 29-22 victory.

"I was just hoping for us to get into field goal range during that last drive and give our kicker a shot," said Schofer, who rushed for 170 yards on 28 carries, while completing 14 of 23 passes for 112 yards. "Coach [Ken LaChapelle] made a great call with the 'back shoulder and go' route and we were able to score. That play has worked for us a lot this season when we need eight to ten yards. Chandler made a great move getting off his man and catching the ball."

The Rams (9-2) will meet Bishop Fenwick (a 35-8 winner over Abington on Friday) for the state title at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 7 -- time yet to be determined. Northbridge is no stranger when it comes to championships, as the Rams have won 10 Super Bowls since 1974.

Hoosac (9-2) was down 14-0 before finally getting waking up late in the opening half. The Rams jumped on the vulnerable Hurricanes early. Jake Wood, a sophomore tailback, scored on a 1-yard dive on Northbridge's initial possession. After getting the ball back, the Rams found the end zone once more. Marching 63-yards, Northbridge finished it off on a Brooks 7-yard scoring catch from Schofer.

The Hurricanes were in dire need of some type of spark to get them going before this one turned ugly. Defensive back Matt Braman answered their wishes. The senior picked off a Schofer pass inside the Rams 30. That would lead to Braman, also playing running back, taking a swing pass from quarterback Matt Koperniak (10-of-13 passes for 165 yards) and racing 17 yards into the end zone to breath some life into the Hurricanes, who then trailed 14-7 at the half.

Neither offense moved the ball on its opening possession to begin the third quarter. On Hoosac's second possession of the quarter, a bad snap led to a fumble that was recovered by Northbridge's Tom Smith deep in its own territory. It set up the Rams in great position to grab a two-score lead.

But Schofer again was picked off by Hurricane defensive back Brandon Tworig. Hoosac used the turnover by mounting an 88-yard scoring drive capped off by Koperniak's 3-yard bootleg around left tackle. Ian Hill's PAT deadlocked this tilt at 14 with 7:18 remaining in the final quarter.

"They started taking it to us and did a great job," LaChapelle, who has been head coach for the Rams since 1976. "We scrambled and found a way to get in at the end. We can't do anything easy. We don't try to but we do make it hard on ourselves sometimes. Schofer is someone who we have really counted on and Chandler, who is also a sophomore, is our go-to guy. We've counted on our sophomore and they've done what they had to do."

Realizing they now in a dogfight, the Rams showed no signs of panic as momentum had clearly now shifted to the side of the Hurricanes. With the ball on his own 38, Schofer ran for 14 yards and later completed a pass to receiver Jurrell Cromwell for 20 yards.

Reaching the Hoosac 18, Schofer, who had the Hurricanes' secondary off-balance throughout much of the chilly afternoon, darted around a couple of Hurricane defenders and into the end zone putting the Rams back in front 21-14 with 3:21 showing.

At that point it appeared as though the magic Hoosac found to fight back in this one affair had run out. Standing on their 20, things looked grim for the Hurricanes. Primarily a run-oriented club, what were they going to do to move downfield?

But it’s never too late to run something out of the ordinary; that is precisely what Hoosac did. On third-and-7, Koperniak allowed the Ram defense to converge toward him before tossing a well-executed screen pass to running back Tyler Mach. The junior, with a wall of blockers in front of him, busted down the left sideline 77 yards for the score with 2:36 showing.

One PAT from tying the game, Hurricane head coach Dayne Poirot decided to go for two. The gutsy decision paid off as Koperniak bounced over the goal line to put Hoosac ahead 22-21. The excitement and celebration would be short-lived however as Poirot and the rest of the Hurricanes now realize, that for a quick-strike offense the likes of Northbridge's, a couple of minutes on the clock is almost like an eternity.

"Going down 14 points early put us in a hole," said Poirot. "But our guys played an excellent second half. I felt we did a great job and left nothing on the field. Northbridge is great offensively and they made the play to beat us. We had [Brooks] covered on that touchdown but he went up and got it. I felt when it was 14-7 at the half, we came out for the second half with a lot more momentum than they did. We just left them to much time to score and they certainly have the offense to do it and they did."