Boston High School: Joe Johnston

Recap: No. 20 Attleboro 19, No. 15 KP 12

October, 26, 2013
10/26/13
2:32
AM ET


WRENTHAM, Mass. – What a difference a year makes.

Friday’s was the type of game Attleboro football would have lost in previous instances. There would have been a second-half comeback, or a costly mistake would have occurred on offense.

But, again, the No. 20 Blue Bombardiers proved this year’s model there’s one crucial difference – they close.

Attleboro closed out its regular season slate of Hockomock Kelley-Rex division play with a 19-12 win over host No. 15 King Philip. And, after a 4-7 campaign in 2012, the Blue Bombardiers advance to the Division 1 South playoffs with a 6-1 mark to date, their lone loss of the season coming against Hockomock rival and ESPN Boston statewide No. 1 Mansfield.

“We’re feeling great right now,” senior quarterback Tim Walsh said.

As in so many previous instances, Walsh had Attleboro flying out of the chute, requiring just three plays from scrimmage to get in the end zone, connecting with wide receiver Brenden Massey on a 30-yard score 65 seconds into action. The Blue Bombardiers started the drive deep in KP territory, after Stanley Beaubrun’s 65-yard return of the opening kickoff to the Warriors’ 27-yard line.

However, KP (5-2, 3-2 Kelley-Rex) responded immediately, embarking on a methodical 8-play, 62-yard drive, capped by J.J. Dillon’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Joe Johnston. After both teams failed point-after tries, the score remained tied, 6-6.

The Warriors took 12-6 lead with 1:52 remaining in the first quarter, with Dillon going over center on a 1-yard touchdown run. KP started the drive at Attleboro’s 36, after the Blue Bombardiers couldn’t convert a fourth-down pass on a punt fake.

But Attleboro reestablished the lead heading into the half with Walsh (6 of 16, 121) throwing his second touchdown pass to Matthew Elliott from three yards out. The first successful point-after kick of the game from Michael Cannata provided the Blue Bombardiers with the 13-12 edge at intermission.

Attleboro padded its lead on its first possession of the second half. Junior running back Damon Belin (13 carries, 74 yards) ran in from nine yards out behind a pulling guard for the Blue Bombardiers’ final margin of victory at 3:25 of the third.

KP would have four more cracks at a tying score, but the Warriors drives sputtered with a result of two punts and a turnover on downs before getting one last shot inside of the final minute.

After a 13-yard completion from Dillon to Johnston (19 carries, 126 yards) set up the Warriors on the plus-side of the 50, Attleboro’s defense tightened again, forcing two incompletions. With one second remaining in the game, KP had one last heave at end zone from the Attleboro 43. However, when Dillon dropped back out of the shotgun, he was met by a gaggle of Blue Bombardiers defenders, who combined for the sack, ending the game.

Don’t sleep on ‘D’: The Blue Bombardiers did something to KP that the Warriors’ defense is accustomed to doing – pitching a shutout in the second half. They did so in style, posting five plays that resulted in no gain or a loss for the Warriors.

At the forefront of the Attleboro’s second-half defensive charge was senior defensive tackle Brandon Pleas. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder presented matchup problems for KP’s interior linemen, scorching the Warriors with three tackles for loss, including a critical sack late in the fourth quarter.

Pleas creates a big, physical front for Attleboro, joined by impressive two-way sophomore lineman Kyle Murphy (6-3, 235 lbs.). When tight end/defensive end Luke Morrison (6-3, 220 lbs.) enters in sub packages as an edge rusher, the Blue Bombardiers present a size advantage in the box many area high school teams simply cannot match.

“The game plan was to establish the line of scrimmage and beat your man,” Please said. “We lacked that in the first half, but in the second half, we came out and hit. That’s what won us the game.”

Breath of fresh air: After not seeing postseason play in more than a decade, Attleboro will enter the playoffs next week in head coach Mike Strachan’s first year at the helm.

It goes without saying that the Blue Bombardiers’ transformation has — in no small part — been a testament to their new coach. But Strachan maintains the team’s on-field success stems from its commitment to detail in practice.

“I think it comes down to the way that we practice,” Strachan said. “Every day, we have goals, we set goals for ourselves in practice. As silly as that might sound, we believe in it. We get better every day.”

While Attleboro’s new season starts next week with a home playoff game, the Blue Bombardiers took a sort of moment of reflection as to how far they’ve come, with a celebratory Gatorade shower for Strachan. For a team focused on incremental goals, it shouldn’t be viewed as a premature celebration.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Pleas said. “Words can’t even explain it. These coaches are something else.”

Recap: No. 18 King Philip 27, Franklin 0

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
11:12
PM ET
WRENTHAM, Mass. -– Want to stop No. 18 King Philip from running the football?

Good luck.

Want to try scoring against the Warriors defense?

Double good luck.

Franklin could have used all the luck in New England and it wouldn’t have been enough to prevent the Warriors from blanking the Panthers, 27-0, in a Hockomock League Kelly-Rex Division game Friday night.

Of the 302 total offensive yards amassed by the Warriors, 275 came on the ground -– due in large part to Mark Glebus (9 carries for 130 yards and three touchdowns) and Joe Johnston (18 carries for 75 yards and one score).

On the flip side of the ball, King Philip held Franklin to 42 yards of total offense and made life miserable for the Panthers’ talented quarterback, Nick Zucco.

Zucco, who was under relentless pressure all night, completed only 6-of-23 passes for 53 yards and was intercepted by Brett McEvoy and Jason Wholley.

In addition, he was sacked three times and forced into at least five “hurries.”

Glebus flashed his speed twice.

On his team’s first possession, he burst through the left side and sprinted 47 yards -– untouched -– for the first of his three scores.

Then, after Wholley’s pick in the fourth quarter, Glebus turned the left corner and dashed 58 yards for the capper.

Earning trust: “We have a lot of faith in Mark now and it’s growing,” KP coach Brian Lee said. “I told him at the beginning of the year we trust Joey and we trust Christian (Flaherty). When we get that trust in you, we’re going to give you the ball, too.


“He’s earned that trust now. He’s maximizing his playing time. He’s playing hard. He’s been playing great for us on defense (cornerback). And now he’s really stepped up to give us another dimension on offense.”

As the Panthers saw, much to their chagrin, that dimension is speed.

“Our other backs wear on you and pound on you and pound on you, and he’s our changeup,” Lee said. “It’s nice to have all of them. Most people would be happy with one of them and we have three good ones.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, King Philip has a host of “good ones” on defense.

In fact, the Warriors defense was so good that the Panthers never entered the red zone once. Their deepest penetration was to the King Philip 34.

“ ‘Mac’ (McEvoy) is the heart and soul of our defense,” Lee said. “He makes all of our checks and gets everybody where they need to be.

“I thought the ‘D line’ played real well tonight. I can’t say enough about the seniors on that defense. This is Mac’s third year. It’s Joey Johnston’s third year starting on our defense. You kind of start with those two guys and trickle down to everybody else.”

“We’re all one team and it takes one team to win,” said McEvoy, a linebacker. “As a unit we pulled through together to get the ‘W’.”

Bad breaks bite Panthers: After Glebus’ first score, the Warriors caught the first of two huge breaks in that opening quarter.

Following the ensuing kickoff, Franklin went three-and-out. But when Danny McDermott dropped back to punt, the snap sailed over his head and Zucco smothered it on Franklin’s 30.

Four plays later, Johnston busted three yards off right tackle for a 14-0 lead.

Then, after the Panthers notched their initial first down of the game, they again were forced to punt. And, again, the snap from center sailed over the punter’s head and Zucco smothered the ball on Franklin’s 37.

That miscue led to Glebus’ second score, a two-yard run for a 21-0 lead at halftime.

Despite what was a comfortable lead, McEvoy was adamant that the Warriors weren’t about to relax and give Franklin a chance to climb back into the game.

“It’s always comfortable when there’s a nice lead,” he said. “But you still have that thought in the back of your head that they can score at any moment and the momentum could change.

“We wanted to keep the momentum down for them and we kept it down for the whole game.”

KING PHILIP 27, FRANKLIN 0
FR (2-3, 0-2) 0 - 0 - 0 - 0 --- 0
KP (5-0, 3-0) 14 - 7 - 0 - 6 --- 27


First quarter
Mark Glebus 47 run (Derek Rochstein kick)
Joe Johnston 3 run (Rochstein kick)

Second quarter
K – Glebus 2 run (Rochstein kick)

Fourth quarter
K – Glebus 58 run (kick failed)

Recap: No. 19 KP 41, Taunton 6

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
11:47
PM ET
TAUNTON, Mass. -- Every game, each team is looking to come out and set the tone early on.

King Philip accomplished that by recovering their own kick off at the Taunton 11-yard line and, two plays later, Joe Johnston ran it in from eight yards out for a quick 7-0 lead 16 seconds into the game.

The No. 19 Warriors continued to roll, beating Taunton, 41-6, in the Hockomock opener for both sides.

"It was huge," Johnston said of the opening kick recovery. "As we were running out there, coach said 'you've got to capitalize on these opportunities.' We had two plays and just punched it in. Right then we weren't going back from there."

Things didn't start much better for the Taunton offense, who looked to be mounting some momentum on their first drive, but after an illegal shift on a third and 2, Jason Wholly intercepted Kyle Medeira to give the ball back to the Warriors (3-0, 1-0). Taunton's defense was able to make a stand but again the offense flustered, this time Andrew Hayward was able to come up with a strip and recovery on Taunton's Domingo Jenkins.

King Philip's ensuring drive went 70 yards on 14 plays, capped off with a J.J. Dillon quarterback keeper from inside the 1-yard line.

"Turnovers are just a huge part of the game," KP head coach Brian Lee said. "You break down the statistics on turnovers and wins. If you can force a turnover, things are going to do your way. You get the ball and it’s uplifting for your team and its disheartening for the other team."

The Tigers (2-1, 0-1) responded with their best play of the game on their next drive. After a run play went for negative yards, Madeira used play action to draw the defense in and then launched a deep ball to a wide open Gerald Cortijo for a 66-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 13-6.

But that would be the lone tally for the Tigers as King Philip went on to score four more touchdowns, including a backbreaker for Taunton right before half. The Tigers defense were able to stop KP three times in a throw from inside the 10, but on fourth and goal, Dillon found Johnston out on a flat for a touchdown. The extra point made it 19-6 with just 30 seconds to go in the half.

"The beginning of the season everything was falling our way," Taunton head coach Chris Greding said. "We had one turnover on offense at the beginning of the season. The wheels came off in the first half. We're not good enough to allow that to happen especially against a great team like King Philip. With the penalties and the turnovers, and the opening kick off, we just couldn't respond."

KP scored three more times in the third quarter: Johnston’s 28-yard run, Christian Flaherty’s 1-yard run, and Mark Glebus’ 39-yard run.

Johnston finished with 157 yards, two rushing touchdowns, and a 6-yard touchdown reception. Both Johnston and Lee credited the KP offensive line for their offensive play.

"We get a lot from those guys," Lee said. "They're not humongous, they're not particularly angry they're very nice boys. But they do what they're told to do and they work hard and they're a good unit."

Johnston took a step further to credit not only his offensive line, but the fullbacks and tightens.

"They were great," Johnston said. "Offensive line, fullbacks, tight ends. We needed them to be great because they're stout up front. Last year we didn't have this much success up front. Once we figured out what they were doing on defense we couldn't be stopped."

JOHNSTON A STUD: By halftime, Johnston had already amassed for over 75 yards, a rushing touchdown, and a receiving touchdown. On the second play of the second half - a first and 20 for KP - Johnston took a play action pass for 21 yards. He then took the handoff three times in a row, and on the third try, burst through the right side, hurdling over Taunton defenders for a 28-yard touchdown run.

The run had a high degree of difficulty, but Johnston made it seem like it was a walk in the park.

And Johnston's philosophy behind his runs is even more elementary.

"I don't like to be tackled," Johnston laughed. "I try to run angry, I'm generally a really happy kid. Once I get on the football field, something gets into me and I like to run angry."

Even as King Philip seemingly was trying to run out the clock in the second half, Johnston broke off a 45-yard run that brought the ball down to the Taunton 6 yard line.

"Twenty-eight -- that kid's a stud," Greding said referring to Johnston's number. "He's real good."

THINGS DON'T GET EASIER: One game down, four more to go for both KP and Taunton against their Kelley-Rex opponents. But with each week, there will be more challenges.

The Warriors will now host four straight games against their divisional opponents, starting with North Attleborough, who are coming off a loss against Mansfield. Taunton will travel to Franklin, a team that they were able to beat last year for their first ever Hockomock win.

"We're just happy to be moving on to next week and getting out of here healthy," Lee said. "The Kelley-Rex right now is just loaded with some very good, physical teams. Its more about survival than anything else."

SIGH OF RELIEF FOR TAUNTON: Late in the first quarter, KP running back took the carry towards the left sideline and up the field for a gain of 17 yards.

But all eyes quickly shifted back to the line of scrimmage, as Taunton junior defensive lineman Cian Doherty lay face down with little movement. There was a quick decision to call for an ambulance and minutes later paramedics arrived. Doherty was stretchered off the field but there was good news after the game.

“His neck kind of flung back and sent a sensation down his spine,” Greding said. “He has movement. It just more or less was a precautionary thing.”

Even better for the Tigers was that Doherty tweeted later Friday night that he was doing well.

Recap: No. 22 King Philip 7, Westwood 0

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
12:29
AM ET
WRENTHAM, Mass. – Senior tailback Joe Johnston rushed for 149 yards on 19 carries (106 yards in the second half) and in the fourth quarter provided the lone score of the game, as No. 22 King Philip held off a strong challenge from visiting Westwood to pick up a 7-0 win in its home opener.

It was a hard-hitting, grind-it-out game, which suited the Warriors and head coach Brian Lee just fine.

“I think we just talked a lot about perseverance,” said Lee. “We talked about trying to wear them down. When it was 0-0 at the half, it was right where we wanted to be… We knew were having trouble moving the ball and we just had to try and grit it out.”

Westwood (1-1), which scored 36 points in an exciting upset of preseason No. 21 Needham last week, struggled to get going offensively and head coach Ed Mantie gave some credit to the KP defense, but also felt that the problems were self-inflicted. The Wolverines had seven false start penalties, including four in its first two series, had two punts blocked (and another two that went a combined 13 yards), and an interception that led to the winning drive.

“One step forward and two steps back, that’s what it was all day long,” he remarked. “Our punting game was awful. Every time we would make a play and change the field position on them, we would pick up a penalty. Against a defense like that, if you get into first and long, it’s really, really hard.”

Owen Galvin made the big defensive play in the fourth quarter with an interception off of Westwood quarterback Bo Berluti at the Wolverines 39-yard line. Christian Flaherty (9 carries, 58 yards) had a pair of rushes, but a penalty made it second and 10 at the 25.

Sophomore quarterback Derek Roschlein, who had been replaced at halftime but had to come back in after an injury, hit Johnston for 28 yards to the Westwood 7. It was his only completion of the game (1-4, 18 yards). Johnston would cap the drive with a touchdown on the next play.

Lee was proud of Roschlein’s reaction to being pulled after halftime. He said, “That could kill a kid, which is why you don’t want to do it and then he comes back and does a great job for us. He has done a great job filling in some games.”

There was still 6:29 on the clock and Westwood would start the next possession on its own 43. After a first down, the Wolverines had a false start penalty, a fumbled snap that lost three yards, a negative rush, an incompletion, and were forced to punt. It encapsulated how the Westwood offense performed all game and, according to Mantie, it wasted a solid game from the defense.

“Our defense played great, certainly well enough to win,” said Mantie. “Our offense has to do better and our special teams need to step up and do what we need to do to win… If we hold a team like that to seven points, we need should be able to get two scores to win.”

KP (2-0) had one last possession to run out the clock with 3:39 left at its own 11-yard line and Johnston stepped up with the longest play from scrimmage. He raced 65 yards down the left sideline to ice the game for the Warriors, who got to the Westwood 1 before taking a knee and running out the clock.

Johnston was also a prominent player on the defensive side of the ball as the Warriors limited Berluti (13-17, 93 yards passing and 13 carries, 21 yards rushing) and the spread formation attack of the Wolverines. The Warriors had success despite an injury to senior linebacker Brett McEvoy that kept him out of the first few defensive possessions of the second half. Johnston was everywhere in the middle of the field and junior lineman John Marcinkevicius continually got into the Westwood backfield.

“They’re very similar types of players for us,” explained Lee about his two senior captains. “When one is down then the other one steps in and picks the other one up and we do that as a team as well.”

Despite the defeat, Mantie is hopeful that the two games against Division 2 competition would reap benefits when league play begins in two weeks. He noted, “We want to make this the last game that we lose. Iron sharpens iron, as they say, so we should be pretty sharp by now.”

Both teams have a bye next week. The following Friday, King Philip will travel to Taunton and Westwood goes to Medfield.

Recap: No. 23 KP 35, Middleborough 13

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
7:54
PM ET


MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. – It all started with a “Pop!”

After a lack-luster first half, No. 23 King Philip trailed Middleborough, 7-6, at Battis Field on Saturday. Then, Warriors linebacker Brett McEvoy set the tone for what was to come.

McEvoy, who also handles kick-off duties for KP, booted the opening kick downfield, wove through the return block like pylons and met the ball carrier with loud thud. The ball popped loose and the game was never the same.

The Warriors forced four turnovers in the second half and ran away with a 35-13 win over the Sachems.

“It’s nice when you have your kicker who can run down, lays somebody out and forces a turnover for you,” KP head coach Brian Lee said of McEvoy’s thunderous special teams play.

The Warriors (1-0) utilized a short field to set up several scores in the second half.

Andrew Hayward recovered the fumble McEvoy forced and, six plays later, KP had its first lead of the game on Christian Flaherty’s second rushing touchdown of the game.

On the ensuing Sachems (0-1) possession, Kyle Loewen grabbed the first of three Warriors interceptions. Again setting up shop on the plus-side of the 50-yard line, KP needed just two plays before Joe Johnston (13 carries, 110 yards) found the end zone for his first of two rushing touchdowns.

Owen Galvin then pocketed the Warriors’ second interception, taking back a pick-six 23 yards.

Finally, after collecting an interception of his own, Johnston capped another scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown run two minutes into the fourth quarter for a 35-7 Warriors’ lead.

Sophomore running back Eddie Hart added a 39-yard touchdown run with a nice cut-back move in the open field to cap scoring for the Sachems.

“The beginning, the first half, we came out real soft,” Johnston said. “I don’t know why the first game of the year we weren’t ready for it.”

Then, that changed. Thanks to McEvoy.

“[The hit] just sparked us. Everybody got going and we fed off of that.”

Undaunted: The Warriors were able to wear down Middleborough in the second half thanks to a relentless edge rush from junior defensive end Peter Garrity.

The 6-foot, 175-pounder registered a pass defended in the first half, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage. He also tallied two tackles that went for no gain or a loss.

“He’s a kid that we have high expectations for,” Lee said of Garrity. “He has a big job to do for us and he was able to do it today.”

Building blocks: While the Sachems offense sputtered in the second half, there were plenty of positives to take away from a rough afternoon.

Middleborough, coming off its first winning season since 2005, under Patrick Kingman, has a core strength on the defensive line. The Sachems more than held their own for the better part of three quarters against a relentless KP rushing attack.

They also got penetration. Senior defensive tackle Vasili Papathanasiou finished with 1.5 tackles for loss.

Also, look out for senior two-way tackle Jeremy Hernandez. The 6-foot-4, 255-pounder recently won the heavyweight wrestling title at the Bay State Games.

At No. 23 King Philip, The Dude abides

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
8:21
PM ET
This isn’t a ‘90s Nickelodeon show. It’s not Jeff Bridges searching for his lost Creedence tapes.

In Brian Lee’s realm as the head of King Philip football, just about everybody is a “Dude.”

“I guess you could say we’re a team of Dudes,” senior Brett McEvoy said while chuckling Wednesday. “The team is The Dude.”

While it might be the colorful (and we mean that frankly, evidenced by Lee’s frequent choice of footwear – a pair of banana peel yellow Crocs) coach’s means of expressing reverence for one of his players, it also speaks to the kind of athletes the No. 24 Warriors have had in recent memory.

Who is that KP football player? Typically, they’re tough. Rugged, really. In more instances than not, they play on both sides of the ball. It’s a result of what Lee expects from his players.

“There are only so many players that can play,” said McEvoy, an inside linebacker and tight end. “We’re not expected to play both ways, but the best players are the ones that’ll get on the field.

“We don’t think about it that much, we’re just doing what we’re told to do.”

McEvoy, like a number of his KP teammates, have been around as well. He’s a three-year starter, somebody that Lee terms to be a quarterback of the defense.

He has help as well. Along with fellow seniors Joe Johnston, Christian Flaherty and Mike Cooke, Lee has a cabal of experienced players he has come to trust on both sides of the ball.

“It’s more out of necessity,” Lee said of his two-way players. “We’re a bigger school, but we only have about 50 kids out for varsity football. Really, no matter what your numbers are, you end up getting about eighteen or twenty bodies on field a night. Your team really focuses on those players, so you’re using them over and over.

“They have to be a piece in the machine, you don’t have other options.”

Still, of that multi-talented group, that’s something else that is found in these players: a sense of accountability. McEvoy, a preseason ESPN Boston All-State linebacker, understands that principal. He’s from a military family. His father, Matt, (a Mansfield alum!), is a Marine Corps veteran and his brother, Ben, joined the Marine Reserve earlier this year.

Brett McEvoy has also considered the services while hoping to attract the attention of college football recruiters.

“He’s a ‘tweener for colleges,” Lee said of the 6-foot-1 McEvoy, “he’s not quite big enough yet. He’s not going to be your 6-foot-4 linebacker, but he’s a great player for us. He can really play.”

In other words, he’s a Dude – with a capital ‘D.’

KING PHILIP AT A GLANCE
Coach: Brian Lee (9th year, 52-35)
Last season: 10-1
Returning Starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Key Returnees: Brett McEvoy, Sr. LB/TE, 6-1, 185lbs.; J.J. Dillon, Sr. QB, 6-0, 175 lbs.; Joe Johnston, Sr. RB/SS, 6-1, 195 lbs.; Christian Flaherty, Sr. RB/DE, 6-1, 180 lbs.; Jason Wholley, Sr. DB/E.
Strengths: Experience at skill positions and key defensive positions.
Weaknesses: Depth; inexperience on offensive/defensive lines.
Overview: Lee loves to run the ball, and senior quarterback J.J. Dillon (7 TD passes in 2012) knows that. But that hasn’t prevented the head coach from developing a strong trust in Dillon, who’s been the starter for the better part of the last two seasons. Lee has – with increasing confidence and leniency – allowed Dillon a greater hold of the offense, allowing the senior to make calls at the line of scrimmage and an increasing number of “check-with-me” plays.We were giving him little bits to focus on and adding little things here and there week by week,” Lee said of Dillon’s sophomore campaign. “Last year, with everything he does, watching film and trying to understand opposing defenses, we were able to do more with him. He’s a smart kid.” With that being said, expect even gaudier numbers this season from Joe Johnston, who led the Warriors with 1,361 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 2012 and whose a year bigger and stronger. Also, look for junior Mark Glebus to have an increased role in the backfield. On defense, well … You can always expect the kitchen sink from the Warriors coaching staff who are content to bring pressure from any and all angles in any and all situations.

Roundtable: Best players, breakout stars, sleepers

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:03
PM ET
Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools editor


Best QB: Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Best RB: Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE: Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best LB: C.J. Parvelus, Everett
Best DB: Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense: Natick
Best rushing offense: St. John's Prep
Best offensive line: St. John's Prep
Best defensive line: Reading
Best linebackers: Reading
Best secondary: Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Medway
Coach Dave McSweeney's affinity for power football isn't a secret, and this season he'll have two road-graders to run behind in Kevin Sheehan (6-4, 285) and Cam Smith (6-5, 290, Lafayette commit). If there's any exhibit for why we needed to change the postseason format, the most glaring sample might be the Mustangs, who went 19-3 from 2009-10 with no playoff berth. In this new playoff system, a gameplan like the Mustangs' is built for the long haul.

Lynn English
Perhaps this isn't a surprise pick so much as an affirmation. In a Division 2 North that is perceived to be wide open after heavy favorite Reading, the Bulldogs have enough talent to make a deep run. There has always been elite talent at the skill positions, but Preseason All-State selection Chris Tinkham gives them a presence in the trenches they've lacked the last few years, a rare "war daddy" type who overpowers the interior gaps. The biggest question will be where the Bulldogs put junior Jordan Javier, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Haverhill who is a matchup problem at his natural split end position but also throws one of the prettiest balls you'll see on the North Shore.

Quabbin
The Panthers struggled to a 4-7 tune last season in a weak league, but there is some promise. Quarterback Dylan Kierman is an underappreciated talent, who should get a boost from the return of slippery receiver Nick Thyden. The Panthers run a unique "Air Raid" scheme, and another year of experience with it could surprised teams in Division 4 Central.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Lukas Denis, Jr. ATH, Everett
After an injury-shortened 2012 season in which he was the assumed successor to record-setting quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso, but barely saw the field, Denis is moving to the perimeter, where he will take a role similar to the hybrid slot-back role that Manny Asprilla made legendary in 2010. Defensively, he should serve as a terrific compliment in the secondary to highly-touted safety/cornerback Lubern Figaro, and has already begun to pick up some Division 1 FBS interest.

Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. WR, Doherty
Standing a long 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Adarkwah has an unusually large catching radius for a high school receiver. This summer in passing leagues, the Highlanders toyed with Adarkwah and Boston College-bound receiver Isaac Yiadom on the same side of 2x2 formations. Head coach Sean Mulcahy has to be excited with the possibilities that opens up -- just imagine sending those two on a post-wheel combo route. Or better yet, imagine running them on a bubble screen, taking advantage of both Yiadom's elite speed and Adarkwah's great downfield blocking skills.

Taj-Amir Torres, Jr. ATH, Amherst
Already a household name in track and field, where he was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year last spring as a sophomore after winning New Englands in the 100-meter dash, he's about to get a whole lot more attention. Boston College, UConn and UMass have already offered Torres, who made just 24 catches last season but made some incredible feats of athleticism. Hurricanes head coach David Thompson told us earlier this month "[We're] trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get", so expect bigger numbers in 2013.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Springfield Central
Div. 3 - Walpole
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

Best QB - Drew Belcher - Sr. Reading
Best RB - Johnny Thomas - Sr. St. John’s Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap - Jr. Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan - Sr. Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker – Sr., Millis/Hopedale
Best DL – Joe Gaziano – Jr., Xaverian
Best LB – Eddie Motavu – Sr., Tewksbury
Best DB - Lubern Figaro - Sr. Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line – Bridgewater-Raynham
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Leominster
Best secondary - Everett

THREE SURPRISE TEAMS

St. Mary’s (Lynn)
OK, so a team coming off an 11-2 season and a Super Bowl appearance might not exactly be a surprise, but with a couple of other Catholic Central teams garnering the buzz in the preseason, let's not forget the Spartans have another season with Jordan Collier (1,495 yards, 18 TD).

Hingham

We've heard them knocking, but can they come in? The Harbormen have whittled the gap in recent years, particularly against Patriot League nemesis Duxbury, but they're still waiting to break through. They could have an in-road in Division 3 Southwest. An early non-leaguer against Oliver Ames should be a bellweather for things to come, but the real proof will come Oct. 5, against those aforementioned Dragons.

Wakefield
The Warriors fell short of their goal of winning the Middlesex League's Freedom division last year, but should be in the mix in a wide open Division 3 Northwest race. We'll have a better impression after a visit from Lynn English in Week 2.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES

Joe Johnston, Sr. RB/S, King Philip
Anybody who saw Johnston's hard-nosed 157-yard, 2-touchdown performance against North Attleborough last year knows Johnston's style. He's a burden for would-be tacklers inside the box, and once he kicks it outside, he's also very hard to catch.

Grant Kramer, Sr. OT, Duxbury
The younger brother of Boston College tackle Aaron Kramer, Grant is now ready to assume the role as the next great lineman on the Dragons' line (and there have been some very good ones in recent memory). He currently holds offers from Coastal Carolina and Villanova but has also expressed interest in attending West Point.

Connor Moriarty, Sr. RB, Walpole
When Rebels starter Mike Rando went out with an ankle injury near the midway point of the regular season last year, it was Moriarty who carried the load down the stretch. Expect even bigger numbers this year.

WAY TOO EARLY CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS:

D1 – St. John’s Prep
D2 – Springfield Central
D3 – Walpole
D4 – Doherty
D5 – Auburn
D6 – Millis/Hopedale

***

Josh Perry
ESPN Boston correspondent


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Jonathan Thomas, St. John’s Prep
Best WR – Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE – Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL – Jon Baker, Millis-Hopedale
Best DL – Andrew Bourque, Reading
Best LB – Kevin Bletzer, Catholic Memorial
Best DB – Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense – St. John’s Prep
Best offensive line – St. John’s Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers – Catholic Memorial
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE:

Attleboro
A new coaching staff, the energy of a new field complex, and a strong crop of returning seniors could make the Bombardiers the surprise team of the Hockomock League. Attleboro has always been a sleeping giant and the program continues to find solid athletes, it’s now up to the new staff to build a system that fits the talent on the roster. With a couple of league rivals dealing with injuries and suspensions, Attleboro could sneak up on people.

Barnstable
Everyone assumes that there will be a significant drop off for the Red Raiders due to a big graduating class, but there is still potential to be a solid team in D2 and in the OCL. This may not be a another season with Barnstable holding the top spot in the poll, but it shouldn’t be written off either.

Stoughton
The Knights are expected to finish behind Oliver Ames in the Davenport, but don’t be surprised if they pull an upset or two and give the Tigers a run at the title. Watch out for running back Malachi Baugh, who will be getting the majority of the carries this season and is a beast to try and bring down.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Luke Morrison, Sr. TE/DE, Attleboro
Attleboro’s giant tight end/defensive end is a monster match-up on both sides of the ball and could be a real threat as Tim Walsh’s favorite target in the Bombardiers passing attack.

Ryan Charter, Sr. QB, Needham
Mike Panepinto has deservedly drawn praise as the star man on the Needham offense, but the senior quarterback, who has been under center for 1-1/2 seasons already, will have high expectations as the Rockets try to get back on top in the Bay State.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
With the graduation of running backs Robbie Rapoza and Kevin Makie and the continued injury problems for wide receiver Michael Hershman the key cog for the Hornets offense will be its senior quarterback. Wisnieski’s ability to spread the ball around and pick the right options out of a still talented receiving corps that includes Brendan Hill is going to be the key for Mansfield’s run at a Hockomock title.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS:

Div. 1 – St. John’s Prep
Div. 2 - Nashoba
Div. 3 – Bishop Feehan
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 – Millis-Hopedale

***

Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Massachusetts Prep Stars


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Alex Quintero, Lowell
Best LB - C.J. Parvelus, Defense
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Duxbury
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Bedford
While Wayland and Concord-Casrlisle have earned the DCL Small Championship the past few years do not sleep on Bedford in 2013. The Bucs play one of the toughest schedules in Division 4 and the return All-DCL running back Olan Abner.

Chelmsford
While Lowell, Central and Andover are getting most of the early press in the MVC Large, the Chelmsford Lions return one of the State's top running backs in Jeff D'Auria, a seasoned young quarterback in Jack Campsmith and a nice nucleus of tough experienced defenders.

Archbishop Williams
If Archies can find early offensive balance to take some of the work load off the shoulders of star senior back Kylan Philbert-Richardson, they could make some noise in the D5 playoff hunt.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
The St. John's Prep transfer saw late game carries last season as a freshman for Prep's Super Bowl Champion squad. The speedy halfback is now back home in the MVC Small, and with the graduation of work horse, All-State RB Chance Brady (Tufts), there should be plenty carries to go around.

Devin Lekan, Sr. DE/TE, Chelmsford
D'Auria and Campsmith return to lead the offense for Chelmsford's but it is the Lion defense could be the story if they stay healthy. The Lions feature the 2nd team all-MVC performer was the most impressive player in the games I saw last season.

Nick Orekoya, Jr. DB/RB Billerica
Orekoya saw a lot of playing time as a two-way starter for Billerica last season. With another year under his belt Orekoya should thrive in coach Rich McKenna's high octane offense.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Reading
Div. 3 - Tewksbury
Div. 4 - Dennis-Yarmouth
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Boston Cathedral

***

John Botelho
Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal


Best QB - Troy Flutie, Natick
Best RB - Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Steve Manning, Abington
Best LB - Kervin Jean-Claude, Brockton
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Auburn
Best linebackers - Brockton
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Brockton
They're ranked pretty high in any poll you look at because people have just come to accept the fact that Brockton generally reloads. They graduated 18 starters from last season's Super Bowl team, including quarterback Austin Roberts, who was one of the best in school history. Roberts, Micah Morel and Joe Previte are all playing ball at prep schools this year, and Anthony Davis has moved on to Div. 1 Central Connecticut. Still, the Boxers will very solid again. They have a number of athletes and playmakers, including returning do-it-all Aaron Leclair. Transfer Jamal Williams is going to compliment him well, and sophomore Kerry Raymond is physically imposing at 6-foot-1 and 205. Aaron Monteiro's 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame gives Brockton an anchor on the offensive line. They have plenty of guys ready to step forward on the other side of the ball as well, led by Kervin Jean-Claude, Justin Ahanon and Leclair.

Abington
The Green Wave went unbeaten in their march toward a Super Bowl crown last year, but saw a slew of stars graduate. QB Brandon Cawley, TE/DE Pat Dwyer, FB Jack Malafronte, RB Babila Fonkem, DB Mike Walsh, OL Tyler Perakslis and OL Matt Diver are just some of the elite players Abington graduated. These guys won't miss a beat though, as they have a ton of talent back. Matt Kilmain broke out for more than 400 yards on 27 carries in two postseason wins last year, and he might not even be the best player back this season. Abington returns its top three tacklers from a year ago and has most of their front seven back on defense. Jim Kelliher has one of the best coaching staffs going at this point, and these guys look like they're headed back to the playoffs. (For bold prediction purposes, I'm also going to go ahead and say I think they beat Duxbury on opening night, because that's how good I think this team can be).

Stoughton
The Black Knights missed the playoffs last year because of the wrong day for a let down game, taking a tough defeat to eventual Super Bowl champ Sharon. The Knights lost some very good players, but leading running back Malachi Baugh is back in the fold and they return four starting offensive lineman, so there's no reason to think the offense won't be up to par again. The Hockomock League has proven in recent years to be one of the toughest to win, but a second guaranteed playoff berth can only help a team like Stoughton.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Aaron Monteiro, Jr. OL, Brockton
Monteiro has something that can't be learned, or even worked toward. His 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame is one that will draw the interest of coaches at the next level. Coach Peter Colombo is very excited about plugging the junior into his offensive line, and it's not just because of the size. Monteiro worked during the off-season to get himself stronger and is primed to be one of the best lineman in the state. He plays basketball in the winter, something that has helped him develop quick and agile feet for a guy his size.

Sam Malafronte, Jr. LB, Abington
Started at linebacker a year ago as a sophomore for the Div. 4 Super Bowl champs, and finished second on the team in tackles. A very good athlete who is a work-out warrior, Malafronte will team with Matt Whelan to lead a solid corps in the middle of the field for the Green Wave.

James Shea, Sr. WR, East Bridgewater
The Vikings have benefited from having tremendous athletes in the backfield the last few years (think Casey DeAndrade, Tim O'Brien, Andrew Benson and Kevin Lynch), but in 2013 their most dangerous player will be splitting out wide. Shea can run with just about anyone -- he finished sixth in the 100-meter dash in the South Shore League last spring -- and is going to wreak havoc pulling in passes all year.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Natick
Div. 3 - Plymouth South
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Abington
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

Recap: No. 18 King Philip 16, No. 24 North 14

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
12:18
AM ET


NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – No. 7 strode on the field, cool and composed. He’d missed a point-after try earlier in the game, but it didn’t seem to deter his confidence.

He was about to attempt a 19-yard field goal that could give his team a two-point lead with only seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

“He said, ‘Coach, I can make that.’ So I said, ‘OK,’” King Philip head coach Brian Lee said.

You couldn’t find his name anywhere on King Philip football’s gameday roster on Saturday, the mysterious No. 7, the place kicker for the Warriors. He’s a freshman at KP who’s played football most his life but only started place kicking about a year ago. He only began kicking with the varsity squad a few weeks back in the Mansfield game because injuries sidelined the Warriors’ other place kickers ahead of him on the depth chart.

It’s a thing straight out of myth.

Although hardly anyone present at Community Field yesterday for the Warriors’ Hockomock League battle with North Attleborough knew his name, few will soon forget No. 7.

His name is Derek Roschlein.

“Coach told me to stay down, look at the ball and pretend like no one was here,” said No. 7, moments before he was tackled on the field by a swarm of pint-sized high school freshmen.

It was just Roschlein and a couple hundred of his closest friends. And when his kick went sailing through the uprights and out onto the front lawn of a home on the opposite side of Barrows Street, Roschlein and his friends “went nuts.”



“I just cleared my mind and knew I could do it.”

Although the Warriors (9-1, 3-1 Kelley-Rex) held on for a 16-14 win, moments later, Mansfield finished off a victory of its own over Franklin, giving the division title, and a playoff berth, to the Hornets. In essence, KP’s victory allowed Mansfield, which had beaten the Warriors two weeks prior, to take the crown.

But KP wasn’t in a position to give up. The Warriors fell behind North, 14-13, on the final play of the third quarter as quarterback Ryan Perron (8 of 16, 191 yards, 2 TD) hit a wide-open Jake Dallaire on a seam route for a 63-yard touchdown.

On the ensuing Warriors’ drive, KP saw a promising march stall in the red zone, as North cornerback Dan Cummings intercepted a pass in the end zone.

The Red Rocketeers (6-4, 2-2) thought they’d notched an insurance score on a Dwayne Hunter run following the interception, but for the second time in the second half, a touchdown was scrubbed off the board due to a penalty (KP also had a score called back in the third quarter).

After a North punt, the Warriors took over with 3:13 on the clock, needing a score.

With about a minute to play, it appeared as though KP’s comeback attempt would sputter out, faced with a third-and-10 from the North 18-yard line. But, as he’d done for much of the game, Lee put the game in the hands of junior running back Joe Johnston (24 carries, 157 yards, 2 TD). He promptly bounced a run to the left side, going for 12 yards and extending the drive.

North’s defense was able to bottle up Johnston on three straight goal-to-go carries, however, posing Lee with the quandary of whether to put the ball in Johnston’s hands yet again, or call upon his untested freshman kicker to win the game.

That’s when No. 7 made his name known.

KP -- 7 6 0 3 -- 16
North -- 7 0 7 0 -- 14

First quarter
North - Alex Jette 21-yard pass from Ryan Perron (Dwayne Hunter kick)
KP - Joe Johnston 5-yard run (Derek Roschlein kick)

Second quarter
KP - Joe Johnston 1-yard run (kick failed)

Third quarter
North - Jake Dallaire 67-yard pass from Perron (Hunter kick)

Fourth quarter
KP - Derek Roschlein 22-yard field goal

Roundtable: X-factors for key league matchups

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
12:33
AM ET
A number of league championships will be decided this weekend, and with that, we're discussing "X-factors" for each of the most crucial matchups.

NO. 5 WALPOLE (9-0) AT NO. 21 NATICK (8-1)

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: You can pick just about anyone off this elite Rebels’ defense, but let’s go with senior captain and inside linebacker Cam Hanley. He’s been the quarterback to this Walpole defense for a few years now and will be a vital cog plugging the running lanes when Natick quarterback Troy Flutie takes off on the run.

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: When these two teams squared off last season, Walpole went almost exclusively with a three-man front and five in the box. They did just fine, holding the Red Hawks to just 17 yards of offense in the first half, and eked out a 16-13 win on a last-second field goal. I don’t expect much to change this year. Walpole has one of the state’s most aggressive pass rushes, with 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end Chris Collins leading the way, and is a big reason why the Rebels haven’t allowed a point since Sept. 28.

This Natick line has improved since the beginning of the season, but expect their hands to be full. Natick plays an uptempo, hurry-up style aimed at making the defense think fast, but quarterback Troy Flutie is going to have to make quick decisions –- chuck it or tuck it. And with receiver Brian Dunlap expected to draw extra attention, supporting receivers Justin Robinson and Andrew Boynton are going to be crucial.

Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Boston correspondent: This game will come down to whether or not Natick can make enough stops to give its explosive offense a chance in the end. Both of these teams can put up big numbers on the scoreboard, but while Walpole's defense has been equally effective, Natick's was lit up last week against Wellesley and lacks the same amount of playmakers the Rebels have on that side of the ball. The Red Hawks need to make stops early and often or else they can kiss their hopes of a Bay State Herget Division title goodbye.

***

BISHOP FEEHAN (6-2) AT NO. 16 SOMERSET-BERKLEY (9-0)

Barboza: Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer. I might be going super-safe here, but Garrett Carlos and Mike Garrant have been the key to Somerset-Berkley’s success all season long. If the two-headed backfield is on point on Saturday, the Blue Raiders will be tough to beat.

Hall: There’s nothing fancy about Somerset’s offense -– Garrett Carlos left, Mike Garrant right, vice-versa, fullback dive –- and there are no tricks. With its one-inch splits, the double wing eliminates blitz packages. Stopping the attack requires discipline not to over-pursue, and generally the play is read by following the pulling guards or watching where the quarterback opens his hips, then crashing the other way.

Of course, Feehan knows all this. This is nothing new to the Shamrocks, who sees this attack year in year out, and solved it last season for a 41-7 romp of the Blue Raiders. Somerset is looking like its 2010 dominance, but it is a smaller yet faster unit than that Super Bowl finalist squad which ran behind 320-pound road grader Ian Levesque. Plain and simple, the Feehan defensive line is going to have to get off its blocks -– and do it quickly.

Kurkjian: Bishop Feehan has to force negative plays on early downs and get Somerset's offense off the field. The way Somerset pounds teams on the ground, your defense can be worn out by the time the fourth quarter comes around. The Shamrocks would love to take an early lead and force Somerset out of its comfort zone by going to the air, although it's unlikely to happen unless Somerset is behind my multiple scores in the latter stages of the game.

Josh Perry, Managing Editor, HockomockSports.com: The X-factor between the top two teams in the EAC will be Shamrocks senior quarterback Nick Romero. Both teams are heavily focused on the ground game, but if Feehan can get something going in the passing attack and balance its offense it should provide the edge. Both teams will be crowding the line of scrimmage and bringing numbers up into the box. If Romero can connect with his receivers, even simple screens to Matt Allen and Isiah Douglas, it will give Feehan an edge.

***

NO. 18 KING PHILIP (8-1) AT NO. 24 NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH (6-3)

Barboza: I’m going with go with Sam McDonald, who’s made King Philip’s offense more dynamic in recent weeks. McDonald’s had two-touchdown games in two of the last three weeks, including last week’s win over Oliver Ames, when he hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from John Dillon and added a spark to the Warriors’ special teams with a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Hall: Joe Johnston gives this King Philip rushing attack its spunk, but it’s going to be his play on defense that is the difference in this one. The Warriors are noted for devising great defensive gameplans, but that was delivered a swift wakeup call in the 46-33 loss to Mansfield. North has some big-play threats, and if KP wants to keep them in check they will have to dictate the pace of this game early.

Kurkjian: A year ago, King Philip held North Attleborough to just seven points. This year, it's the North defense that will need to be up to the task if it wants to take this showdown in the Hock. North can't count on its offense to just outscore King Philip because outside of an uncharacteristic breakdown against Mansfield, the Warriors have been strong on that side of the ball. Lately, North's defense has shown some weakness and it cannot allow more of that because KP is not the type of team that is going to allow the type of Arena League scores that the Red Rocketeers have hund up on teams this year.

Perry: The biggest X-factor in this game will be health. Sean Peters and Alex Jette are back for the Rocketeers, but neither is 100 percent. Jette's hair-line fracture is not fully healed yet and Peters will probably need surgery on his shoulder after the season. Even at only 75 percent, both players have made a significant contribution to the team on the field as well as positively impacting the team's attitude and confidence. Meanwhile, KP are a little banged up after fullback/linebacker Ryan Dunn went down with an arm injury in last week's rout of Oliver Ames. Dunn left the field with his arm in a sling and he would be a huge loss for the Warriors if he can't play. He is the lead blocker for Joe Johnston, a good inside option in the power running game, and is one of KP's best defensive players against the run.

***

NO. 17 NAUSET (9-0) AT PLYMOUTH SOUTH (6-3)

Barboza: Dylan Oxsen obviously is having a historic season for the Panthers with 28 touchdowns to date, but Harrison Holbrook and Devin Guadagno have also been intergral to Plymouth South’s success. Now, we’ll see if they can run together to a Atlantic Coast League title.

Hall: South’s Dylan Oxsen is as hard-charging as they come -– you don’t tip-toe your way to 28 touchdowns -– running behind some quick pulling linemen. For that, I think the key to this game will if Nauset’s two-way lineman Dakota Girard can get off his blocks and create some havoc at the point of attack. The Brown University-bound senior is one of the biggest reasons the Warriors are having their best season in school history.

Kurkjian: Nauset needs to be able to slow down Dylan Oxsen enough to force Plymouth South to beat it in other ways. Oxsen has put up monster numbers this season and his team is on a major roll right now. If Nauset is somehow able to limit his yards and force the Plymouth South offense to go elsewhere, it could be the key in this pivotal Atlantic Coast League game.

***

NO. 11 BEVERLY (9-0) AT MARBLEHEAD (8-1)

Barboza: Pick your poison with the Panthers’ backfield, right? So I’m going to go with the Magicians’ defense, in particular their defensive line of Rajive Alcindor, Trever Gelineau and Kyle McCormack. They’ll have their hands full with the Panthers’ athletic offensive line and will have to play their responsibilities if Marblehead is to have any hope of slowing Beverly’s stable of backs and a chance at victory.

Hall: Fitting that Marblehead goes by the Magicians, because their front seven is going to have to turn in some majestic play to keep this one close. The evolution of the spread has yielded video game-like stats for high school teams across Massachusetts, but what should scare you about the Panthers’ average of 38 points per game is that they’re doing it heavy on the run with a Wing-T offense. My advice: shoot the guards up the A-gaps, get upfield and hope for the best.

Kurkjian: The Magicians will be heavy underdogs in this game and the key for them to pull the upset is to make Beverly play a four-quarter game. Most of the opponents on the Panthers' schedule have fallen behind by so much that the fourth quarter is usually a JV contest. The Panthers have not trailed much at all this season and a second-half lead or a one-score game in the fourth quarter would give Marblehead a major advantage because they've been in more close games this season.

***

NO. 23 ABINGTON (9-0) AT EAST BRIDGEWATER (6-3)

Barboza: We all know the big-play ability Babila Fonkem brings for Abington, but the Green Wave is very much a three-headed monster. And the straws that stir the Green Wave’s drink are a dangerous duo in Brian Kilmain and Jack Malafronte.

Hall: Abington goes in as the favorites, but they’re going to have to stop East Bridgewater’s option game. Andrew Benson is a run-first quarterback who can keep the sticks moving if you give him the edge. The Green Wave are going to have to contain the outside gaps and funnel things through the middle of the field.

Kurkjian: The Vikings will come into this one as underdogs and deservedly so because Abington has been so solid all season. However, an upset is not out of the question and the way that East Bridgewater can do it is by jumping out to an early lead and keeping the game close heading into the fourth quarter. Abington has not played a close game since September and since so much is expected of this team, all the pressure will be on the Green Wave in a hostile environment. The Vikings need to maintain that pressure and see if it can have a negative impact on the visitors.

***

FRANKLIN (7-2) AT MANSFIELD (6-3)

Barboza: Junior linebacker Alex Ruddy has taken a big step forward for the Hornets this season and leads the team in tackles with 62 (35 solo) through nine weeks. He’ll be key to slowing the Panthers’ potent offense.

Hall: We’ve mentioned before about this Mansfield offense’s ability to reel off scores in bunches, and we saw that a few weeks ago in the Hornets’ 46-33 win over King Philip. It was vintage Mansfield, rushing for over 360 yards as a team. For all the talk we’ve made of the Hornets opening up the passing playbook the last few years, they can still run the ball downhill efficiently. We know Franklin can hang with them in the air, but can they stop the run?

Kurkjian: Both of these teams have proven to be solid when they choose to go to the air. The winner of this game will likely be the one who can also get its ground game going to complement that aerial attack. A lot of these Hockomock battles lately have been very high scoring and this one could be as well, but if someone can find a rhythm running the ball it could be the difference.

Perry: Mike Carden could be the deciding factor in a game that will be Franklin's first of two straight title deciding games (they play King Philip on Thanksgiving). The Panthers' kicker is considered a D1-caliber talent by head coach Brad Sidwell and won the game against Attleboro a couple of weeks ago with a 41-yard kick. In fact, he had a 48-yard attempt against Taunton that would have kept the Panthers perfect but it fell inches short. A solid kicking game is a rare luxury at this level and it could provide the edge in a tight game.

***

BOSTON CATHEDRAL (7-2) AT POPE JOHN XXIII (5-4)

Barboza: Mike Sullivan’s done a fine job all season taking over for Robert McMaster at quarterback for Pope John all season. For Pope John to knock off Cathedral, he’ll need to be at his best again.

Hall: Pope John is going to need to find a way to neutralize Kadeem Edge. The 6-foot-4 Cathedral receiver is a matchup problem for most small-school squads, able to win jump-balls as well as accelerate quickly in space. Also look for several Cathedral defenders to have big roles in this one, namely Cameron Seemore, Derek Welcome and Mohammed Braimah.

Kurkjian: Cathedral quarterback Kejonte Hickman has not played like a sophomore in guiding this team to where it wants to be heading into the end of the season. For Pope John to win this game, it has to force him into the types of mistakes and bad decisions that sophomores tend to make. Cathedral's offense can be brutal to defend with the number of speedy athletes it gets into space, but a disruptive defense that hassles the quarterback into bad decisions is a nice way of messing up its timing.

ESPN Boston Week 7 football picks

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
1:28
AM ET
FRIDAY
NO. 23 NEEDHAM (5-1) AT NO. 6 WALPOLE (6-0)
The Skinny: The Rockets received some help in the Bay State Carey race from Natick last week when the Red Hawks came away with a win at Weymouth. However, Needham will need to capitalize on that break with a win over the Herget’s other undefeated entrant. Rockets running back Mike Panepinto continues to be one of the great breakout stories on the year while the Rebels will need to shuffle the deck a little with the loss of Mike Rando, who’ll be out several weeks with an ankle injury. Of course, the Rebels counter with one of the more consistent and underrated linebacker units in the state, led by Cam Hanley and Steve Thulin.

Scott Barboza: Even sans Rando, the Rebels still have enough horses in the barn. Walpole, 26-21.

Hall: Losing Mike Rando, for however long a period of time, hurts. But this Rebels defense is still talented enough to get the job done and slow down Team Panepinto. Walpole, 20-7.

NO. 11 KING PHILIP (6-0) AT MANSFIELD (4-2)
The Skinny: This much anticipated Kelley-Rex matchup features one of the state’s premier defenses against a recharged Hornets offense. Brett McEvoy anchors the Warriors defense, which has surrendered just six points a game through the first six weeks, along with Joe Johnston. Kyle Wisnieski has held down the quarterback position admirably in his first year as starter, but hasn’t stared into a defense quite like that of the Warriors. If he has time to throw, Mike Hershman and Brendan Hill provide big-time targets. Let’s not forget that last year’s installment of this battle was the coming out party of KP quarterback John Dillon, who nearly lifted the Warriors to victory in a second-half comeback bid.

Barboza: Defense wins in big games, right? It’s been a while that the Warriors last had Mansfield’s number, but this is the year. KP, 20-14.

Hall: Can't have any pudding if you don't eat your meat. Mansfield, 24-21.

Wakefield (6-0) at Burlington (5-1)
The Skinny: Depending on how Stoneham does this weekend, this one's for at least a share, possibly sole possession of the Middlesex League's Freedom Division (can we just call it Small to alleviate any confusion?). Burlington has had some injuries, but still boast the league's top rushing attack led by Marcus Odiah and Anthony Cruz. They'll meet a Wakefield defense that features a number of playmakers and hasn't allowed a point in 11 quarters. With Dan Cardillo (ankle) gone, there's no real superstar for Wakefield -- but sophomore receiver Bruce Brown will be one to watch, coming off a 124-yard performance last week in a shutout of Wilmington.

Barboza: I’m calling this a split decision. My fan section vote goes to the Red Sea. But the action on the field is dictated differently. Burlington, 8-6.

Hall: This one will be close, and the Warriors might not solve Burlington's rushing attack, but they'll make a big stop late. Wakefield, 17-10.

Mashpee (4-2) at No. 25 Abington (6-0)
The Skinny: This is a battle for sole possession of first place in the South Shore League, with both teams sitting tied atop the league standings at 3-0. The undefeated Green Wave have been getting some terrific defense all season, and feature one of the more unheralded versatile athletes in senior Babila Fonkem. Mashpee stumbled out of the gates, with losses to Nauset and Austin Prep in the first month, but has rebounded with a three-game win streak. Leading the attack have been running backs Malik Lee and Jared Taylor, as well as emerging quarterback Cody Bingham-Hendricks.

Barboza: Fonkem provides the highlight reel plays running and on special teams, but Brian Kilmain and Jack Malafronte give the Green Wave balance. They’re the difference. Abington, 28-20.

Hall: For the first time in three years, I managed to get through our picks on video and our podcast without mentioning my parents are Abington High Class of '79 (self high-five, folks). Don't get it twisted, though, that has nothing to do with why I've soured on Mashpee since the preseason. Abington, 28-17.

NO. 2 EVERETT (5-1) AT BC HIGH (2-3)
The Skinny: The Eagles are finally starting to heal, with starting quarterback Brendan Craven seeing action last week against Marlborough and running back Brandon Owens getting back into the mix. While they’re still missing a couple key cogs on defense, Owens will help bolster BC High’s run defense against Everett’s double-wing-based ground attack. The Crimson Tide also have been nursing some injuries in recent weeks, but Jalen Felix returned for last week’s game at Xaverian and Jakarrie Washington ran for three scores. Gilly De Souza, the glue that holds Everett’s secondary together, continues playing with an ankle injury and didn’t see the offensive side of the ball last week, but he’s remained rock steady (as he has since freshman year) in the kicking game.

Barboza: BC High is pumped and ready for this one, but De Souza provides the game-winning boot late. Everett, 17-14.

Hall: Won't be fooled again. Everett, 24-10.

SATURDAY
XAVERIAN (1-5) AT NO. 21 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM (3-3)
The Skinny: This one has the potential to please fans of power football. The Hawks could go heavy in the backfield with Hunter Taute with Mike Brennan doubtful for this weekend’s game after a late injury in last week’s loss to Everett. Or, the Hawks could air it out behind Austin DeCarr whose hit on touchdown passes of 30-plus yards in each of the last two weeks. The Trojans will look to pound the ball behind breakout sophomore running back Brandon Gallagher and a physical offensive line anchored by Joe MacInnis. Senior quarterback Jordan Cohen also gives B-R the opportunity to strike downfield while rolling out of the pocket.

Barboza: I went with the Hawks last week and promptly was served some humble pie by Everett’s offensive line postgame. I’m sticking with my gut this week. Trojans have controlled this matchup in the last two seasons. B-R, 21-17.

Hall: Historically when the game slows to a ground-and-pound stalemate, the odds favor the Trojans. B-R, 20-10.

No. 18 Leominster (4-2) at No. 20 St. John's of Shrewsbury (4-2)
The Skinny: Back at the start of the season, we pegged this as must-see action to circle on one's calendar. It's still one of the games of the year in Central Mass., and we could even see a rematch come playoff time, but let the facts stand. Leominster and St. John's quickly fell from the Top 10 in the last several weeks; Leominster looked shaky in an upset loss to Wachusett and win over Algonquin, while St. John's has surrendered 100 points total in the last two games.

Barboza: That Pioneers defense tightens some, but just not quite enough to stop the Blue Devils. Leominster, 34-28.

Hall: If there's anything we've learned in the last two weeks, it's that if you can run on St. John's, you can go all Barry Switzer and "hang half a hundred on 'em". Leominster, 40-35.

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