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 4 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at North champ Tewksbury and South champ Plymouth South, respectively.
Division 3 State Championship
TEWKSBURY (12-0) vs. PLYMOUTH SOUTH (10-2)
at Gillette Stadium, 6 p.m.
When Tewksbury has the ball: Bar none, this has got to be the most fascinating high school offense in Massachusetts to watch. You may see as many as 25 different formations in a game, and from just about every family of offense imaginable. Their game-opening drive against Melrose in the D3 North Final featured a half-dozen formations, for starters – starting with a gun empty with two tight ends, followed by a Wing-T, a Flex Bone look, the I-Formation, an unbalanced Power-I, and the dated “Notre Dame Box” formation made famous by Knute Rockne nearly 100 years ago.
And that was just one drive. When you’re scouting Tewksbury’s offense, there is a lot to digest in a short window of time. One of the concepts they’ve been pretty effective with is their ability to set up the run, not the pass, out of empty formations, with quarterback Johnny Aylward leading the way on an inverted veer or a power. But to single out one guy is like picking one’s favorite grandchild – between James Sullivan (21 TDs), Eddie Matovu, tight end Tom Casey and receiver Kevin Dick, there is a load to handle. In another offense, Dick might catch 100 passes. But in Tewksbury, he is one of a half-dozen dangerous weapons, making the Redmen that much more intimidating.
In the trenches, look out for a senior-laden line led by Matt Lacascia, Alex Hamilton, John Melloni, John DeVito and Dan Donovan. This is a unit that moves quick off the ball, and should provide a quality matchup for a beefy South line led by Shaun Duncombe.
When Plymouth South has the ball: No running back has seen the ball more the last two seasons in Massachusetts football than Panthers senior running back Dylan Oxsen. After setting the state’s single-season rushing touchdowns record (40) in 2012, Oxsen’s already surpassed 2,000 rushing yards (2,145) on the season, while averaging just about 30 carries per game.
Of course, for Oxsen’s success, much credit is due to the Panther’s line, as well as lead blocker Matt Bremis, running out of South’s I-formation and pistol looks. Senior captain and Bryant University commit Shaun Duncombe is a true road-grader, while senior center Brendan Harty has been a solid two-year starter. Meanwhile, Bremis has been a steady two-way contributor for South for a few years now. While South might not have faced such a hard-hitting defense as Tewksbury’s throughout this season, the Panthers have the size to match a physical Redmen front eight at the point of attack.
When Tewksbury is on defense: In their previous two playoff games, against Melrose (D3 North Final) and Marblehead (D3 Northeast Final), the Redmen found success with quarters looks, sprinkled with enough pre-snap movement to disguise coverage or simply create some confusion. That’s led to a monster season at safety for Sullivan, who came up with three picks in a game earlier this season. We’re just going to assume they come out with something new for this game, because South presents a wholly different offensive attack than Melrose’s read option.
Lucky for Tewksbury, the guys they have in the back seven are versatile, and they embrace contact. With Matovu and Casey at linebacker, and Johnny Aylward roaming at strong safety, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Redmen load up the box to combat South’s “22” personnel and heavy pistol looks. If grit and grind is the name of the game, Tewksbury can play right along with it.
When Plymouth South is on defense: In what could be a defensive struggle in a ball control-oriented game, turnovers should loom large. The Panthers won the turnover battle in the Division 3 South final, thanks to a last-minute interception from senior captain Anthony Schena, against Stoughton.
The matchup will likely be determined on the lines, so the impetus is on the down linemen in South’s 4-4 stack to control the gaps against Tewksbury’s multipronged ground game. Duncombe and Harty anchor the line, alongside Nick Eaton and Justin Lamb.
But the difference-maker is Bremis, the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder can lay down the lumber, so expect plenty of car wreck-caliber hits laid out by both defenses.