EASTON, Mass. -- It's been an eventful offseason in the recruiting department for St. Paul Catholic (Conn.) quarterback Logan Marchi, who saw his childhood dream come true late last month with a verbal commitment to UConn.
Winning? Not so much. Since appearing the CIAC Class MM playoffs in 2009, the Falcons have won just six games in three years. If they're to get back to their winning ways, they're going to need another big season out of Marchi, a 6-foot-1 gunslinger with plenty of zip out of his unorthodox three-quarter arm slot.
Could today's events at Oliver Ames High, site of the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 South Regional Tournament, be the start? Marchi led the Falcons through a forest of quality competition, knocking off Massachusetts heavyweight Mansfield in the finals, 35-29, to become the first team from Connecticut to capture a regional title in tournament history.
St. Paul and Mansfield qualified for July 30's New England Championship, at Bishop Fenwick High in Peabody.
"It feels good," said Marchi, a Winsted, Conn., resident, who also played safety today on defense. "The past three seasons have been losing for us. We've been young, we've had freshmen starting on the varsity. Coming out here, seeing smiles on faces, seeing everybody happy winning is good. It's a fun experience."
After going unbeaten through a pool of Framingham, Braintree, Whitman-Hanson and Middleborough, the Falcons took out Dighton-Rehoboth and East Bridgewater to advance to the Final Four. There, St. Paul matched up with Cardinal Spellman, led by one of the Bay State's top targets in 6-foot-6 tight end Rory Donovan, before advancing to the final against Mansfield.
"For his height he runs good routes," Marchi said of Donovan, who currently holds offers from UMass and UNH. "He's fast, he's quick, he's got good feet -- I like that. I tried playing some press man on him, but he blew right by me. He's got good hands, he's a good kid. I like him."
Marchi did a good job most of the afternoon spreading the ball around to his targets -- junior Eli Parks, junior Brendan Carroll, senior Reid Morin and his brother, sophomore Austin -- and in the finals against the Hornets, Marchi impressed the crowd on hand with his throws both short and long.
Utilizing crossing patterns over the middle, Marchi threaded some lasers through the middle for quick first downs. Their most successful maneuver involved switching vertical routes deep down the right sideline; with the Mansfield safety often locked along the hash marks, that left inside slot receiver Austin Morin open for several terrific over-the-shoulder grabs at the pylons.
Marchi, pleased with the results, is optimistic about the potential momentum today's action carrying into the season.
"We're excited, we're ready to compete," he said. "We're ready to show our offense to people, we're ready to show we have a better defense, and we want to win some games."
Flair for the Dramatic: Mansfield, Sunday's runner-up, advanced to the final with a little bit of karma on its side perhaps.
The Hornets were spurred on the road to the championship game by a couple of last-ditch passing attempts. After winning an early-round game on a Hail Mary, Mansfield won its semi-final matchup with Catholic Memorial via a full-field heave from quarterback Kyle Wisnieski to Kyle Hurley with no time remaining. Hurley, who was all over the field for the Hornets, working a complement of short and intermediate routes, grabbed a hold of the tipped ball in the end zone to earn the come-from-behind victory over CM.
For Mansfield, a Division 2 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl participant in 2012, it's about carrying last season's momentum into a new campaign.
"We have a lot of juniors from last year returning this year, so it's a pretty tight family," Hurley said. "We just came in here trying to compete. We knew there were a lot of good teams coming in. We thought we could hold our own, obviously making it to the championship game and played a great team."
Sunday was a fine showcase for Mansfield's aerial attack, which figures to feature more spread looks in the upcoming season to maximize the strengths of its personnel. And, although the Hornets were without two of their top targets -- Brendan Hill (AAU basketball Nationals) and Mike Hershman (rehabbing injury) -- they still showed plenty of sting behind Brendan Keady and Hurley.
"We're able to make some connections with Kyle [Wisnieski] throwing to a couple different receivers," Hurley said. "I feel like there are things we can get out of it, we can communicate and try to make improvements -- it's July, it's early obviously. It's just great to get out here and compete."
Donovan gets his share: One of the most-anticipated individual matchups of the day went down early in the afternoon in Pool G, where Springfield Central's Ju'uan Williams manned up the 6-foot-6 Donovan in a battle between two players who could potentially see themselves on ESPN Boston's Preseason All-State Team next month.
The 5-foot-8 Williams, who currently holds an offer from Division 2 American International College, gave up 10 inches and nearly 25 pounds to Donovan. He mostly played eight to 10 yards off the line of scrimmage against Donovan, but he showed off his athleticism early, crashing to the pylon on a fade and out-leaping Donovan to break up a would-be touchdown. On plays that Williams marked Donovan, the tight end was targeted three times, with two catches and a score.
"He's a good player and he's really aggressive. He's physical," Donovan said of Williams. "He's fast, he's quick, he knows what he's doing ou there, absolutely. He's not a scrub."
In addition to UMass and UNH offers, Donovan has also heard from Temple, James Madison, Towson, UConn and Maryland.
Albany offers Cody Williams: Central's biggest star, quarterback Cody Williams, was not available for today's tournament. He was on a visit to the University of Albany, where he received his third scholarship offer from the Division 1 FCS ranks to go along with Monmouth (N.J.) and Central Connecticut State.
With Cody out, two of his cousins -- sophomore Aaron, and the aforementioned Ju'uan -- saw time under center. Ju'uan filled in for Cody in two games last season, and was quite impressive, most significantly throwing for two touchdowns and running in the game-winning score in a highly-anticipated October showdown with rival Longmeadow. Today Ju'uan aired it out, with two deep completions down the right sideline to senior Malik Johnson.
Blitz for Bletzer: One of the most intriguing commitments of Steve Addazio's historic first recruiting class at Boston College is Catholic Memorial athlete Kevin Bletzer, who saw time at nearly every position in the back seven last year as one of the team's leading tacklers. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, the Medfield resident will likely fit at outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Don Brown's scheme, which prioritizes speed and versatility. Bletzer also captains the Knights' hockey and lacrosse teams, which are traditionally among the state's best.
And in turn, it's likely that Bletzer will stay closer to the line of scrimmage on defense this year for the Knights.
"I've kinda always loved to play linebacker," Bletzer said. "They had me at safety the last three years, but they put me up in the box, so I've had a little taste for linebacker in my past years. The only difference is, I'm going to be stuck there [now], and have to deal with a lot more lineman. But I look forward to it."
Ball Hawks: Remember earlier this month, when we mused that suggestions of Barnstable's demise, after graduating one of its best senior classes in school history, may have been exaggerated?
Look, there's a reason the Red Raiders dropped futile Durfee from their schedule and added Catholic Conference juggernauts BC High and Xaverian, one year after spending seven weeks as the state's No. 1 team and taking Everett to the brink in the Division 1A Super Bowl. Under head coach Chris Whidden, Barnstable has been among the state's best in pass coverage -- and we saw that again today.
The Raiders didn't survive pool play, going 2-2 in a pool that included Nauset and BB&N, but suffice to say their safety play was among the day's most impressive performances. In the final two games, senior Derek Estes came up with seven interceptions, including four against Silver Lake. In the Silver Lake battle, senior Micah Gregory made one of the day's most impressive athletic plays, breaking on a ball at the opposite sideline from the far hash marks and making a one-handed snatch of a would-be first down.
Walloping Whalers: Nantucket might have been the only team in the country last season with bookend tackles tipping the scales at 180 pounds, but a Division 1-bound tight end measuring 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds (ESPN Boston All-Stater Terrel Correia). But it looks like the Whalers will have some more meat in the trenches this fall.
Juniors Mykal Ludford (6-4, 305) and Matt Correia (6-3, 250, younger brother of Terrel) were out running routes today with the Whalers' skill, and a third lineman Taylor Gulley (6-3, 275) should give them further bulk. That should help out senior linebacker Jon Holdgate, who is expected to shoulder a big load.