Boston High School: Millis/Hopedale

D6 South: Cohasset 20, Millis/Hopedale 12

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
12:11
AM ET
MILLIS, Mass. – It has been a “Groundhog Day” of sorts when Millis-Hopedale and Cohasset have met over the past few years, and it’s the latter that has often been the beneficiary.

For the second consecutive year, the Mohawks took a lead into the fourth quarter of the Div. 6 South final and, again, the Skippers slipped away with a victory. The script nearly the same, just the scene altered.

With 8:33 remaining in the game, junior Nick Hall plunged up the middle for a 1-yard score and Henry Butenschoen booted the extra-point through to give Cohasset a 13-12 lead, the Skippers’ first of the night.

After forcing a pair of turnover on downs in a span of 2:56, Cohasset upped the ante when Tim Gillis rumbled into the end zone from 14 yards out to give Cohasset a 20-13 lead with 90 seconds to play.

The Cohasset defense bent to Matt Fogarty during the last drive, but stood their ground, as Nick Hall came up with the clinching interception in the end zone with just over 30 seconds remaining to clinch their second straight Div. 6 South title.

“The kids have been playing really well the last few months,” Cohasset coach Pete Afanasiw said. “It’s the most points we’ve given up in the last seven games but we knew what they were trying to do.“

The Skippers await the winner of Saturday’s Div. 6 North matchup between Mystic Valley and Cathedral for the right to represent Eastern Mass at Gillette Stadium.

Relying on defense: The Skippers entered Friday nights matchup on a six-game win streak thanks in large part to their defense. In the previous 20 quarters, Cohasset had yielded just 10 points and after a scoreless first quarter, pushed that mark to 21 quarters.

Millis-Hopedale pushed across two scores in the second quarter, the first a 27-yard rush up the middle by Josh Pierre-Charles and the second a 20-yard hookup between Fogarty and Brian Espanet with 52 second remaining.

But once the second half kicked off the Skipper defense rose to the occasion, keying on stopping Pierre-Charles. Pierre-Charles rushed for 90 yards on 16 carries in the first half, but only added an additional 18 yards in the second half and it showed in the Mohawks’ offensive production.

The Mohawks were forced to punt on their first two drives of the second half with neither drive crossing midfield. Their next two drives came to an abrupt halt as M/H turned the ball over on downs in their own territory.

“We just knew they were very physical and we had to stop the run,” Skipper quarterback Danny Axelson said. “Their running back is really good but once we stopped the run we were okay. We would rather play them in the air than on the ground.”

Offensive trickery: The only score the Skippers put up in the first three quarters was an ugly one. Axelson tossed a high-arching pass down the left sideline for Adam Benson who was trapped in double coverage. Axelson’s pass came up short but Benson doubled back to come up with the catch while the two Mohawks defenders collided and fell to the ground. Benson went untouched up the sideline for a 64-yard score.

With Cohasset trailing by six with just over nine minutes left, the Skippers dialed up some trickery. Nick Hall took the handoff from Axelson and raced laterally to the left side. He stalled, looked up and found a wide open Brett Dooley on the left sideline and got the ball down to the 1-yard line. The next play, Hall took the handoff up the middle to give Cohasset their first lead.

“I can’t take credit for that, that was my offensive coordinator and I give him full control of everything,” Afanasiw said. “He lets these guys play and one of the reasons we have so much success is because we let these kids have fun.”

Keying on Espanet: When Gillis found pay dirt with 1:30 remaining in the game to give the Skippers a 20-12 lead, many thought the game was over, but the Mohawks were still in striking distance.

Fogarty had to abandon Pierre-Charles and the running game with only one timeout in his back pocket and attack through the air, but Cohasset was ready for it.

Espanet was Fogarty’s favorite target on the day, hauling in six passes for 54 yards before the final drive and Afanasiw keyed on taking him away.

Adam Benson was in charge of covering Espanet all game long and was successful much of the night, but with 1:30 left, the Skippers made a change.

Afanasiw took Benson off man-to-man coverage and plugged in Hall, who was in bump-and-run coverage. Benson played safety over the top, heavily shadowing Espanet’s side.

“First off we wanted to make sure we got some sort of pass rush but also get five guys over the top,” Afanasiw said. “That last drive we had Nick (Hall) jam and trail and had a safety over the top just cause we knew they were going to {Espanet}.”

With Millis/Hopedale driving, looking at a first-and-10 at the Cohasset 34-yard line and just over 30 seconds left, the new look paid off.

Fogarty tried to force a ball to Espanert, who was draped in coverage from Hall and Benson and a jump ball in the end zone when in favor of the defending Hall.

“[Espanet] was having a great game and we were giving him stuff and I’m not usually a DB but I bumped him and then the ball came and I just took it down,” Hall said. “I was coming down with it.“

Cole Kissick on the horizon: Afanasiw concluded his postgame meeting with his players by telling them that when they take the field next that “every single player will be in uniform.” That includes senior captain Cole Kissick who went down in the opening week of the season and was thought to be lost for the season.

“As far I know, unless something happens between now and Tuesday, he’s about to turn that corner,” Afanasiw said.

The senior tailback was elected captain before the season began and rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns in the Skippers opening-day victory over Norwell.

Kissick will no doubt add another dimension to the Cohasset backfield when the Skippers take the field for the Div. 6 state semifinal game next Saturday.

Cohasset 20, Millis Hopedale 12
C06014--20
M-H01200--12

Second Quarter:
M-H- Josh Pierre-Charles 27 rush (pass fail), 7:42
C-Adam Benson 63 pass from Danny Axelson (kick fail), 6:29
M-H-Brian Espanet 20 pass from Matt Fogarty (rush fail), :52

Fourth Quarter:
C-Nick Hall 1 run (Henry Butenschoen kick), 8:33
C-Tim Gillis 14 rush (Butenschoen kick), 1:30

Olson: Inheriting 'a sports car' at Millis football

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
6:03
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Millis/Hopedale officially announced the promotion of Dana Olson to head football coach yesterday afternoon, giving the long-time Bay State high school coaching veteran his first crack at a head job in his two decades of experience.

Olson, 39, got his start as a 19-year-old assistant under Paul Carroll at Medway High in 1994, and was promoted to offensive coordinator a year later. Since that first gig in Medway, Olson had stops at Bellingham and Framingham before joining Dale Olmsted's staff at M-H four years ago. Over his span, he has coached some of the finest schoolboy athletes to come through the Bay State in the last two decades, including Ricky Santos (Bellingham), Danny Guadagnoli (Framingham) and future Boston College Eagle Jon Baker these past four years at M-H.

Olson takes over for Dale Olmsted, who accepted the head coach job at Nichols College after turning around a dormant Mohawks program and went 43-47 in eight seasons at the helm. This past season, the Mohawks went 9-2, reaching the MIAA Division 6 South Final in the first year of the new state championship format.

To say he is excited to take over the Mohawks is putting it diplomatically. Olson was full of energy when he spoke to ESPNBoston.com yesterday afternoon about the new job:

Biggest thing he's learned in his two decades as an assistant: "The biggest thing I've learned over the years is the recruiting process for these kids, how to handle a kid of that magnitude on the recruiting scene, keeping them humble, keeping them hungry. Those three kids right there [Santos, Guadagnoli, Baker] were outstanding kids, outstanding student-athletes, outstanding human benings. It was easy to coach those guys, and I obviously had a lot of fun doing it."

On the returning talent, including 9 starters on both sides of the ball: "We chuckled, especially when you guys came out with your preseason poll and had us No. 25 in the state. A lot of people looked at Jon Baker and said Millis is gonna be very good, but we knew as a staff we were gonna be very young. We graduated 17 seniors the year before, we had three returning starters on both sides of the ball. We knew we'd struggle a bit, we thought we were a year away from being really, really good again. But the kids expected to win.

"Our running back Matt Fogarty, who is Chris Ahl’s backup, would’ve started at a lot of schools. We've four of five starters returning on the offensive line. We’ve got a 6-foot-3 freshman from Hopedale [Brian Espanet] who's gonna be the next big talent, he started every game at corner for us at 14 years old. We started two sophomores against Cohasset at the three and one techniques that are both 260 pounds [Tommy O'Brien and Jay Wenzel]. Looking at Josh Pierre-Charles starting at safety as a sophomore, looking at the backers and we got one senior out of the backers, the rest are sophomores and juniors...In a nutshell, we got a ton coming back. We're not gonna be small."

On the offensive philosophy going forward: "I'm a big proponent of, if it's not broken don’t fix it. I'm not getting handed the keys to a jalopy here -- this is a sports car. We’ll keep doing what we're doing. Everyone wants to add their own flares, but that's gonna be the biggest thing as head coach -- we don’t need to change. We've been successful at who we are, we've got big uglies up front, we get downhill and get after teams defensively. We're probably going to average 260 across the line with a good tailback coming back, we're gonna run the football at you.

"I'm a spread guy by heart. I ran the spread at Framingham, I ran the spread toward the end of Ricky’s career. We're gonna stick to what we know, but you might see us more wide open at times. We will line up in the I and come at you, we're going to have to win ball games 21-7 and play good defense."

Biggest personal reward as a coach: "To see guys be successful in life -- not just the BC's, UNH's or Bentley's of the world, but sending kids off to play at Nichols, Bridgewater State. That means you did something right, because they're still hungry and still want to play a game they're passionate about. When you've got 16 graduating and not one goes on to play football, then you wonder a little bit. We've got a kid at Bryant right now, Springfield College, Framingham State, Jon [Baker] is off to play at BC, we've got kids going off now to play college football. To me that bodes well, it says you're doing the right thing."

Olmsted: Nichols 'an opportunity I couldn't turn down'

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
1:16
PM ET
Tuesday afternoon, Nichols College officially announced Millis/Hopedale's Dale Olmsted as its new head football coach, after eight seasons running the Mohawks' program.

The Bison's athletic department initially reached out to Olmsted three weeks ago, as the Mohawks were preparing for an MIAA Division 6 South first round matchup with Mashpee, and the process went along quickly. Olmsted accepted the job over this past weekend, replacing Kevin Loney at the helm of the Bison's program.

Heading into the Thanksgiving matchup with Medway, Olmsted is 42-47 in eight years as head coach at M-H, which includes playoff berths the last two seasons led by Boston College-bound lineman Jon Baker.

We caught up with Olmsted yesterday afternoon for some further comments on his new gig, the Mohawks' future and what he'll miss most from the high school level of coaching:

On accepting the job: "It was just an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. We preach to the kids about success and opportunities, and here I am looking in the mirror -- 'Hey coach, here you go'. I could've played it safe. I have a great job in Millis, with a program heading in the right direction, from being irrelevant to being mentioned in the playoffs for the foreseeable future. That was the safe play, stay where I'm at and ride off into the sunset. But the opportunity that I was faced with, I could not say no. I took it, and it's been a emotional roller coaster when you have young kids involved in decision-making.

"I'm going to go back today to lift and run. The more they see me, the better off they’ll be able to deal. My staff now is staying [at M-H]. You hate to bring this up during the season, but sometimes you don’t have a choice."

Why the process moved so quickly: "I just think that's the nature of the business over there. Their season ended and they needed stability. Just based on the information I have, when Loney left a lot of the staff left as well. I show up on Monday, there was 3 graduate assistants out of a staff of 10 people, and it's down to two now. It's the nature of the beast."

If he will bring anyone from his current staff to Nichols: "At this point right now, I've been getting emails from all over the country really, from people want the opportunity to coach at the college level. Speaking with my staff there, they're pretty happy where they're at, and they'd like to continue the journey to a state title at Millis. I don't foresee any...One staff member might be interested in coming with me, but right now I'm trying to juggle a new staff together [at Nichols] while working with the Millis staff, trying to run almost two programs at once. The last thing I wanna do is short-change a kid's experience on Turkey Day."

Succession plan at M-H: "I'm not sure. Any time you turn a program around, it's not one person. It's a number of things -- parents, alumni, administration, there's been a lot of people involved in turning this program around, and a lot of those people I mentioned are still there.

"I think the program...I'm not gonna say it's at an all-time high, because we haven't won a state title yet, this was gonna be maybe a down year because we lost so many seniors the previous year. Certainly Jon Baker was the centerpiece of the program, and when he went down we started all sophomores and juniors up front. I started four sophomores and a freshman on varsity and they did a fantastic job this year. The kids did a real good job maturing throughout the course of the year. I'm extremely proud of the way that they were able to win some games, and that’s sign that progress is there, when kids can step up for the seniors that left the previous year and start winning as sophomores."

What he'll miss most: "Dealing with the kids, I'll certainly miss watching these kids grow up. Sort of going down memory lane, this is all going back. I keep gameday programs from every year, I have a picture of Jon Baker as a long-haired, 170-pound eighth-grader. To see how kids develop mentally and physically in the program, I'm really gonna miss that. The sky is the limit for these kids, in high school, and then the next opportunity, whether it's college or the workforce or the military. Wherever they go, seeing them develop from boys to young men will be the thing I miss most about my job."

On the challenges in the recruiting end: "Obviously it will be my first time doing it, it's an unexpected challenge that popped up. What I'll rely on most of all in this recruiting class is the relationships I've built with head coaches in the Commonwealth. I've been coaching high schools in Massachusetts for 21 years, I've been in the Tri-Valley League, the Bay State, the Hockomock; I've been a member of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association [MHSFCA] and that's allowed me to meet coaches from all around the state. Our program has been very fortunate to win games against South Shore League, too. Again, I think that's another thing that appealed to me about Nichols. To not only build up a program from scratch but my network, the people I've come across, that’s really appealed to them.

"I'll rely heavily on my relationship with head coaches, talking with them, informing them about the opportunities that are at Nichols College, not only on the football field, but obviously as a [high school] head coach, you wanna make sure you recommend colleges to your kids where the head coaches are going to take care of them. You're not just gonna be a number at Nichols -- the ratio is 16-to-1 student-teacher, with 90 percent placement in the workforce, so there's a great opportunity for kids to play at a competitive level and get a great education. I hope the staff I bring in turns these young men into men."

Millis' Olmsted to take over at Nichols College

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
7:14
PM ET
Millis/Hopedale head coach Dale Olmsted confirmed to ESPNBoston.com this afternoon that he will be taking over as the new head coach at Nichols College.

Olmsted informed the team around noon today that he was leaving his post with the Mohawks’ program to take over for the Bison. He took over the Mohawks' squad in 2005 and quickly turned a dormant program into a small-school powerhouse, which included an appearance in last year's MIAA Division 4 playoffs, and this year's Division 6 South Final. This season, he had arguably the top offensive line prospect in New England, Boston College commit Jon Baker, at his disposal.

Headed into Thanksgiving, the Mohawks were 8-2 on the season. Olmsted is currently 42-47 overall in his eight years at M-H.

Below is the official press release from Nichols College regarding the Olmsted's hire:



DUDLEY, Mass. -– Nichols College Director of Athletics Charlie Robert has announced the hiring of Dale Olmsted as its new head football coach. Olmsted replaces Kevin Loney, who resigned over the weekend.

Olmsted comes to Nichols by way of Millis High School in Millis, Massachusetts, which competes in the Tri-Valley League. Olmsted took over a program that had a total of three wins in three seasons before his arrival, and after going 5-6 and 3-8 following a merger with Hopedale in 2009, has since qualified for the state playoffs in three-consecutive seasons (2011-13) under his guidance.

"We're probably the smallest high school east of I-495," said Olmsted. "I took over a program that wasn't doing very well and had success. We've built it from the ground up, from a school that almost lost football to three-straight playoff berths. Our kids expect to win now, and we're going to do the same thing here. We're going to create leaders at Nichols College. Our student-athletes will work hard, be accountable for their actions, and learn that there are no shortcuts to success. When they buy into these philosophies, the wins will come."

A two-time Metro West and TVL Small Coach of the Year (2011-12), Olmsted was named the Boston Globe Division 4 Coach of the Year in 2011 after coaching Millis to a 10-1 mark, the TVL Small School Division title, and the state playoffs. The following year, the Mohwaks went 8-3 and captured their second-straight TVL Small School Division crown. Following the season, Olmsted was an assistant coach for the South in the 2012 Shriners All-Star Game.

"I am very pleased to have Dale Olmsted on board as the new head football coach," said Robert. "You can hear in his voice his love of teaching and coaching football, but more importantly, you can see his passion for developing student-athletes into well rounded young men and good, caring citizens. He is a great teacher, mentor and role model for the sport and for student-athletes. Dale has proven his coaching ability with taking challenged programs and turning them into championship contenders. I look forward to working with him as we continue to develop our football family and write a new chapter for Bison football."

Olmsted played for legendary high school coach John Lee at Walpole High School, then migrated south to Salem College in West Virginia, where he played safety for former West Virginia and Michigan and current Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, who was his defensive backs coach, in 1987. He transferred to West Liberty State College the following year after the program at Salem was eliminated.

Following his playing days, Lee contacted Olmsted to gauge his interest in becoming a coach. Olmsted spent the next eight years as a coach at Walpole – two as an offensive and defensive assistant (1992-93), five as the offensive coordinator (1994-98), and one as defensive coordinator (1999). During that span, he helped the Rebels capture three Super Bowls.

Olmsted left Walpole in 2000 to become the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator at Dedham High School (2001-02), where he inherited a two-win program and turned them into an 8-3 team in his final season. Following one-year assistant coaching stints as the offensive and defensive coordinator at Braintree H.S. (2003) and King Philip H.S. (2004), respectively, Olmsted became the head coach at Millis in 2005.

Olmsted served as the head coach at Millis – a program with a great history which had fallen on hard times – from 2005-08. In 2009, Olmsted discovered the school – which features approximately 150 boys in grades 9-12 – had only 18 committed players for the upcoming season. The athletic directors and Millis and nearby Hopedale High School, along with the MIAA, allowed the two schools to merge their programs. Millis/Hopedale went 5-6 in 2009, 3-8 in 2010 before breaking through in 2011. The merger ended prior to the 2013 campaign.

"I attribute our turnaround to the development and implementation of an off-season conditioning program," said Olmsted. "We also reached out to our alumni to help generate some funds for the program, and they helped fund our equipment and weight room."

Olmsted represents the Tri-Valley League as a member of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association (MSHFCA). He was the New England Patriots 'Coach of the Week' during week three of the 2008 campaign. He resides in Walpole with his wife, Lisa, and children Alex (14), Hayden (12), and Julia (9).

"I passed on an opportunity to coach in the New England Football Conference years ago, but I wasn't going to let this opportunity slip away," said Olmsted, whose 2013 squad is 7-2 heading into their Thanksgiving Day game. "I always tell my kids 'Don't be afraid of success. Embrace it. You only have so many opportunities in life.' I could have played it safe, but this is a great opportunity. I've worked hard to get to where I am and made a lot of great choices. Football has set me up with the core values I try to instill in my players."


M/H's Baker looks to stay hungry at BC

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
4:45
PM ET
MILLS, Mass. – Jon Baker’s hungry.

Obviously, with a 6-foot-3, 305-pound frame to support, it’s a common problem for the Millis/Hopedale football lineman. After the hulking senior Boston College commit signed an early National Letter of Intent Friday morning in Millis High’s library, officially marking his arrival at the Heights next season, all that was on his mind was grabbing a bite to eat.

“Getting this done, there’s a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Baker said. “Everything’s done, there’s no messing around. Plans have obviously changed, it’ll be a little bit tougher, but nothing too big has changed.”

[+] EnlargeJon Baker
Scott Barboza/ESPNBoston.comMillis/Hopedale senior OL/DL signed an early letter of intent Friday to play at Boston College next year and has enrolled for the spring semester.
Baker would have had more on his plate Friday, as his Mohawks prepared to take on Mashpee in an MIAA Division 6 South sectional playoff game, if not for a season-ending knee injury. During M/H’s Tri-Valley League game against Bellingham two weeks ago, Baker suffered a right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.

As a result, Baker’s priorities have shifted to rehabbing and getting back on the field as soon as possible to join his new Eagles teammates. He’s undergoing surgery on Monday, but with the peace of mind, knowing he now is signed and sealed to BC, Baker’s ready for the next chapter of his life.

“Sooner I get it done,” Baker said of the surgery, “the sooner I get back to practice and get back to playing.”

Mohawks head coach Dale Olmsted called Baker “a professional” during Friday’s gathering, citing his ambition and attention to detail. That’s carried Baker through his high school career, and it’s no coincidence that he’s accelerated his transition to college. Baker will graduate in December and is enrolled for the spring semester at BC (allowing him to sign his Letter early) and, aside from his rehabilitation, he’ll get a head start on his course work.

It’s emblematic of his approach on the field as well.

“The minute he went down with the injury, he looked up at me and said, ‘What if I just play offense?’” Olmsted said.

Expectations at Chestnut Hill are high for Baker. In his talks with BC’s coaching staff, Olmsted made mention that the Eagles staff believes Baker is among of the top incoming interior offensive linemen in the country.

Baker, who projects to work at guard and center with the Eagles, is simply thrilled to get to work with Steve Addazio and his staff.

“This new staff is amazing,” Baker said. “Just what they’ve managed to do this season, they haven’t really had any of the guys they’ve recruited come in, but they’ve managed to turn things around. I love the style of play they have and I look forward to getting in there and working with them.

“And, it’s close to home, so that’s great.”

Baker also had offers from Michigan State, Rutgers, Temple, UConn, UMass, Harvard, Yale, Old Dominion and Holy Cross, but it’s BC’s long-served reputation as a lineman factory that he’s hoping to reestablish.

“It was O-line U,” Baker said of the Eagles’ long lineage of linemen to play in the NFL.

If he stays hungry, he might just join them.

Roundtable: Predicting MIAA Football District Champs

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
4:21
PM ET
EDITOR'S NOTE: Picks for Western Mass. are omitted, as the district concludes its final week of regular season this weekend)

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


Division 1 North: Everett
Plain and simple, I just don’t see John DiBiaso getting outcoached in this field.

Division 1 South: Attleboro
One of several surprise picks I’m going to lay down here. The Blue Bombardiers’ program has long been a sleeping giant, and they’ve finally awoken this fall with a slew of skilled athletes, including quarterback Tim Walsh, tight end Luke Morrison, receiver Brenden Massey and promising young two-way lineman Kyle Murphy. The key may be junior Damon Belin, a speedy pass-catching running back who is elusive in space.

Division 2 North: Haverhill
Hard to think just two years after an 0-11 campaign, the Hillies are the No. 1 seed in a playoff tournament. Sophomore running back Ian Kessel, one of the area’s leaders in yards from scrimmage, has been at the forefront of the renaissance, and I expect him to have a breakout campaign this next month.

Division 2 South: Natick
If there is one player capable of carrying his team on his back, it is quarterback Troy Flutie, who has put up video game numbers yet again (2,500-plus yards, 35 TD) with an assortment of supporting cast members.

Division 2 Central: Leominster
This is the most talented team of Dave Palazzi’s tenure, and it may be his best coaching job yet. They are not the most physically intimidating team, but they are one of the most disciplined, and they squeeze every inch out of their talents, led by dual threat QB Neil O’Connor. The Blue Devils brought the biggest crowd ever to Gillette Stadium two years ago. I can only imagine what kind of caravan from this football-mad city would show up this year.

Division 3 Northeast: Tewksbury
There may be some bumps in the road in this field, but at the end of the day there isn’t a team as deep as the Redmen in this field. They were the most dominant team in the MVC this season, and with a stable of running backs led by James Sullivan and Eddie Matovu, along with a scheme that draws formations from seemingly every family of offense throughout history, I just don’t see how anyone knocks these guys off.

Division 3 Northwest: Arlington
Two Dubzinskis are better than one, and the father-son duo of head coach John Jr. and his father John Sr. as defensive coordinator has taken the Middlesex by storm this fall after showing promise a year ago. I don’t know what direction this bracket is headed in, but the Spy Ponders are a safe pick.

Division 3 Southeast: Plymouth South
As long as Dylan Oxsen is carrying the rock, I don’t see anyone but the Panthers taking this bracket. It’s a different story after that, though.

Division 3 Southwest: Walpole
The Rebels’ ground game has come along well, after hitting a few bumps. As long as the defense can hold up, their multi-dimensional stable of backs can do the rest.

Division 4 North: Bedford
Another field that can go in an assortment of directions, the ground game dictated by Olan Abner could be the difference.

Division 4 South: Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins typically hit their stride in the second half of the season, and the way this offense is clicking, it’s going to take a flawless defensive performance to shut down Spencer Tyler, Michael Dunn and company.

Division 4 Central: Doherty
Twitter follower and familiar 98.5 The Sports Hub caller “Aidan From Worcester” guarantees Shepherd Hill beats Doherty in this bracket. The Rams are a dangerous bunch, but the Highlanders have arguably the best grouping of pure athletes statewide across Division 4, so I'm sticking to my gut.

Division 5 North: Bishop Fenwick
Rufus Rushins gets much of the glory in this dominant run for the Crusaders, and deservedly so, but quarterback Nick Bona is the catalyst of this offense, and will be the difference in a close game somewhere down the line.

Division 5 South: Abington
The Green Wave lost some key bodies to start the year, but have been rolling ever since, capped with a convincing 36-7 rout of East Bridgewater. The versatile backfield of Al Freeman, Jason Halpin, quarterback Bryan Dwyer and promising sophomore Shawn Donovan will wear front sevens down.

Division 5 Central: Leicester
Tom Rodrick has been the driving force on both sides of the ball, but quarterback Drew Mazzeo puts the Wolverines over the top.

Division 6 North: Latin Academy
There are trendier picks in this field, such as Boston Cathedral, but the Dragons have one of the better overall athletes in this field in quarterback/safety Kyle Dance. He will be the difference.

Division 6 South: Upper Cape
Mike Hernon has done a fantastic job with this program, and while the Rams are a low seed headed into this wide-open field, Jon Dumont is a dangerous asset to this triple-option scheme who can take them deep.

Division 6 Central: Blackstone Valley Tech
Nic Wojnar is as elusive with his feet as he is throwing the ball in the Beavers’ read option scheme. Expect big numbers from the senior this postseason.

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


DIVISION 1 NORTH: Lowell
I’ve gone on record since the summertime months saying the Red Raiders are making an appearance at Gillette Stadium this year. Lowell has a tough road there, staring with a first-round road game at St. John’s Prep in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 swing matchup, but I’ve like the strides this defense has made behind Alex Quintero and Shyheim Cullen.

DIVISION 2 NORTH: Haverhill
One of the tougher races to project in Eastern Mass., the Hillies enter as the No. 1 seed. Preseason favorite Reading, a buzz worthy Waltham team and old stalwarts Lincoln-Sudbury could all claim the prize, but I’m going with the upstart Hillies, vindication for the terrific job Tim O’Connor has done since taking over the program.

DIVISION 3 NORTHEAST: Tewksbury
Marblehead might have the best athlete in the field with two-sport standout Brooks Tyrrell, but Tewksbury proves too much to handle, with a three-headed rushing attack and a stout defense.

DIVISION 3 NORTHWEST: Melrose
The Red Raiders lone loss of the regular season came against Middlesex Freedom division rival Wakefield, coming on a late field goal, but I like Melrose the second time around. The teams couldn’t meet until the sectional final and who wouldn’t love ensuring a third meeting of the season by Thanksgiving rivals.

DIVISION 4 NORTH: Watertown
Perhaps a surprise pick coming out of the division, the Red Raiders have some athletes on the boundaries with T.J. Hairston. I think Bedford might be the team to watch here, but just playing a hunch.

DIVISION 5 NORTH: Bishop Fenwick
Pick the Crusaders to go all the way, on a tear through Gillette. They haven’t just beaten teams, they’ve annihilated the CCL’s best, including St. Mary’s (first-round opponent) and Austin Prep, which they both will/can see down the road.

DIVISION 6 NORTH: Cathedral
Another North-based team I have running the field. As I mentioned earlier in the state championship Roundtable, I think the Panthers are just hitting their stride now. This could be the second championship of more to come.

DIVISION 1 SOUTH: Xaverian
Almost wanted to pull the trigger and go with Bridgewater-Raynham here, but I think the Hawks’ defense, which has carried them through the regular season, continues to be the story in the postseason, leading them to Gillette.

DIVISION 2 SOUTH: Mansfield
If this were the World Cup, this would be referred to as the “Group of Death.” Seriously, whichever team survives this gauntlet will be battle-tested. Ever since Week 1, it seems as though Mansfield’s been a team of destiny; they follow through.

DIVISION 3 SOUTHEAST: Plymouth South
An intriguing bracket, littered with some of the Atlantic Coast League’s finest, so look no further than the Panthers, the league’s playoff representative from last season. Nauset and Plymouth North are lurking, but also don’t look past an underrated rivalry game between Somerset-Berkley and Dighton-Rehoboth as a first-round appetizer.

DIVISION 3 SOUTHWEST: Oliver Ames
Another division strongly influenced by the presence of one particular league, in this case the Hockomock. OA and Stoughton drew the top two seeds, but let’s not sleep on No. 4 seed North Attleborough, which plays up in the Kelley-Rex division. Whichever team emerges from the Red Rocketeers’ first-round duel with Walpole could be a dark horse for the sectional title.

DIVISION 4 SOUTH: Westwood
Tons of Tri-Valley League talent to go around here, but I’m sticking with the regular-season champion. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if Dennis-Yarmouth wears the sectional crown, but the Wolverines are a team that simply seems to get it done when the chips are on the table, led by dynamic senior quarterback Bo Berluti.

DIVISION 5 SOUTH: Cardinal Spellman
Old Rochester Regional enters the tournament with the No. 1 seeding, having posted some gaudy offensive numbers throughout the year behind running back Richie Phillips. I picked the Cardinals to win the state title from the start of the season, and while I like Fenwick a little more in terms of the state championship, I still envision Spellman returning to Gillette.

DIVISION 6 SOUTH: Millis/Hopedale
Perhaps no injury will have a greater impact on the outlook of the division than that of the Mohawks and lineman Jon Baker. Granted, I still like M/H’s chances emerging from a wide-open field, thanks to running back Chris Ahl. That being said, the Mohawks’ first-round date with Mashpee could determine the sectional champion.

DIVISION 2 CENTRAL: Leominster
I like the Blue Devils to advance to Gillette, but the sectional field is fraught with peril, too. Marlborough and St. John’s (Shrewsbury) can score with the best of them, but I don’t think anything short of an act of god slows down the Leominster caravan.

DIVISION 4 CENTRAL: Doherty
From season’s start, I’ve tabbed the Highlanders as my statewide Division 4 championship favorite. However, the toughest matchup in the path might very well in their first-round test against No. 6 seed Quabbin.

DIVISION 5 CENTRAL: Leicester
Coming into the season, it would have been easy to project Auburn running away with another championship of sorts, but I’m going with the No. 1-seeded Wolverines, led by linebacker Tom Rodrick – a strong Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

DIVISION 6 CENTRAL: West Boylston
This is a case of what have you done for me lately? While No. 1 seed Littleton rolled through its Mid-Wach schedule undefeated, scoring at a clip of nearly 43 points per game, West Boylston notched a thorough win over previously mentioned Leicester two weeks ago. Granted, the Lions’ lone loss of the season came at the hands of Littleton, but after a one-possession loss in Week 1, I’m banking on the second meeting having a different outcome.

Mr. Football Watch: Week 7

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
12:58
AM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch" following Week 7 of the 2013 season. Statistics can be sent to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)



THE CONTENDERS*

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Completed 13 of 25 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns, in a 42-19 win over Milton.

Brandon Gallagher, Jr. RB, Bridgewater-Raynham
Carried 24 times for 100 yards and a touchdown, in the Trojans' 20-14 loss to Barnstable.

Hayden Murphy, Sr. RB/WR, Barnstable
In the Red Raiders' thrilling win over Bridgewater-Raynham, carried 14 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 43-yard TD run with less than a minute to go.

Neil O’Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
In the Blue Devils' 40-15 rout of Nashoba, completed 11 of 19 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and also had 50 yards rushing with a fourth score.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the Rockets' 33-6 win over Brookline.

Rufus Rushins, Jr. RB, Bishop Fenwick
Carried 19 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the Crusaders' 34-6 rout of St. Mary's of Lynn.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. RB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Completed 6 of 6 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and added 91 rushing yards with two more scores, in the Pioneers' 34-9 win over Wachusett.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
Was 5 of 11 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and added a rushing touchdown, in the Golden Eagles' 34-6 win over Putnam.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 12 of 27 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in the Hornets' 20-7 win over King Philip.

Isaac Yiadom, Sr. WR/DB, Doherty
Boston College commit caught a touchdown pass and threw for another, in the Highlanders' 28-0 shutout of Worcester North.



FIVE ON THE RISE

Emmanuel Almonte, Jr. QB/DB, Boston English
Totaled 254 yards of offense (190 rushing, 64 passing) and three touchdowns in the Blue & Blue's 24-6 win over West Roxbury. Through six games he is one of the state's leading rushers (1,025 yards, 8 TD, 9.5 yards per carry), in directing a read-option attack; he's also the team's leader in tackles (43).

Shaquille Anderson, Sr. RB, Cambridge
Led the way for the Falcons with 219 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries in their 34-20 win over Medford.

Dan Henrickson, Sr. WR, St. Peter-Marian
Totaled 123 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Guardians' 14-13 loss to Shepherd Hill.

Chris Lindstrom, Jr. OL/DL, Shepherd Hill
Leading a double-wing rushing attack that has accounted for 1,661 yards, 21 touchdowns and 7.2 yards per carry through six games, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound interior guard has been a road grader so far for the Rams.

Jack Sylvester, Sr. RB, Andover
Carried 14 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and also hauled in a 15-yard TD catch, in the Golden Warriors' 49-32 win over Rhode Island power La Salle Academy. In the last weeks, he's gained 402 yards with five touchdowns; on the season, he's averaging 8.3 yards per carry.



TOP STATISTICAL LEADERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Rushing
Chris Ahl, Sr., Millis/Hopedale – 1,098 yards, 14 TD
Mark Wright, Sr., Auburn – 1,084 yards, 12 TD
Emmanuel Almonte, Jr., Boston English – 1,025 yards, 8 TD
Zered McCoy, Sr., Ware – 963 yards, 7 TD
Rufus Rushins, Jr., Bishop Fenwick – 957 yards, 15 TD

Receiving
Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston – 662 yards, 10 TD
Nick Thyden, Sr., Quabbin – 643 yards, 9 TD
Jake Bradway, Sr., Belchertown – 638 yards, 7 TD
Dan Henrickson, Sr., St. Peter-Marian – 559 yards, 7 TD
Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty – 534 yards, 3 TD

Passing
Dylan Kierman, Sr., Quabbin – 2,070 yards, 21 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 1,617 yards, 26 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 1,543 yards, 18 TD
John Rumney, Sr., Marlborough – 1,499 yards, 19 TD
Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – 1,320 yards, 15 TD



*Does not include players who had a bye week


Chalk Talk: Millis/Hopedale's Dale Olmsted

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
2:07
PM ET
MILLIS, Mass. -- We're bringing you our first " Chalk Talk" of the season, kicking it off with Millis/Hopedale football head coach Dale Olmsted.

Editor Brendan Hall joined Coach Olmsted to break down some of the Mohawks' zone running schemes, as well as a look at some of their creative 2-point conversion plays in this segment brought to you by Sports Authority and the Bay State Games:

Mr. Football Watch: Week 6

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
10:54
PM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch" following Week 6 of the 2013 season. Statistics can be sent to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)

THE CONTENDERS

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Completed 15 of 22 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions, in the Redhawks’ 42-10 win over Dedham.

Brandon Gallagher, Jr. RB, Bridgewater-Raynham
Ran for 232 yards and a score, and added a 70-yard touchdown reception, in a 27-7 win over Dartmouth.

Hayden Murphy, Sr. RB/WR, Barnstable
In the Red Raiders' 29-20 comeback win over Marshfield, carried 12 times for 116 yards and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 74 yards and another score.

Neil O’Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
Accounted for a season-high 359 yards of offense (287 passing, 72 rushing) and two scores in the Blue Devils' 47-26 win over Doherty.

Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South
In the Panthers' 27-7 win over Nauset, carried a personal record 37 times for 243 yards and four touchdowns.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Carried 18 times for 132 yards and a score in the Rockets' 21-0 shutout of Braintree.

Rufus Rushins, Jr. RB, Bishop Fenwick
Ran for 80 yards and a score in the Crusaders' 48-18 rout of Austin Prep.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. RB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Completed 19 of 33 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the Pioneers' upset loss to cross-town rival Shrewsbury.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
Completed 12 of 17 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns in the Golden Eagles’ 40-12 rout of Minnechaug.

Ju’an Williams, Sr. WR, Springfield Central
Caught five passes for 69 yards in the Eagles’ win over Minnechaug.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 13 of 15 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the Hornets’ 47-8 rout of Taunton.

FIVE ON THE RISE

Matt Banchs, Sr. FB/LB, Leominster
In the Blue Devils' win over Doherty, recorded 22 tackles and two sacks, and also added 40 yards rushing with a score on offense. Banchs is slowly rising as one of the top defensive players in Central Mass.

Christian Carr, Jr. RB, Plymouth North
In the Eagles' 33-6 win over Falmouth, carried 35 times for 254 yards and four touchdowns, giving him over 700 yards rushing on the season.

Mike Maggipinto, Soph. RB, East Longmeadow
Carried 20 times for 259 yards and five touchdowns in the Spartans’ 40-34 win over Springfield Putnam. He currently leads all Western Mass. running backs in rushing touchdowns (13).

James Sullivan, Jr. RB/DB, Tewksbury
Collected three of the Redmen’s four interceptions, while adding 75 yards on nine carries with a touchdown on offense vs. Methuen.

Miguel Villar-Perez, Jr. RB, Mansfield
Caught three passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in the Hornets’ 47-8 win over Taunton. Through five games he has 575 yards of offense as a pass-catching running back, with eight touchdowns.

TOP STATISTICAL LEADERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Rushing
Mark Wright, Sr., Auburn – 950 yards, 11 TD
Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead – 931 yards, 9 total TD
Chris Ahl, Sr., Millis/Hopedale – 895 yards, 11 TD
Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South – 852 yards, 14 total TD
Zered McCoy, Sr., Ware – 843 yards, 5 TD

Passing
Dylan Kierman, Sr., Quabbin – 1,680 yards, 17 TD
John Rumney, Sr., Marlborough – 1,372 yards, 17 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 1,360 yards, 22 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 1,298 yards, 13 TD
Ryan Barabe, Jr., Pope John Paul II – 1,255 yards, 14 TD

Receiving
Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston – 513 yards, 14 total TD
Jake Bradway, Jr., Belchertown – 489 yards, 7 TD
Brian Daly, Jr., Marblehead – 487 yards, 10 TD
T.J. Hairston, Jr., Watertown – 472 yards, 5 TD
Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell – 438 yards, 8 TD

Leftover quick-hit thoughts from the weekend

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
12:38
PM ET
Some leftover quick-hit thoughts from last weekend's action of football:

1a. If St. John's Prep running back Johnathan Thomas -- who left the second half of Saturday's game against Everett with a knee injury -- is out for any extended period of time, the Eagles might be in trouble. Much of the offense funnels through Thomas, and with plays like this it's easy to see why. In my 10 years covering high school football in Massachusetts, I have no problem saying he is the best I've ever seen.

If there's a silver lining, it's that this could open things up for two promising juniors on the perimeter, receiver Owen Rocket and tight end Jake Burt. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Burt has a high ceiling of potential, even drawing comparisons to Prep legend Jon Loyte, and has been a matchup problem in the short to intermediate passing game thus far. Rocket is a smooth route-runner, able to weave in and out of traffic and exploit coverage holes.

You obviously cannot replace a special kid like Thomas, but perhaps this could make the Eagles more unpredictable.

1b. It now bears asking. If Thomas -- who seemed to be running away with the ESPN Boston Mr. Football award at his current clip -- is out for the considerable future, is the race for title of the state's best player wide open again? Lots of names to consider here, most notably Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, Natick quarterback Troy Flutie, Leominster quarterback Neil O'Connor, Plymouth South running back Dylan Oxsen, and Millis/Hopedale two-way lineman Jon Baker.

2. An historic year for Mansfield continues to get better, as they ascend to the No. 1 spot in our statewide poll for the first time in our four seasons of coverage. As impressive as the North Attleborough win was, the upset of Baltimore-area powerhouse Dunbar continues to strengthen with the passing weeks. As Dave Redding points out on Mansfield football's website, (www.mansfieldfootball.org) since losing to Mansfield on Sept. 6, the Poets have won three straight outscored their opposition 136-18.

3a. If you missed the thrilling conclusion to the Fitchburg-St. John's of Shrewsbury battle on Saturday afternoon, you missed one of the best endings to a high school football game in years. Fitchburg quarterback Darius Flowers hit Manny Payton for a 16-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds to go, then tailback Julio Gonzalez ran in the two-point try to give the Red Raiders a 15-14 lead. The ensuing kickoff, a high-hopping squib, was then returned 65 yards to the house by Mike McGillicuddy for walk-off 20-15 Pioneers win.

I'm not sure Fitchburg has endured a special teams heartbreak like that since the 1994 Division 1 Super Bowl, when North Middlesex pulled off a Boise State-esque fake punt for the 50-yard game-winning touchdown run, a play forever known in Central Mass. folklore as simply the "Norman Special".

3b. If there's anything to take away from that game, besides the incredible gumption of McGillicuddy, it's that much like Barnstable in Division 2 South, Fitchburg is not a team you want to draw in the first round of Division 2 Central action. Their defensive front four is impressive, and they controlled the line of scrimmage against St. John's for much of the afternoon.

4. There's a lot of talk early in the ISL season about running backs and linebackers, but keep an eye on Belmont Hill junior quarterback Harry Kraft. He had a field day on Saturday in a 38-11 win over Groton, completing 17 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns, and running in a fifth score.

5. A year ago, I mentioned the Cape & Islands area as an area of particular interest for under-the-radar talent, with a number of prospects earning Division 1 roster spots: Nantucket's Terrel Correia (UMass), Nauset's Derrick and Nathan Holmes (Rhode Island) and Dakota Girard (Brown), Mashpee's Jordan Keli'inui and Zak Orcutt (UMass), Dennis-Yarmouth's Joe Tyo (UMass) and Barnstable's Nick Peabody (Princeton), Andrew Ellis (UMass) and D.J. Crook (Penn State).

The Cape appears to be brewing again. Barnstable receiver/cornerback Derek Estes is one of the state's breakout stars of the first half of the season, making back-breaking plays on both sides of the ball in upsets of BC High and Xaverian. Two of his teammates, running back/safety Hayden Murphy and quarterback Kristian Lucashensky, deserve some praise for the way they've improved since the season-opening rout by D-Y.

Further down Route 6, keep an eye on two prospects from the lowest classification of MIAA football, Division 6. Defending D5 Super Bowl champ Upper Cape Tech is looking good with its flex offense, and at the forefront is Jon Dumont, who had 26 carries for 216 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's win over Nantucket. At Pope John Paul II, they might have one of the most unheralded 2015 prospects in quarterback Ryan Barabe. Through four games the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Yarmouth resident is among the state's most efficient passers, completing 68 percent of his throws for 776 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception. A good chunk of the Lions' plays involve option routes for their receivers, which to me demonstrates a lot of maturity when you consider Barabe's completion percentage.

Bridgewater-Raynham new No. 1 in football poll

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
1:39
PM ET
We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 football poll. To view it, CLICK HERE.

A few notes and observations about this week's poll:

Trojans in the top spot: For the first time in the four-year history of our high school section, Bridgewater-Raynham is the No. 1 team in the land. The Trojans took down preseason No. 1 St. John's Prep in the opening week of the season, then followed up last week with a 13-10 thriller over Duxbury, a team they haven't beaten since 2009. Led by junior Brandon Gallagher and a talented offensive line, the Trojans have one of the state's best rushing attacks.

This marks the second consecutive season a team from the Old Colony League has held the top spot in the poll. Last season, Barnstable upset then-No. 1 Everett in late September and held onto the No. 1 spot for seven consecutive weeks, before falling to Everett in the re-match in the Division 1A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.

B-R's previous high spot in the poll was in November 2011, when they were No. 3. That week, of course, the Trojans fell to Barnstable to tumble down the rankings and lose out on a playoff berth. With Xaverian on tap this week, the Trojans are hoping to avoid a similar fate in 2013.

Xaverian makes a splash: Previous No. 1 Everett's 10-game win streak against the Catholic Conference was snapped on Friday night, when Xaverian came into Everett Memorial Stadium and delivered a 20-8 upset. The Hawks jump up four spots to No. 10; you can make a case to rank the Hawks higher, but there is quite the logjam in front of them, with Lowell, Leominster and Natick all looking sharp this weekend. Everett, meanwhile, falls four spots to No. 5.

Notable newcomers: Auburn, Dennis-Yarmouth, Bishop Feehan, Millis/Hopedale and Haverhill all suffered losses last weekend, dropping them out of the poll. That makes way for five newcomers this week: Cardinal Spellman (21), Franklin (22), Nashoba (23), Attleboro (24), and Springfield Putnam (25).

As always, here is how the poll breaks down this week by division:

Div. 1 - 9
Div. 2 - 11
Div. 3 - 3
Div. 4 - 1
Div. 5 - 1

Recap: East Bridgewater 28, No. 25 Millis/Hopedale 21

September, 15, 2013
9/15/13
12:11
AM ET
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- When the Millis-Hopedale football team played against East Bridgewater at Bridgewater Raynham on Saturday, just about every player looked ready for a knockdown, drag out kind of tussle, in which they peppered each other with jab after jab looking for the eventual win.

East Bridgewater's Owen Harrington looked more the part of a prize fighter with knockout power as the Vikings slipped past the Mohawks, 28-21.

The Mohawks landed the first blow, marching nine plays in just under five minutes to score on the opening drive. After Chris Ahl opened the game with a 24-yard return, Millis/Hopedale used a steady running attack to grind down the field. Quarterback Sean Heffernan threw his first pass of the day on a third-and-goal from the three, connecting with Joe Caretta for a touchdown.

East Bridgewater didn't need nearly the time of possession, nor total plays to tie things up, because Harrington took the ensuing kickoff 83 yards straight up the middle of the field for the game-tying score.

"That was an absolute backbreaker for us," said Mohawks coach Dale Olmstead. "We had a great drive moving down the field to score, and we really thought we had punched them a bit, but he punched right back."

M/H used the remainder of of the first quarter to set up its next score, as they put together another marathon drive, finishing the quarter still with the ball - meaning EB didn't run an offensive play in the first.

Heffernan connected with Sager Dasai for a 24-yard touchdown pass to open the second quarter, on the 10th play of the drive.

After a touchback, EB quarterback Mike Kelly authored an impressive response for the Vikings. For the next 8:30, the Vikings matriculated the ball toward the other end, finally hitting pay-dirt on a 2-yard dive to cap a 15-play drive.

Kelly finished the day with 50 rushing yards on seven carries, and was a perfect 2-for-2 passing, including an impressive 16-yard heave to Jake Pierce with just two minutes to go on a long third down.

"Mike ran the offense very well, I'm very happy with him," EB head coach Shawn Tarpey said. "He did just what I wanted him to do - take what they give you, make a couple plays in the pass game, get north and south and don't try to do much. He did all of that today."

The Mohawks maneuvered the ball back into the Vikings' red zone before halftime, falling short of a score when the drive halted at the 9-yard line. When the teams reached the locker room, the score was knotted at 13 and M/H had out-gained EB, 188-70, on offense.

Harrington made the yardage look a lot more even, while unevening the scoreboard on just the second play of the second half. He took a handoff toward the right hash mark, and by the time he hit the line of a scrimmage a big hole had formed. He plunged through and never looked back, racing 61 yards for a score.

Even the heavy hitting of Harrington couldn't knock off M/H right there, and the Mohawks followed with another impressive and lengthy drive that culminated in a score by Ahl. A 2-point conversion was successful, and M/H grabbed a 21-20 lead.

After the kickoff, Harrington needed just one play to remind everyone what he was capable of. He dashed 63 yards to the Vikings back ahead, this time for good. A 2-point conversion made it a seven point game.

"We've had some stud players, and maybe Owen is going to be one of those guys," Tarpey said. "I'm not going to anoint him that just yet, but he had a great game. The thing is, he's worked his butt off and he's really wanted this. I can't say enough about him."

EB sealed the win in the final minute when Sean Pierce, who had a game-high nine tackles, intercepted a pass just past midfield. A knee by Kelly ran the remaining seconds off the clock.

Harrington finished with 166 rushing yards on 16 carries, and had 100 return yards to go with his three scores in the win against a team led by Jon Baker, a supremely talented lineman headed for Boston College next year.

"Our O-line was pretty amazing, especially on how they handled Baker. I just saw big holes and went right through," Harrington said. "I'll definitely be thanking the offensive line for what they did out there."

2014 Mass. Football Player Rankings Updated

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
1:37
PM ET
ESPNU has updated its player rankings for the Class of 2014 in Massachusetts, and there are a few changes of note.

St. John's Prep running back Johnathan Thomas and St. Sebastian's linebacker Connor Strachan maintain the top two spots. Meanwhile, Doherty athlete Isaac Yiadom (3), Everett defensive back Lubern Figaro (4), Millis/Hopedale lineman Jon Baker (5) and Tabor Academy athlete Miles Wright (6) all move up one spot from the previous update in July.

Roxbury Latin linebacker Kevin Cohee and Leominster safety Jarell Addo both move up two spots to Nos. 7 and 8, respectively. Rounding out the Top 10 are two newcomers, Dexter lineman James Hendren (9) and Catholic Memorial defensive athlete Kevin Bletzer (10).

To see the full list of top prospects in Massachusetts, CLICK HERE.

Below is the Top 10, with college commitment in italics. You can also see the updated Top 10 list on our homepage:

1. Johnathan Thomas, RB, St. John's Prep - Maryland
2. Connor Strachan, LB, St. Sebastian's - Boston College
3. Isaac Yiadom, WR/DB, Doherty - Boston College
4. Lubern Figaro, DB, Everett
5. Jon Baker, OL, Millis/Hopedale - Boston College
6. Miles Wright, ATH, Tabor Academy
7. Kevin Cohee, LB, Roxbury Latin - Boston College
8. Jarell Addo, S, Leominster - UMass
9. James Hendren, OL, Dexter - Boston College
10. Kevin Bletzer, LB, Catholic Memorial - Boston College


Rivals find common ground in support of Sack

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
12:35
AM ET
MILLIS, Mass. –- On Friday night at Millis High, Tri-Valley League rivals Millis-Hopedale and Medfield met on the gridiron with dual purposes. The neighboring programs were looking to continue a decades-long rivalry that had to be shelved with the introduction of the new playoff system but, more importantly, the teams were showing mutual support for injured Millis captain Taylor Sack.

There was no entrance fee for the scrimmage, which Medfield would go on to win 21-12, but at the gate fans were asked to donate to the Taylor Sack Foundation. Sack, a Millis-Hopedale senior captain, was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in February and most of the night was dedicated to supporting him and his family.

After the game it was announced that the scrimmage raised $4,500.

Millis-Hopedale head coach Dale Olmsted was thrilled at the reaction from the community to the special preseason game. He remarked, “Financially is great, for everyone to support the fundraisers, but it really means a lot to have the support of all the towns, especially Medfield. Our sport has been hammered about all the bad things that can happen, but this is why we play =– for the team, not only the team you’re on but other teams that have respect for the game and one another.”

Olmsted admitted that he was emotional seeing his captain back on the sideline.

“It’s great to see where he’s come from since I saw him in February, the first time I saw him after the injury, until now,” Olmsted added. “Attitude-wise, outlook on life –- he’s just an inspiration for us all. When I look at how he responded to that adversity, it makes me very proud.”

Prior to the game, the teams gathered at midfield for a photo. All of the players and coaches on both sides were wearing T-shirts that read “#StayStrongSack” and bore the no. 11 on the back, which Sack wore during his Millis-Hopedale career.

The emotions of the evening reached a peak when Sack led the Mohawks onto the field, pushing his wheelchair through the natural turf at Millis. The crowd on both sides stood to cheer on the senior, who has been an inspiration to his teammates. He also joined his fellow captains at the 50-yard line for a non-conventional coin toss.

Rather than simply flipping a quarter, the teams competed in a tug-of-war battle, easily won by the Mohawks, to decide who got the ball first. The idea was more than a novelty, as it was a tradition for a number of years that the teams would have a tug-of-war over the Charles River, which separates the towns.

Throughout the evening, Sack was approached by a number of well-wishers (from classmates to Millis residents) and spent much of the game on the sidelines with his father Clay and his girlfriend April O’Connell, but was still intently watching his teammates. When first asked how he was doing, Sack quickly responded, “Did you see how this game started?”

“Hopefully that the team takes the advantage of this opportunity to play the game that they love and go all out,” said Olmsted about the influence of Sack on his teammates. “Coaches always say to play every play like it’s your last because you never know and he reinforces that.”

On the field, Millis-Hopedale turned the ball over three times including an interception on the opening possession that was returned for a touchdown. Medfield struggled offensively against the stout Mohawks defense, but another turnover gave the Warriors the short field for its second score. Millis running back Chris Ahl started to find openings in the Medfield defense and brought the Mohawks back within two at halftime (14-12).

Medfield would score the only touchdown of the second half and both teams substituted liberally as the game moved into the fourth quarter. While there was a rivalry that kept things intense, both teams recognized the need to keep player healthy for the regular season.

At the final whistle, the teams lined up for handshakes and the Medfield players and coaches all made a point to run over to Sack, who had moved onto the field, and include him in the line. After speaking with his team, head coach Erik Ormberg led the team in a call-and-respond chant of “Taylor...Sack!”

The Medfield and Millis players have a special bond from sharing the same youth program (along with Norfolk) and that mutual respect was obvious all over the field. Ormberg reflected on how grateful he was that the Warriors could help even in this small way. He remarked, “The word humbling comes to mind. When you see a situation like this, it puts a lot of things into perspective.”

He continued, “When I talked to dale and heard about it…it was devastation and that’s what we talked about was how can we bring attention and support the family. You go over and shake his hand after the game and this is a high school kid that can’t play football his senior year, let alone what he’s dealing with. I feel great that the communities were so supportive and that the kids played so cleanly today, but leaving and shaking Taylor’s hand on the way out -- it’s very humbling.”

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

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