Boston High School: Nick Bona

Bishop Fenwick stuffs the run in shutout

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

Consider the point proven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D5 final: Bishop Fenwick 28, Northbridge 0

December, 7, 2013

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It became clear early on that the only thing that could stop Bishop Fenwick running back Rufus Rushins was the end of the season.

The 6-1, 230-pound junior tailback, who finished the year with 1,366 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, capped his impressive season with perhaps his biggest performance yet Saturday in the Crusader's easy win over Northbridge, 28-0, in the MIAA Division 5 state championship game.

He ripped off 170 yards on just 15 carries, scoring on touchdowns runs of 59-yards, 5-yards and 2-yards, to lead Fenwick’s high-powered offense it’s 13th straight game with scoring at least 28 points.

“Rufus is a big strong kid and he’s tough to tackle,” said Fenwick coach Dave Woods. “He’s got some good speed. A couple of his runs early were just shoestring tackles, and he got tripped up here or there. With him it’s just a matter of time. Just keep giving him the ball and sooner or later he’s going to break one.”

Defensively, the Crusaders trend of bullying other teams continued as they held the Rams to negative rushing yardage into the fourth quarter.

“This is the best team we played all year, no doubt about that,” said Northbridge coach Ken LaChappelle. “This is an outstanding team. They have everything, everywhere: the line, the back, quarterback was excellent.”

It was the defense that set the tone for this one first, forcing a 3-and-out in the opening minute of the game.

The offense, not to be outdone, marched right down the field before quarterback Nick Bona delivered a pass into the outstretched hands of receiver Eric Razney for a 39-yard touchdown less than a minute and a half later.

Northbridge was able to keep Fenwick’s offense from finding the end zone again until midway through the second when Rushins took a dive two yards up the middle for his score of the night. He added a two-point conversion rush to make it 14-0.

Early in the third quarter, Rushins delivered a dagger to the hopes of Northbridge by taking a dive 49 yards up the gut to extend the lead to 21-0 just 1:35 in the second half.

“I saw green grass, and I just booked as fast as I could,” Rushins said. “I knew I was going right down the field.”

He added another score, a 5-yard run, with 3:57 left in the third to make it 28-0 to cap the scoring.

Northbridge’s best scoring chance came late in the fourth quarter when they advanced into the red zone for first and only time in the contest.

They made it to the 14-yard line before David Hurley stepped in front of a pass headed toward the end zone for a shutout-sealing interception.

“Without question this is the greatest team this school has ever had,” said Woods. “I’m just so happy, it was so much fun coaching these guys.”

Tale of the Tape: Northbridge vs. Bishop Fenwick

December, 3, 2013
Ahead of Saturday's six MIAA Football State Championships at Gillette Stadium, today we are bringing back our "Tale of the Tape" series to break down each participating team's matchups headed into the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable: Predicting MIAA Football District Champs

October, 31, 2013
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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Recap: Bishop Fenwick 48, Austin Prep 18

October, 12, 2013
PEABODY, Mass. -– Bishop Fenwick put over 40 points on the board for the fourth consecutive week, but it was its defense that stood out on Friday.

Eric Razney and Tommy Parsons each reeled in an interception for the Crusaders (5-0) and linebacker David Hurley totaled 10 tackles, while Nick Bona and James Traversey were all over the field, resulting in a 48-18 Fenwick victory over Austin Prep (4-1).

“They are three guys who have been playing for three, four years,” Fenwick coach Dave Woods said of linebackers Hurley, Bona, and Traversey, “They know how to play disciplined defense, and it showed tonight for sure."

There were a lot of playoff implications coming into the game, the two squads were tied for the top seed in Division 5 North—with the winner taking over sole possession of first place. The Crusaders wasted no time in getting started offensively in the first half, Bona (252 total yards, 3 TD’s) ran a 47-yard quarterback keeper that later resulted in a Rufus Rushins (80 yards, TD) touchdown, then threw a touchdown each to Razney and Charlie Maistrellis.

“Nick makes the whole team go, both offense and defense,” Woods said. “He did it tonight, a couple times we tried to throw the ball and they pressured him so he just scrambled—those are plays that you can’t account for, and when you have a quarterback that can do that, it’s pretty special.”

Bona added his third touchdown late in the second quarter, running it in from seven yards out to give the Crusaders an intimidating 28-0 lead. Moments later, Nick Mulcahy broke the shutout and got Austin Prep on the board before halftime.

“He does everything, on both sides of the ball. You watch him kickoff, he makes every tackle on the kickoff, and on defense he’s all over the place -- he had 20 tackles last week against Spellman, he throws touchdowns, he runs with it. He’s a player.”

After a called back kick return at the end of the first half that would have been a touchdown, Razney just couldn’t be stopped from getting into the end zone, bringing a 77-yard kick return back for a touchdown on the first play of the third quarter. After originally being aggravated with the called back touchdown return, Razney tried to quickly erase it from his memory.

“Honestly, I just try to forget about it. I couldn’t let it get to me. I was a little frustrated in the first half, but I just try to block it out -- I had a lot of blocks set for me and I just took it down,” he said.

The Fenwick defense was lights-out in the third quarter, as the linebacker-led group held Austin Prep to just six points going into the fourth. Jonathan Saurman caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Connor Duffy and Christos Kourkoulos ran in a 55-yard score late in the game, but it was too little too late.

“We had a short week, so we really had just one day defensively to prepare. David [Hurley] did a phenomenal job, especially in the first half -- he was just reading his keys and flying to exactly to where he was supposed to be, taking plays away,” Woods said.

Now with sole possession of the top seed in Division 5 North, Fenwick will have no problem staying focused when they travel to league rival St. Mary’s next Saturday. With the win, the Crusaders would clinch at least a share of the Catholic Central Large title.

“We’ve been playing good all year, every day in practice we’re always sound, we’re focused and we’re ready to go,” Bona said. “Our defense is what wins us games, not our offense. I know our offense has been putting up points, but our defense has been unbelievable.”