- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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BRIDGWATER, Mass. – For nearly two hours Saturday morning, Bridgewater-Raynham and Xaverian renewed a rivalry that has become among the state’s best non-league annual tilts.
Again, both the Trojans (No. 10) and the Hawks (No. 15) make strong showings in our statewide preseason MIAA football Top 25 poll. Not to mention, it won’t be long before the teams go at it for real, when Xaverian welcomes B-R to the new-look Hawk Bowl for a regular-season game on Saturday, Sept. 21.
But before we reach the regular season, here’s a look at today’s passing scrimmage and some takeaways:
Sorting through the QB battles: Both squads enter 2013 looking for a new signal caller and both teams rolled through their crop of contending quarterbacks.
Xaverian senior Peter White, juniors Jake Farrell and Tom Fitzgibbons, along with sophomore Mike Pina all had reps under center, with White and Farrell seeing the majority of the snaps. Meanwhile, the Trojans cycled through junior Matt Clement and sophomore candidates Steve D’Emila and Cade McNaughten.
When asked to evaluate Saturday’s performances, both Hawks head coach Charlie Stevenson and B-R’s Dan Buron found positives, along with some improvements to be made.
“I thought our first two quarterbacks [White and Farrell] did some nice things,” Stevenson said. “They made good plays. But a couple of plays that they were impatient on and if they would’ve been able to make plays if they’d scanned the field, we might have had some more scoring plays. But that’s inexperience. That’ll come.”
At times, both offenses were slightly out of sync, with timing passes arriving a moment late and an overthrow here and there.
But for a scrimmage primarily concerned with the passing game, and with both defenses perhaps playing a little ahead of the opposing offenses, both teams were able to move the ball – although scoring was hard to come by.
“I think that right now, Matt [Clement] just because of his age is a little bit of those other two,” Buron said of his quarterbacks, who saw a nearly equal number of snaps. “But I think I’ve got three good ones. I think it’s just a lack of game experience and that’s why I’ve added more scrimmages than normal to try to get them acclimated to the game situations.”
Speaking volumes: As far as Xaverian’s passing game is concerned, while quarterback battle continues, there will be no doubt to the pass catchers working on the field. The struggle that Stevenson feels is how to get all of them on the field at once.
While the Hawks’ return a couple of last year’s top targets, including D.J. Sperzel and A.J. King, Stevenson believes he has depth at receiver. During Saturday’s scrimmage, the Hawks worked in eight different receivers with its first-unit offense.
“I think we’re about as deep at receiver as we have been in recent years,” Stevenson added.
Layin’ the lumber: For a preseason scrimmage, Saturday’s tone was about as spirited as you’ll find. And, for the most part, it was carried by the respective defenses.
Working against the Hawks’ offense presented a high quality challenge to B-R’s new linebacking corps. The Trojans worked primarily with a group including seniors Kevin Newton and Arcel Armstead as outside linebackers and Devin Morris in the middle.
Buron is looking for big things from Newton, a starting-caliber player last year who was set back by injuries in 2012. Pat Whooley and Cam Goodrich also saw significant time with the Trojans’ top unit.
However, the biggest play of the day came from junior linebacker Justin Finlayson. The 5-foot-10 outside linebacker popped a Xaverian player making a reception in the flat, drawing the raucous approval of his teammates on the sideline.
It might have been the most thunderous exchange of the day, but it also underscored the Trojans’ ability to maintain positioning on Xaverian’s swing and screen passes.
“I was pleased with that because honestly we haven’t worked on anything that they typically do,” Buron said. “We just wanted to stay in our base defense and run to the ball. Sometimes we didn’t make the tackle, but I thought we were usually in good position. A lot of those things, this early in the year, they’re correctable.”
The Hawks also brought their defensive game with starting junior defensive ends Joe Gaziano and Nick Colantuoni establishing a strong pass rush off the edges.
Shaken, but OK: There was tense moment or two about midway through the scrimmage when B-R’s ESPN Boston preseason All-State offensive tackle Shawn Whitaker tumbled to the ground following a Hawks interception.
While backtracking and following the return up-field, Whitaker received a serious blow on a crack-back block. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder didn’t return.
Buron, adding that Whitaker has also been troubled by a back ailment in practice, said he was removed as a precaution.