Boston High School: Paul Zukauskas

Recap: Lawrence Academy 28, Nobles 0

October, 19, 2013

DEDHAM, Mass. -- In its last three games, all losses, Lawrence Academy has not lived up to the standards that was expected of them from the outset of the season.

Mental breakdowns on both sides the ball, costly turnovers and mindless penalties all played a role as to why the Spartans sit below .500 at the midway point of the ISL season.

Facing unbeaten Noble and Greenough this afternoon, the attempt to reverse course did not look promising, especially when the Spartans' leading ball carrier A.J. Dillon (toe) did not dress. But LA put forth the type of talent everyone had come to expect.

Mixing an even balance of run and pass, the Spartans thwarted the Bulldogs 28-0 at Burr Field.

"It was a good win," said LA coach Paul Zukauskas, his team now 2-3. "The kids have been really persevering. We were 1-3 coming in and playing a 4-0 team. I'm really proud the way our kids came in prepared. Football is all about life lessons and perseverance so I'm really proud of our guys today."

With Dillon sidelined, the brunt of the carries went to junior Nick Schutz. The Brookline, N.H. native was nothing short of solid, bulldozing his way for 182 yards on 21 carries. Schutz has been a starter in the backfield, along with Dillon, all season, but this game was his breakout effort to date.

"I don't think it was any individual who won this game today but the whole team," said Schutz. "It felt good today. Hopefully, I did the team well and we can get another win next week. All of our hard work this week really paid off and I think it is going to be a big mental changer for us the rest of the way."

It has been said that one play can dictate a team's performance. For the Bulldogs (4-1) that may hold true. On the opening kick, LA failed to field the ball that was recovered by Nobles at the LA 22. Facing a third-and-1 at the 13, power back John Keally juked past a couple of defenders on his way into the end zone. But the senior had the ball knocked loose at the 2-yard line and was recovered by LA.

"It's a game of momentum and big plays and we had a chance at the beginning to get a little momentum, but we didn't, and Lawrence capitalized and was able to make some big plays the rest of the way," Bulldogs ninth-year coach Bob Moore said.

Keally's turnover would eventually lead to a 48-yard touchdown reception by Chris Garrison from Kyle Howes and a 7-0 lead. That combination would come up big again with only two minutes remaining before the half, as the senior signal-caller found Garrison, a junior, for a 47-yard pitch-and-catch sending the Spartans into the break on top 14-0.

Garrison had a stellar afternoon, hauling 11 passes for 204 yards.

Howes was equally impressive. The Maynard, Mass. product completed 14-of-23 passes for 227 yards.

As a team, LA finished with 498 yards while holding to Nobles to 198. The Spartans did a nice job holding down quarterback Ryan Vultaggio (6 of 21, 43 yards passing; 9 carries, 77 yards). Keally finished by rushing nine times for 73 yards.

"Our defense did a really good job and our defensive coordinator (Geoff Harlan) put together an excellent game plan," Zukauskas said. "We've been tough on defense all year and we knew Nobles was a very good football team. So for us to come out and play a game like that I can't be more-prouder of our guys."

The Spartans put this one out of reach early in the third. Following a Bulldog punt, Schutz needed just one play to scamper 67 yards to put his club ahead by 21 points.

LA would close out the scoring in the waning minutes of the quarter. After Nobles failed to convert on a fourth-and-6, the Spartans proceeded to drive 98 yards before Howes found Tim Preston for a 17-yard scoring hook-up.

"Lawrence has some athletes that can make some big plays," Moore said. "I was not surprised how good they are. Their record certainly does not reflect how good a football team they are."

Recap: BB&N 14, Lawrence Academy 13

October, 12, 2013
GROTON, Mass. -- Don't look now but Buckingham Browne & Nichols is starting to make a case for itself within the ISL.

Under a steady drizzle, the Knights overcame a six-point fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 14-13 defensive-battle triumph over Lawrence Academy this afternoon.

With just 7:43 remaining, the Knights began their decisive drive. Starting from its own 24-yard line, BB&N senior back Matt Bonazzoli got things going with a 35-yard jaunt. Later in the drive, junior quarterback Cole O'Connor, on a flea-flicker, found eighth-grade receiver Jay Symonds for a 33-yard completion, putting the ball on the Spartans’ 9-yard line.

O'Connor finished by throwing for 105 yards on 6 of 9 passing.

Moments following the gadget play, Bonazzoli ran into the end zone untouched for his second touchdown of the afternoon with 5:40 remaining. Jimmy Cochran's PAT put the Knights (4-0), who came in a bit short-handed due to injuries, ahead to stay.

"We never use injuries as an excuse but we have some key guys who have been down," said BB&N coach John Pappas, his team mustering 260 yards of offense, with 179 coming in the final half. "Our guys just battled today and made plays. We've been able to wear teams down and I cannot say enough about the effort of our guys today."

Averaging 31.6 points-per-game in its three previous outings, BB&N's offense struggle for much of the afternoon against a vaunted LA defense.

However, the Knights managed to show enough fortitude to pull this one out.

After the BB&N score, the Spartans (1-3) had two more opportunities to reclaim the lead. The first one resulted in a punt and the final chance ended with an incomplete pass at the Knights' 20 on fourth down.

"Our kids played very hard and it was a great game," Spartans coach Paul Zukauskas said. "Give credit to (BB&N). They are a really tough team and really aggressive. My hat's off to them. We've played some very good teams and our kids are getting better. They really care about football and we're going to continue to keep going after teams."

After the first 12 minutes, in which neither team could get on the scoreboard, LA fired the first salvo midway through the second quarter.

Quarterback Kyle Howes (9-of-18 for 129 yards) hooked up with Timothy Preston for a 45-yard pitch-and-catch to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead. Throughout the opening half, the Knights offense found the terrain rough going. When they weren't being tackled in the backfield for losses or committing dumb penalties, BB&N failed to sustain any kind of consistent rushing attack. But things started to change after the intermission.

BB&N took the second half kickoff and set out on a mission to seize ball control and eat up as much time as possible off the clock. The strategy worked to perfection as the Knights marched 65 yards on 14 plays, taking 9:30 off the clock, before Bonazzoli barreled in from a yard out to deadlock the game at 7-all with 2:30 left in the third quarter.

"This was a very big game for us and we knew we had to get it," said Bonazzoli, a Swampscott native who finished with 156 yards on 21 carries. "Lawrence is always a tough game for us but this is a great win. In the first half we didn't execute as well as we wanted to but in the second half we were able to execute much better. After the half we tried to line up in different formations and get their defense off-set so we could run the plays we normally run and we were able to do so."

The Spartans, who finished with 248 yards, had their issues moving the ball as well. However, following the Knights’ score, Howes was able to take his club down field, completing three passes in the process, before the senior sprinted into the end zone from 16 yards out just one minute into the final quarter to give the lead back to LA.

A bad snap on the ensuing PAT try resulted in the Spartans having to settle for a 13-6 advantage. The missed boot seemed to light a fire under the Knights, who realized they were just a touchdown and PAT away from jumping ahead.

After failing to execute on its possession following the LA score, the Knights didn't disappoint the next time they had the ball. A methodical 84-yard drive was capped off by Bonazzoli's game-winning score and the defense did their job the rest of the way.

"We just keep on pounding away at opponents," Pappas said. "We keep pounding that sledgehammer against the rock and eventually we know it will break. Coming in, we knew Lawrence Academy was a very good and well-coached team but I am so proud of our guys for continuing to pound away at them and eventually wear them down.

“I thought Bonazzoli was huge for us today. He has the heart of a lion and is just a great player. We're a team of no superstars. We're short and stout but we play with a lot of heart and that's what I love about our guys."

Recap: Milton Academy 38, Lawrence Academy 20

October, 5, 2013
Milton, Mass. -- It can now be said that Milton Academy belongs in the conversation.

When the pundits started the discussion as to which teams were the front-runners in the ISL during the preseason, few, if any, spoke of the Mustangs. Following a pedestrian 5-3 season a year ago, that was to be expected.

But three weeks into the regular season and lo-and-behold Milton Academy sits atop the league standings at 3-0, following tonight's 38-20 triumph over Lawrence Academy at Stokinger Field. In just three weeks, the Mustangs have already attained signature wins over two of the ISL power programs in St. Sebastian's and Lawrence Academy.

"As a team we knew we had the potential to be a good team," said Milton Academy senior running back Drew Jacobs. "We all worked very hard during the summer and believed in ourselves. We used the newspapers not saying much about us as motivation."

Jacobs, who is listed at 5-10,190 pounds, proved to be the catalyst behind this victory. The Marblehead native tore through the Spartans defense for 175 yards on 25 carries, finding the end zone three times.

It was his 22-yard gallop with 9:26 remaining in the third quarter which finally set the gears in motion, as it put the Mustangs, which finished with 356 yards offensively, ahead 17-7. But to Lawrence Academy's credit, it did not go down without a fight.

Minutes after the Jacobs' score, Spartan defensive back Tim Preston stepped in front of a Anthony Scurto pass and returned it 48 yards helping set up a 20-yard scoring strike from Kyle Howes to Chris Garrison and slicing the deficit to 17-14.

But the Spartans failed in their opportunity to seize the moment. On its next possession, Milton Academy drove 62 yards before Jacobs barreled in from 10 yards out to open the final quarter to push the Mustangs' advantage to 24-14. Once again, the Spartans (1-2) stormed back. After Austin Luckey secured a Scurto fumble, Lawrence Academy turned that into points as freshman A.J. Dillon scored on a 4-yard run to make it a 24-20 contest with 6:46 on the clock.

Despite their efforts to hang with Milton Academy, the Spartans defense failed to come up with a big play when they needed to. On the Mustangs' ensuing possession, Scurto, who finished with 123 yards on 8-of-10 passing, found receiver John Cahill for a key 38-yard reception on third-and-11. Jacobs, who finished with 175 yards on 25 attempts, busted up the middle for 24 yards, setting up his own 1-yard keeper over the goal line with 2:40 showing and increased Milton Academy's lead to 31-20.

"Drew is just a great football player and he's all football," said Milton Academy head coach and recently-inducted Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Hall-of-Famer Kevin MacDonald. "He's just a great football player."

Now in desperation mode, the Spartans needed to rectify their passing game in a hurry.

It seemed to be effective once Howe connected with Preston on a 60-yard pitch-and-catch, moving the ball to the Mustangs' 25. But on the next play, Howe (11-of-25 passing for 152 yards) was picked off by Cahill, who returned it 78 yards untouched to advance Milton Academy's margin to 18 points with just over a minute remaining, and, in the process, close the book on Lawrence Academy, which gained 261 yards.

"Our goal is to get better every week and I think we are," MacDonald said. "We need to get over a few things. We seem to come out at the beginning of games and don't play much defense and then later in the game we start to tighten things up. We need to smarten up and play defense right off the bat. We have good resiliency and we don't quit so I do like that about our team. I don't think we'll ever give up. We're always going to be a good offensive team but sometimes we don't play the type of defense I would like to see us play."

That defense was nowhere to be found early. On their first possession, the Spartans grabbed the early lead. Following a Mustangs’ fumble on their opening drive, Lawrence Academy marched 65 yards before Dillon (60 yards on 17 carries) capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Unable to sustain any momentum in the early going, Milton Academy finally settled for a Justin Yoon 48-yard field goal midway into the second quarter to make it 7-3.

A few minutes later, senior linebacker Matt Morin pounced on a Howes’ fumble giving the Mustangs the ball at the Spartans’ 33. That would eventually lead to a Scurto 3-yard touchdown run to put Milton Academy in front, 10-7, with just 27 seconds to go before halftime. Fortunate to take the lead heading into the break, Milton Academy was able to parlay its momentum off of that late score into 28 second half points and roll on to victory.

"Our kids played OK but we're not a very good tackling team right now," Lawrence Academy head coach Paul Zukauskas said. "Today that was the difference. We have some very good players on our team but they didn't tackle well. Both teams worked really hard but for us, it comes down to blocking and tackling and tonight that was the difference."

Recap: Governor's Academy 20, Lawrence Academy 0

September, 21, 2013
BYFIELD, Mass. -- It is hard to predict when Governor's Academy's winning streak will come to an end. But by all accounts, following their 20-0 dismantling of Lawrence Academy in Saturday's ISL season-opener, the belief is it won't be anytime soon.

The Governors, winners of 19 straight games, flexed their muscle on both sides of the ball, keeping the Spartans at bay throughout to start off the year at 1-0. GA pressured LA quarterback Kyle Howes all afternoon and, for the most part, held the Spartan rushing attack in check. LA finished with 157 yards, just 53 coming in the first half.

"That team has some great weapons and their wide receiver (Chris) Garrison is a Division 1 talent so we had to know where he was on the field at all times," third-year Governors head coach Jim O'Leary said. "We're not there yet and didn't play our best game but we're going to get better. Hats off to our defense today. I'm an offensive guy but our defense really kept us in this game. The way these kids play football, they play so hard all the time."

Garrison finished with seven receptions for 48 yards but was shadowed constantly. LA quarterback Kyle Howes seemed to be under pressure each time the ball was snapped into his hands as he was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket. The senior threw for 88 yards on 13 of 25 completions. When the Spartans attempted to run the ball, GA's defensive line was just as stingy. They continuously pushed the Spartans front wall backwards and, in the process, took down the running backs several times for negative yardage.

Despite the offensive inadequacies, the Spartans did reach the Governor's red zone three times -- once making it to the one yard line. But all three times the Governors defense held their ground by keeping LA out of the end zone.

While GA's offense sputtered in the opening quarter, it began to find its rhythm late in the frame. A 59 yard pitch and catch from senior quarterback Thomas Vailas to Edward Bettencourt helped set up a Vailas 25-yard scoring pass to tight end Dan Healey to put GA ahead 7-0 with 11:21 remaining before the half.

The Governors saw a golden opportunity to add to their total moments later wasted. Facing a fourth-and-8 on the LA 28, O'Leary, instead of attempting a field goal, decided to keep his offensive unit on the field. The decision backfired after Vailas was picked off by Howes.

"I'm still a gambler," admitted O'Leary. "I took a chance early and it almost killed me but thankfully my defense bailed me out."

The Spartans were unable to convert the turnover into points, and with time ticking down in the half, GA got the ball back and didn't disappoint this time. Standing on the LA 46, Vailas rolled to his right and somehow managed to thread a pass in-between defensive backs Howes and Jake Cassidy and into the hands of receiver Larsen Bidstrup for a touchdown putting the Governors up by two scores heading into the break.

The Spartans (0-1) began the second half with a solid drive which was snuffed out on the GA 16. The Governors, finishing with 312 yards, took the ensuing possession and marched 82 yards capped off by Vailas' 4 yard keeper over the goal line with 15 seconds to go in the third quarter.

"We work hard every day in practice with our base offense and we believe it is going to work," said Vailas (4-of-9, 138 yards). "Our offensive line and our backs are tough. We're just going to continue to pound. Our defense came up huge today. Defense wins championships and I feel we have the toughest kids in the state."

Despite LA's poor showing offensively, head coach Paul Zukauskas can come away knowing he saw a silver lining in the form of running back AJ Dillon. The freshman, taking the brunt of the carries, gained 88 yards on 22 carries and should be a fixture in this program over the next four years.

"A.J. is only a freshman but he's going to be a very good player for us," said Zukauskas, in his third season at the helm. "He's a real-tough kid. Give Governors the credit. They have a true football program going on right now. They have a great coaching staff and you can see it in the way their kids play.

"We had some chances early but just couldn't pop it in. Their running game kept pounding us and we eventually got tired. But we're fine. This is just the first game so we feel as though we have a lot we can improve on. But our best players need to play better."

Sanctions almost behind, LA turning the corner

September, 19, 2013
GROTON, Mass. -- Paul Zukauskas, the third year coach at Lawrence Academy, prefers to weigh in on the positives within his football program instead of dark cloud that still lingers from a checkered past.

The Spartans begin ISL play on Saturday at 1 p.m., traveling to defending two-time league champion Governor’s Academy. This game is one in a many steps taken by the Spartans in their efforts to distance themselves from the negativity that has embedded them from a couple of years back.

But the attitude throughout the team has remained the same. The outlook is to build off of last year’s 6-2 campaign and continue to move forward in a positive manner.

“You constantly want to improve but ultimately it’s up to the kids,” said Zukauskas. “It’s not about me and my program. It’s about the kids and in particular our seniors and their leadership. I'm not a big believer of going 8-0 as a goal. I'm more of a believer of us being as good as we can be. That's the goal everytime we go out to practice. There is an urgency here to get better and that's what we preach.”

Because of the sanctions levied against them in 2011 by the ISL after finding significant evidence of violations committed within the program which included wrongful funding to student-athletes and improper off-season practices, LA begins its third and final year under these sanctions. Among the penalties handed down includes a banishment to partake in any postseason NEPSAC Bowls this season, even if the Spartans should qualify.

In 2011 it was revealed that the football program, under the direction of then head coach Mike Taylor, committed infractions during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the same two years LA won ISL titles. At the time, the ISL kept the violations quiet but it was later revealed by former school headmaster Scott Wiggins that funding was provided to student-athletes that went beyond their demonstrated need. He also said the team performed off-season summer training sessions -- a violation according to ISL rules. In addition to the three-year bowl ban, the Spartans were also stripped of their two ISL championships. The conflict eventually would lead to the resignations of Taylor, Wiggins and former athletic director Kathy Noble.

The memories of these transgressions are nothing more than a forgone conclusion by the present day Spartans. They are well-aware of what transpired and the penalties which accompanied them yet they say it means nothing. Right now the only thing that matters is playing football and making the most out of the 2013 season.

“We really have no control over what happened in the past but we can control this season,” said senior lineman and co-captain Andrew Crane. “That is all we are focusing on. We just want to go out and be the best we can be.”

Zukauskas -- a former BC High and Boston College standout, who spent five seasons in the NFL playing for the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers -- walked into a program at the height of turmoil. Nevertheless, Zukauskas has kept a positive attitude throughout and continues to maintain a strong belief that things will turn around. In his first season, Zukauskas finished 3-5 before the success of last year.

“There is so much opportunity here to do something special and that's the way we are looking at it,” he said. “If we can compete and be as good as we can then what a great message we are sending to everybody that despite the adversity we're still as good as we can be. Yes we want to play in a NEPSAC Bowl again soon but what is even better is to have this adversity we are currently under and be able to overcome it.”

LA remains primed to improve upon last season’s success. The Spartans return a number of veteran players, most-notably at the skill positions. They are led by senior quarterback Kyle Howes, junior receivers Chris Garrison, Austin Luckey and tight end Kyle Gillem-Hughes. Junior Nick Schutz and freshman AJ Dillon are expected to carry much of the load at running back. The Spartans are also well-stacked up front. Along with Crane, others anchoring the line include seniors Rocco Daigneault , Cornelius Griffith, Will Blundo, along with juniors Islambek Mussayev, Craig Waldie and David Pyne.

“We return a lot of starters and have some talented new kids who have come in,” Crane said. “Coming into this year we seem much-more focused and there is a lot of enthusiasm. We are all conditioned and ready to go.”

Adds Daigneault, also a co-captain, “We’ve bonded as a family here. At the start of pre-season we spent a lot of time together and grew together. We are a real tight-knit group ready to play some football.”

While depth in some areas remains a concern, it may ring no louder than on defense. LA graduated two of its top defensive backs -- Jalen Myrie and Darrien Myers a year ago. However a defense, ranked second in the ISL last year, is far from being gutted. Luckey, who also plays linebacker, was the Spartans leading tackler a year ago. Sophomore linebacker Jake Cassidy is also expected to make an impact. Howes, another co-captain playing safety along with Schutz at defensive back, will lead the secondary.

Perhaps the biggest intangible so far has been attitude. The Spartans contend they are thoroughly focused and determined to bring the program back to the elite status.

“Everyone comes to practice more concentrated than any other team I’ve ever been around,” said Howes. “Everyone is totally focused. We have film and white board sessions and everyone comes with notebook in hand ready to learn.”

Head Coach: Paul Zukauskas (3rd year, 9-7)
Last Year: 6-2
Key Returners: Sr. OL/DL Andrew Crane (6-1, 270), Sr. OL/DL Rocco Daigneault (6-1, 230), Sr. QB/S Kyle Howes (6-3, 200), Sr. OL/DL Cornelius Griffith (6-1, 220), Sr. OL/LB Will Blundo (5-10, 205), Jr. WR/LB Chris Garrison (6-3, 217), Jr. FB/WR/LB Austin Luckey (6-1, 210), Jr. RB/DB Nick Schutz (6-0, 185), Jr. TE/DL Kyle Gillen-Hughes (6-2, 210), Jr. OL/DL Craig Waldie (6-2, 210), Jr. OL/DL Islambek Mussayev (6-4, 240).
Top Newcomers: Jr. OL/DL David Pyne (6-3, 285), Soph. LB Jake Cassidy (5-10, 170), Fr. RB A.J. Dillon (6-0, 205)
Outlook: The Spartans have enough talent to remain in the upper-echelon of the ISL standings throughout the season. LA primary strength will be its offensive and defensive line, both rock solid and spearheaded by by Crane, Daigneault and Milford High transfer Pyne. This wall should open up large spaces for RBs Schutz and newcomer Dillon, and give Howes enough time to stand in the pocket, find his receivers and pick apart opposing defenses. Defense will be the big question early on with the departures of DBs Myrie and Myers. Howes and Schutz are expected to take control of the secondary but will get much-needed help from LBs Luckey, Blundo, Garrison and Cassidy. Despite not being eligible for postseason play because of the sanctions handed down in 2011, LA remains highly-optimistic that the program has moved beyond the issues which occurred in 2009 and 2010 under former coach Mike Taylor.