Boston High School: Q'Ra Guichard



NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – North Attleborough football twice took the lead in the first quarter without the benefit of an offensive play Friday night against Hockomock League rival No. 4 Mansfield.

When the Red Rocketeers finally had the ball firmly in their possession (offensively, that is), it took just one play for them to find the end zone once again before the quarter was out.

There’s no way North’s coaching staff could have drawn up the start to Big Red’s 42-22 win over the Hornets. But the Red Rocketeers’ mix of strong special teams and a couple of home-run offensive plays was exactly what they needed to depose the reigning Kelley-Rex division and Division2 state champions.

In fact, North (2-1, 1-0) never left the Hornets (1-2, 0-1) into the game. After Mansfield stalled on the first possession of the game, the Red Rocketeers exploited a weakness in the Hornets’ special teams unit. North send an aggressive rush from the corners on Mansfield’s punt. Sophomore Bobby Mylod batted the ball down before Pat Munley got his hands on the loose ball for a scoop and score at 8:03 of the first.

“It was something we’d seen in films and it was something that we wanted to go after on the very first punt, as long as the field position was favorable,” North head coach Don Johnson said. “We knew we were going to go after it.”

The Hornets responded with a plodding 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, capped by C.J. Daniel’s 5-yard run.

Then, as North would do at several turning points in the game, another big play followed. North scored its second special teams touchdown as sophomore running back Nick Rajotte returned the kickoff 89 yards for a score.

The Red Rocketeers claimed their first two-possession lead before the first quarter was out, forcing Mansfield to a turnover on downs. On their first offensive play of the game, junior quarterback Brody Barr took an inside zone run 58 yards for the touchdown as time in the quarter expired.

Despite surrendering a safety on a bad snap through the end zone, North took a 28-9 lead to the half as senior Andrew Hanwell scored his first of two touchdowns on the game. Hanwell swept across the formation on an end around, sold with an inside zone read fake, and raced 13 yards for a touchdown with 1:48 to play in the half.

Hanwell kept the onslaught going in the third quarter, when he hauled in a 78-yard touchdown pass from Justin Gallagher at 4:54.

Mansfield got the score back on 45-yard touchdown run by Q’ra Guichard, but North once again deflated the Hornets’ buzz when Mylod chewed off a 51-yard score on a the first play of the ensuing possession.

“We scored 42 points and won a big game, but there’s plenty to improve upon on both sides of the football,” Johnson said. “Special teams were good tonight, they were a difference. That gave us some breathing room, too.”

Difference maker: Hanwell, named the ESPN Boston Player of the Game, was also a force from his cornerback spot. The senior two-way starter picked off two Matt Carafa (17 of 30, 220 yards) passes.

“He’s our best athlete out there,” Johnson said of Hanwell. “He’s the guy that plays both offense and defense and in special teams, too. Tonight it showed and he came through for us.”

Hanwell was also a part of North’s first big play, applying pressure off the edge on Mylod’s blocked punt.

“That punt block set the tone right away for us and we just didn’t stop there,” Hanwell said.

Unsung heroes: The standouts in the Red Rocketeers’ win against Bishop Feehan a week ago was its defensive line, led by Munley. Along with senior defensive tackle Maxwell Kroll, North’s defense took on a bend but don’t break attitude.

While Mansfield was able to run at will at times behind sophomore Brian Lynch (17 carries, 117 yards), North’s defensive front stiffened in critical moments. Kroll tallied two sacks, both of which helped force Mansfield into a turnover on downs in the second half.

“We didn’t want to give any yards up the middle,” Kroll said. “We wanted to get push from the outside and let our corners and our linebackers do the work.”

Notable quotables: “I guess we don’t have to be practicing all that much on offense, given that we had the one offensive play in the first quarter,” Johnson said, responding a question on North’s lack of first quarter offensive plays.

ESPN Boston state football championship predictions

September, 4, 2014
9/04/14
12:53
AM ET
Before the MIAA football season kicks off this weekend, ESPN Boston editors Scott Barboza and Brendan C. Hall give their state championship predictions for the season:

Scott Barboza, ESPNBoston.com High Schools Editor

Division 1: Xaverian
The Division 1 field could look a lot as it did last year; I think there’s a real potential for Central Catholic vs. Everett and Attleboro vs. Xaverian rematches in the North and South districts, respectively. But this race all comes down to depth, and the Hawks have plenty of it across all positions. This time, Xaverian will not be denied at Gillette Stadium.

Division 2: Mansfield
Once again, Division 2 South should prove one of the most tightly contested sectional races across the state this year, but I see the Hornets moving through. With a defensive core that returns starters such as Curtis Boisvert, Connor Finerty, Q’Ra Guichard and Brendan Hill, the Hornets are built for the postseason. That bodes well if they are to meet St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in the state final again, as the Pioneers are primed for another Gillette visit.

Division 3: Marblehead
The Magicians ran into a loaded and experience Tewksbury squad in the North final last year, but this is their year. The Southern districts will be extremely competitive – particularly with many of the Hockomock League’s Davenport Division’ s entrants (Oliver Ames, Stoughton) loading up for this season. However, with Brooks Tyrrell running behind a hulking offensive line, including UMass commit Derek Dumais and Dan Marino, Marblehead is running all the way to the hardware.

Division 4: Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins were denied of the title last year by a talented Doherty squad in the game of the day during championship Saturday. They won’t get fooled again. D-Y is likely to see another challenger from the Central district again – perhaps Doherty once again, or Shepherd Hill – but the Dolphins will come away champions behind Mr. Football candidate Michael Dunn, just as they did a few years back with his cousin Matt Montalto under center.

Division 5: Auburn
The Rockets are a few years off their historic winning streak, but they’ll climb back to the top of the hill with another impressive rushing attack led by preseason All-State Mark Wright. Watch out for Bishop Fenwick to again make a run at Gillette behind returning All-State Rufus Rushins, but Auburn wins out.

Division 6: Pope John Paul II
Had the Lions made the cut in the South sectional playoffs, they might have been the favorite last year. The one-two punch of Ryan Barabe and Diego Meritus will propel one of the state’s top offensive units – regardless of division – to a championship. Of course, PJP will not be without challengers, however, particularly in their own sectional playoff, where challengers Diman, Mashpee and Millis lurk.

*****

Brendan C. Hall, ESPNBoston.com High Schools Editor

Division 1: Xaverian
Hard to pick against the Hawks and their loaded crop of scholarship-caliber talent as they seek to avenge last year’s state final loss. When the smoke clears, this could be one of Charlie Stevenson’s best defenses in a long time, led by Damion Wood and defending ESPNBoston Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano. The North bracket should be a tough battle, but I think Everett has enough talent to outlast that field.

Division 2: St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Going with the vengeance theme here again in D2, as one of the state’s most feared hitters, Boston College-bound safety Davon Jones, looks for another swing at it. Mansfield should be the prohibitive favorite in Eastern Mass., but once again the power is in the South portion and it’s a cauldron. Don’t be surprised if Natick or Marshfield makes it out of the bracket.

Division 3: Marblehead
Jim Rudloff loves to play the underdog card, but there’s no way the Magicians aren’t the lead dog in this race, with returning All-State tailback Brooks Tyrrell once again running behind an offensive line with Division 1 scholarship talent. This race gets interesting in the southern districts, where a number of teams have a good shot at reaching Gillette, and I have no idea who to pick. Walpole? Oliver Ames? Stoughton? Plymouth North?

Division 4: Shepherd Hill
Plain and simple, this is a Division 1-sized offensive line playing in Division 4, led by one of the state’s best hoggies in Chris Lindstrom, with an impressive blend of power and speed at the skill positions. They should get a tough battle from Doherty in the Central district. Once again, it could come down to Holliston and Dennis-Yarmouth in the East, but I like D-Y’s chances of returning to Gillette.

Division 5: Auburn
I picked the Rockets to win last year, and that sputtered. But on the heels of an explosive breakout campaign from Mark Wright, here’s hoping second time’s a charm. A number of Catholic Central teams could stake their claim in the East, led by St. Mary’s and Bishop Fenwick, but keep an eye on Northbridge out of the Central district as well.

Division 6: Pope John Paul II
A year after getting left out of the inaugural South football playoffs, Lions come back roaring with an even more explosive offense, triggered under center by Ryan Barabe and led in the backfield by workhorse Diego Meritus. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Millis come out of the South either, and Boston English is my favorite in the North with slippery dual-threat QB Emmanuel Almonte.

Top 25 Countdown: Nos. 5-1

August, 26, 2014
8/26/14
8:26
PM ET
Last Monday, we unveiled our fifth annual statewide preseason Top 25 poll. Today, we continue our annual countdown of the poll with our final installment, featuring our top five teams.

In case you missed our earlier installments: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6

NO. 5 ST. JOHN'S (SHREWSBURY)
Coach: John Andreoli (11th year, 92-31)
Last season: Division 2 state finalists, lost 28-14 to Mansfield
Returning starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Key returners: Davon Jones, Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 185 lbs; Sam Norton, Sr., DT, 5-9, 210 lbs, Nick Calvano, Sr., WR/DB, 5-7, 175 lbs; Shane Combs, Sr., QB/RB/DB, 6-1, 210 lbs.
Strengths: Defense, physical strength
Weaknesses: Experience
Outlook: Another year, another deep and talented starting lineup boasted by the Pioneers, last year’s Central Mass. Division 2 champion. The Pioneers lost some major contributors off of last year’s team, including all-state quarterback Andrew Smiley, but coach John Andreoli is confident especially in the ability Combs, Jones, and Calvano to make big plays on the offensive side of the ball. Currently, Combs is splitting equal reps at quarterback with Tim Cassidy. “The jury is still out,” Andreoli said on the quarterback decision, “Both he and Tim Cassidy are taking equal snaps. They both have very different skillsets...it’s a different look when each one of them is in there.” Jones, a hard-hitting Boston College-committed safety, has proven to be one of the state’s top players over the past couple of years, but it’s his on the field leadership that is standing out so far this fall. Jones is the only four-year starter in the history of the program. “The thing that impresses me most about him is that he's really assumed a leadership position, with the way he conducts himself on the field, and the way he takes control of the defense,” Andreoli said, “And offensively the level of maturity that he has brought takes him to the next level.” Several players have found a way to make a name for themselves early on in camp, partly too because of the work they put in over the offseason. Andreoli said that this year’s team has the most physical strength collectively of any squad that he’s coached at St. John’s: “The amount of guys that we had were able to bench 185 for multiple reps was the most we ever had here. That's kind of been the foundation as the first thing. On the defensive side of the ball, our secondary has really shown a tremendous amount of speed, athleticism, and physicality in our first week.” Keep a close eye on Marc-Eddy Paul, Michael Corinna, Mitch Earley, and Sam Kloczkowski – all of whom have made a big early impact early on in practice.
-CHRISTIAN BRADLEY


NO. 4 MANSFIELD
Coach: Michael Redding (27th, 217-66-4)
2013 Record: 13-0, Division 2 State Champions
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offensive, 6 defensive)
Key Players: Brendan Hill, Sr. TE/SE 6-5, 228 lbs; Mike Carpino, Sr. OL/DL 5-9, 210 lbs; Tyler Smith, Sr. OL 6-1, 205 lbs; Andrew Horstmann, Sr. OL 6-2, 225 lbs; Curtis Boisvert, Sr. RB/DB 5-8, 180 lbs; Joe Moreshead, Sr. LB 5-10, 180 lbs; Q'ra Guichard, Sr. LB 5-8, 195 lbs; Connor Finerty, Jr. LB 5-11, 195 lbs; Nick Borsari, Sr. DL 6-2, 270 lbs; C.J. Daniel, Sr. LB 5-11, 170 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, linebackers, defensive line, running backs/receivers
Weaknesses: Inexperience in the secondary, adapting offense to personnel
Outlook: The Hornets completed their own version of a revenge tour last year, turning a loss in the 2012 D2 EMass Finals into an undefeated 2013 season and winning the first ever Division 2 State Championship. The biggest concern for the Hornets will come on offense and finding the pieces to replace quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, receivers Michael Hershman and Kyle Hurley and the elusive Miguel Villar-Perez. But to counter that, Mansfield possesses one of the most talented tight ends in the entire state in Brendan Hill, a member of the ESPNBoston Preseason All-State Team. Hill, who has received interest from multiple D1 programs, will likely garner the majority of attention from defenses so Mansfield will need to develop other options. Matt Carafa will likely step in and be QB1 for the Hornets while Curtis Boisvert will see a good amount of carries out of the backfield. Last year, Michael Redding talked about having some inexperience on the offensive line but this year they return three starters – Carpino, Smith, and Horstmann – and will rely on their line to help carry the offense. Defensively, the front seven is very strong led by linebackers Q'Ra Guichard and Joe Moreshead, arguably two of the more underrated players in the Hockomock League. They also return linebackers Connor Finerty and CJ Daniel as well as Brendan Hill and Nick Borsari, who will both be on the defensive line. The question on defense will be about replacing the strong defensive backs they had a season ago, led by Mike Barresi and Aurien Dawkins. Boisvert will likely be called on to be the anchor of that group. It won't be an easy start either for Mansfield as they begin the season on the road in New York against powerhouse Archbishop Stepinac.
-RYAN LANIGAN

NO. 3 EVERETT
Head Coach: John DiBiaso (23rd season at Everett, 271-66-1 overall)
2013: 8-2, lost Division 1 North final to Central Catholic
Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Key Players: Lukas Denis, Sr. Ath./DB, 6-0, 175 lbs.; Nick Orekoya, Sr. RB, 5-10, 200 lbs.; J.J. Colimon, Jr. TE/DL, 6-4, 250 lbs.; Erick Browne, Sr. OT/DT, 6-3, 270 lbs.; Mark Cardwell, Sr. 6-0, 225 lbs.; Jordan McAfee, Soph. QB.
Strengths: Athleticism in offensive and defensive backfield; size and physicality on offensive line.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at key positions.
Outlook: Perhaps more than any Everett team in recent memory, this year’s edition of the Tide is full of X-factors. The hype is abundant, but there are lingering questions. The athletic potential is apparent, but there’s a lack of on-field experience together. The one surefire thing the Crimson Tide do have returning is Lukas Denis, who joined the long lineage of Everett defensive backs to give their commitment to Boston College. Denis, who’s on-ball coverage skills are unparalleled in the region, will again be relied upon heavily as a hybrid back/wide receiver. Of course, that too depends on which form Everett’s offense will take. There are big things predicted for sophomore signal-caller Jordan McAfee whose yet to make a start. Meanwhile, Billerica transfer Nick Orekoya provides a stout presence at running back – one that can both break tackles and out-run hits. On defense, the Crimson Tide are short on game experience at linebacker, but should be able to generate on the pass rush with senior Mark Cardwell.
-SCOTT BARBOZA

NO. 2 CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Head Coach: Chuck Adamopoulos (18th season, 123-62)
2013: 11-1, won Division 1 State championship
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Key Players: Michael Milano, Sr. QB, 6-1, 170 lbs.; Michael Balsamo, Sr. RB/S, 6-1, 202 lbs.; Markus Edmunds, Sr. RB/ILB, 5-11, 210 lbs.; Jorge Elias, Sr. G/DT, 6-0, 215 lbs.; Pat Dziedzic, Sr. OT/DT, 6-1, 220 lbs.; Dan MacDonald, Sr. OT/DT, 6-3, 260 lbs.; Justin Landry, Sr. C/ NG, 5-11, 270 lbs.
Strengths: Experience at quarterback, inside linebacker and safety; defensive front seven; big game experience.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at wide receiver and outside linebacker; kicking game.
Outlook:The Raiders rolled through Everett and Xaverian on the Road to Gillette and snuck up on some observers – we’re included – en route to the state’s first true state championship in Division 1. This year, they’ll be the targeted team, with a good mix of returning key contributors from last year’s title team. The added good news for Central is that many of its returning starters are back at its most important positions. That includes senior four-year starting quarterback Michael Milano, who was among the statistical statewide leaders in just about every category during last year’s playoffs. “He led our team in rushing last year and, I think for the people that followed us every week, that while [Cody] Demers made a lot of the big plays, Michael [Milano] did a lot of the things that made us successful, making such a big jump from his sophomore to his junior season.” The Raiders also return a few key members of its vaunted 3-4 defense, including free safety Michael Balsamo and inside linebacker Markus Edmunds. Edmunds, who led the team in tackles last year while eclipsing the century mark, will be working beside a new-look linebacking corps, but “I don’t know if he’s going to have a better year statistically this year because he was so good last year, but he’s going to have a lot more on his shoulders. We had two seniors at outside linebacker last year, who were both pretty smart kids as football players and they helped him make calls. So he’s got a little bit more on him in a leadership role.”
-SCOTT BARBOZA

NO. 1 XAVERIAN
Coach: Charlie Stevenson (21st season, 172-62-1)
2013: 10-2, lost in Division 1 State Championship
Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)
Key Returnees: Joe Gaziano, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 242 lbs.; Damion Wood, Sr. WR/FS, 5-11, 200 lbs.; Joe Parsons, Sr. OT/DT, 6-5, 285 lbs.; Jake Farrell, Sr. QB, 6-3, 185 lbs.; Noah Sorrento, Sr. RB/OLB, 5-9, 185 lbs.; Kenny Kern, Sr. FB/MLB, 6-0, 227 lbs.; Elijah Pierre, Jr. OL/NG, 6-0, 260 lbs.; Mekhi Henderson, Soph. CB, 5-9, 175 lbs.; D'Aundre Holmes, Jr. RB/FB/OLB, 5-11, 205 lbs.; Coby Tippett, Jr. WR/CB, 5-9, 165 lbs.; Ernest Simon, Sr. WR/CB, 5-9, 180 lbs.; Nick Allsop, Jr. C/DT, 6-3, 248 lbs.
Strengths: Defense, experience at quarterback, skill position depth
Weaknesses: Experience at offensive line.
Outlook: There’s no hiding it, and there’s no way the coaching staff can sandbag it: This defense is going to be pretty good. Led by the Northwestern-bound Gaziano, the reigning ESPN Boston Defensive Player of the Year, the Hawks return virtually everyone defensively, and are solid at just about every position in the front seven. The strength of the defense may lay in the secondary, where the Coastal Carolina-bound Wood has been playing with a violent chip so far this preseason, and the quick-twitched Henderson figures to be the top draw at corner after a promising freshman campaign. "He’s a fierce competitor," Stevenson said of Wood. "He likes to make plays against the opponent, and I think he’s serious about that. He’s playing hard when he’s out there, that’s a good thing to have." Offensively, the Hawks have a few holes to fill, but on the right side they should be fine with the UMass-bound Parsons returning at right tackle. Gaziano was mostly used in-line for run support last season, but the Hawks have so far experimented with him in a "flex" role, lining him up in the slot or splitting him out wide. He made a few dazzling grabs in Saturday’s scrimmage with B-R, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the traditionally conservative Hawks don’t get him more involved in the passing game this fall. "When he gets inside a cornerback, that’s a big body for the cornerback to come through," Stevenson said. "He’s a big guy who can run and catch, and once he catches the ball –- I’m not gonna say he’s quick –- but he brings a pretty good load with him. Clearly, we’re going to get him more involved in our pass attack." Farrell, a baseball star during the spring, is entering his second year under center and demonstrates above-average arm strength. He won’t be depended upon to run the ball, with the entire backfield back, but his improvisational skills are noteworthy.
-BRENDAN C. HALL

Tale of the Tape: St. John's vs. Mansfield

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
2:09
AM ET
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 2 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at Central champ St. John's and South champ Mansfield, respectively.

MIAA Division 2 State Championship
ST. JOHN'S (9-3) vs. MANSFIELD (12-0)
at Gillette Stadium, 1:30 p.m.


When St. John’s has the ball: Be prepared for a blitzkrieg. In these playoffs, the Pioneers are averaging 49.7 points per game -– including 51 or more points in all three of their Division 2 Central contests –- and an unheard-of 482.5 yards of offense, both bests among teams playing on Saturday. Much has been made over the past two years of the Oregon-like offense they’ve installed, looking to push a hyperactive tempo that is nearly unmatched across Massachusetts, and at the forefront of this offensive renaissance has been quarterback and Navy lacrosse commit Andrew Smiley (170-for-245, 2,368 yards, 28 TD, 4 INT; 97 carries, 866 yards, 12 TD). A true dual-threat quarterback, he has perfected the zone read, and demonstrated the ability to make difficult throws in tight windows throughout the state tournament. Smiley left the Thanksgiving matchup with St. Peter-Marian with a shoulder injury, but he is expected to play on Saturday.

A critical part of the Pioneers’ passing game is predicated on finding weak spots in the defense and sitting in the holes, creating a short but fluid rhythm that allows them to keep the chains moving and therefore play fast. In accomplishing this, they may package any number of screens and route combinations on the backside of zone read plays. It’s hard to ascertain who is truly the key receiver in the passing game: Mike McGillicuddy (46 catches, 817 yards, 10 TD), master of the underneath routes; senior T.J. Kelly (30 catches, 502 yards, 6 TD), a prominent basketball forward who can take the safeties deep off the ball; or junior Davon Jones (46 catches, 634 yards, 7 TD), a freakish athlete with a 40-inch vertical, who high-points balls like few others in the state.

Arguably the most crucial element, however, has been their ability to run the ball effectively in these playoffs – and not just with Smiley, who can pull the ball and slip through the first line of defense with his lacrosse-bred running skills. Junior tailback Shane Combs (149 carries, 1,143 yards, 15 TD), a Notre Dame baseball commit, has been incremental in these playoffs, going over the century mark in all four playoff games for a total of 524 yards and 10 touchdowns. As the season has progressed, Combs has transformed from fleet-footed to bullish, a tough downhill runner who can keep his legs churning after first contact.

When Mansfield has the ball: Wednesday's state championship breakfast at Gillette Stadium was dominated by the news that Hornets tight end Brendan Hill, their leading receiver on the season, will miss the game after an ACL injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day against Foxborough. While the loss of an All-State caliber receiver is never a positive, Mansfield still has dangerous targets on the outside to choose from. However, instead of spreading out the ball distribution, an increased number of targets (and the Pioneers' defensive scheming) will shift to Mike Hershman (37 catches, 645 yards, 6 TD) and Kyle Hurley (21 catches, 311 yards, 4 TD).

Leading us to the real X-factor of Saturday's game, which is what does Miguel Villar-Perez have left in the tank? The Hornets' leading rusher (890 yards, 11 TD) has been hobbled in recent weeks and was again banged up during their Thanksgiving game. Also, a dependable pass-catcher out of the backfield and in the slot, Villar-Perez has given Mansfield its dynamism on offense and, with Hill already out of the picture, its imperative that Mansfield maximize his snaps despite perhaps playing at less than 100 percent. If not ready to go, expect a greater dose of senior running back Chris Buchanan out of Mansfield's heavy sets.

Yet, for all the seeming uncertainty now surrounding the Hornets leading in, the constant has been senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski. Throughout the season, Wisnieski has completed passes at clip of greater than 65 percent, including a very strong postseason run. The supremely efficient passer has also held on to the ball, with a touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of greater than 5:1 (27 TD, 5 INT).

When St. John’s is on defense: Judging from the scores this fall, one may get the impression this is a suspect defense. All but one opponent has put up double-digits on the Pioneers; nine have reached the 20’s, and three have eclipsed 30. But some of that may be due in part to the type of offense the Pioneers run. With such quick offensive drives, that leads to more possessions for the opposition, which has often led to shootouts this season.

But that isn’t to take away from what has been an athletic unit. At the forefront is the junior Jones, a three-year starter who has gone over 100 tackles for the second straight season (108 tackles, 7 INT, 5 TFL, 3 forced fumbles). Often playing as a high free safety, Jones covers a lot of ground in the deep field, and has developed a reputation as a violent hitter. Occasionally, the Pioneers will split the deep field with Jones and Smiley (3 INT), who made one of the playoffs’ most acrobatic feats with a one-handed interception to ice the Central/West semifinal win over favored Springfield Central.

In the front seven, the Pioneers aren’t overbearing, but they are definitely quick, led by linebackers Patch Ryan (105 tackles, 2 INT, 2 forced fumbles) and Alex Pappas (108 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks). Keep a special eye on defensive end Jeff DeMango (68 tackles, 12 TFL, 8 sacks, 6 passes deflected), who demonstrates exceptional hand skills that are usually good for a batted pass or two.

When Mansfield is on defense: The Hornets' success on defense stems from its interior line, with a couple of underrated pluggers in Andrew Horstmann and Dhruv Patel. Their inside gap responsibilities will be put to the test with Combs and Smiley working the option game. But recent history sides with the Hornets, who held Barnstable's Hayden Murphy to just 21 rushing yards in the teams' Div. 2 South playoff game. Also, on the line, Steve Zieselman has enjoyed a strong senior season, earning Hockomock League All-Star honorers as a dependable two-way contributor, as well as John Keefe (56 tackles).

Junior linebacker Q'Ra Guichard has quietly led the Hornets in tackles (58 solo) to date, but last year's returning top tackler Alex Ruddy has caught up with 56 tackles, despite missing several games to start the season.

Not only will the loss of Hill set back Mansfield's passing game, the Hornets also lost their top pass rusher. Hill leads the team with 7.5 sacks.

Hornets senior Mike Barresi could draw the coverage assignment on Davon Jones, as Barresi leads the team with six passes defended.

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