Boston High School: Rocky Nelson

What We Learned: Week 2

September, 19, 2011
In the moments following Dennis-Yarmouth’s thrilling 28-27 win over Cape rival Barnstable, neither team could do enough evangelizing about the talent on display before them just minutes earlier.

Of D-Y wideout Damion Johnson, first-year Barnstable head coach Chris Whidden said, “If I'm a college coach and I'm anywhere near Cape Cod recruiting, I'm all over Damion Johnson. He's a hell of a football player.”

Of the duel between D-Y quarterback Matt Montalto and Barnstable quarterback D.J. Crook (who is inching closer to the state all-time touchdown pass record), Dolphins head coach Paul Funk sung high praises.

“You just saw three of the best players in the state, I don’t care where they’re from,” he told a group of reporters. “Montalto, Crook and Johnson. Those guys can play anywhere in the country, I’ll tell you that right now. They’re as good as anyone around.”

Minutes later outside the D-Y locker room, Montatlo was asked about Johnson’s jump-ball ability, and the senior put it bluntly: “Best one I’ve ever seen in high school. I’ll put it down, I think he’s the best wide receiver in high school football right now. That’s what I’ll say about him, yeah.”

All the talk is justified, though. The 6-foot-2 Johnson, with his seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns, showed what makes him one of the region’s more difficult players to defend with his adjustments in the game. Early on, the Red Raiders pressed Johnson heavily and brought safeties over the top; Johnson merely muscled his way to jump balls on deep fades. When they backed off the line of scrimmage, Johnson beat them with crisp comeback routes on the sideline.

“That’s what’s so difficult about Damion," Montalto said. "When you press him, right away I saw him getting off the press – he’s so good with his hands, his feet, everything – he got off the press and got over the top of them, when we’re giving him fades. And then they finally loosened up, so we came back to our crossing routes, same thing, he’s just as good at that as he is with the deep ball.”

Said Johnson, “They kinda loosened up on me a bit, but me and Matt have had our timing down since the summer. We worked on it all summer, preseason, everything.”

Coming into this season, questions surrounded New Bedford and how the Whalers would get along without Lance Burlingame anchoring their offensive and defensive lines. While you can never hope to replace a player like that, the Whalers have shown they'll be just fine this season. Without bookends Burlingame and Janny DosReis, guard Darian Sousa-Bizarro has moved over to tackle and provides senior leadership on the offensive side of the ball.

On defense, New Bedford showed they have multiple players ready to step up and make up for the pass rush Burlingame accounted for. In Saturday's 41-20 win over Silver Lake, the Whalers' big men put on a show with Carl Santos picking up three sacks, while Ricky Moraes had two of his own. Junior Tyler Arena is also a player worth keeping tabs on and was disruptive force against both the running and the passing rhythym of the Lakers' offense.

“They’re doing well,” Whalers head coach Dennis Golden said of the group. “Coach [Nick] Salmon and Coach [Marc] Hayes are doing a great job with them every day. They’re giving a good effort in practice. The kids are coming and playing hard consistently. It’s a good thing, it’s a good situation.”

While the number of true upsets in Week 2 paled in comparison to the wild Week 1 slate, among the more suprising results of the young season was Woburn's 12-7 triumph over Billerica.

After suffering a 25-point loss to Acton-Boxborough in Week 1, the Tanners bounced back, particuarly on defense to shut down the Indians.

While Billerica quarterback Nick LaSpada got his share of yards through the air and the ground, hovering near 200 all-purpose yards, here's betting Woburn head coach Rocky Nelson would take that result all day, every day. In addition, the Tanners got the big play on offense they need early on with Chucky Ortiz, a legitimate Mr. Football Award candidate, flashing his speed on a 71-yard run that set up his 2-yard touchdown run in the first.

From there, all the Tanners had to do was dig in.

“We tried to change up our fronts and our coverages and send people to try to confuse [LaSpada],” Nelson said of Woburn's defensive game plan. “We were in his face and he didn’t take a broken play and take it to the house. We contained him. We were sending our outside linebackers sometimes right from the line, sometimes inside. We had some line stunts that we put in that kept pressure on and we didn’t let him scramble and beat us like he did a year ago.”

Skip to the 30-second mark of this highlight package from Friday night’s Mansfield-Needham game, and tell us Mark Riley isn’t one of the most underrated tight ends around.

"That's one of the nicest catches I've ever seen, that I can remember," Needham head coach David Duffy said. "That was tremendous. He's very fast and instinctive, he's more of an Aaron Hernandez type of tight end, we'll split him out wide sometimes. He's a matchup nightmare for teams, but he can also block."

Needham has sent just one player to a Division 1 school in three decades – Eric Johnson, former Yale tight end and seven-year NFL veteran (and also new beau of Jessica Simpson). For sake of technical terms, we’re not counting current Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, who played soccer at Needham then Middlebury before walking on to North Carolina State as a grad student.

But in this year’s Needham squad – an underrated one based on the run it gave Mansfield on Friday – they might have two. Quarterback Drew Burnett already claims an offer from Bryant, while Riley (brother of WEEI announcer Mike Riley, a good friend of ours here at ESPNBoston) has been seeing interest anywhere from the Ivy and Patriot Leagues down to the NESCAC. He's also a returning All-American in lacrosse, and may head down that route for college.

A few more catches like that, and maybe this story changes.

And by the way, Duffy isn't afraid to make the comparison to the future Mr. Jessica Simpson.

"He reminds me of Eric Johnson -- he could do anything," Duffy said of Riley. "The kid can catch, receive, run, catch a block, anything you ask of him to do he can do it."

Maybe there’s just a proverbial rain cloud hanging over Baker Street, or maybe Catholic Memorial is just encountering bad luck. Either way, this was hardly the start they expected after coming in as the preseason No. 4 in our statewide MIAA poll.

One week after suffering a surprise shutout upset at the hands of unranked Marshfield, the Knights took a 14-0 second-quarter lead over Connecticut Class LL runner-up Trumbull, only to have two of the four lights go out at the stadium. The two teams hit the locker room early for halftime, on the suggestion from officials that they shut all four lights off and try to reboot from there.

And as luck would have it, the lights never came back on, and Trumbull made the three-hour trek back to Connecticut. Reached Monday morning, CM head coach and athletic director said a decision hasn’t been made on how this game will go down in the books.

Three weeks, one game. Here’s the good news: the Knights will be playing a Saturday afternoon game in Shrewsbury against St. John’s. And like every other week, they stand a good chance of probably coming away victorious.

Then again, nothing has gone as planned so far.

It's hard to tab a second-week game as having playoff implications, but Saturday's South Coast Conference battle between Dighton-Rehoboth and Apponequet is about as close as you'll get. The Falcons and Lakers were the co-champions of the SCC last season, but Apponequet is looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

The teams were very much evenly matched and resemble each other in many ways with both teams featuring a dual threat at running back with D-R's Adam Benvie and Bryan Rocha and Apponequet's Nate Michael and Zach Nanfelt.

So did D-R take a step closer to their third straight postseason appearance with a 21-7 win?

“I guess this is what they’d say is the first big game in the league,” D-R head coach Dave Driscoll told correspondent Adam Kurkjian. “The way the schedule’s been it’s happened early the last three years. As a result, you get a little bit of a leg up if you win the game. It certainly doesn’t mean anything other than you have a win because you have to play the whole season, but it’s nice to win.

Recap: Woburn 12, Billerica 7

September, 16, 2011
WOBURN, Mass. -- Well, that wasn't supposed to happen.

One would figure a Woburn team that one week earlier lost by 25 points to Acton-Boxborough shouldn't have been able to hold Nick LaSpada and the Billerica Indians to seven points, but it did in its 12-7 victory Friday.

It had Billerica (1-1) on its heels early in the first when Chucky Ortiz took a handoff to the right and ran untouched 71 yards for a touchdown to give his team the 6-0 lead.

“I just give all the credit to the line,” said Ortiz, who finished the game with 14 carries for 117 yards on the ground. “They opened up that hole and I saw it and I just ran.”

Woburn (1-1) held LaSpada, the dynamic senior quarterback, to under 100 yards in both rushing and receiving. He finished the game 8-of-17 for 93 yards and 2 interceptions through the air. He added 17 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

“[Woburn head coach] Rocky [Nelson] did a great job defensively,” said Billerica coach Peter Flynn. “The Woburn kids played real tough. We couldn’t move the ball. They shut us down.”

LaSpada scored the only touchdown for Billerica when he ran a quarterback draw into the end zone from 5 yards out.

Woburn answered back three minutes later when quarterback Hunter Romano hit Dave Pratt with a 15-yard pass in the right corner of the endzone to put his team back on top 12-7.

A few other observations:

Turnover woes: With Woburn driving deep in Billerica territory ahead by five points with six minutes to go, it was evident the Indians would need a turnover to get back in the game. They got what they needed when Woburn quarterback Hunter Romano lobbed a play-action pass that went into the waiting arms of a Billerica defensive back.

Starting on its own 20, Billerica drove down to the Woburn in about three minutes. The drive was highlighted by a 36-yard catch-and-run from LaSpada to Matt Clifford. After the play was over, a Billerica player was whistled for a 15-yard personal foul penalty when he shoved a Woburn player after the play was over. This brought the team back to the 33-yard-line. On the next snap, Billerica was called for a false start, backing it up five more yards.

On the next snap, LaSpada was sacked for a loss of seven yards. In three plays, the team lost about 30 yards and precious time off the clock. Finally, facing a third down and very long, LaSpada dropped back to pass, was hit as he threw, which caused his second interception of the game. Woburn burned the rest of the time off the clock for the victory.

Locking up LaSpada: Woburn was able to do what every team in the Merrimack Valley Conference will try to do against LaSpada: contain him and get pressure on him. It utilized multiple blitzes to keep the fleet-footed quarterback from breaking off any long runs against its defense.

“We tried to change up our fronts and our coverages and send people to try to confuse him,” Nelson said. “We were in his face and he didn’t take a broken play and take it to the house. We contained him. We were sending our outside linebackers sometimes right from the line, sometimes inside. We had some line stunts that we put in that kept pressure on and we didn’t let him scramble and beat us like he did a year ago.”

The defense was able to sack LaSpada three times in the first half.

Staying their lanes: While the statistics show that LaSpada had close to 100 yards on the ground, the Woburn defense deserves credit for not allowing him to break off a big run. Of his 17 carries, only two went for 10 yards or more.

“We knew we could stop him, we know he’s human,” Ortiz said. “He’s one of us. He puts his pants on like everyone else: one leg at a time.”

LaSpada ran the ball only eight times in the second half.

Selling the fake: Romano didn’t throw the ball many times in the game (5-of-10 for 103 yards, 2 INTs), but when he did, it was often a play-action pass. His first two passes, which went for 44 and 34 yards respectively, were to wide open receivers. The Billerica defense was often so keyed in on stopping Ortiz and Anthony Mendonca (8 rushes for 35 yards), that Woburn receivers could run free into the secondary.

Extra struggles: Woburn had difficulty converting its PATs Friday. First, there was a bad snap on the field goal following the Ortiz touchdown run. In the third quarter, after the teams second touchdown, Ortiz fumbled the handoff on the two-point conversion. It appeared Clifford was going to run the ball back for Billerica, but Ortiz got to his feet, ran 95 yards, and tackled him on the 5-yard-line.

WOB --- 6 0 6 0 --- 12
BIL --- 0 0 7 0 --- 7

1st quarter
W - Chucky Ortiz 2-yard run (Kick failed)

3rd quarter
B - Nick LaSpada 5-yard run (Steve Trask kick)
W - Dave Pratt 15-yard pass from Hunter Romano (2-pt conversion failed)