Boston High School: Shawn Jackson

D4 semifinal: Doherty 22, Wahconah 16

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
10:02
PM ET
LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- Before they had time to blink, the Doherty Highlanders were trailing 16 points to Western Mass. power Wahconah Regional.

Like a Mike Tyson fight (pre-Buster Douglas, of course), Doherty found itself lying on the canvas in a heap after the Warriors came out swinging right from the outset.

With one foot firmly planted on the Highlanders' throats, Wahconah failed to complete the task when it had the chance and let Doherty off the hook. Helped by a couple of Warrior miscues, Doherty was able pull itself up, and in the process, save its season after rallying back to post a 22-16 triumph in today's Division 4 state semifinal played at Doyle Field.

"It seemed our kids were so excited about this game and the atmosphere that we got tired after two plays," said Highlanders head coach Sean Mulcahy, his team finishing with 325 yards to the Warriors' 257. "Wahconah took it to us early and I think our kids did panic a little bit."

Doherty (10-1) faces Dennis-Yarmouth (a 21-14 winner over Bedford on Saturday) in the final on Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium – time to be announced.

While some pundits assumed the Highlanders' overall talent-level would be far too great for the Warriors (10-1) to handle, it appeared to be the other way around in the early going.

On the Warriors’ opening possession, senior quarterback Ethan Wells, who played marvelously all game long, directed his club on a 53-yard scoring drive with Wells completing the drive by connecting with junior wide out Ryan Washburn for a 26-yard scoring reception. Matt Salvatore's proceeding conversion catch had the Warriors in front, 8-0.

Wells put his diversity on display for the Highlanders, demonstrating his capabilities throwing the football as well as running with it. He finished with 129 yards on 30 carries and was 6 of 13 passing for 93 yards. Lining up in the shotgun throughout, Doherty's defense appeared baffled about what Wells would do next, consistently loading the box to take away the run.

Yet, the strategy didn't seem to faze Wahconah. After a second consecutive Highlanders punt, the Warriors were given a short field to work as they set up on Doherty's 43-yard line. Four runs by Wells, netting 17 yards, positioned running back Darrow Brown to bust through for a 10 yard scoring run with just over a minute remaining in the initial quarter. Brown then threw a pass to Cole Morrison for the two-point conversion pushing the Warriors out to a 16-0 advantage.

In spite of the deficit, it was certainly still within reach for Doherty, and its plethora of talent, to jump back into it. All the Highlanders needed was something to fall their way and provide a much-needed lift. It came in the form of running back Jahkari Carpenter.

With Doherty's running game totally inept during the opening frame, Carpenter changed that early in the second thanks to his 59-yard jaunt. That was immediately followed by senior quarterback Luke Brennan's 19-yard touchdown scamper to make it 16-6 after the conversion run failed.

"Our defense made some great adjustments after [Wahconah] went up by 16 points," said Brennan, who finished with 93 yards on 6 of 15 passing. "Our offense eventually clicked and that's what we did the rest of the game. Everyone kept their poise. We knew it was going to be a war. We knew we needed to grind for four quarters and keep our composure the whole game no matter what happened and that's what we did."

On the ensuing kickoff, the Warriors made a critical error which in turn provided the momentum shift Doherty grasped hold of and didn’t surrender.

Senior Eli Pease had the ball squirt through his hands that ended up sitting on the 1-yard line. After a delay-of-game penalty, Wells had no place to go inside his own end zone and was smothered by the Highlander defense resulting in a safety.

"Once we got that safety I felt our kids could finally breathe a little and now start to play," Mulcahy said.

He added, "We'll enjoy this and now get ready for Burncoat on Thanksgiving. We'll worry about Gillette after Thanksgiving."

With 4:47 still left before halftime, Doherty came all the way back. Carpenter's 42-yard zig-zag touchdown and Mitch Celaj's conversion catch had this contest knotted at 16-16. Carpenter finished with 114 yards on 14 attempts.

"We did a great job coming out for this game," Warriors coach Gary Campbell Jr. said. "Offensively and defensively we were executing. But in the second quarter the wheels came off. All you can ask for are opportunities. If you get them phenomenal and if you don't that's the way it goes. Doherty is a quality team but I was pleased to see our kids hang with them through four quarters like they did. We'll fight with anybody but this one will sting a little.

“I thought Ethan [Wells] played great for us today. He is our heart and soul. He's a tough kid who is still deciding on attending either RPI and WPI. It doesn't matter where you put him on the field. He's just a very smart, tough player that can play anywhere."

It only got worse Wahconah after a shotgun snap deflected off of Pease, who was in motion, resulting in Highlander senior Peter Franco’s recovery on Wahconah's 40. But Doherty running back Issac Yiadom gave the ball back to the Warriors, coughing it up inside the 10. Yiadom carried the ball four times for 40 yards.

Wahconah's offense did nothing following the turnover and had its punt partially blocked. Doherty took over on the 16 and needed only one play to take a 6-point lead. Alfred Adarkwah's 16-yard scoring grab from Brennan with 16 seconds before halftime had the Highlanders in a much-better frame of mind than what transpired during opening 11 minutes.

The second half was a bend-but-don't break style offense and defense from both teams. Doherty had a chance to pad its lead late in the third but Carpenter lost control of the ball inside the Warriors 10. Likewise, Wahconah put forth its best drive of the game following the turnover. Beginning at his own 8-yard line, Wells' legs did much of the work in moving the Warriors all the way the Highlanders’ 6. Facing a fourth-and-goal Wells' pass to the back of the end zone was battered down by senior Shawn Jackson.

Doherty regained possession and eventually ran out the clock for the triumph.

Recap: No. 6 Leominster 47, No. 17 Doherty 26

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
1:47
AM ET


WORCESTER, Mass. – It only took 30 seconds for No. 17 Doherty to make a statement in Friday night’s showdown with Leominster at Foley Stadium.

The Highlanders zipped 70 yards downfield on two passing plays to hang a quick six on the No. 6 Blue Devils’ defense. Doherty scored on each of its first two possessions, underscoring the point about its dynamic group of athletes.

But, while the Highlanders continued to cling to a lead through halftime (19-10), Leominster showed the mettle of a cagy, playoff-proven crew during the second half. Then, the Blue Devils erased the mistakes of the early going and effectively stepped on the neck of the Highlanders, outscoring them 37-7 in the final two quarters for a 47-26 victory.

In a matchup of two of the Central district’s top playoff contenders in their respective divisions, Leominster conducted a clinic as to what the Highlanders will need to adopt if they, too, hope to make a run at a section title – that is a killer instinct.

“We weren’t putting ourselves down,” Blue Devils running back/ corner back James Gurley said of the locker room scene at the half. “We’d been in this position before. We know how to come back – we’re Leominster, we play four quarters.”

Gurley and his teammates dropped the hammer in the second half, when the junior tallied both of his rushing scores, as well as an interception. From upping the defensive ante, to the flawless execution of sustained drives it was all there for the Blue Devils (5-0) – at least coming out of the intermission.

Doherty (4-1) landed the first blow just 38 seconds in. Luke Brennan moved the Highlanders up-field 70 yards for a touchdown on two plays from scrimmage, finishing with a 29-yard lob to Shawn Jackson on a jump ball.

After the Highlanders forced Leominster into a turnover on downs, Doherty utilized a short field to grab a near-instant 12-0 lead on Brennan’s 6-yard pass to Alfred Adarkwah.

“I think they wanted to go to Adarwah there and he hurt us,” Leominster head coach Dave Palazzi said of Doherty’s fast start. “It was a great game plan on their part and it worked for them.”

Doherty held a 19-10 lead at halftime, despite not having a single target at Boston College commit receiver Isaac Yiadom.

Yiadom would play a greater role for the Highlanders in the second half, but the Blue Devils simply ran away.

To start the second half, Doherty remained aggressive, with head coach Sean Mulcahy rolling the dice, calling for an onside kick. The play worked, with Brennan chasing the bounding ball and falling on it for a successful recovery.

However, the Highlanders’ ensuing drive stalled after some penalty trouble. Then, the Blue Devils went to work, engineering a methodical 9-play, 76-yard drive capped on Gurley’s first of two touchdown runs.

After a successful two-point conversion, Leominster trailed 19-18.

The Blue Devils soon had the ball in their possession again after inside linebacker Jason Valera picked off a Brennan pass. Following a 53-yard return by Valera and tacking on an unsportsmanlike penalty at the play’s end, Leominster set up shot first and goal from the 6.

“They had a little bit of momentum going, and we needed a big play,” Palazzi said of Valera’s pick. “We finally got one.”

Two plays later, the Blue Devils had their first lead of the game, 24-19, on Matt Banchs’ 2-yard touchdown plunge.

The momentum snowballed from there. After forcing Doherty three-and-out, Neil O’Connor (16 of 23, 287 yards) connected with Shane Crayton for the pair’s second touchdown play of the game. The 63-yard pass on the roll out from O’Connor, hitting junior wideout on the backside post, and the following 2-point conversion provided Leominster with a 32-19 lead at 9:17 of the fourth.

Doherty would respond with Yiadom getting untracked on a 40-yard touchdown reception from Brennan (12 of 26, 217 yards), but the Blue Devils kept piling it on.

Gurley helped shut the door, knocking in his second rushing touchdown of the game before picking off a pass on Doherty’s next possession.

Blue Devils backup quarterback Nick Xarras capped scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run out of their goal-line double wing set.

“It was a team win in every aspect of the game,” Palazzi said. “We did a great job coming back from the onslaught at the beginning.”

Two-way player: O’Connor continued his campaign for this year’s Mr. Football award with another impressive showing.

On offense, in addition to his 287 passing yards, O’Connor ran for 72 yards on six carries. Twenty-nine of those yards came on one awe-inspiring fourth-quarter carry on which O’Connor broke four tackles before being wrestled down by a pair of Highlanders defenders at the Doherty 13. The run helped set up Leominster’s second to last score, providing the Blue Devils with a two-possession lead.

Palazzi also lauded O’Connor’s play at safety, helping to neutralize Doherty’s passing attack in the second half.

“He’s playing against a lot of these great athletes and he’s a competitor out there,” Palazzi said of O’Connor. “He threw the ball well, he ran the ball well and he played tremendous defense. [He was] going a hundred miles per hour on every play.”

Yiadom set to lead No. 22 Doherty

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
8:35
PM ET
Sean Mulcahy still clearly remembers the first time he knew he had something special with Isaac Yiadom.

Back then, in 2011, he was a wiry 6-foot, 147 pounds, freshly transplanted from Alexandria, Va., where he quickly moved into the starting secondary as a freshman at Robert E. Lee High. Raw, skinny, but blessed with a solitary blend of speed and leaping ability, Yiadom was placed at free safety for the Highlanders' first preseason scrimmage, Westborough.

On one of the first plays from scrimmage, the Rangers called a toss play to the alley, and Yiadom -- lined up 10 yards off the ball in a "man free" look, in the middle of the field -- came sprinting across the field, wrapping up the wingback cleanly in the space between the hash mark and numbers, before he could turn the corner.

"I was like 'Holy Cow'," Mulcahy recalled. "Those kinds of things you can’t coach. What would have taken a normal kid, maybe he gives up three yards [on the play], Isaac made the play and they lost three yards. He's a great open-field tackler. Literally, if we needed him to play at linebacker, he'd be more suited for us to be successful at middle linebacker. But we've gotta protect him too."

Two years, two inches and 30 pounds later, Yiadom is one of the fastest-rising commodities in Massachusetts, becoming the first of seven Bay State prospects to pledge to Boston College's 2014 recruiting class, in late March, and building buzz ever since. Last season, he had 48 touches for 972 yards of offense, which included 22 carries; with his signature running play, an end-around, he averaged nearly 13 yards a carry.

Blessed with 4.5 speed and a 37-inch vertical leap, Yiadom also made six interceptions and 60 tackles as a strong safety. He will likely fit into a cornerback role at BC, with hopes that his long arms can provide some stiff coverage. During outdoor track and field season, Yiadom is among the state's best in the 400-meter dash (49.99 seconds) and triple jump (46-foot-6). Scouts Inc. ranks Yiadom as the No. 4 overall prospect in Massachusetts, higher than highly-touted Division 1 prospects such as Everett defensive back Lubern Figaro (12 offers), Natick quarterback Troy Flutie (BC) and Tabor Academy athlete Miles Wright (undecided).

Of course, he benefited from the impact last year of two-way star Noah Robinson, who became a matchup problem at tight end, as well as a strong stable of running backs and the terrific arm of returning quarterback Luke Brennan, who committed to Franklin Pierce University for baseball earlier this month. Yiadom began to see more physical, bracketed coverage towards the end of last season, but now he'll expect full-on scheming against him as the Highlanders' top option.

That suits him just fine. After all, the Highlanders are expecting big things this year out of receivers Alfred Adarkwah and Shawn Jackson.

"Towards the end of the season they were beating me up a little harder," Yiadom said. "But [physical play] kind of excites me at the same time. I like it, too, because it opens new ways for Luke to find Alfred or Shawn."

Which brings us to one of the more intriguing developments of the offseason. In passing leagues this summer, in an effort to stress defenses, the Highlanders toyed with Yiadom and the 6-foot-4, 170-pound Adarkwah on the same side of formations. With his big hands and long arms (6-foot-7 wingspan), Adarkwah can stretch a defense vertically and seal a defender off deep downfield. That could blend well with Yiadom's speed; running the two of "smash" and "snag" combo routes, along with bubble screens, the strategy had some success this summer.

"I definitely think it's gonna be his best season this year," Yiadom said. "Last year he did great, but we had Noah Robinson and great receivers [around him]. This is gonna be his best year because he can draw a lot of attention. He stretches for the ball. He just doesn't drop the ball -- even in passing league, he just doesn't drop it. He's hungry this year, it's gonna be a good year."

DOHERTY AT A GLANCE
Coach: Sean Mulcahy (23rd season, 100-143)
Last season: 9-3, lost in Div. 2 CMass Playoffs
Returning Starters: 10 (seven offense, three defense)
Key Returnees: Sr. WR/DB Isaac Yiadom, Sr. QB Luke Brennan, Sr. WR Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. RB/LB Pete Franco, Sr. OL/DL Jack Halloran, Sr. E/DB Shawn Jackson, Sr. E/DB Mitch Celaj, OL/DL Matt Smalls
Strengths: Skill players, passing game, secondary, athleticism.
Weaknesses: Experience at offensive and defensive lines, linebackers.
Overview: Defensively there might be growing pains at first for the Highlanders, who are looking to replace eight starters, mostly in the front seven and none more significant than linebacker Noah Robinson (125 tackles, five sacks). But with the BC-bound Yiadom at free safety leading the defensive backs, one has to wonder how much time that can buy his teammates in front of him on pass rushes -- his closing speed is without peer in the Central Mass. region, and he takes terrific angles on passes. Offensively, the questions are in the trenches, where there is experience to be replaced. But the Highlanders run a perimeter-oriented offensive scheme, which suits their deep stable of talented skill players. Expect Yiadom, who racked up nearly 1,000 yards of offense on just 48 carries last season, to be the focal point of defensive game plans, and see his fair share of bracket coverage. But one of the more interesting developments over the summer has been their usage of the 6-foot-4 Adarkwah, who could be in for a breakout season. With long arms that give him a wide catching radius and help him lock up defenders when blocking downfield, the Highlanders may experiment with him and Yiadom on the same side of formations, which could stretch the limits of pass defenses they face. Overall, the Highlanders have plenty of firepower on offense, directed by Brennan under center, but the defense will have to grow up quick if they are to replicate last year's success and fulfill some heady preseason expectations.

Summer Snapshot: Doherty Highlanders

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
11:43
PM ET
This is the second installment in our "Summer Snapshot" series, checking in with some of Massachusetts' top teams leading into the MIAA football preseason. To see all of our Summer Snapshots, CLICK HERE.

Long on athleticism but often short on results, this last decade has seen an impressive turnaround for once-dormant Doherty High. Last fall was an historic season for the Highlanders, which took some of Central Mass.'s heavyweights to the wire (Nashoba) and gave others a swift humbling (Holy Name, Shepherd Hill). They finished 9-3, losing the rematch with Shepherd Hill in the MIAA Central Mass. Division 2 playoffs, but by all accounts 2012 was a high water mark.

At safety they'll return Isaac Yiadom -- a Boston College commit, the state's No. 4 overall prospect, and the program's highest-profile recruit since current UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood -- but there are questions everywhere else with the graduation of eight starters. Can the Highlanders continue the momentum that's been building for the last few seasons? We checked in with them this morning as part of our annual preseason football gallery.

DOHERTY AT A GLANCE
Coach: Sean Mulcahy (22nd season, 98-143)
Last season: 9-3, lost in Div. 2 CMass Playoffs
Final ESPN Boston Rank: NR
Returning Starters: 10 (seven offense, three defense)
Key Losses: LB Noah Robinson, RB/DB Terence Hall, DB Abdullah Webster, DB Sam Oppong, OL/DL Dave Ritchotte, OL/DL Robbie Nay, LB Maurice Morales, OL/DL Octavio Rodriguez
Key Returnees: Sr. WR/DB Isaac Yiadom, Sr. QB Luke Brennan, Sr. WR Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. RB/LB Pete Franco, Sr. OL/DL Jack Halloran, Sr. E/DB Shawn Jackson, Sr. E/DB Mitch Celaj, OL/DL Mitch Smalls
Overview: Coming off one of their most successful campaigns in years last fall, the Highlanders must find a way to replace eight starters on defense, most notably Robinson (125 tackles, five sacks). Normally that's a daunting task, but the presence of one of the state's best pass defenders in Yiadom, a fluid athlete who covers plenty of ground at free safety and demonstrates great leaping ability, should keep things clean in back. Perhaps the quality secondary can help shore up the youthful front seven. Offensively, Yiadom is the top option, and has great rapport with Brennan, a Franklin Pierce University baseball commit. But keep an eye on Adarkwah, a big target at 6-foot-4 and 170 pounds, who could have a breakout senior campaign. With his long, lanky frame, Adarkwah has an exceptionally large catching radius and does a quality job sealing off defenders downfield on run plays. In the newly-aligned Central Mass. district, Doherty figures to be one of several favorites in Division 4, but they'll have a tougher schedule to endure, including a must-see matchup with D2 favorite Leominster in the final week of the regular season.

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