Monday, November 18, 2013

CMass Playoff Notebook: The Champs are Here

The Doherty football team celebrating its first Central Mass championship since 1980. (Click to enlarge)
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

Four teams captured Central Mass championships and punched their tickets to the state football tournament this past Friday.

It was a night of vindication for schools like Doherty and St. John's, but an end that came all too soon for teams like Leominster and Shepherd Hill. Here's  quick look back at the CMass championship action, and a look at the road ahead for all the district winners.

All upcoming games will be played at neutral sites this Saturday, November 23rd, and each winner will advance to an inaugural state championship game December 7th at Gillette Stadium.

Division 2 Champion: St. John's

The Pioneers had revenge and a long-coming championship on their minds in Leominster Friday. They captured both at Doyle Field, against their biggest rivals no less, as quarterback Drew Smiley threw for three touchdowns and ran for another three in, perhaps, the greatest performance of his already spectacular career.

The 51-42 Pioneer win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Blue Devils. That streak included a season-opening Leominster win this year, as well as the last two Central Mass Division 1 Super Bowls. It also marked the first time that St. John's coach John Andreoli defeated third-year Leominster coach Dave Palazzi. Smiley's 69-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter effectively ended what was a dominant season for the Blue Devils, who came into the game undefeated, riding the stellar play of senior quarterback Neil O'Connor.

The Road Ahead: vs Springfield Central at Westfield State, 2 pm

Many were looking forward to a Leominster-Central showdown, but St. John's shredded those plans up with brilliant running from Smiley and running back Shane Combs. Now, the Pioneers will have the unenviable task of trying to slow down the prolific Golden Eagles attack led by quarterback Cody Williams.

The Monmouth commit has led the Eagles to nine consecutive victories after a close season-opening loss to Everett. This game will feature, maybe, the two hottest teams in the state and two of the most exciting offenses. The Smiley vs Williams QB duel alone will be worth the price of admission.

Division 4 Champion: Doherty

I've covered Doherty's historic championship win pretty extensively, so I won't write any more about it here. You can take a look back at my blog from early Saturday morning for more on Isaac Yiadom, Luke Brennan, Alfred Adarkwah, Jahkari Carpenter and the boys winning Doherty's first CMass title in 33 years. Some sweet highlights in there as well.

The Road Ahead: vs Wahconah at Doyle Field in Leominster, 2 pm

The Highlanders faced a tough and physical defense against Shepherd Hill last week, and that may be just the perfect primer for this stingy Wahconha group. The D4 West champs suffocated upstart Agwam 20-0 last week, and employ the same conservative, ball control approach as Shepherd Hill on offense.

Though they don't run the double wing like the Rams, the two-headed running attack of backs Ethan Wells and Eli Pease will be another huge challenge for the Doherty front, which answered the bell late against SH. Think of this game as an even more challenging version of last week's CMass title game, as the Falcons are one of the most physical teams in the state.

Division 5 Champion: Northbridge

Much like they have all season, Northbridge bounced back from adversity in its 50-37 D5 Central win over Bartlett. After falling behind 21-7 and giving up three different touchdown runs of 55 yards or more, the Rams leaned on sophomore quarterback Koby Schofer to dig them out of the early hole.

The rising star sophomore didn't let his team down, throwing for a TD and adding three more on the ground to help the Rams put together a 29-0 run in the third and sink the Indians.

It wasn't just the play of Schofer, however, as Jake Wood scored three touchdowns on the ground and the Rams' special teams recovered a pair of onside kicks to keep the huge third quarter run going. Guts and perseverance got the Rams to the D5 Central final, and it's why they're still playing in the state tournament.

The Road Ahead: vs Hoosac Valley at Doyle Field in Leominster, 11 am

As good as undefeated Wahconah is, Hoosac Valley gave them their toughest game of the season, only losing to the Falcons 8-7 at the end of September. The Hurricanes have a great defense themselves, not allowing more than two touchdowns in any games they've played this season, and a powerful running game led by Ty Mach, Matt Braman  and Ian Hill make Hoosac Valley imposing on both sides of the ball.

Of all the CMass champions, Northbridge would seem to be the biggest underdog this weekend. But hey, that's nothing new for this overachieving group. I'm sure they wouldn't have it any other way.

Division 6 Champion: Littleton

Quarterback Alex McLaughlin has been lethal on the ground this year, but it was running back Travis Bassett who led the way with 220 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing in Littleton's 28-8 win over previously undefeated Blackstone Valley Tech. The Tigers were able to contain BVT's dual-threat quarterback Nic Wojnar and exploit the aggressive Beaver defense on the ground when they had the ball.

With wins over West Boylston and now BVT, the Tigers are not to be taken lightly by anyone in D6 throughout the state.

The Road Ahead: vs Turners Falls at Westfield State, 11 am

The potent Tiger running game will have to keep up with an explosive Tuners Falls offense in what could be a shootout. The Indians have scored 30 points or more in eight of their 11 games, and put 36 on a talented Mohawk defense last week for the D6 West title.

Junior running back Trent Borbeau has led the offense all year, but the efficient play of quarterback Malcolm Smith has made teams think twice about loading up the box against the Indian rush offense. Littleton will likely need to put a few more points on the board this week, but McLaughlin and company should be up for the challenge.

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