Wednesday, November 6, 2013

CMass Playoff Notebook: Semifinal Previews

At 6-foot-4 with great hands, Doherty's Alfred Adarkwah is nearly unstoppable in the red zone.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

The first round of the MIAA football playoffs is in the books, and Central Mass had it's fair share of great games, standout performances and surprises across all four divisions.

So, here's a look back at the weekend that was, and a look ahead to the upcoming Central semifinals.

Division 2

Leominster, St. John's and Marlboro all took care of business, but D2 was not devoid of excitement. Shrewsbury upended regional power Nashoba 28-7 on the Chieftains' home field, behind a powerful ground game and opportunistic defense.

Last weekend's action sets up two rematches in the semis, with Shrewsbury again traveling to top ranked Leominster and Marlboro getting another chance to beat St. John's in Shrewsbury.

On paper, Shrewsbury would seem to have its hands full. The Blue Devils made short work of the Colonials two weeks ago, blasting them 41-13 in a game that probably wasn't even as close as the score made it look. Quarterback and safety Neil O'Connor was too much for Shrewsbury then (2 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD, 1 INT return for a TD), but a dominant performance against Nashoba may give the Colonials some confidence and momentum to make this one a game.

Marlboro, meanwhile, knows it let one get away the last time the Panthers faced St. John's on the road. After leading 20-7 at halftime, the Pioneers scored 28 unanswered points, largely because the Panthers couldn't stop quarterback Drew Smiley on the ground.

Will things be any different the second time around?

Division 4

There were no upsets in D4 as top seeds Shepherd Hill and Hudson simply bludgeoned their opponents on the ground and advanced with ease. Doherty and St. Peter-Marian, meanwhile, put on shows in their blowouts. First it was Doherty QB Luke Brennan throwing for five touchdowns against Quabbin, then SPM's This Boykin continued his recent tear, scoring five touchdowns and throwing for another in a 30-point win over Tantasqua.

This weekend's action will provide significantly more drama, as both semifinal games should be competitive. SPM will get another shot at SH, after the Rams scored a late touchdown and converted a two-point try to defeat the Guardians 14-13 on October 18th.

Doherty's trip to Hudson may not be a rematch, but it's one of the more intriguing games of the weekend. The Highlanders's offense is balanced with Brennan playing well, running back Jahkari Carpenter firing on all cylinders, and receivers Isaac Yiadom and Alfred Adarkwah creating mismatches, but the Hawks run it so well, Doherty may not get much time with the ball.

If Hudson can control time of possession and not give up the big play over the top, this one could be closer than most think.

Division 5

As impressive as Brennan and Boykin were last week, the kid who stole the show had to be Bartlett's Alexander Givens-Perry, who rushed for an absurd 364 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn. The Indians would go onto win behind AGP's big day, defeating the Rockets 42-21 and ending Auburn's 5-year Super Bowl winning streak. To add insult to injury, he also snatched the CMass rushing lead from Auburn running back Mark Wright.

A big day from quarterback Drew Mazzeo helped Leicester advance easily against David Prouty, while four total touchdowns from sophomore quarterback Koby Schofer helped Northbridge pound Gardner.

Bartlett's upset wasn't the only of the weekend, however, as a late fumble actually worked out for Southbridge against Uxbridge. Despite a botched exchange, Southbridge fullback Ariel De La Cruz picked up the ball and ran it in from five yards out to break a 7-7 tie and lead his team to the 14-7 victory.

Well, we know one of those Cinderellas will make it to the ball, as Bartlett and Southbridge will meet Friday with a trip to the CMass title game on the line. Meanwhile, Schofer and the Rams will look to keep their momentum going on offense, but it should be slightly tougher sledding against linebacker Tom Rodrick and the physical Leicester defense.

Division 6

Everyone's talking about D4, but this may be the most entertaining bracket in Central Mass. While there was little drama this past weekend, look for the semifinals to be full of it. High scoring St. Bernard's makes the trip to Littleton, looking to avenge a 52-44 loss from October 11th. Yeah, there will be some points scored in that one.

In, perhaps, an even more intriguing game, West Boylston will face Blackstone Valley Tech this weekend. BVT quarterback/linebacker Nic Wojnar is the best player in the region that you haven't heard of, and the Beavers have yet to be challenged this season. They will be against West Boylston, a team that blew out Leicester and has only a close loss to Littleton as a smudge on its resume.

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