Monday, December 9, 2013

CMass HS Football Power Rankings: The End of a Statement Season

Thanks in large part to a special group of seniors, Doherty has gone from regional doormat to state champion in just two years.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

The first year of Massachusetts' state-wide football playoff format was a rousing success for Central Mass, as the region sent teams to Gillette in all four Divisions it participated in, including two that would go on to win state championships.

The great season couldn't have come at a better time, as CMass was able to prove itself against the best teams in Western and Eastern Mass, going 6-2 in playoff games against the Commonwealth's other two regions. So, we'll get into our final Central Mass Power Rankings at the bottom, but first, here are the teams, stories and players that made 2013 a special year for CMass high school football.

Also, don't forget to check back Wednesday for our Central Mass All Stars and Award Winners.

Leominster Dominates the Regular Season

Though they didn't play at Gillette, it's hard to argue that the regular season didn't belong to Leominster. Star quarterback Neil O'Connor led a prolific offense with receivers Jake Allain and Mayson Williams, along with tight end Jarell Addo, and covered a ton of ground on the Blue Devil defense as well.

O'Connor and Addo were the state's best safety duo, and only a loss to red-hot St. John's in the D2 Central game (with two way star Matt Banchs out due to injury and O'Connor playing hurt) kept Leominster from realizing its ultimate goal.

St. John's Catches Fire for the Playoffs

But it wasn't just untimely injuries that did the Blue Devils in, it was the fact that St. John's was playing at another level in time for the postseason. Quarterback Drew Smiley kicked the Pioneer offense into a gear we didn't know it had for the playoffs, starting the postseason with three consecutive 50+ point outings.

The Pioneer offense "slowed down" in a 37-32 win over state power Springfield Central in the state semifinal, where junior WR/S Davon Jones broke out for the most complete game of his career, grabbing a pair of touchdowns, along with an interception and 10 tackles on defense.

Oh yeah, and Smiley stepped in at safety to record the game winning interception. No big deal.

The Pioneers couldn't overcome state No. 1 Mansfield in the D2 final, but what a run it was.

Doherty's Magical Run

As I've said before, Doherty had the feel of a "team of destiny" this year, and the Highlanders realized that destiny the only way they knew how: By making big plays in the biggest moments.

Close wins and clutch plays were nothing knew for Doherty, who fought tooth and nail to hold off St. Peter-Marian in a  regular season thriller, then used a last minute pass from quarterback Luke Brennan to star receiver Isaac Yiadom to defeat Shepherd Hill in the D4 Central final. Doherty then fell in a 16-0 whole in the state semifinal against Wahconha, but shut the Warriors out the rest of the way to win 22-16. Heck, even Thanksgiving Day against Burncoat was eventful.

But the Highlanders saved their biggest and most improbable win for last.

With the D4 Super Bowl against Dennis-Yarmouth tied at 7, Brennan chucked a ball deep down the right sideline to Alfred Adarkwah. The 6-foot-4 receiver beat the corner deep and was too fast for the safety coming over to help. The ball landed right over his shoulder and into his hands as time expired in the first half. The 41-yard score put Doherty up 14-7 at the break.

Then, in another clutch play, Doherty led 28-26 with Dennis-Yarmouth needing a two point conversion to tie. Highlanders lineman Matt Smalls kept Dolphin QB Spencer Tyler escaping the pocket outside, then great hustle by Manny Obisui and Peter Franco forced Tyler to throw into the blanket coverage by Jahkari Carpenter and Sean Jackson.

The ball hit the turf, and Doherty put to bed 30 years of being a doormat in Central Mass. They were state champs.

Hudson's Emergence

It was a bitter end for Hudson, as injuries and unfavorable match ups led to the Hawks dropping their last three in a row, but don't let that take away from their 8-0 start behind the inspired play of the Dans, both Bothwell and Mendes.

The Hawks started their season with a bang, blowing out regional power Auburn 33-0 in the opener, and followed that performance up with an equally impressive 41-7 thrashing of Groton-Dunstable. After a scare against Westboro, the Hawks continued their domination, and looked like a team to watch in Division 4. But, a beaten up Hudson team walked into a buzz saw against Doherty in the playoffs, then never seemed to play with that same fire, falling 51-30 to Tantasqua, and dropping a heart breaker on Thanksgiving to Marlboro.

Kierman and Quabbin Rewrite CMass Record Books

Quabbin quarterback Dylan Kierman has been chasing CMass passing records since last year, and he got to put his name on a few this season. His 37 touchdown passes marked a new regional high, breaking the old record of 33 set by Millbury's Nick Hebert in 2003. He also tied the CMass record for touchdowns in a game with six, and smashed a pair of CMass yardage records.

First, his 506 passing yards against Oakmont set a single game CMass record, and his seasonal total of 3,100 also set a new standard in the region.

All these stats are coming from this great story in the Telegram, written by Bill Ballou. In the story, he also mentions the two year totals of Kierman and St. John's quarterback Drew Smiley. You can go here to read the total stat line, but I will say that the two excellent signal callers have combined for over 110 touchdown passes the last two season. How's that for offense?

Northbridge's Resilience

While they came up short to a fantastic Bishop Fenwick team in the D5 Super Bowl, this year's Northbridge squad overcame a ton to get there. First, there were allegations of hazing in the preseason, then came the slow start on both sides of the ball out of the gates.

But, legendary coach Ken LaChapelle put together one of the finest turnarounds in his illustrious career, letting his grandson Koby Schofer loose in the Rams' wide open attack. The sophomore quarterback led Northbridge to nine straight wins, including back-to-back come from behind victories in the CMass final and state semifinal.

Leicester's Rodrick Turns Heads State-Wide

On a chilly, yet still somehow mosquito-filled night in Leicester, ESPN Boston High School Sports Editor Brendan Hall and I took in the Wolverines' big game against rival Auburn. What we got was the Tom Rodrick show.

Rodrick had garnered some preseason hype, what with his being committed to Division 1 UConn and all, but he proved he was worth every bit of it, flying sideline-to-sideline and stopping the stellar Rocket rushing attack almost by himself. After the game Hall said Rodrick was the best linebacker he had seen in the state this year. That's some high praise for a kid from a small town in the middle of Central Mass, but after the Rodrick's performance that night, nobody could have argued the point.

Littleton's Domination

No team dominated it's division like Littleton. Not only did the Tigers ride star quarterback Alex McLaughlin and running back Travis Bassett to an undefeated state championship season, they also set the record for points scored by a Central Mass team. The Littleton offense was unstoppable all year, and the 52 points it put on Cohasset in the D6 Super Bowl pushed the Tigers' season total to 543, breaking the CMass record of 537 set by Oakmont in 2009.

BVT Captures Voke Bowl

Honestly, until the Division 6 Central title game, you could have made the case that Blackstone Valley Tech was the region's most dominant team. Though they came up short against Littleton in that game, the Beavers still managed to complete a fantastic season with a thrilling win in the Large Schools Voke Bowl.

Trailing Northeast Metro Tech 26-14 with less than three minutes to play, quarterback Nic Wojnar ran for a touchdown, then found running back Ben Reiffarth for another score less than 30 seconds later to give the Beavers an improbable win. Just like top teams in D4 and D6, the best Voke school team in the state resides in Central Mass.

Postseason CMass High School Football Power Rankings

1. Doherty: 12-1
Accolades: Division 4 State Champions, Inter-High Champions
2. St. John's: 9-4
Accolades: Division 2 Central Champions, Division 2 State Finalist
3. Leominster: 10-1
Accolades: Division 2 Central Finalist, Mid-Wach A Champions
4. Littleton: 13-0
Accolades: Division 6 State Champions, Mid-Wach D Champions
5. Northbridge: 10-3
Accolades: Division 5 Central Champions, Division 5 State Finalist
6. Shepherd Hill: 9-2
Accolades: Division 4 Central Finalist, SWCL A Champions
7. St. Peter-Marian: 8-3
Accolades: Division 4 Central Semifinalist
8. Blackstone Valley Tech: 11-1
Accolades: Large School Vocational Champions, Division 6 Central Finalist, Colonial Champions
9. Shrewsbury: 7-4
Accolades: Division 2 Central Semifinalist
10. Marlboro: 8-3
Accolades: Division 2 Central Semifinalist, Mid-Wach B Champions

First Five Out:
Leicester (9-2, SWCL C Champs), Tantasqua (7-4), Hudson (8-3), Bartlett (6-5, Division 5 Central Finalist), Auburn (8-3, SWCL B Champs)

A few quick notes: You could easily make the case for St. John's here after their playoff run in the state's most brutal division, but Doherty won a state championship, and that puts the Highlanders a cut above for me. Leominster slides into the Top-3 due to its incredible regular season. If this were a "BCS-like" system, you could easily say that the Blue Devils were the best team in the region.

After all, they do have wins over Doherty and St. John's on their resume. Unfortunately, they dropped that game to St. John's at the worst possible time, and since we have playoffs, I'm not going by BCS rules. Littleton is a small school, but you can't argue against the Tigers' domination of Division 6, and I rounded out my Top-5 with a Northbridge squad that overcame a ton to make it to Gillette.

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