Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Massachusetts Super Bowl Previews: Divisions 1-3

Expect points galore when St. John's and QB Drew Smiley battle high-powered Mansfield.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

A dozen high school teams from Eastern and Central Mass have finished their journeys down the #RoadToGillette, and are now preparing for the first state-wide football championships in Massachusetts history.

As you may or may not know, I've spent the majority of the year covering Central Mass. So, I will briefly touch on the exclusively Eastern Mass title games (Divisions 1 and 3), but give far more in-depth previews of the games that include teams from the heart of the Commonwealth.

So, here it is, Part I of everything you need to know about Super Bowl Saturday at Gillette Stadium this weekend.

Division 1

Central Catholic (9-1) vs Xaverian (9-1) at 3:30 pm

The Storyline: A New Era in D1

Each of these teams knocked off three-time D1 East champion Everett this season, and the thought is that with their narrow victories, both of these teams have asserted that they will be forces in Division 1 going forward.

As of now, the division only includes schools from Easter Mass. Xaverian took the South title with a come-from-behind win over Attleboro, while CC's comeback win over Everett gave them the North title. With school's like Everett, BC High, St. John's Prep and Attleboro all on the outside looking in, who will take the first D1 title in the new format?

The Breakdown: Will Injuries Be a Factor?

While Central Catholic comes into the game largely healthy, Xaverian is battling a host of injuries suffered in their Thanksgiving Day game against St. John's Prep. The Hawks may be without starting running backs Shayne Kaminski and Kenn Kern, along with linebackers John Dean and Mike Vozzella.

All are listed as questionable.

Since Kaminski and Kern play linebacker as well, the heart of Xaverian's defense is very much in question, and that means it will be on star defensive end Joe Gaziano to make up for things at the point of attack. It won't be easy, against the rushing attack of quarterback Mike Milano and running back D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie.

On the outside, look for an exciting potential match up between CC receiver Cody Demers and Hawk corner A.J. King. This one should be a low-scoring affair, but don't sleep on dual-threat quarterback Jake Farrell when Xaverian has the ball. Farrell had his coming-out party against Everett earlier this season, and has looked every bit the part of a championship signal caller since.

The game will likely come down to two or three plays, so turnovers could be deadly for either side. Look for both offenses to protect the ball at all costs, and try to grind things out with their ground games.

Division 2

St. John's of Shrewsbury (9-2) vs Mansfield (11-0) at 1:30 pm

The Storyline: The best of the best?

While it isn't the highest classification in the Commonwealth, many are saying that whichever team emerges from Division 2 is the best team in the state. If Mansfield takes home the crown, I wouldn't expect an argument from anybody. The Hornets have spent the better part of the season atop ESPN Boston's Top-25, and made short work of Barnstable and Waltham to get to this point.

St. John's, meanwhile, is the proverbial "hot team" in the state. The Pioneers recovered from losses to rivals Leominster and Shrewsbury, and found their offensive stride just in time for the playoffs. Quarterback Drew Smiley and running back Shane Combs form one of the best backfield duos in the entire state, and have been a fantastic starting point for coach John Andreoli's Oregon-style "Blur Offense."

The Breakdown: Offense vs Offense

Editor's Note: We originally posted that it appeared Mansfield tight end Brendan Hill will play Saturday. However, reports have since come from the MIAA breakfast at Gillette that he will miss the game with an ACL injury. This is, obviously, a huge loss for the Hornets, as the 6-foot-6 athlete did so much for their passing game.

The D2 final will feature, perhaps, the state's two best overall offenses, so expect some points.

With Brendan Hill missing the game at tight end for Mansfield, look for St. John's star safety Davon Jones to roam a bit more side to side. Even without Hill in the lineup, the Pioneer secondary will have its hands full with the Mansfield receivers and backs.

On the outside, Michael Hershman is a threat to stretch the field vertically, but also isn't afraid to go over the middle and sit down in between different zone coverage packages. Running back Miguel Villar-Perez ties the attack together with his ability to run the football, and as a lethal receiving threat out of the backfield.

It will be interesting to see how St. John's plays this. Will they try to go man-to-man against a group of dangerous receivers, or will they force quarterback Kyle Wisnieski to decipher and dissect zone coverages. Neither is an attractive option, as nobody has been able to match up with the Mansfield skill players all year, and Wisnieski has feasted on zone coverage through out the post season.

The difference in the game on defense for St. John's could be defensive end Jeff DeMango. If he is able to apply pressure to Wisnieski, those great skill players may not look quite so open. Either way, Jones will likely be doing a lot of running at safety in this one.

For St. John's, quarterback Drew Smiley has taken his game to another level, both throwing and running the football. Mansfield does have a world of speed on the defensive side of the ball, but it's hard to see anybody slowing him down at this point.

Running back Shane Combs has been the unsung hero of this offense for most of the year, picking up tough yards between the tackles, and getting stronger as the game progresses. Look for the Pioneers to again utilize the zone read with these two, and for Smiley to again try to stretch the field with Davon Jones at receiver. Underneath, Michael McGillicuddy has emerged as the Pioneers' best screen and short route player, making him the perfect compliment to Jones on the outside.

Division 3

Tewksbury (11-0) vs Plymouth South (9-1) at 6 pm

The Storyline: A Long Time Coming

Tewksbury is hoping to win its first Super Bowl since 1996, and enter Saturday's game with the feel of an offensive juggernaut. The undefeated Redmen may think it's their year, but it is Plymouth South that is appearing in its first ever Super Bowl game.

In fact, the Panthers made their first ever playoff appearance just a year ago, and won their first playoff game this season. For whichever team takes home the Division 3 crown, it will be a ton of patience rewarded.

The Breakdown: Who Can Get a Stop

Tewskbury runs as many formations and plays as anybody in the state, and the three-headed monster of dual-threat QB Johnny Aylward, RB James Sullivan and WR Kevin Dick gives defenses quite a bit to think about.

When you're defending the Panthers, your job is a little more simplistic, yet no easier: Stop Dylan Oxsen.

That's something nobody in the state has been able to do yet, as the physical running back has rushed for over 2,100 yards (His second consecutive 2,000 yard season) and 24 touchdowns.

Whichever team can simply generate multiple stops will likely win the game. While you would think the physical running team would have the advantage, since their defense is better rested, don't be so sure. Tewksbury's ability to both run and throw the football at a high level make them a surer bet for a comeback, and the Redman seem better suited to generate a quick score at the end of the game, if necessary.

Either way, it's gonna be a fun one.

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