Saturday, December 7, 2013

Postgame Blog: Mansfield Tops St. John's for D2 State Championship

Mansfield celebrates a state championship in Division 2.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

St. John's came into Saturday's Division 2 state championship game against Mansfield as the proverbial "hot team" in the state, but were cooled off by a fast and aggressive Hornets team that bested them 28-14.

It was a rough end for a Pioneer squad that achieved so much this season, including knocking off rival Leominster in the D2 Central final, and scoring a massive win over power Springfield Central in the state semifinal.

A Sloppy Start

Considering this may have been the most anticipated game of the day here at Gillette, it sure started out poorly. The first half included a combined three touchdowns and SEVEN turnovers. The Pioneers had a pair, but Mansfield coughed the ball up five times.

Still, St. John's couldn't use the turnover disparity to create any distance between them and the Hornets, who were playing without star receiver/tight end Brendan Hill. The Pioneers took a 14-7 advantage into halftime, but you could tell they felt they left some point on the field.

Smiley Slowed

Part of the reason St. John's failed to capitalize was the way Mansfield contained All State quarterback Drew Smiley. The Pioneers' star had been on a tear of late, but Mansfield's speedy secondary mixed coverages up and undercut his throws, leading to, probably, his worst game of the season.

Smiley was held to just 63 yards through the air on 8 for 23 passing. The Hornets also baited him into three interceptions.

The kid is one of the best players in the state, and perhaps the best leader I've seen all season, so it's a shame he went out this way. Still, he kept his team in the game with 84 yards and a touchdown on the ground early. No real way to sugar coat it, just a bad time to have a rough game.

Putting it Away

The Hornets led by 7 with 10 minutes to play in the game, then proceeded to eat up over 7 minutes of clock on their way to a touchdown by running back Miguel Villar-Perez.

The Mansfield drive effectively ended the game, and put the Hornets in the driver seat for the No. 1 spot in the ESPN Boston postseason Top 25. They came into the playoffs ranked No. 1, and I see no reason why they should drop now, despite their sloppy first half. Perhaps playing without Hill threw them into an offensive funk, but man did they respond in the second half.

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