Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Central Mass HS Football Power Rankings: 9/16/14

Davon Jones has made a name for himself hauling in passes for St. John's, both as a receiver and ball-hawking safety.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

The first two weeks of Central Mass football have brought some shake up since our first Power Rankings.
North Middlesex scored a shocking upset over Doherty, St. John's proved it was the team to beat in Division 2 with a convincing victory over Leominster, and local stars like Davon Jones from St. John's, Chris Lindstrom from Shepherd Hill and Mark Wright from Auburn have all lived up to their preseason hype.

While much is sure to change with a ton of football left to be played, here are our latest Power Rankings heading into Week Three.

Power Rankings

1. St. John's (Shrewsbury): 1-0, Division 2

Last Week: Defeated Leominster 42-13

St. John's looked dominant on both sides of the ball against rival Leominster, and it appears the Pioneers' two-quarterback system with junior Tim Cassidy and senior Shane Combs is sustainable. On defense, safety Davon Jones made an early case for the state's Defensive Player of the Year, piling up 10 tackles and grabbing a pair of interceptions.

Many will point to this big win over the Blue Devils and write the Pioneers into the state semifinals, but keep in mind that Leominster roughed up St. John's to begin last season, then a red-hot Pioneer team knocked them off in the playoffs. Expect these two teams to meet again, and expect Leominster coach Dave Palazzi's young team to be a completely different group by then.

Still, it's hard not to think of St. John's as a favorite to get to Gillette Stadium. We'll see how the Pioneers fare against EMass opponent Catholic Memorial next week.

2. Shepherd Hill: 1-0, 0-0 SWCL A, Division 4

Last Week: Defeated Fitchburg 44-28

Everyone has been talking about the Rams' fantastic offensive line, but quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume is the guy that ties this brutal Shepherd Hill Double-Wing attack together. His athleticism and vision led to over 160 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against a physical Fitchburg defense in a game the Rams led 30-0 at halftime.

Gardner awaits the Rams this week back in Dudley, but then a trip to Leominster makes things interesting at the end of the month.

3. Auburn: 2-0, 0-0 SWCL B, Division 5

Last Week: Defeated Hudson 37-14

Another week, another 200+ yard performance from star running back Mark Wright. The senior amassed 240 yards and four touchdowns as the Rockets avenged an embarrassing early-season defeat to Hudson from last year.

The Rockets got off to a rough start defensively, but stiffened as the game went on, while Wright, quarterback Steve Saucier and the Auburn offensive line wore down the Hawks defense on the other side.

Auburn can't look past Oakmont this week, but there's no doubt that the September 26th home date with SWCL B rival Northbridge is the biggest game in Division 5 Central of the regular season.

4. Northbridge: 1-0, 0-0 SWCL B, Division 5

Last Week: Defeated Oakmont 49-7

Speaking of Oakmont and Northbridge, the Rams made short work of the Spartans, behind an explosive and efficient day from junior quarterback Koby Schofer. The dual-threat signal caller completed 13 of 16 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns, helping Northbridge build a 49-0 lead in the game's first three quarters.

The victory was also legendary coach Ken LaChapelle's 317th of his career, moving him within six wins of the state record. LaChapelle has dropped hints about retiring after Schofer (his grandson) graduates, and don't be surprised if he captures a D5 state title in both of their final two seasons.

5. Shrewsbury: 1-0, 0-0 Mid Wach A, Division 2

Last Week: Defeated Algonquin 34-0

This fifth spot is pretty much a toss-up between Shrewsbury, Wachusett and Nashoba, who all have talent and all looked dominant in their opening games. I'll go with the Colonials and first-year coach John Aloisi, who seems to have found a good one in dual-threat quarterback Jack Campanale.

Also a star on the lacrosse field, Companale looks to be one of CMass football's truly emerging stars, exploiting the Tomahawk defense for a pair of passing touchdowns and a pair of rushing scores. He was solid last season, but the sky appears to be the limit for Shrewsbury's talented run-pass threat.

The Colonial offensive line, led by guard Chandler Couture and tackle Brent Johnson, also looks like it could be dominant, and the defense passed its first test with flying colors.

Like I said, this spot is a toss-up between three teams, and the Colonials will get a quick chance to prove they deserve it. They'll travel to face Nashoba Friday night at 7 pm.

In the Hunt: Nashoba (1-0),
Wachusett (1-0), Leominster (0-1), Littleton (1-0), Tantasqua (1-0), Grafton (1-0), Blackstone Valley Tech (2-0), Holy Name (1-0), Groton-Dunstable (1-0), Bartlett (1-0), Doherty (0-1)

Hard not to be impressed by the physical play of Wachusett on both sides of the ball. The Warriors and Grafton both seem like young teams that grew up a ton and got a lot stronger in the weight room during the offseason. I would expect both of them to provide problems for anybody, and Grafton could be a sleeper in a Division 4 that looks wide open after Shepherd Hill.

Nashoba got off to a great start, and the Chieftains again have a stable of backs that will make them formidable, as well as a versatile quarterback in Drew Schartner who could make them one of the more entertaining teams in the region.

Like I said earlier, I expect Leominster to grow up as the year goes on. The Blue Devils have one of the best coaches in the state in Dave Palazzi, but replacing Neil O'Connor, The Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts, along with UMass commit Jarell Addo and nearly all starters in both trenches… Well, there were going to be some growing pains.

Opening up against a team that returned as much talent as St. John's exposed some inexperience, but don't sleep on the Blue Devils the rest of the way. Similarly, I would expect a talented, but inexperienced Doherty team to be very different in a few weeks. They'll have to work out the kinks on offense, but a defense led by Tavian Vassar should make the Highlanders a factor come playoff time.

Littleton and BVT both appear to have picked up where they left off as the premier small school programs in Central Mass, with Littleton blasting fellow small school power West Boylston, while BVT defeated Voke school rival Bay Path. Beaver running back Ben Reiffarth has been great since 2012, but if you didn't know the name, learn it now. The kid is for real.

Tantasqua quarterback Zac Edwards may have come into the season as the best-kept secret in the region, but I have a feeling many in CMass will know his name before the season ends. He opened up the year against Southbridge with a typically fantastic 301 yards and four touchdowns in the Warriors' comfortable win.

Shane Dawson did a little bit of everything for G-D, returning a punt for a score and catching another touchdown in the Crusaders' blowout of Gardner. A matchup with Hudson will be critical for both teams this coming week. Finally, Holy Name seems to be rounding into form with a bunch of young players coming of age for the Naps.

In a battle of young squads, HN bested rebuilt Quabbin 22-6, and did so with a brutally efficient running game. Junior linebacker Jose Barbosa and the rest of this young Nap defense looked good in their first game, holding Quabbin out of the end zone for three quarters and until the game was solidly in hand.

Finally, don't sleep on Bartlett and it's powerful lines. The Indians return a wealth of size and experience up front, making them the one team that can reasonably challenge Auburn and Northbridge in Division 5. In fact, I'm sure many Indian players are curious why everyone has so quickly forgotten that they defeated the Rockets in last year's playoffs.

The loss of Alexander Givins-Perry and his nearly 1,800 rushing yards hurt Bartlett, but sophomore Darius Givins may prove to be just as lethal, rushing for 219 yards and three touchdowns in his starting debut against David Prouty. 

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