Friday, September 19, 2014

Central Mass HS Football Preview: Week 3

Doherty running back Jahkari Carpenter will look to carry the Highlanders to a critical win against stingy Holy Name
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

I've already looked back on Week 2 of CMass high school football in my latest Power Rankings, so I'm not going to waste any time on introductions. Let's get right to Friday and Saturday's biggest games.

Game of the Week

Shrewsbury at Nashoba, Friday at 7 pm

If you read my Power Rankings, you know that the final spot in my Top-5 went to Shrewsbury, but that I was essentially splitting hairs between the Colonials and Nashoba, along with Wachusett. Well, here's where we find out which of these teams deserves to crack our Top-5, as well as move up in the T&G's Media Poll.

But this game is about more than outsider opinion. The winner will have the inside track to capturing Mid-Wach A, and be in great positions to earn a Top-2 seed in the Division 2 Central Playoffs.

When Shrewsbury has the ball, look for all eyes to be on quarterback Jack Campanale. The senior completed a stellar 71 percent of his passes (10-14) for 160 yards and a pair of scores last week against Algonquin. While the sheer yardage through the air doesn't jump off the page, Campanale's efficiency, and ability to move the sticks on the ground (34 yards and 2 TDs on only three carries last week), make him the key to the Colonial attack.

For Nashoba, it will be about getting back to basics. The Chieftains ran the ball exceptionally well with a deep stable of backs last week against Westborough. Led by the powerful Kurt Arsenault's 95 yards, Nashoba rushed for over 280 yards and four touchdowns, as seven different players carried the ball for the Chieftains.

If Nashoba can continue its success on the ground, admittedly against a much bigger and stronger Shrewsbury front, it will open up things in the passing game for quarterback Drew Schartner, who mainly served as a running threat last week.

Both teams have physical defenses, solid offensive lines, and weapons to spare on offense, but will it be Shrewsbury's passing attack or Nashoba's ground game that grabs the upper hand?

Sneaky Good Game of the Week

Tantasqua at Northbridge, Saturday at 1:30 pm

Neither of these teams has really been challenged, as reigning D5 Central champion Northbridge blasted Oakmont 49-7 and Tantasqua looked equally impressive in a 42-12 route of Southbridge.

Expect some fireworks in this potential playoff preview, and keep your eyes on one of the best quarterback battles in the state so far this year. Tantasqua quarterback Zach Edwards was the only player in the region to top 300 yards passing last week (301), and did so on just 29 attempts.

Edwards lit up the scoreboard for four scores, and the Indians put CMass on notice that they might be this year's Quabbin: A team with a puncher's chance to beat anybody, simply because they're going to score points in bunches.

Northbridge has a fine quarterback of its own in Koby Schofer, and the Rams' junior seems to have really improved as a passer from last year. While Schofer could always sling it, his main strength in 2013 was his scrambling and running ability. Last week he put on a clinic against Oakmont, completing 13 of 16 passes for 243 yards and three scores. All this while Michael Quinn and Jake Wood picked things up on the ground.

If the Rams can keep Schofer upright, and mix in a few other players in the running game, Northbridge should put a ton of points on the board. But, will it be able to contain Tantasqua's aerial assault?

Other Games to Watch


Fitchburg at Wachusett, 7 pm
Groton-Dunstable at Hudson, 7 pm
Lowell at Leominster, 7 pm
Holy Name at Doherty, 7 pm

Expect a hard-hitting affair when physical Fitchburg meets powerful Wachusett in what may be a must-win for the visiting team. Meanwhile, G-D and do-it-all athlete Shane Dawson will look for another big win against rebuilding Hudson. The young Hawks have talent, but will need to realize their potential in a hurry if they hope to make another playoff run.

Leominster went to Lowell last year and put the state on notice by absolutely demolishing the rising Eastern Mass power. This year the Blue Devils will go in as underdogs against a Lowell offense very similar to the up-tempo St. John's attack that gave Leominster fits last week. The Blue Devils have the athletes to run with Lowell, but can't afford another turnover-filled day from their offense.

Finally, Doherty will look for a bounce-back after getting upset by North Middlesex, but Holy Name and its suffocating defense has the look of a playoff team in Division 4. A loss here could throw either team's postseason aspirations into flux.


Assabet at Blackstone Valley Tech, 1 pm
Grafton at St. Peter-Marian, 1 pm
Catholic Memorial at St. John's (Shrewsbury), 1 pm

Assabet fell to Whittier to start the year, but opened CMass play at home looking like the Aztecs of old, blasting Quaboag 36-6. They'll need to be even better this week, as they hit the road to face state Voke power Blackstone Valley Tech. The Beavers scored a huge win over Tri-Valley opponent Ashland to start the year, and continued both their CMass and Voke dominance against Bay Path last week.

BVT is riding an 11-game Voke school winning streak, including last year's Large School Vocational Championship and the 2012 D6 Central Super Bowl against Bay Path, and has won 14 of its last 15 games against CMass competition. This is one of the bigger Voke games in CMass this season, and Assabet will have to be on its game to score the upset.

Young St. Peter-Marian needs a win badly as it hosts up-and-coming Grafton, with the winner throwing their hat in the ring as a contender in Division 4. Guardian quarterback Seamus Leary did throw and run for a touchdown against Wachusett's stingy defense, but will be faced with another big test against Grafton's physical front. Still, the Indian secondary did give up three touchdowns through the air against Nipmuc last week, so there will be chances for SPM to take shots.

Finally, St. John's has a chance to build even more momentum with a visit from Eastern Mass' Catholic Memorial. The Pioneers look improved on defense, and don't seem to have missed a beat on offense with a new dual-quarterback system in place. St. John's and Shepherd Hill remain the top two teams in the region, but the Pioneers' schedule gives them zero time to catch their breath.

Player to Watch

Jahkari Carpenter, Sr. RB, Doherty

When Doherty lost a pair of star receivers, many assumed the Highlander offense would lean heavily on its ground game, led by explosive running back Jahkari Carpenter.

Well, despite averaging 13 yards per carry, Carpenter only got 12 carries in last week's upset loss to North Middlesex. Obviously, Doherty is going to look to get their best offensive player the football in a critical game against suddenly dangerous Holy Name.

The Naps looked great on defense to start the year against Quabbin, but haven't seen a runner like Carpenter yet. Expect a heavier workload for the star back this week, leading to increased production on the ground. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Carpenter more involved in Doherty's passing game, both as a check down receiver out of the backfield and as a designed screen pass recipient.

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