Monday, September 28, 2015

Central Mass HS Football Power Rankings: Week 4

Northbridge seniors Jake Wood (32) and Koby Schofer (12) look primed for a return to Gillette Stadium this year.
 By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

There may not have been much movement at the top, as our Top-3 ranked teams each took care of business in impressive fashion, but the middle of our Power Rankings were thrown for a loop by a pair of surprising results in the Mid-Wach.

Check out our latest rankings below.

Power Rankings

1. Leominster: 3-0, Division 2

Last Week: Ranked No. 1, defeated No. 4 St. Peter-Marian 34-14.

Blue Devils quarterback Noah Gray is a part of Massachusetts' highly touted 2017 QB class, and he may just be the most impressive thus far. With two passing scores against a good Guardian defense, Gray pushed his region-leading touchdown pass total to 10, and the Leominster defense held down a versatile and explosive St. Peter-Marian offense.

After opening with three straight road challenges, the undefeated Blue Devils finally come home, welcoming Mid-Wach rival Wachusett to Doyle Field.

2. Northbridge: 3-0, Division 5

Last Week: Ranked No. 2, defeated Auburn 51-0.

Well… The Rams just blew out one of the best programs in the region, holding the Rockets' famed ground attack in check, and lighting up the usually stout Auburn defense. Thus far, Northbridge has outscored its opponents 142-0 in three games, and the Rams certainly look like a heavy favorite to win D5 Central and get back to Gillette for a third straight year.

Some interesting challenges against D4 competition begin next week with Grafton, and Northbridge will still have to deal with Leicester in D5, but Koby Schofer and company look up for the challenge.

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

Last Week: Ranked No. 3, defeated Fitchburg 34-12.

As good as Leominster's Gray has been, don't sleep on Tim Cassidy from St. John's. The senior rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another in the Pioneers' win over Fitchburg, a victory that had to feel good after the Red Raiders stunned St. John's in the first round of last year's D2 Central playoffs.

Next week brings a unique challenge as the Pioneers will face off with one of the better programs in Connecticut, Xavier out of Middletown. The Falcons are the reigning Class LL-Small state champions in Connecticut, and should provide a significant challenge when they meet St. John's at Assumption College.

4. Nashoba: 3-0, Division 2

Last Week: Ranked No. 9, defeated No. 5 Wachusett 22-10.

After a bit of a slow start (by their standards) the Chieftains seem to be humming along just in time for Mid-Wach play. Nashoba scored its second league win against red-hot Wachusett, and did it with a combination of smothering defense and an efficient ground game, led by running back Jake Benjamin.

Could these be the Chieftains of old? Division 2 sure hopes not. We'll know more next week when the Nashoba hits the road to face desperate and talented Shepherd Hill.

5. Littleton: 3-0, Division 6

Last Week: Ranked No. 7, defeated Gardner 42-6.

Much like Northbridge, Littleton has been penciled in as a Central Mass champion in their division, but the Tigers are far from content. Receiver Chris Renaccio continues to impress, leading the region in receiving yards and touchdowns, and he caught three of quarterback Connor Bassett's five passing scores Friday at Gardner.

A shootout could await Littleton next week, as it hosts Quabbin and prolific passer Jordan Kierman. Bassett and Kierman currently rank No. 1 and 2 in passing yards, respectively, in Central Mass.

6. Doherty: 3-0, Division 4

Last Week: Ranked No. 8, defeated Worcester South 33-16.

Don't be fooled by the (somewhat) close score, Doherty dominated their Inter-High rivals Friday night, jumping out to a 33-0 lead before calling the dogs off after three quarters. Tavian Vassar and Manny Brown might be the most punishing running duo in the region, and Aaron Adu showed he's a threat to score any time he touches the ball, returning a punt 63 yards for a score early on.

Add in a defense that is loaded with speed and beginning to gel, and the Highlanders seem poised for a deep run.

7. St. Peter-Marian: 2-1, Division 4

Last Week: Ranked No. 4, lost to No. 1 Leominster 34-14.

It's hard to hold losing to Leominster against any team, and St. Peter-Marian still showed some offensive firepower, and enough speed to at least contain Leominster's passing game.

Things get really interesting in Division 4 next week as the Guardians host Doherty in what could be a playoff preview.

8. Wachusett: 2-1, Division 2

Last Week: Ranked No. 5, lost to No. 9 Nashoba 22-10.

The Mountaineers didn't have enough to top Mid-Wach rival Nashoba last week, but Wachusett still figures to be a contender in Division 2. Led by a rough and tumble defense, a physical offensive line and some athletes on special teams, you can't count the Mountaineers out against anyone.

Their biggest challenge of the season awaits them next week as they travel to Leominster.

9. Tantasqua: 3-0, Division 4

Last Week: Unranked, defeated No. 10 Grafton 21-14.

Tantasqua won a match up of two of the best running backs in the region, as Warrior bell cow Matt Bressette rushed for 225 yards and three scores on an absurd 42 carries. Grafton's Matt O'Brien did score both of the Indians' touchdowns (one on a kickoff return and one rushing), but Tantasqua got the last laugh as Bressette scored from three yards out with just seven seconds left to win the game.

With Bressette and touchdown machine receiver/tight end J.J. Howland, the Warriors have become of Central MA's best teams in the redzone, and just made Division 4 even more interesting. We'll see if the Warriors can build off this momentum, as the next four games bring Auburn, a trip to St. Peter-Marian, Doherty and Northbridge.

10. Leicester: 3-0, Division 5

Last Week: Unranked, defeated Southbridge 14-7.

It wasn't pretty, but Leicester remained unbeaten on homecoming against scrappy Southbridge. The Wolverines' biggest tests may be a bit down the road, but they can run the ball with running back Malichi Ceely and defend with the best of them. With Northbridge bulldozing everybody else in Division 5, could the physical Wolverines be a sleeper?

Dropped Out: Shepherd Hill (Ranked 6th Last Week) and Grafton (Ranked 10th Last Week)

I know they've played three tough opponents, and they've got a boat load of talent, but 0-3 is 0-3, and that's what Shepherd Hill is right now. The Rams' latest defeat didn't come to one of the region's best teams, as previously win-less Shrewsbury knocked SH off 21-20. As talented as the Colonials are, that was a game Shepherd Hill needed to win, as the highly touted Rams now must travel to red-hot Nashoba with 0-4 staring them in the face, and a razor thin margin for error.

Grafton, on the other hand, simply lost a toss-up game to Division 4 foe Tantasqua. The Indians have one of the best running games around and a tough defense, so I don't think we've heard the last of them. Still, a massive test awaits them next week at Northbridge.

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