Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Nashoba Will Relish Underdog Role in Division 2 State Championship Game

Egan Bachtell (11) and Jake Fire (29) celebrate Nashoba's D2 state semifinal win over Springfield Central.

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Ed. Note- This is the first in our series of MIAA state championship game previews, focusing on the three squads from Central Mass to qualify for Gillette. We begin today with Nashoba's date in the D2 final with Reading, but will feature previews of both Northbridge and St. Bernard's in the next week.

After a wild weekend of state semifinals, three CMass squads have punched their tickets to Gillette Stadium for the state championship games on December 5th.

Central Massachusetts went 3-1 against its rivals from Western Mass this past Saturday, as St. Bernard's defeated Lee in Division 6, Northbridge topped Hoosac Valley in Division 5 and Nashoba bested Springfield Central in a classic Division 2 semi.

Division 4 is the only district Central Mass competes in that won't see a CMass team at Gillette, as Grafton's comeback bid came up short against Chicopee Comprehensive.

Any way you slice it, Saturday was a success for the region, as both Northbridge and St. B's won convincingly, while Nashoba continued to come up big when it mattered most, stopping Springfield Central on fourth and goal twice in the game's final minute.

Those Chieftains will go into Gillette with perhaps the tallest task of anyone from Central Mass, taking on a Reading team that last week doubled-up ESPN Boston's top ranked team in the state, Marshfield, and has won 10 in a row after a season-opening loss to BC High.

The Rockets have done it a variety of ways, but primarily with a defense that has pitched four shutouts, and held opponents to two scores or less in every game this season.

In fact, the 14 Reading gave up to high-powered Marshfield last week was a season-high, but also a season-low for the Rams' prolific offense. Most people will tell you Division 1 favorite Xaverian has the best defense in the state, but the Rockets have to be right there in the conversation for No. 2.

It should be an interesting test for Nashoba's offensive line, which has been the best in Central Mass, and will look to prove it is the best in Division 2, regardless of geography. The Chieftains have both mauled opponents at the point of attack, and used angles and leverage perfectly on quick traps and numerous counter plays.

Teams know Nashoba likes to run it, and thus far it hasn't mattered. Last week Springfield Central started creeping everybody up into the box, but the Nashoba line, plus the combination of quarterback Robby Atwood, running back Jake Benjamin and fellow back Jake Fire still made hay against the Golden Eagles.

The D2 final could be a case of unstoppable force meets immovable object when Nashoba has the ball, but when the Rockets get it, the Chieftains will have to keep tabs on receiver Will Connery, an explosive play maker that gave Marshfield head aches last week to the tune of 126 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air.

Atwood and fellow corner Nate Mansour will have the tall task of containing Connery, but considering the job they did against Springfield Central's speedy wideouts last week, I wouldn't put it past them. Nashoba will also need a big game from defensive end Egan Bachtell, because giving Corey DiLoretto time to throw almost never works out for defenses facing the Rockets.

The Chieftains have been the cardiac kids this year, topping Leominster, St. John's (Shrewsbury) and Springfield Central all with defensive stands on the game's final (meaningful) plays, but Nashoba will still come into the D2 final widely thought of as a heavy underdog.

That should be familiar territory for these kids, maybe even comfortable for a team that plays with a permanent edge and chip on its collective shoulder. If Nashoba stays true to its identity, it should be able to run the ball, and if they can make Reading one dimensional on offense, they have the chance to get to DiLoretto with their underrated pass rush.

It won't be easy, and pretty much nobody believes in them, but how is that any different from all the other big games the Chieftains have played this year?

Nashoba will face off with Reading this Saturday at (roughly) 6 pm inside Gillette Stadium.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

They have been unrated,underestimated, unrespected, and underdogs all season. Look at them now... D2 state Champions!