Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Northbridge Looks to Finish the Job in D5 State Championship Game

Northbridge seniors Jake Wood (32) and Koby Schofer (12) will look to capture a state championship after coming up just short the past two seasons.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Ed. Note- This is the second article in our series previewing the Central Mass football teams playing for state championships and their opponents this Saturday. You can click here for our preview of Nashoba's battle with Reading in the D2 title game.

Northbridge's senior will have unfinished business this Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

For the last two seasons, this class of Rams, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in the storied program's history, has seen its season end with a thud on the turf in Foxboro.

In 2013, it was Bishop Fenwick and one-man wrecking crew Rufus Rushins who defeated the Rams 28-0. Then, last year, Abington smothered Northbridge's offense with a barrage of blitzes, besting the Rams 36-6.

After back-to-back disappointments in the Division 5 state championship, Northbridge and its accomplished senior class will look to cement a legacy against East Bridgewater Saturday.

This season's Northbridge squad seems up for the challenge. Led by third-year starting quarterback Koby Schofer, the Rams have put up points and stopped opponents at a historic rate. In 11 meaningful games (not counting a Thanksgiving Day loss to Uxbridge, in which Northbridge rested many starters), the Rams have outscored opponents 465-27. That 11-game run includes eight shutouts (including a 33-0 playoff shutout of Uxbridge), and  saw the Rams score at least five touchdowns in every game.

This may be the best team in Northbridge's long history, and it's led by a core group that has been playing together for years. There's Schofer, who has spent the last three seasons calling the signals and starting at safety, but classmates Jake Wood (RB/DB) and Chandler Brooks (WR/DB) have been just a critical to the Rams' success.

Pushing all the right about buttons again this season has been longtime head coach Ken LaChapelle, a man who is both the winningest coach in Massachusetts high school football history, and Schofer's grandfather.

More history will be on the line Saturday as Northbridge makes its 19th Super Bowl appearance, the second-most of any Bay State team, trailing only Longmeadow's 21. The Rams will also be looking to bring home their 11th Super Bowl victory, and first since the 2011 Division 4 CMass Super Bowl.

Standing in their way will be a team looking to make a little history of its own, D5 Eastern Mass champion East Bridgewater. The Vikings haven't appeared in a Super Bowl game since 1995, before any of the team's current players were born. EB will also be looking for its first Super Bowl win because, despite an early-to-mid-90s run of success that saw them appear in five title games in six years, the Vikings have never captured a championship.

Like the Rams, the Vikings' lone blemish came in a meaningless Thanksgiving Day game, but EB has rarely been challenged in meaningful play. A pair of eight-point playoff wins over Cardinal Spellman and St. Mary's are two of only three competitive games the Vikings have played all year. EB has done it both with a high-powered offense, led by senior quarterback Ryan Graham, and supplemented by the return of star junior running back Pat Snow, who missed most of the regular season with an ankle injury.

Now back in the fold, Snow has added an element of explosiveness to the Vikings backfield but, perhaps more importantly, given EB a sideline-to-sideline play maker on defense.

From his middle linebacker spot, Snow recorded a game-high 10 tackles in East Bridgewater's D5 EMass title game against St. Mary's two weeks ago, and the further removed from the ankle injury he gets, the more dangerous he becomes.

On offense, a line led by senior guard Nick Bainter has afforded the Vikings plenty of running room and a sizable pocket, while the Vikings have lived off the speed of their secondary on defense.

Two-way star Jake Peterson, who also serves as the team's top receiver, has been a lockdown corner throughout the year, and several other two-way players will make their presence felt in similar roles for the Vikings.

In many ways, these two teams have a lot in common. Each relies on a core group of players that can dominate on both sides of the ball. Each is built on speed, but still has an offensive line that can get the job done. Each has been able to win both by throwing and running the ball, and each comes into Saturday with much accomplished, but also much to prove.

The Rams and Vikings will be the early game at Gillette Stadium Saturday, kicking off at 9 am.

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