Thursday, December 3, 2015

St. Bernard's Hopes to Complete Unlikely Run in D6 State Championship Game

Don't let his size fool you, senior Cooper Bigelow (24) makes BIG plays on both sides of the ball for St. Bernard's.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Ed. Note- This is the third, and final, article in out series previewing the Central Mass football teams playing for state championships and their opponents this Saturday. Click here for our look at Nashoba and Reading in the D2 final, and here for a preview of Northbridge and East Bridgewater in the D5 final.

Also, a big special thanks to Matt Goisman of the Cape Cod Times, who provided some excellent background on St. Bernard's opponent Mashpee for this preview.

At 11-0, St. Bernard's might be the most unlikely unbeaten in Central Mass in recent years. Playing in a division that Littleton had owned the last two seasons, and saw West Boylston freight train Cole McCubrey dominate teams on the ground, the Bernardians came into the D6 Central playoffs as a rare undefeated afterthought.

But, after a 7-6 victory over West Boylston, and a state semifinal blowout win over Lee, it's impossible to ignore the Bernardians now.

St. B's has been led all year by a talented and gritty senior class that has willed the team to a Dual Valley title, a Central Mass championship, and, finally, a spot at Gillette Stadium.

At the head of that class is Cooper Bigelow, and undersized but tenacious quarterback and cornerback. As the leader of the offense, Bigelow has made his presence felt as a decision maker in both the St. B's passing and running game, and on defense has become one of the region's better corners, and a defensive back that isn't afraid to stick his nose in and stop the run.

Classmates A.J. Robichaud and Zach Merchant round out a small, but highly impactful group of seniors. Merchant shares the backfield with Bigelow, and blends shifty running with physical toughness in the pile, while Robichaud is both an integral part of the Bernardians air and ground game as a tight end and fullback.

Each of them also plays in the impressive St. Bernard's front seven on defense, a unit that slowed the unstoppable force that is Cole McCubrey, and has been too quick for opposing offensive lines to stay in front of all year long. As diverse as the Bernardians' offense has been, St B's has hung its hat on defense all year long, and will need a big day from its front against a Mashpee team that will come in looking to run the ball.

The Falcons will no doubt put the ball in the hands of star senior running back DeShaun Dias, as they have all year. Dias has delivered this season, rushing for over 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, all on an absurd 9.5 yards per carry.

Stopping, or at least slowing, the explosive Dias will be priority 1A for the St. B's defense. But it won't be their only challenge.

Quarterback Nick Carpenter has settled into a starting role as a junior nicely, and is capable of big plays, while rarely turning the ball over. Don't let his sub-50% completion percentage fool you, Carpenter is at his best exploiting mismatches and putting his receivers in position to run after the catch, averaging nearly 15 yards per completion.

While the Falcons have plenty of speed on offense, the true strength of this team might be in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Defensive linemen Andrew Vinitsky and Joseph Spinola have each been effective against the run, and have combined for over a dozen sacks as well.

Each also helps clear the way for Dias on offense, as Vinitsky has emerged as one of Division 6's best run blocking guards, and Spinola a force as a blocking tight end.

If the Bernardians are to capture their first title since 1997, before many of the players on the current team were even born, it will take a complete team effort. But, given what St. B's has done against dominant running games and stout defenses in the past, I wouldn't put it past this group of kids to get the job done.

The Bernardians will take their shot at an undefeated season and state championship against Mashpee Saturday at (roughly) 11 am inside Gillette Stadium.

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