Thursday, November 10, 2016

Previewing The Central Mass Title Games: Divisions 2, 2A & 3

Shrewsbury and Algonquin will go Round 2 for the Division 2 Central championships.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We've already previewed Central MA's three smaller-school divisions, and now we take a look at the three largest divisions in the region. As a reminder, all of these games will all be played on Saturday at two different neutral sites (Leominster's Doyle Field and Worcester's Foley Stadium), with the winner moving on to the state semifinals.

Without further ado, here's what to expect in D2, D2A and D3!

Division 2

Shrewsbury vs Algonquin: 12 pm, Foley Stadium

We've seen this battle before, but pretty much anything can happen when these two resilient teams gets together. Both of these squads have been counted out, perhaps multiple times, this season, but each has bounced back and showed a great deal of toughness and resolve.

For Algonquin, it's been about the steady senior leadership of running back Max Cerasoli and quarterback Ryan Barry, but the T-Hawks have also shown a new dimension as a vertical passing game, built around tight end Colin Robinson and receivers Brett Sherman and Chris Skinner.

On Shrewsbury's side, the Colonials have received "wise-beyond-his-years" play from sophomore quarterback Drew Campanale. Along with receiver Chris Campbell and running back A.J. Laramee, Campanale has helped turn the Colonial attack into one of the most exciting, and dangerous, units in Central Mass.

It could come down to defense in this one, and that's where Algonquin came out on top the first time around, when a big interception by linebacker Marcus Ellis helped the T-Hawks put Shrewsbury away. Who will be the X-factor this time around? That's anyone's guess.

Division 2A

Marlboro vs Nashoba: 12 pm, Doyle Field

Oh hey, we've seen this one before too. But, expect a totally different game this time around, as I have a hard time seeing Marlboro bullying Nashoba 27-7 again.

Not that the Panthers don't have the horses to do it, though, as the backfield duo of Owen Cappadona and Luke Goulet has been one of the best 1-2 punches in Central Mass this season. Meanwhile, receiver Kevin Short has become one of the region's premier big-play receivers, leading the region (among players with more than 10 receptions) with an astonishing 26.6 yards per catch.

It will be a lot for Nashoba to deal with, but the Chieftains come in playing terrific defense. In the three games since losing to Marlboro, Nashoba has allowed just 10 points per game, and linebacker Kyle Hume has been a sideline-to-sideline monster from his linebacker spot. Junior Breese Hill is emerging as a star at safety, but it will take a team effort to slow down Marlboro's ground game, and play action attack.

Along with the Littleton-West Boylston game in Division 4, this one has the look of a slugfest, and the tougher team will likely prevail.

Division 3

Grafton vs St. Peter-Marian: 6 pm, Doyle Field

This could be the game of the weekend, as St. Peter-Marian comes in surging after a win over Auburn, and nobody has been able to slow down Grafton all season. Both teams have great defenses, tons of speed, and explosive offenses, but most people have pegged Grafton as the favorite.

It's easy to see why. The Indians been simply unstoppable on the ground, as a punishing offensive line, fullback Jack Fontana, and Syracuse commit Ifeatu Melifonwu have run roughshod over every team they've faced.

Last week against Quabbin, Melifonwu carried 28 times for 318 yards and six touchdowns, and also snagged an interception on defense. It was quite an individual effort, but the Indians are not a one-man show. Fontana is both one of the region's best fullbacks and best linebackers, and the rest of the Indian defense has looked stout all season.

If there is a weakness to be found, it might be against the pass, as Quabbin showed last week, but not many teams have a quarterback as good as the Panthers' Ryan Malkowski.

Quabbin scored 34 points and actually led Grafton for a brief period of time, so you know the SPM coaching staff has been breaking down that film, looking for anything they can replicate, at least offensively.

The Guardians will likely need a big game from quarterback Danny Malm if they are to hang with Grafton. Malm hasn't put up the kind of numbers Malkowski has this year, but he's as talented a quarterback as there is in the region, capable of hurting defenses with his arm and his legs.

Quabbin was able to find success through the air against Grafton, but also in the option game, and that's where Malm's legs could come into play. Another player to watch will be the do-it-all P.J. Barry, who is one of the region's best wide receivers and defensive backs.

But that might not even be where Barry's impact is most felt, because he is also one of the region's best kickers. Barry has nailed a regional-record 11 field goals this season, and if this game is close, St. Peter-Marian has the absolute luxury of a reliable kicker in the red zone.

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