Wednesday, November 30, 2016
State Championship Preview: Hanover vs Grafton in Division 3
By Nate Rollins (@n_rollins1)
One final game.
It all comes down to Saturday at 11 a.m. as Division 3 South champion Hanover will clash with Division 3 Central champion Grafton at Gillette Stadium, in a battle of the Indians with a state title on the line.
Hanover is back in the Super Bowl for its first time since 1976, after defeating Triton, 54-13, at Marciano Stadium on Nov. 19.
“It would be a special thing,” Hanover head coach Chris Landolfi, who is in his fourth year coaching the club, said of winning the state title. “I had this senior group four years ago, it was my first year coaching and seeing how hard they work, it would be special to see them get rewarded.”
Grafton, on the other hand, is no stranger to the big game, having won the Division 4 Super Bowl in 2012, with a 21-0 victory over Northbridge, and the Division 4 Central Mass title last season over Holy Name, 28-16. Now, after its 26-13 win over Taconic in the Division 3 state semifinal, Grafton will have another crack at glory.
“It’s great,” Grafton head coach Chris McMahon said of being back in the state final. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for our players, our program, and it’s a great feeling to be in this position.”
Grafton: 12-0, Division 3 Central Champs
The Indians of Grafton have rolled through play this season, outscoring opponents at a near 4-to-1 clip.
There is no hiding who the Grafton offense is centered around—senior Ifeatu Melifonwa. The star running back has piled up 1,803 yards and 25 touchdowns on the group to compliment five receptions for 132 yards and three touchdowns in the air this season. No outing was more imperative to his team’s success than the Syracuse commit’s 34 carry, 237 yard, two touchdown showing to help push the Indians into the Division 3 state title game.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Landolfi said of slowing down Melifonwa. “When you have somebody as special as he is, he’s going to be pretty difficult to contain for us.”
The Indians’ pure depth was on display during their 28-7 Turkey Day victory over Millbury, a game Melifonwa didn’t even touch the field in.
McMahon praised the play of quarterback Matt Holbrook (16 completions for 225 yards, eight TDs), running backs Ethan Farrah (530 yards) and Jackson Sonnett (309 yards), wide receiver JD Bailey (two receptions for 42 yards, two TDs), tight end Sean Deely (two receptions for 30 yards, TD) and fullback Jack Fontana (six receptions for 93 yards, two TDs) all season long.
“We have some talented players,” McMahon said. “They’ve all stepped up and made plays at various times this year. To have multiple people that can step up and make plays just makes things easier for us, that’s for sure.”
Grafton is no slouch on defense either. After allowing 34 points to Quabbin Regional to open the postseason, the Indians have allowed just three touchdowns (one off a blocked punt) in their past three outings.
McMahon said he isn’t changing anything up as his team prepares for Saturday.
“We’re trying to keep our routines as normal as possible,” McMahon said. “We’re keeping our practice routines the same. The things we do after practice in terms of film and weight room, we’re keeping everything he same. We want to keep them in a comfortable, familiar situation.”
Hanover: 11-0, Division 3 South Champs
The Indians of Hanover finished their season without a blemish and are allowing an average of 7.3 points over four quarters since their 37-0 victory at Pembroke on Oct. 14 to clinch the Patriot League Fisher Division crown.
“They’re physical and they’re really good,” McMahon said of Hanover.
Like Grafton, Hanover is going to come with the full intention of beating you with the run. Hanover has run the ball 289 times for 2,281 yards and 38 touchdowns through its 11 games.
Brad Rogers has carried the rock 164 times for 1,298 yards and 24 touchdowns. The senior has found the end zone eight times over the past two Indian playoff games.
“He’s had a great season, great season,” Landolfi said. “He had a great season last year and he’s having an even better season this year. He worked extremely hard in the offseason, he’s always in the weight room.”
Paving the way for Rogers is a Hanover offensive line—spearhead by senior captains Pat Flynn, Matt Hughes and Tim Mullane—that has allowed just seven sacks all season long.
“They’re big and physical, it’s going to be a challenge,” McMahon said. "We just have to play sound fundamental football. We have to tackle, we have to be in a position to make plays. We have to be very sound on both sides of the ball. They’re obviously very talented and it’s going to be a challenge.”
Despite being a run first club, if you don’t respect the Hanover passing game, senior signal-caller Wyatt Shisler will make you pay. The dual-threat quarterback threw for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns this season to compliment over 540 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Shisler’s targets include Jeffrey Wheeler (21 receptions for 495 yards, eight TDs), Matt Lanagan (13 receptions for 357 yards, four TDs) and Andrew Carroll (nine receptions for 138 yards, three TDs).
“When you have a quarterback that can run and throw, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Landolfi said. “He can do both, so it’s kind of real when you find somebody who can run like he does.”
On defense, Hanover has been equally as impressive, allowing only 42 points total through the first three quarters of play all season.
“I think we’re pretty balanced on both sides,” Landolfi said. “We have a new offensive coordinator who came in this year and it made things much smoother in practice. Defensively, a lot of those kids have been playing since they were sophomores so we don’t have to reteach a lot of things, so it’s helping us keep one step ahead in what we’re trying to do.”
The Bottom Line
Both squads are explosive on both sides of the pigskin, and it will likely come down to which team can record that one final stop it needs to secure victory. Expect a good one on the field at Gillette Saturday morning.