Wednesday, November 30, 2016

State Championship Preview: Xaverian vs Everett in Division 1

Everett quarterback and UConn commit Jordan McAfee would love to end his senior season with a state title, but the two-time defending champs are standing in the way.
By Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7)

Two dynastic high school football programs will clash at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Manning Field in Lynn for the Division 1 state title.

Xaverian (10-1) and Everett (9-2) have played 17 times over the last 20 years, and the two-time defending state champion Hawks have won three in a row over the Crimson Tide, including a 38-29 victory in the 2014 state final at Gillette Stadium.

With those three consecutive wins, the Hawks now hold a 9-8 edge over the Crimson Tide in meetings since 1996. Both teams have been incredibly successful over the past two decades, with Everett winning 10 state titles during that span and Xaverian hoisting the last two Super Bowl trophies.

Yet both veteran coaches in Xaverian’s Charlie Stevenson and Everett’s John DiBiasio will tell you that previous seasons have zero impact on the upcoming battle for the 2016 state title, as both teams are again rolling, but leaning on different personnel.

The approach for Xaverian is similar, with an elite offensive line that has opened things up for lead running back Devon Picinnin (1,500 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns) to have an incredible senior year.

With Picinnin keeping the offense in favorable situations, the Hawks are able to control field position with an excellent punter in A.J. Ryan. The senior captain also happens to lead the defense as a middle linebacker, while Brown commit Callum Flanders leads the defensive line.

He’s not quite the same type of explosive triple threat as ESPN Boston Mr. Football winner and 2015 state finals MVP Coby Tippett, but Mekhi Henderson is doing a great job of anchoring the Hawks' secondary, and making a difference as a wide receiver when his number is called.

Quarterback Matt Cronin is not asked to do too much for Stevenson and the coaching staff, but when pressed, he can make some great throws down the field.

Cronin might have to attempt more passes than usual if Everett is able to hold the Hawks running game in check. Led by seniors Duval Paul and Gerell Boyce, the Crimson Tide played shutdown run defense in playoff wins over Haverhill and Central Catholic to advance to the Division 1 North final against Andover.

In that contest, Everett tested its mettle in pass defense, as Paul, Boyce and linebacker Robert Fialli helped their defense sack Golden Warriors quarterback E.J. Perry seven times in a dominant 62-33 victory.

Starting defensive backs Carlins Platel and Clarens Pierre played very well in that contest, and both shined brightly in Everett’s opening round victory over Haverhill.

But, the most notable standout on this Crimson Tide team is a sophomore by the name of Mike Sainristil. Like Tippett last year, Sainristil is emerging as a true triple threat, as he’s recorded a touchdown as a receiver, defensive back and kick returner during these playoffs.

Along with Sainristil, junior wide receivers Jason Maitre and Anthony Norcia have allowed UConn-bound quarterback Jordan McAfee to pick apart defenses over the past several weeks with a quick-hitting passing attack.

The greatest challenge for Xaverian will likely be in trying to contain all three of those speedsters, in addition to big-bodied wide receiver Theo Zidor.

With quick linebackers in Ryan, Samuel LeSavage and Colin Lama, the Hawks should be able to cover those receivers over the middle of the field without sacrificing too much in their own efforts to stop the run.

It will be interesting to see if Henderson shadows Sainristil when the play maker moves around the formation for Everett, or if Stevenson simply trusts all of his defensive backs to contain the explosive sophomore within the defensive scheme.

There are a myriad of individual matchups to watch in this one, and after these teams played a nail-biter at Xaverian in September, we should expect this title game to go right down to the wire in another classic bout between storied programs.

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