Thursday, December 1, 2016

State Championship Preview: Marblehead vs Falmouth in Division 2A

Image courtesy of Marblehead High School Football.
By Brendan Hall (@BHallESPN)

Ed. Note- SuiteSports is thrilled to welcome former ESPN Boston High Schools Editor, and current ESPN Personalization Editor, Brendan Hall into the fold. Brendan will also be helping us out Saturday at Gillette because, let's be honest, the state championship games just wouldn't be the same without BHall.

Here's his breakdown of the D2A title game between Falmouth and Marblehead.

Falmouth: 12-0, Division 2A South Champs

Historically, Falmouth has been one of the more traditional powers south of Boston, going back decades, and occasionally churning out talent that went on the NFL, from Bubba Pena to Andy Andrade to Willie Ford and Jamaal Branch.

(Oddly enough, this will be the program’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1994, when they lost to a Tim Hasselbeck-led Xaverian squad)

But when Derek Almeida took over the program three years ago, the Clippers were going through some of their leanest years, far removed from more dominant days under his father, Dana Almeida. In three short years, however, the Clippers have tapped back into those days of yore, winning their first Atlantic Coast League title in over a decade and coming into the D2A South tournament on an absolute tear, scoring 40 or more points in their final five regular season contests.

The Clippers are one of several teams Saturday that will utilize a “Flexbone” attack, a modified triple option scheme that’s becoming more prevalent in the MIAA, popularized at the college level by the likes of Georgia Tech, Navy and Air Force.

Blending perimeter speed with the blocking principles that made the Wishbone one of the most unstoppable attacks in the college game for more than three decades, Falmouth can routinely exceed 300 yards rushing a game behind its stable of backs, anchored by Michael LaFrange and complimented by Colby Murphy and Gates Kelliher.

Unlike traditional offenses today, passing is used more as a change of pace in Falmouth’s attack. But, when they do take to the air, look out. Senior quarterback Nick Couhig, a Boston College baseball signee, has the arm strength to go deep, and the acumen to put it in windows where only his receivers can snag it.

More often than not, this has worked to the benefit of their most potent home-run threat, senior Jean Vazquez, considered the program’s fastest player. Two weeks ago, the speedy slasher posted a ridiculous two catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a 91-yard catch-and-run off play action, to beat Marlborough in the state semifinal to place them here.

In the trenches, Zach Murphy and Elichalt have been moving piles, while 305-pound war daddy Noah Rowell has been tough to move off the point of attack. But keep an eye on sophomore two-way lineman Kyle Cardoza. At a long and lean 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he’s sure to gather attention from the colleges over the next few years.

Marblehead: 11-0, Division 2A North Champs

Two years ago, the Magicians captivated the Northeastern Conference with their frenetic no-huddle offense, only to come up short in the postseason, taking an upset at home from mainstay Tewksbury early in the state tournament. This time, the Magicians are making their first Gillette trip since 2009.

Back then, the pace of their attack often led to Gronk-ish highlights from All-State tight end Willie Millett. Now, we’ve got another Millett causing havoc off the edge, this time his younger brother, Bo. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, with some jump in his step, the senior figures to be a tough player for the Clippers to game plan against.

Out of the backfield, 1,000-yard rusher Jason Lopez gets the bulk of the load. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior is shifty as they come, a perfect complement to quarterback Drew Gally in their patented zone-read scheme. Lopez tweaked his ankle in the Magicians’ North sectional final win over North Reading, but head coach Jim Rudloff has indicated he’ll be ready to go Saturday.

Defensively, this is one of Marblehead’s strongest units in years. The Magicians are allowing just 9.4 points per game in 2016, a measure that will be put to the test against a scheme they don’t see too often, if at all. But regardless, this is a unit that thumps in the front seven, led by linebackers Harry Craig and Manning Sears.

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