Thursday, November 9, 2017

Your MIAA Football Sectional Finals Preview: The Central and West

Springfield Central quarterback Aaron Moses-Williams has the Golden Eagle offense humming.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Our Matt Feld got kicked off our sectional championship game coverage earlier today, previewing the North and South sections.

Now I'll take a crack at the smaller regions out in Central and Western Massachusetts, where there are six sectional title games in CMass (Divisions 3-8) and four in WMass (Divisions 3,5,7, and 8).

Let's take a look at the matchups, story lines and players you need to pay attention to this weekend.


Primetime Matchup:
No. 3 Marlboro vs No. 1 Nashoba, Division 4

This game gets the nod ahead of another anticipated rematch (St. John's vs Shrewsbury), just because the first matchup was SOOOO close, and these teams are essentially mirror images of each other.

Back in late September, Nashoba edged Marlboro when the Panthers couldn't convert a fourth-quarter extra point, but virtually nothing else separates these teams. Nashoba runs the ball with a number of backs and plays great defense, Marlboro does the same.

The Panthers are known for their toughness in the trenches, but have play makers at each skill position, and in their defensive secondary. So do the Chieftains.

Expect this rematch to come down to the wire, with only a play or two swinging it.

Underrated Game to Watch: No. 2 St. Peter-Marian vs No. 1 Littleton, Division 6

Littleton has looked as dominant as anyone this season, but they haven't faced a team as fast, or an offense as diverse, as St. Peter-Marian's. Led by do-it-all athlete Matt Dumphy, the Guardians can also do it all offensively, and have athletes that are lethal in space.

Littleton, meanwhile, will run you over with their tough offensive line and deep backfield.

Look for this one to be a battle of contrasting styles (though Littleton is very creative offensively as well, particularly in their run), and the kind of game you love to see in the playoffs.

Player to Watch: Chris Campbell, ATH, Shrewsbury

Many are pencilling St. John's (Shrewsbury) into the state semifinals as we speak, but cross-town rival Shrewsbury knows it has the talent to beat the Pioneers, and that starts with its senior captain.

Campbell has proven to be a thorn in the Pioneers' side throughout his career, even slicing his way through the St. John's secondary in defeat earlier this season.

The Colonials use him outside, in the slot, as a runner, and occasionally have him take direct snaps and throw the ball from a variety of formations, plus Campbell is one of Shrewsbury's best defensive players as a DB. If Shrewsbury is going to pull off the upset, chances are that Chris Campbell will have a large hand in it.

Story Line to Watch: A Voke School Champion?

It's been a while since a Central Mass vocational school has taken home a sectional crown. In fact, since the MIAA switched to a state-wide playoff format in 2013, none have, and you have to go back to Blackstone Valley Tech's 2012 Division 6 Central Mass Super Bowl win to find the last Voke school team to win CMass.

But that could all change Saturday, as that same Blackstone Valley Tech program is poised to capture a sectional title in Division 7.

The Beavers have a defense that has pitched three shutouts, and has hadn't allowed a double-digit scorer until the playoffs began last week, while the BVT offense has scored 33 or more points in the team's last six games, led by star Connor Polymeros.

But things won't be easy for the Beavers, who must battle a very talented Leicester squad, which is powered by star Kyle Padenini on the ground (12 yards per carry, 18 TDs). The Wolverines have also shown an ability to open up the play book and throw it a little as well.

But, if any Voke school team in recent memory has had the talent to break through and win a section, it's this BVT group. This should be a great one.

Oh, and if the Beavers don't, you still shouldn't sleep on Nashoba Valley Tech in Division 8.


Primetime Matchup: No. 2 Longmeadow vs No. 1 West Springfield, Division 5

West Springfield came into this bracket as the top seed, and unquestioned favorite, thanks to the Terriers' 14-0 shutout win against Longmeadow early on in the year. And really, not much has happened to change anyone's minds, as West Springdfield has only lost to Springfield Central since then, and running back Vaunell Hill has turned into a star.

But Longmeadow still has one of the state's best players in defensive linemen David Schwarts, so expect some tough sledding for that West Side running game, and expect Longmeadow to have a slightly better go at it offensively this time around, as starting quarterback Carlo Calabrese will be in the lineup, unlike the first time these teams met.

On the whole, Western Mass football fans should expect a slugfest, as two great defenses, and physical runs games battle for a trip to the state semifinals.

Underrated Game to Watch: No. 2 Frontier vs No. 1 Wahconah, Division 7

Wahconah has found itself at Gillette Stadium in two of the past three seasons, and has enjoyed as much success as any Western Mass program of late. This year's group may even be a little ahead of schedule, with junior quarterback Tim Clayton developing quicker than expected, and a defense that has grown up into Division 7 West's most imposing.

But Frontier is a sneaky good unit with enough speed on offense, enough toughness along its offensive line, and a diverse enough running game to maybe crack that Warrior front-seven. It will likely be a clash of styles and tempos, with whichever team dictates the game's terms taking the win.

If the game opens up, Wahconah's passing game will likely roll. But, if Frontier can slow things down and turn it into a rock fight, you have to like the Redhawks' chances.

Player to Watch: Aaron Moses-Williams, QB, Springfield Central

Since opening the season with losses to Virginia power Bishop Sullivan and St. John's (Shrewsbury), Springfield Central has been dominant. Now, the Eagles are certainly rife with skill talent, especially out wide at receiver, and Central has talent aplenty on the defensive side of the ball, but this team isn't sitting as pretty as it is without the development of Moses-Williams under center.

With over 2,200 yards and 25 touchdowns, Moses-Williams can put up stats with the best of them, and his powerful arm allows the Eagles to stretch the field vertically, while his awareness moving around the pocket and as a runner give defenses even more riddles to solve.

Springfield Central will be heavily favored in its Division 3 West title game against Minnechaug, and if Moses-Williams shows up, the Eagles should cruise.

Story Line to Watch: A Battle of Small-School Unbeatens

When you go undefeated in Division 8 West, you have to know that people are going to question your schedule. But, after taking on the best their respective leagues had to offer, and the other top teams in the section last week, top-seeded Hoosac Valley and No. 3 Ware are both still standing, and both still undefeated.

Hoosac Valley made short work of an overmatched Mt. Greylock group, and comes into this game as a prohibitive favorite, but those overlooking Ware may want to reconsider.

Ware's defense has been among Western MA's best all season long, and that senior-laden unit held off a very talented Lee team a week ago. Offensively, it's all about the run game, led by star running back Hunter Millier.

Hoosac Valley is probably the more balanced team on offense, but this looks like strength against strength, as both teams like to pound the rock, and each side can shut you down.

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