Sunday, October 28, 2018

MIAA Football: Div. 3 Central/Western Mass Tournamnet Preview

Shrewsbury QB Drew Campanale will try to get the Colonials back to Gillette, but they'll have to win a wide-open Division 3 Central section first.
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612), Featuring Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Last week, SuiteSports broke down each of the 16 Eastern Mass. sections both with in-depth previews and picks.

Now, with the Central and Western Mass. sectionals also set to get underway this weekend, we are ready to do the same for each of those districts as well.

We begin today with Div. 3 Central and West. Check back in tomorrow when we breakdown Divisions 4 and 5, then on Wednesday with Division 6, and finally on Friday with Divisions 7 and 8.


Favorite: Doherty (8-0)

Top Player to Watch: Tajon Vassar, Sr., RB/DB, Doherty

Key Difference Maker: Jay Brunelle, Jr., WR, St. John's Shrewsbury

Out of all the sections in Central and Western Mass., there are none that are expected to be as big a dogfight as Div. 3 Central will certainly be.

Not only are all four teams - Doherty, Wachusett, St. John's, and Shrewsbury - capable of taking home the sectional crown, they have all faced at least one other team in the section during the regular season.

The top seed, Doherty, had the easiest strength of schedule of the four but that does not mean they are ill prepared for the road ahead. The Highlanders shutout Wachusett to begin the season, 14-0, and have outscored their opponents 280-58 since that game. Their offense is largely centered around superstar back Tajon Vassar, who can beat teams both with his legs out of the backfield and with his talents as a pass catcher. Fellow senior running back Tony Nuahn is also a big play threat while sophomore quarterback Noah Callery has played well.

Defensively, the Highlanders have been equally as impressive with linebacker Charlie Payson, and linemen Chris Yeboah and Josh Brunelle serving as the leaders.

Doherty has its hands full to begin the tournament with No. 4 Shrewsbury coming to Foley Stadium.

The Colonials hit a bit of skid to close the season losing two of their final four games, albeit by a combined 14 points. Drew Campanale is one of the better quarterbacks in the state while Jon White provides balance out of the backfield and has eight touchdowns on the season.

While the Shrewsbury offense was slowed by Nashoba's physical play in the final week of the regular season, the biggest key for the Colonials is undoubtedly its defense. Shrewsbury is 6-0 when they hold opponents to fewer than 20 points.

The other sectional semi-final matchup features a rematch of earlier this season as defending Div. 3 Super Bowl champion and third-seeded St. John's is scheduled to take a trip to No. 2 Wachusett.

Wachusett had a 31-14 lead midway through the third quarter of the two's regular season matchup but the Pioneers scored 24 unanswered points - capped off by a Colin Deso game winning interception return - to pull off the win.

Since that point, however, the Mountaineers have played well handily defeating Nashoba 35-0 and scoring at least 28 points in three of their final four games. Wachusett's ground and pound offense is highlighted by its senior backs in Sam Brewer and Gavin Maenzo.

St. John's offensive capabilities are well documented. Dynamic playmaker Eamonn Dennis is back in the fold after missing nearly three weeks due to injury and combines with fellow wide receivers Jay Brunelle and Shea Gallo along with quarterback Colin Schofield to form a lethal attack.

The Pioneers defense has been up and down for most of the season. They have let up 29 or more points five times and are 2-3 in those games.

While Dennis and Vassar may be the premiere players in the section, the difference maker is Brunelle who, when winning one-on-one battles, makes it almost impossible to cover all of St. John's playmakers.

Feld's Pick: This section is as hard to pick as they come with all four teams not only sectional contenders but potential Super Bowl winners. Based on how they have played for most of the season, I think that Wachusett is more of what they showed in the first half versus St. John's than the second half. Between their overall solid defense, ability to control the game on the ground, and their showing in close losses versus both the Pioneers and Doherty already this season, I like the Mountaineers to take home the sectional crown.


Parello's Pick: Man, do I have to pick? I love all four teams in this bracket and could easily see any of them taking the district. My gut tells me not to over think this and take a supremely talented St. John's team, but this Doherty group has the feel of a team of destiny. Still, the Highlanders aren't as battle tested as Wachusett or Shrewsbury out of the Mid-Wach. Wachusett might be the most physical team, and Shrewsbury's Drew Campanale is as good a QB as there is in the state... I don't know. Gimme the Highlanders, who have speed across their defense, and play makers to spare on offense.



Favorite: Springfield Central (7-1)

Top Player to Watch: Myles Bradley, Sr., WR, Springfield Central

Key Difference Maker: Anthony Izzo, Jr., QB, Minnechaug

Unlike the Central, Div. 3 West has a clear favorite and it comes as a familiar face in defending district champion Springfield Central.

The Golden Eagles were punched in the face to begin the season, suffering a brutal 35-7 loss to Lincoln-Sudbury, but have been nothing short of dominant since then. They have outscored their opponents 396 to 47 since the opening week of the season, including cruising past third-seeded Westfield and No. 4 Chicopee Comp by a combined score of 108 to 6.

Even against one of the best that Div. 3 has to offer in St. John's, Central put up a shocking 61 points.

The most dangerous aspect of Central is that they have a multitude of contributors. In fact, nine different players found the end zone for Central in its 71-7 win over Agawam to close the regular season. Kwame Kyles has been nearly unstoppable out of the backfield with 15 total touchdowns, but quarterback Isaac Boston also has 14 combined touchdowns on the season.

Defensive back Keshaun Dancy is one of the best in Massachusetts while Terry Lockett has three interceptions to his name.

That is not to say that this section will be a breeze. Minnechaug has lost just once this season and scored at least 25 points in all eight games. Quarterback Anthony Izzo has a habit of making things happen as evidenced by his staggering 1,981 passing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Chris Patrick has nine receiving touchdowns on the year and a game-clinching interception return for a touchdown.

Minnechaug's opening round opponent in Westfield is 6-2 but comes in losing two of its previous three.

Feld's Pick: No disrespect to any of the other teams in this section, but Springfield Central is just too good. After a bit of a shocking result week one versus Lincoln-Sudbury, the Golden Eagles have been nothing short of a runaway train including dominant wins over Westfield and Chicopee Comp. Could Minnechaug potentially stay within striking distance due its terrific passing game? Perhaps. But Central just scores too much too often for them to be vulnerable.


Parello's Pick: Yeah, as Matty said at the top, this bracket is pretty much the opposite of D3 Central, in that it is far from wide open. If somebody other than Springfield Central comes out of this section it would be the most shocking result in the state the next few weeks, as the Golden Eagles have been nothing short of dominant. I won't bet against them, as they take their next step toward Gillette Stadium.


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