Monday, October 29, 2018

MIAA Football: Divisions 4 and 5 Central/Western Mass. Tournament Preview

Three years ago, both Northbridge and Nashoba emerged as state champions at Gillette Stadium, but do the Rams and Chieftains have what it takes to get back to Foxboro this season?
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612), Featuring Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

On Monday, we previewed and picked both the Central and Western Mass. sectionals in Division 3.

Now, editors Matt Feld and Joe Parello are ready to unveil their breakdown and picks for the Central and Western Mass. brackets in Divisions 4 and 5.

Check back in tomorrow when we break down Divisions 6 and 7, then on Friday when we look at Division 8.


Favorite: Nashoba (7-1)

Top Player to Watch: Sam Bolinsky, Sr., QB, Nashoba

Key Difference Maker: Lou Vigeant, Sr., RB, Marlboro 

It's hard to finish the regular season on a higher note than both Nashoba and Marlboro did, and yet the two will face off against one another to begin the postseason in a rematch from earlier this season.

The top-seeded Chieftains enter coming off a 20-14 win over Div. 3 Central contender Shrewsbury. It seemed to be a fitting end to Nashoba's season when considering the Chieftains have been at their best when relying on its defense to open up opportunities on the other side of the ball. Nashoba has surrendered 15 points or less in seven of their eight games to date, going 7-0 in those games. Their only loss came in a surprising, 35-0 loss to Wachusett in week seven.

Jack Bonazzoli and Troy Barksdale are key for Nashoba in the secondary while Brendan Lee has been a standout at outside linebacker.

Offensively, the Chieftains lean on a consistently reliable senior quarterback in Sam Bolinsky and a strong ground game centered around three backs in Alex Childs, Lee, and Danny McNulty.

The Chieftains won the regular season matchup, 16-13, on a late missed Panthers field goal but there is no question Marlboro enters the tournament thinking they have the necessary pieces to emerge from the district.

Marlboro capped off its 6-2 regular season with a huge home win over St. John's behind the play of Lou Vigeant. Vigeant has been nothing short of terrific for the Panthers this season totaling 12 rushing touchdowns to go with over 1,000 yards on the ground.

Similar to Nashoba, what makes Marlboro tick is its defense. The Panthers have allowed fewer than 10 points per game and posted three shutouts. Vigeant leads the unit with over 50 tackles on the season, but outside linebacker Osmar Agreda and defensive end Trevor Nutt have been standouts in their own right.

In the other sectional semi-final matchup, No. 2 Grafton faces off against third-seeded Tantasqua. The two faced off earlier in the season with Tantasqua escaping with a narrow, 14-13 victory.

The Indians scored 200 points in the regular season, reaching the 40-point plateau on three separate occasions. Ryan Jack is one of the top players in the district with his play at wide receiver and defensive back while Jackson Sonnet is explosive out of the backfield. Sonnett has 17 touchdowns combined on the ground and in the passing game.

Perhaps most importantly for Grafton, however, is they have a core in quarterback Matt Holbrook, Sonnett, Max de Freitas, and Brady Fontana who were apart of the team's 2016 run to Gillette Stadium.

Their opening round opponent in Tantasqua won its final five games with their only blemishes coming at the hands of Div. 3 powers Doherty and Wachusett.

Running back Ryan Sears is seventh in Central Mass. in rushing yards while defensively Alex Lord has amassed 42 tackles.

Feld's Pick: All four teams have the talents to win this section and have had their moments during the season to make you think they are viable state wide Super Bowl contenders. I like Marlboro, but I love Nashoba after their bounce back win over Shrewsbury. Their defense, coupled with the solid play of Sam Bolinsky and a quality rushing attack gives them the slight edge over the rest fo the field.


Parello's Pick: The last two weeks we've seen the best, and worst, of Nashoba, as the Chieftains have faced a pair of playoff teams from D3 Central. My gut tells me this team is way closer to the one that beat Shrewsbury than the one that got blown out by Wachusett, but they will have a ton of competition if they hope to get back to Gillette.

Much like D3 Central, this bracket is wide open, and I wouldn't be shocked to see any team take home the section. I mean, Tantasqua beat Grafton by one point earlier this year to win a competitive SWCL A, Marlboro just upset St. John's, and Nashoba just knocked off Shrewsbury. Clearly, all these squads can play, but I'm gonna go with Nashoba. The Chieftains just know how to win come playoff time under coach Jamie Turner, and quarterback Sam Bolinsky is as good a quarterback as there is in the state.



Favorite: Northbridge (6-2)

Top Player to Watch: Cullen MacNeil, Jr., OLB/RB, Northbridge

Key Difference Maker: Jack Cooney, Sr., QB, Burncoat 

Just a few weeks ago, Northbridge looked as though it would enter the postseason as the clear favorite in Div. 5 Central. After consecutive losses to Tantasqua and Grafton, however, one has to wonder how the Rams will respond when they open up with fourth-seeded Burncoat.

For most of the season the Rams have been bolstered by a high-powered offense that has scored 195 points. Zack Roberts and his dual threat capabilities from under center lead the attack. So far this season, Roberts has 522 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to go with over 400 passing yards and five more scores. In Northbridge's 33-14 win over No. 2 Nipmuc, Roberts rushed for 78 yards and a pair of scores.

Sean Rosenlund is Roberts' favorite option in the passing game.

Defensively, there may be no bigger player to watch in this section than Northbridge's Cullen MacNeil. MacNeil, a junior outside linebacker, is seventh in Central Mass. in tackles, has a pair of sacks, and an interception. Also worth watching on the Rams defense is Trevor Hoffman who has an interception and seven sacks.

Northbridge's first round opponent, Burncoat, struggled to begin the season but rallied to win four of five to make the postseason. One thing that could certainly make the Patriots dangerous are the capabilities of quarterback Jack Cooney.

Cooney is second in Central Mass. with over 1,425 passing yards and 12 touchdowns through the air. Cooney's primary target, Nicholas Locantore, has over 500 receiving yards to his name.

Both Nipmuc and third-seeded Oakmont would love a chance to prove they belong in the conversation of best team in Div. 5.

Nipmuc's lone loss on the season came at the hands of the aforementioned Rams and for the most part, the Warriors have played rock solid defense this season. Not only are they barely allowing six points per game, but they have also posted four shutouts on the season.  Nate Gould and Matt Richards are the leaders at bringing pressure combining for seven sacks on the season while Gould and Joe Schiloski both have over 25 tackles.

Oakmont, meanwhile, brings with it a completely different style to that of the Warriors as they piled up 258 points in their eight regular season games. The Spartans head into the postseason riding an eight game winning streak with senior running back Justin Jameson leading the way. Jameson rushed for 350 yards and four scores in Oakmont's win over Quabbin last week.

Feld's Pick: While Northbridge's offense receives plenty of credit, I think Cullen MacNeil and the Rams defense is the difference here. Nipmuc is a legitimate threat with their ability to put up a shutout on any given week, but I think the Rams collection of speed on offense and physicality on defense makes them the most complete team.


Parello's Pick: I pretty much agree on all fronts, but I would add that I think Nipmuc is more of a threat than their three-score loss to Northbridge earlier this year would suggest. The Warriors have allowed just eight points since then (albeit against lesser competition), and have found a big play threat in Nate Gould, who is averaging 23 yards per catch, and have seven of Nipmuc's 10 touchdowns through the air.

All that said, Northbridge is the most complete and battle-tested team in the bracket. Hard to bet against the Rams.



Favorite: East Longmeadow (6-2)

Top Player to Watch: Hunter Mazza, Sr., RB, East Longmeadow

Key Difference Maker: Isaiah DeBois, Sr., RB, Longmeadow 

East Longmeadow easily captured the No. 1 seed in Div. 5 West proving itself worthwhile of the  'favorite' label throughout the regular season.

That may have never been more evident than in their final regular season game. Despite falling to Div. 3 West contender Minnechaug, the Spartans held their own dropping by a score of 34-21 and being within one possession with less than 1:45 remianing in regulation.

When going right, the Spartans have a variety of options to choose from out of the backfield with Hunter Mazza, who has a habit of making things happen as shown by his 17 total touchdowns on the season to go with his 718 rushing yards, leading the way.

Gaetano Parisi and his three interceptions are the focal point for East Longmeadow's defense.

Just across town, second-seeded Longmeadow finds itself as a legitimate contender. The Lancers finished their regular season slate in style with a 35-26 home win over Westfield. Senior Isaiah DuBios does it all for the Lancers, rushing for 488 yards while also adding 59 receiving yards. Maurice Powe provides balance out of the backfield and big-play ability on special teams.

Third-seeded Ludlow and fourth-seeded Amherst cannot be taken lightly.

Amherst scored 230 points en route to a 6-2 overall record. Isaiah Moyston has five receiving touchdowns for the Hurricanes whiles James Mills is averaging 155 passing yards per week.

Feld's Pick: Hunter Mazza is a force, and I expect East Longmeadow to ride his abilities out of the backfield to a district crown.


Parello's Pick: It looks like this might be East Longmeadow's year to make a run to Gillette, and top their old rivals over in Longmeadow. A solid ground game and defense make the Spartans a pretty safe bet, and their win over Suburban South power Wahconah shows they have the talent to play with anyone in the bracket.


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