Wednesday, October 31, 2018

MIAA Football: Top Five Sectional Semi-Final Games to Watch

If King Philip hopes to repeat as Super Bowl champions for a third straight year, they will have to get it done on the road. 

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Ahead of this weekend's action, here is a look at the five sectional semi-final games that we are most interested in seeing play out.

Each team's seed in their respective section is located to left of their team name, while the team's ranking in our final regular season Top 25 Poll released last week where applicable is in parenthesis on the right.

Here are our top five matchups slated for this weekend.

1. No. 3 King Philip (#14) at No. 2 Natick (#9), Friday 7pm
Our top game to watch features what is sure to be a terrific showdown between two of the state's best in Div. 2 South contenders King Philip and Natick.

The two-time defending Super Bowl champion Warriors will have to win on the road for just the second time in the postseason across their three year run if they are to reach another sectional final.

For most of the season, King Philip's offense has been able to move the ball effectively piling up over 300 yards in five straight games. Defensively, King Philip's constant pressure and physicality continues to be second to none. Linebacker Jack Webster leads the way while defensive back Tyler Bartlett came through with a big interception in the Warriors opening round win over Braintree.

Natick lost its first two games to begin the season but has won six straight games since then. Sophomore quarterback Will Lederman has developed into one of Massachusetts' top young stars with wideouts Angel LeBron and Max Ferrucci providing options on the outside.

Look for play up front to be the key here. Natick is bolstered by star junior tackle Josh Atwood, but the question is whether or not the Redhawks can sustain King Philip's pressure for all four quarters.

Conversely, it will be crucial for the Warriors to give plenty of time for junior quarterback Robert Jarest to throw figuring that King Philip will have to get at least into the low 20s if they hope to emerge with a victory.

2. No. 3 St. John's Shrewsbury (#15) at No. 2 Wachusett, Friday 7pm

St. John's shocked the Mountaineers earlier this season, rallying from a 31-14 second half deficit to come away with a 38-31 victory. Wachusett will get a shot at revenge on its home field on Friday night in what should be an electric Div. 3 Central sectional semi-final matchup.

The Mountaineers have been terrific over the second half of the season, shutting out a tough Nashoba team 35-0 and allowing just 13 points combined over their last three games.

St. John's, meanwhile, has thrived on putting up monster offensive numbers on a weekly basis. The Pioneers fell into trouble last week as Marlboro was effective in using running back Lou Vigeant to control time of possession and keep St. John's' offense off the field.

In the first matchup between the two teams, Wachusett found success early in relying on steady running back Sam Brewer to march the Mountaineers down the field and keep the ball out of the hands of the Pioneers' offense. Midway through the second half, however, St. John's defense found its footing and forced four straight three-and-outs that allowed quarterback Colin Schofield and company to find a rhythm.

With these two teams holding contrasting styles of play, this will likely come down to whoever can dictate tempo throughout. If Wachusett can successfully execute its ground-and-pound game plan for four quarters, it will be hard for St. John's to develop enough possessions to get into the low-to-high 30s on the scoreboard where they are the most comfortable.

3. No. 3 Acton-Boxboro (#7) at No. 2 St. John's Prep (#3), Friday 7pm

St. John's Prep has dominated the competition for most of the season, but is likely in store for a bit of a dogfight when Acton-Boxboro pays a visit on Friday night for this Div. 1 North Sectional Semi-Final matchup.

The Colonials trailed Methuen in their opening round game 21-7 at the half, but scored 21 unanswered in the second half to come away with a 28-27 win. Senior quarterback Finn Murray has been spotless for most of the season breaking down defenses with his terrific arm and ability to throw on the run. Wide receivers Victor Otero and Stanley Bernard have been a nightmare for opposing defensive backs.

Acton-Boxboro's offensive line, however, will be up against an Eagles front that is arguably the best in the Bay State. Defensive tackles James Taylor and Kevin Dewing have been relentless while linebacker Cole Tangney provides support in both the run game and pass protection.

One potential key to watch here could be Hunter Tully. The Eagles running back has taken on more of a role with Aise Pream sidelined due to injury, and his success early on could be huge in order for St. John's Prep to open up the passing game.

4. No. 4 Marlboro at No. 1 Nashoba, Friday 7pm

It seems almost unjust that these two Div. 4 Central powers are meeting in the sectional semi-finals.

Throughout the season the two have proven that they can beat the best that Central Mass. has to offer with Marlboro delivering a late season blow to St. John's and Nashoba doing the same to Shrewsbury.

Earlier this season, the two faced off in a classic Central Mass. rock fight with the Chieftains emerging with a 16-13 win. It's fair to expect more of the same this time around with both teams final regular season games a blueprint for their success moving forward.

Nashoba relies largely on a balanced attack offensively with quarterback Sam Bolinsky complementing a three-headed rushing attack in Brendan Lee, Alex Childs and Danny McNulty.

Marlboro, meanwhile, heavily depends on running back Lou Vigeant for offense. The Panthers defense has been stalwart surrendering less than 10 points per game.

In order for Marlboro to come away with a win over the Chieftains, they will have to force Nashoba to become one dimensional on offense. Otherwise, Nashoba's balanced attack on one side of the ball and their consistently steady play on the other will likely be too much for Marlboro to overcome.

. No. 3 Hingham (#19) at No. 2 Walpole (#18)

There is no greater definition of a "toss-up" than the matchup between these two Div. 3 South contenders.

A few weeks ago, Hingham would have been the favorite but Walpole has played terrific football as of late. Rebels junior quarterback Will Jarvis has had a standout season in leading a Rebels offense that has scored a combined 78 points over the last two weeks.

Andrew White is one of Jarvis' top options in the passing game with the wideout finding the end zone three times over the past two games.

The Harbormen had an opening round scare versus Bishop Feehan, but survived when quarterback Owen O'Brien led a pair of late touchdown drives. O'Brien has only progressed in recent weeks while filling for starting quarterback Jack Johnson. Cole Finney is a reliable option for O'Brien while Kevin Shea is the catalyst for Hingham's offense on the ground.

It's easy to expect plenty of points in this sectional semi-final showdown with both teams heading into it playing well offensively.

Expect the big key to be whether or not Hingham can force the crucial turnover or two that they have in weeks past. Gary Harrington came through with the game clinching interception last week as Feehan attempted to drive for the game-tying score, and Spencer Cassell had what turned out to be a pivotal field goal block.

If Walpole's offensive line is able to keep Jarvis comfortable in the pocket, and the Rebels are able to take care of the football they become an awfully hard team to beat at home.

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