Wednesday, November 7, 2018

MIAA Football: Top Five Sectional Final Matchups

After seeing him put up a combined 345 yards the first time around, Hingham hopes to contain John Roberts this weekend. (Photo Courtesy: Todd Maddock/Duxbury Clipper)

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

It's sectional final weekend across Massachusetts with 52 different teams hoping to be crowned champions by the time Saturday night rolls around.

For those in Divisions 1 and 2 as well Divisions 4 and 6 South a win this weekend would clinch an appearance in their respective super bowls at Gillette Stadium.

Otherwise, this weekend serves as a chance for teams to advance to the state semi-finals where they would be one win away from a state championship berth.

Heading into a weekend that is filled with league rivalries, rematches from past years, and star players, here are our top five sectional final matchups to watch.

1. Div. 3 Central: Shrewsbury at St. John's Shrewsbury, Saturday 2pm (Doyle Field)

Our top sectional final to watch pits two cross town foes against one another in a battle for the Div. 3 Central crown.

From an existing rivalry to a battle between two of the top quarterbacks that Massachusetts has to offer, this matchup features it all. Additionally, its a rematch from earlier this season - a shootout that St. John's was on the winning end of, 42-34.

In 2016, the Colonials went through St. John's to reach the Super Bowl. Last year, the Pioneers turned the tables en route to their Div. 3 Super Bowl crown.

While the atmosphere at Doyle Field is sure to be electric all eyes will be on the two quarterbacks once the game begins. Shrewsbury quarterback Drew Campanale entered the 2018 season widely panned as one of the best in the state and that has certainly held up. Campanale has 19 touchdowns on the season. 

Surrounding Campanale is established running back Jon White who has 663 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. T.J Morgera, White, and Phil Smyrnios are reliable options for Campanale in the passing game.  

On the flip side is St. John's quarterback Colin Schofield who has followed up Steve Bucciaglia's record-setting season at quarterback for the Pioneers with an impressive season of his own. The junior is first in Massachusetts in passing yards with 2,468 to go with 28 touchdowns through the air. On the ground, Schofield has 392 rushing yards and eight more scores. 

St. John's has plenty of firepower all over the field with a prolific attack that is arguably the top in all of Massachusetts. Jay Brunelle leads the group with 13 touchdowns while high-profile running back Eamonn Dennis has recently returned from injury adding a whole new dimension to the offense. 

The key to this whole game, however, very well may come down to the effectiveness of St. John's do-it-all playmaker Shea Gallo-Kolegue. Gallo-Kolegue largely flew under the radar coming into the season due to the spotlight on his teammates in Brunelle and Dennis, but he has had a big campaign for the Pioneers hauling in six touchdowns.

In the first matchup between the two teams, Gallo-Kolegue had three touchdowns including two in the opening quarter. If Shrewsbury hopes to upset the defending Div. 3 Super Bowl champions they will have to showcase a defensive scheme that not only accounts for Brunelle and Dennis, but quells the production of the same player who burned them the first time.

2. Div. 1 South: Catholic Memorial at Xaverian, Friday 7pm

If you have not heard about it through all the griping on social media, this is in fact an all Catholic Conference Div. 1 South matchup.

In fact, its a repeat of last year's Div. 1 South Sectional Final and will be the fourth time in just over 12 months that these two powers go ahead-to-head. Xaverian is 2-1 in the three most recent games, including a dramatic win this year that saw the Hawks rally from a 17-0 second quarter deficit before winning in overtime.

This sectional final is likely to have a different feel to it than that regular season matchup back in week four. Not only are the Hawks missing two key contributors from that win in Mike Saliba in Trevor Carroll but Catholic Memorial's offense is also functioning at a much higher level.

Junior quarterback Barrett Pratt has played well for the Knights so far this postseason. In wins over Attleboro and Needham, Pratt has a combined five combined five touchdowns while exploiting teams with both his arm and legs. Khari Johnson is explosive on special teams, Hunter Tully is a reliable option for Pratt on the outside, and Jamall Griffin, Owen McGowan, and Barrett Stubbs are all used in hybrid roles.

Defensively, meanwhile, Johnson and Spencer Aronson are keys in the secondary, while McGowan, Hunter Solomon, and Lucas Front help the Knights gain leverage up front.

Xaverian, however, once again proved in its double overtime win over Franklin that you can never count them out at home. Mike Masse, Lucas Ferraro and Cooper DeVeau have done an exceptional job leading the wounded Hawks while Thomas Garland has stepped up out of the backfield.

Ferraro has been exceptional on the line, recording four sacks and blocking Franklin's game-winning field goal attempt in the Hawks sectional semifinal win.

While Xaverian sophomore quarterback Mike Berluti will have to play well, the difference very well may be the Hawks secondary highlighted by DeVeau and JoJo Marinella. If the Hawks can stunt Catholic Memorial's passing attack it becomes awfully hard for them to materialize enough offense to pull off the upset in Westwood.

3. Div. 2 South: King Philip at Mansfield, Friday 7pm

Its only fitting that these two Hockomock Kelly-Rex rivals should meet up with a trip to Gillette Stadium on the line.

In King Philip's attempt to capture an illustrious third consecutive Super Bowl they will have to go through a Mansfield team that could very well be the unit destined to end the Warriors run.

Just like the two teams facing off in Div. 1 South, these two will be meeting for the fourth time in just over a year. King Philip is 2-1 in those matchups but the Hornets won the regular season contest earlier this season in dramatic fashion, 28-27. After King Philip built an early lead 14-7 lead, Mansfield stormed ahead 28-14 courtesy of a five minute interlude in the third quarter in which they found they end zone three times.

The Warriors rallied back to close the deficit to one with less than 30 seconds left, but their game-winning two-point attempt fell incomplete giving Mansfield its first win over the Warriors in five years.

Since that game in week four, both teams have only increased their level of play. Top-seeded Mansfield has used a rushing attack comprised of Aidan Sacco, Mike DeBolt, and Vinnie Holmes to keep opponents off balance while its defense has consistently come up clutch. Perhaps most impressive about Mansfield's undefeated season up to this point has been in its ability to put away games late. Over its two postseason games alone, Mansfield has outscored its opponents 28-0 in the fourth quarter.

King Philip, meanwhile, has won five consecutive games since losing to the Hornets including a road sectional semifinal win over Natick in which the Warriors dominated the line of scrimmage. Junior running back Ryan Halliday has been a workhorse, with David Morganelli a premiere option on the outside. Defensively, meanwhile, Jack Webster has established himself at middle linebacker while Tyler Bartlett has stepped up in the secondary.

As Mansfield looks to protect home field, look for King Philip quarterback Robert Jarest to largely dictate how this game plays out. If the Hornets are able to force the key turnover that they did the first time around - a Holmes interception - it may be the only swing they need to turn the game completely in their favor.

Conversely, if Jarest can take care of the ball and help stretch the field, it will make it that much harder for Mansfield to contain Halliday and the Warriors ground game.

4. Div. 2 North: Lincoln-Sudbury at North Andover, Friday 7pm

One season after Lincoln-Sudbury defeated North Andover to reach the Div. 2 Super Bowl, the Scarlet Knights will have a chance at revenge on their home field.

North Andover has been nothing short of dominant on both sides of the ball through its first nine regular season games, playing in just a single one possession game and scoring 35 points or more on eight separate occasions. Jake McElroy has been one of the top quarterbacks in Massachusetts while Freddy Gabin has put up monster numbers at running back. Darren Watson is a top threat in the passing game while Gabe DeSouza has been a versatile playmaker.

The Scarlet Knights, however, will have to go through an experienced Lincoln-Sudbury team that has played in games like these on numerous occasions over the last two years. The second-seeded Warriors looked as though they may not even reach the sectional final for a moment in last week's matchup with Reading, but Braden O'Connell threw a game-winning 70 yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds remaining to lift Lincoln-Sudbury to victory.

While not piling up the same stats as some of his counterparts, O'Connell has had a strong season at quarterback. James Dillon has been a bull out of the backfield for L-S with Cal Kenney and Mike Ciafonni controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

In a contrast of playing styles, look out for whoever can set the tone over the first 11 minutes to be a major factor. If North Andover can play their up-tempo, spread, fluid style on offense that they have been able to for most of the season they likely have too many weapons for Lincoln-Sudbury to keep pace.

5. Div. 3 South: Hingham at Duxbury, Friday 7pm

Hingham is not only trying to win its first sectional crown, but it also enters Friday night looking to beat Duxbury for the first time since 2007.

The Dragons have been terrific on offense for most of the season, but were slowed down by North Attleboro as the Red Rocketeers were able to limit them to 17 points. Quarterback John Roberts is the steward of Duxbury's high-octane attack using his arm strength and athleticism to torture defenses in a variety of ways. Wide receiver Will Prouty is one of the toughest covers in Eastern Mass. having reeled in 35 receptions for 578 yards and seven touchdowns. Tim Landolfi has 828 rushing yards and 11 scores.

Defensively, meanwhile, Duxbury has held its ground. Mike McCutcheon has been big with 13 TFL while outside linebacker Reg Magwood has 66 total tackles on the season.

Hingham, despite experiencing injuries to significant pieces over the last couple of weeks, has continued to win putting itself in a position to be one win away from a south title. Charlie Egan played beyond expectations in the Harbormen's semifinal win over Walpole with starting running back Kevin Shea sidelined due to injury.

Egan and Christian Julian have been key in balancing the running game while Cole Finney has developed into a dangerous option for quarterback Owen O'Brien. Gary Harrington, Tristan Washington, and Spencer Cassell and have been clutch on the defensive side of the ball.

For the Harbormen to have a shot this time around they will have to find a way to halt the Duxbury ground game. The Dragons ran for a combined 182 rushing yards the first time around with four of their five touchdowns coming via the run.

No comments :