2017 MIAA State Football Finals Preview (All 8 Divisions)
FOXBORO, Mass. -- With the 2017 MIAA Football Championships only days away (Friday and Saturday), we preview all eight State final games, with our consistent look at the student-athletes, who have been the focus of Mass Prep Stars since its inception in 2009.
Who will step up on the big stage of Gillette Staudim? Who will make the difference in the most important game of their careers?
The games begin on Friday, with two prime-time match-ups in Division 2 and 3, and conclude on Saturday night with the Division 1 State Championship game at 8 p.m.
We look forward to the action on the gridiron and concluding our annual recognition, including our annual Mass Prep Stars and First String Performance Super Teams, player rankings and lists, and Players of the Year.
D1: Everett vs. Xaverian, 8 p.m. Saturday
After struggling earlier this season, Xaverian has hit its stride with six wins over their last seven contests, including a 30-0 thrashing of rival St. John’s Prep on Thanksgiving.
That hot streak means little to an Everett team, who has been the No. 1 team in Massachusetts since the season started and is absolutely loaded across the board.
Wide receivers and playmakers Isaiah Likely, Anthony Norcia, Jason Maitre and Mike Sainristil are nearly impossible to defend, and standout cornerback Cooper DeVeau and company will have their work cut out for them on Saturday night.
Yet DeVeau should play a key role offensively as a wide receiver and his prowess in all three phases has made a huge difference for Xaverian.
“Once [The Hawks] figured out how to be balanced and run the football, their defense became even better,” said an opposing coach. “They’re at their best when they can run, play defense and win in all three phases and DeVeau has played a key role in that regard.”
Of course DeVeau and the Xaverian offense struggled to get anything going in their season opener at Everett, as most teams have against a team with elite speed on that defensive side of the ball.
Safety Lewis Cine is a top-ranked prospect for the Class of 2019. He leads a great defense, along with LB Duane Binns and Maitre, who also plays Safety.
The engine that makes the Crimson Tide go, however, is junior QB Jake Willcox.
“What impresses me about Willcox is his command of that offense,” said an opposing coach. “As simplistic as people think it is to run a spread attack, you put a lot on your QB in terms of run pass options and reads. He does a great job of managing it and distributing the ball and that’s why they’re so tough to defend.”
D2: King Philip vs. Lincoln-Sudbury, 7:30 p.m. Friday
With a state-best 24-game winning streak on the line, King Philip will look to ride senior captain Shane Frommer to a second consecutive Super Bowl title. Frommer rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns to lead KP past Bridgewater-Raynham in the state semifinals for a second straight year and is one of the leading favorites for our Mass Prep Stars player of the year.
As KP head coach Brian Lee puts it, “If you’ve got a dude [in Frommer], don’t over complicated it. Just give him the ball.”
However, in last year’s Super Bowl victory over Reading, KP threw a curveball by putting the ball in the hands of quarterback Brendan Lydon and asking him to beat the Rockets defense down the field.
We could see a similar scenario play out this Friday night, given that Lincoln-Sudbury’s loaded front seven could see help from the secondary in an effort to contain Frommer.
Junior linebacker and running back James Dillon has been all over the field for L-S this season and an opposing coach called Cal Kenney, “One of the best defensive lineman you’ll see at this level.”
“It’s a challenge to try and run the ball against L-S,” the coach continued, “And even more challenging to try and stop their ground game,” which is led by Dillon and 1,000-yard rusher Andrew Marshall.
D3: North Attleboro vs. St. John’s Shrewsbury, 5 p.m. Friday
In a matchup that features two of the best QBs in the state, North Attleboro comes in as an underdog against a high-powered SJS team that averages 46 points per game.
Leading the charge for the St. John's of Shrewsbury Pioneers is senior QB Steven Bucciaglia, who runs a sophisticated up-tempo attack and distributes the ball to a host of weapons.
“They play so fast,” an opposing coach said of the Pioneers. “There are plenty of spread teams, but the ones that play with pace and have perimeter players that can hurt you, you fear. SJS is probably the second-best spread team in the state behind Everett.”
North Attleboro has a defense capable of challenging Bucciaglia and are also blessed with an elite QB in their own in senior leader Chad Peterson.
Peterson has thrown 14 TDs and run for nine more this season to lead the Red Rocketeers into the state finals, and his live arm is complimented by the speedy running back Brendan McHugh.
“[Peterson] is a dual threat guy and a tremendous competitor,” said an opposing coach. “If you decided that you’re going to put eight in the box and try to stop the jet sweep stuff that they do, he’s very good on play action and can burn you that way."
"This is the best QB matchup of the weekend and a lot of people aren’t giving North enough of an opportunity, but they can hang offensively. The question is whether they can get stops against SJS.”
D4: Melrose vs. Nashoba, 11 a.m. Saturday
Fans of defensive football battles will want to tune in early on Saturday morning, for this matchup between a Nashoba team who has recorded four shutouts and allowed just 9.6 points per game during their run to the state final.
Nashoba leans on a ground-and-pound approach out of a Wing-T formation, led by running back Alex Childs and complimented by speedy wide receiver Breese Hill, a key member of the Chieftains’ 2015 state championship squad and now a senior captain.
Melrose, which lost in the 2014 and 2015 state championship to Dartmouth, will look to break through by riding junior running back Isaac Seide. The 5-foot-8 workhorse back has rushed for 20 TDs and over 1,000 yards since taking over the starting role early in the season.
“[Seide] runs with power and balance, he breaks tackles and is a physical,” said an opposing coach. “Melrose is so patient with running the football. They don’t abandon it regardless of the score. Seide gets better as the game goes along and he could wear Nashoba down in the second half.”
D5: Dennis-Yarmouth vs. West Springfield, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Dennis-Yarmouth has blown the competition away this year and comes into the state final averaging 43.3 points per game.
Dolphins senior running back Robb Evans leads all of Division 5 with 23 TDs this year and he carried D-Y to a sectional final win over Scituate, with an amazing 400-yard plus rushing performance.
“It doesn’t matter what division we’re talking about, that’s one of the best teams in the state,” an opposing coach said of D-Y. “They’re very impressive and Evans is as good as advertised. But if you stack the box to try and stop him, they have so many guys that can beat you on the perimeter.”
D-Y also has a capable QB in Jacob McCarthy as well as great receivers in Geoffrey Jamiel, Michael Gurney and Daryan Thompson.
West Springfield will likely look to slow the game down by riding senior running back Vaunell Hill to keep the potent D-Y offense on the sidelines. Hill has exploded this season and has proved to be one of the State's top backs.
“They have to give Hill the ball and take advantage of the shorter clock with 10 minute quarters in this Super Bowls,” said an opposing coach. “If they do that maybe they hang around and steal one, but if they don’t get first downs early, they’re in trouble.”
D6: Middleboro vs. Littleton, 9:00 a.m. Saturday
The sunrise game at Gillette Stadium features a Littleton team who has put up gaudy offensive numbers out in Central Mass, thanks to a dominant ground game.
Senior center Jake Kivlin leads an experienced offensive line along with tackles Tommy Keenan and Brady Hunt, as well as guards Tom MacGregor and Wes Cline. Those road graters have opened things up for Brad Klock, who has rushed for 13 TDs, while Austin Lynn and Mitch Beaudoin have combined for 10 more scores on the ground.
Yet Middleboro has an extremely effective ground attack of their own, led by standout running back Jeremy Soule.
“He’s a grinder and once he gets into space, he has that extra gear,” an opposing coach said of Soule. “In high school football, if you have a back that can finish runs, and finish drives, you’re a step above the competition, and he can do that for them. Coach [Pat] Kingman hasn’t hesitated to put the ball in his hands when the pressure is on.”
Evan Gwozdz has been just as impressive for the Sachems at quarterback and wide receiver Colin O’Brien gives them a downfield threat, which makes it very tough to stack the box in an effort to contain Soule.
D7: Mashpee vs. Blackstone Valley Tech, 6 p.m. Saturday
As the first vocational school to ever make a Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, Blackstone Valley Tech is the biggest underdog on Saturday’s full slate of games.
Mashpee is a cut above the competition in D7, with a transcendent talent in running back Devaun Ford. Ford makes plays on both sides of the ball and has rushed for 18 TDs this year, while junior defensive end Xavier Gonsalves is an absolute force defensively. Seniors Ben Bohnenberger and John McNamara also lead the way for the impressive Mashpee O-line.
“Ford is impressive,” said an opposing coach. “Anytime you can give a back the ball 25-30 times and get 4-5 yards per carry that’s tough to stop. When the game is on the line they put the ball on their playmakers hands and I don’t think Blackstone Valley can stop Ford.”
Blacksone Valley Tech advanced to the state finals thanks to a game-winning TD pass from QB Reece Hendriks to WR Connor Christensen and will need more magic to defeat a Mashpee program, who are gunning for its third state title over the past four years.
“They have to be able to keep Ford on the sideline and grind them down offensively, to take the air out of the ball and hope that Mashpee’s two-way guys are out of gas when they get on offense,” a neutral coach outlined, as Blackstone Valley Tech’s best shot to win the D7 Super Bowl.
D8: Millis vs. Hoosac Valley, 1 p.m. Saturday
Millis will look to sling the ball all over the field against a Hoosac Valley team who counters with a triple flexbone option offense. While they do it in different ways, both offenses can light up the scoreboard. Hoosac Valley hung 76 points in a state semifinals win over Nashoba Tech, while Millis is averaging 40.5 points per game over their four playoff victories.
Bryce Latosek leads the charge for Millis at QB, while Hoosac Valley QB Vance Eugene calls the shots out of the flex-bone and often pitches the ball to perimeter threat in RB Matt Hall.
“They’re going to lean on that offensive line and take their shots with Bryce Latosek,” an opposing coach said of Millis offensively. “They might want to make this a shootout with Hoosac and a track meet. If you can take those flex-bone teams out of their comfort zone and make them throw it, put the pressure on them by scoring first, put the pressure on them, you’ve almost won already.”
On the Hoosac Valley side, the same coach praised Eugene.
“Does a great job with the ball handling. They have a nice inside-out combination with him and Hall. It’s easy to defend if you know what the QB is going to do with the read, but Hoosac can run it inside or get to the perimeter. Those guys do a great job running an offense.”
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