When it comes to postseason the last few years, it seems, Walpole just can't seem to catch a break.
Two years ago, the Rebels beat rival Natick on a last-second field goal to clinch the Bay State Herget and a postseason berth in Division 2A, only to get throttled by Dennis-Yarmouth in the playoffs. Last year, the Rebels finished 10-1 with a share of the Herget, only to sit at home with no playoffs after Thanksgiving by virtue of a dramatic loss to co-champ Natick.
Looking at the alignments for the new MIAA State Championship, the Rebels might have gotten a good break. They sit in a Division 3 Southwest that is without question weaker than D2 South, which includes Bay State rivals Natick, Needham, Wellesley and Braintree. A total of six D2 South squads are ranked in ESPN Boston's statewide Preseason Top 25 poll -- more than any other bracket in the state -- while just one other D3 Southwest contender, No. 24 Bishop Feehan, is represented.
Perhaps the Rebels have finally gotten a much-needed break after alternating the Bay State Herget's lone playoff berth with Natick for each of the last 10 seasons. But Rebels head coach Barry Greener has a decidedly large amount of experience to replace, and there are more immediate tasks at hand.
"I do think D2 is a meat grinder. As I look at the list, D2 is very talented, but D3 is extremely competitive," Greener said. "I think the biggest thing with a young team ... last year’s team was totally different. This team, they have to take it one day at a time, they've gotta get better every day, that’s all we’re focusing on."
The Rebels are looking to replace 17 starters from last season's 10-1 squad, including 10 on the defensive side of the ball. But this is typically a program that excels at developing sub-varsity players to make immediate impacts with the big boys, and Greener is confident in the fresh faces abound.
"I think we have, in spots, in a lot of areas we have pretty decent team speed," Greener said. "There's certainly a willingness to get better. We have a lot of kids that watched a great group of seniors that played for us last year. They had talent, they were just playing behind these kids [last year's seniors] and they were good ones. But now they know it’s their turn, and they're doing a pretty good job trying to take advantage of that."
For the few returning starters, expect even bigger campaigns. Connor Moriarty was one of the brightest second-half stars across Eastern Mass., assuming a majority of the offensive workload as injuries piled up. As the best overall player on both sides of the ball, and as a safety the program's only returning defensive starter, he'll be called upon for an even bigger load this season.
Offensively, Walpole will stick with its spread look from a year ago, with quarterback Will Bolster working with a deep stable of five to six receivers. With three returning starters in the trenches, expect great emphasis once again on the running game, with Moriarty as the feature back. His repertoire fits well with Walpole's running scheme, a mixture of inside and outside zones along with counters. Two sophomores, Steve Cuqua and Lovenchi Salvant, will provide depth in the backfield.
"He’s very quick strong explodes when hits hole, and so do the other two guys [Cuqua and Salvant]," Greener said. "Overall, Connor arguably could be our main gun. He’s great north to south, great subtle moves, but he's an attack-type runner. He runs quick and hard, not real big but he's really well put together."
Defensively, the Rebels have been in an odd front the last few seasons, mostly going with a 3-4 look but sometimes applying a 3-3 stack against the increasing amount of spread teams they face in the Bay State. There's enough spread looks in the conference now that the Rebels are switching to a 4-2-5 to combat the look, but also optimize the talents at defensive line.
Aidan Moore gives the Rebels a home run threat on the interior, with his combination of size and lacrosse-bred athleticism, while Nick Cordopatri and Chris Bender are threats off the edge. One of the more intriguing prospects is Noah Kung, a 6-foot, 215-pound nose guard with a sharp wrestling background who excels at hand-to-hand combat. Kung is potentially looking at The Citadel for college.
"He’s very hard to block, uses his hand well, sheds, swipes," Greener said. "We've used some hand-to-hand combat, martial arts stuff that the colleges have been using, and he's good at that. He reads pressure well, so he fights combo blocks well. In our scheme if we get combo blocked, we try to tie up both blockers without giving up ground, which frees up the linebackers, prevent their blockers from getting to [the second level] and he’s great at that. He's a great pressure guy, he gets the high-hat, kick=step, and gets off into his moves. He's very quick."
WALPOLE AT A GLANCE
Coach: Barry Greener (5th year, 39-7 overall)
Last season: 10-1
Returning starters: Five (four offense, one defense)
Key returnees: Connor Moriarty, Sr. RB/S; Will Bolster, Sr. QB; Noah Kung, Sr. C/NG; Matt Ordway, Jr. OG; Nick Cordopatri, Sr. OT/DL
Strengths: Offensive and defensive lines
Outlook: The Rebels must replace a loaded senior class from last fall’s 10-1 campaign, but Greener appears pretty confident in the fresh faces coming up in the program. It may take some time to get up to speed, but this is one of the deeper programs south of Boston when it comes to developing varsity-ready underclassmen. The biggest change will be the on the defensive side of the ball, where the Rebels are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 look similar to one popularized by Gary Patterson at TCU. The switch was made to better fit the looks they’ll see in the increasingly spread-oriented Bay State Conference, as well as optimize the depth of their talented defensive line, led by Kung and Cordopatri. Moriarty is the Rebels’ best overall player on both sides of the ball; and with the spread-oriented Rebels returning three starters on the offensive line, they will continue to pound the ball. Moriarty is a terrific fit for Greener’s zone scheme, a one-cut, north-south runner who accelerates quickly through holes. Keep an eye on two sophomores, Steve Cuqua and Lovenchi Salvant, to boost the running game as well.