Some leftover quick-hit thoughts from last weekend's action of football:
1a. If St. John's Prep running back Johnathan Thomas -- who left the second half of Saturday's game against Everett with a knee injury -- is out for any extended period of time, the Eagles might be in trouble. Much of the offense funnels through Thomas, and with plays like this it's easy to see why. In my 10 years covering high school football in Massachusetts, I have no problem saying he is the best I've ever seen.
If there's a silver lining, it's that this could open things up for two promising juniors on the perimeter, receiver Owen Rocket and tight end Jake Burt. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Burt has a high ceiling of potential, even drawing comparisons to Prep legend Jon Loyte, and has been a matchup problem in the short to intermediate passing game thus far. Rocket is a smooth route-runner, able to weave in and out of traffic and exploit coverage holes.
You obviously cannot replace a special kid like Thomas, but perhaps this could make the Eagles more unpredictable.
1b. It now bears asking. If Thomas -- who seemed to be running away with the ESPN Boston Mr. Football award at his current clip -- is out for the considerable future, is the race for title of the state's best player wide open again? Lots of names to consider here, most notably Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, Natick quarterback Troy Flutie, Leominster quarterback Neil O'Connor, Plymouth South running back Dylan Oxsen, and Millis/Hopedale two-way lineman Jon Baker.
2. An historic year for Mansfield continues to get better, as they ascend to the No. 1 spot in our statewide poll for the first time in our four seasons of coverage. As impressive as the North Attleborough win was, the upset of Baltimore-area powerhouse Dunbar continues to strengthen with the passing weeks. As Dave Redding points out on Mansfield football's website, (www.mansfieldfootball.org) since losing to Mansfield on Sept. 6, the Poets have won three straight outscored their opposition 136-18.
3a. If you missed the thrilling conclusion to the Fitchburg-St. John's of Shrewsbury battle on Saturday afternoon, you missed one of the best endings to a high school football game in years. Fitchburg quarterback Darius Flowers hit Manny Payton for a 16-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds to go, then tailback Julio Gonzalez ran in the two-point try to give the Red Raiders a 15-14 lead. The ensuing kickoff, a high-hopping squib, was then returned 65 yards to the house by Mike McGillicuddy for walk-off 20-15 Pioneers win.
I'm not sure Fitchburg has endured a special teams heartbreak like that since the 1994 Division 1 Super Bowl, when North Middlesex pulled off a Boise State-esque fake punt for the 50-yard game-winning touchdown run, a play forever known in Central Mass. folklore as simply the "Norman Special".
3b. If there's anything to take away from that game, besides the incredible gumption of McGillicuddy, it's that much like Barnstable in Division 2 South, Fitchburg is not a team you want to draw in the first round of Division 2 Central action. Their defensive front four is impressive, and they controlled the line of scrimmage against St. John's for much of the afternoon.
4. There's a lot of talk early in the ISL season about running backs and linebackers, but keep an eye on Belmont Hill junior quarterback Harry Kraft. He had a field day on Saturday in a 38-11 win over Groton, completing 17 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns, and running in a fifth score.
5. A year ago, I mentioned the Cape & Islands area as an area of particular interest for under-the-radar talent, with a number of prospects earning Division 1 roster spots: Nantucket's Terrel Correia (UMass), Nauset's Derrick and Nathan Holmes (Rhode Island) and Dakota Girard (Brown), Mashpee's Jordan Keli'inui and Zak Orcutt (UMass), Dennis-Yarmouth's Joe Tyo (UMass) and Barnstable's Nick Peabody (Princeton), Andrew Ellis (UMass) and D.J. Crook (Penn State).
The Cape appears to be brewing again. Barnstable receiver/cornerback Derek Estes is one of the state's breakout stars of the first half of the season, making back-breaking plays on both sides of the ball in upsets of BC High and Xaverian. Two of his teammates, running back/safety Hayden Murphy and quarterback Kristian Lucashensky, deserve some praise for the way they've improved since the season-opening rout by D-Y.
Further down Route 6, keep an eye on two prospects from the lowest classification of MIAA football, Division 6. Defending D5 Super Bowl champ Upper Cape Tech is looking good with its flex offense, and at the forefront is Jon Dumont, who had 26 carries for 216 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's win over Nantucket. At Pope John Paul II, they might have one of the most unheralded 2015 prospects in quarterback Ryan Barabe. Through four games the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Yarmouth resident is among the state's most efficient passers, completing 68 percent of his throws for 776 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception. A good chunk of the Lions' plays involve option routes for their receivers, which to me demonstrates a lot of maturity when you consider Barabe's completion percentage.