Today, we re-visit our preseason picks for state champions and ask the question: stick with your pick, or go with somebody new?
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor
It’s been a few years since the “In DiBiaso We Trust” motto has been challenged as much as it has this year. The Crimson Tide have cleaned up a lot since the Xaverian loss, though exactly how much remains to be seen, on account of the weak league schedule they endured. At the end of the day, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else coming out of Division 1 North, and if it’s Xaverian they face for the state championship, I like coach John DiBiaso’s chances against Charlie Stevenson a second time around.
Preseason: Springfield Central
Now: Springfield Central
There’s a lot of quality candidates in this field – Mansfield, Leominster, Barnstable, Natick, King Philip, among others – but what it comes down to for me is volume at the skill positions. When you combine Ju’an Williams, Malik Johnson, Troy Morrow and Day Day Clemons on the perimeters, along with one of the best live arms in Monmouth-bound quarterback Cody Williams, there isn’t another program across Division 2 that can match up. Throw in a nasty defense, led by linebacker Kenneth Marshfall and tackle Kahlil Walker, and this is a tough out all around. In six years Valdamar Brower has turned an inner-city also-ran into one of the state’s most feared powers, and with this being his best squad yet, I expect the Golden Eagles to take home some hardware.
The Redmen were one of several state title favorites in D3 headed into the season, and they’ve done nothing to deter. If anything, they are now THE state championship favorite. Never mind that the Redmen are a football historian’s reverie when it comes to offensive formations. On names alone, this is one of the state’s deepest backfields, between James Sullivan, Eddie Matovu, Tom Casey and Johnny Aylward. They were the best team in the competitive MVC this year, and would very well be a contender in Division 2, maybe even Division 1.
It may very well be Doherty playing for a state title at Gillette Stadium when all is said and done, but for me it is simply too hard to overlook what the Dolphins are doing right now. They have hit their stride offensively, inverting some of their blocking schemes in the running game to create some havoc at the point of attack, and that has worked well for dual-threat QB Spencer Tyler. The ultimate X-factor here is junior athlete Michael Dunn, who lines up everywhere on offense (including QB) and is one of the better coverage cornerbacks in the 2015 class.
Now: Bishop Fenwick
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Auburn’s embarrassment of riches in the trenches the last few seasons, as most of us predicted a state title for the Rockets despite graduating 20 starters from their Super Bowl winning team a year ago. They are still in the hunt, but it’s simply too hard to overlook what Fenwick is doing right now. Led by bullish junior Rufus Rushins, the Crusaders’ rushing attack is simply dominant, and they are blowing teams out at historic proportions. Look for Fenwick to be raising some hardware in Foxborough come December.
Now: Latin Academy
Jon Baker’s season-ending injury changes everything for M-H, and I was all set to make a big case for Pope John Paul II before automatic qualifiers knocked the Lions out of playoff contention. This is one of the most wide-open fields across the state, so I guess going with the Dragons doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Kyle Dance is one of the more underappreciated quarterbacks in Eastern Mass., and I expect him to put on a show in his swan song.
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor
I’m still standing by my season-long prediction that the Red Raiders would win Division 1 North and somehow find their way to Gillette Stadium. I’m not going to waffle on that prediction, but this one has as much to do with another Catholic Conference as team as it does my pick to win it all (Xaverian). When Johnny Thomas went down with a season-ending knee injury, it opened the door in the Catholic Conference and Xaverian has done nothing but seize the moment. I like the Hawks to win the South and for Lowell to make its way to Gillette, providing they can get past that aforementioned Prep squad in their first-round playoff matchup this weekend. With that matchup in place though, I like the Hawks defense in the matchup with Lowell’s skill players on offense in that championship matchup.
Whichever teams wins this race very well might be the best team in the state. Encompassing all districts of the state, this is the deepest field entering the tournament, with an absolute murderer’s row in D2 South. That being said, I think a battle-tested from the South will win it all. Obviously, that’s not meant as a slight to the other teams I foresee coming out of the district races in North (Haverhill), Central (Leominster) and West (Springfield Central), who are truly among some of the top teams in the state, but I feel like this pick has been coming along since all the way back in Week 1. Mansfield’s uplifting victory at Dunbar (Md.) set a tone to a fantastic season for the Hornets to date and that date with destiny will be fulfilled on the Gillette Stadium turf.
Stumble a bit out of the block predicting the Knights to win the Davenport in the beginning. Now they’re still in the running D3 Southwest, but face a tough challenge out of the gate in Hingham. There’s also no guarantee whichever team emerges from the Northeast bracket (very well might be Oliver Ames) will make it to Gillette with a determined Plymouth South team looking to emerge from the Southeast bracket. Ultimately, it comes back to Tewksbury, however. With a three-headed rushing attack and defense led by Eddie Matovu, the Redmen will be the team celebrating with Gatorade baths on Super Saturday.
Hey, this one I’m sticking behind. Most teams across the state (let alone division) have matchup problems with Isaac Yiadom and Alfred Adarkwah on the periphery, and with a capable quarterback in Luke Brennan. Throw in a shifty back in Jahkari Carpenter and the Highlanders possess the most explosive offense in the division. Of course, all of this pick in contingent on Doherty past Quabbin in the first round – with a real potential for a barnburner.
Preseason: Cardinal Spellman
Now: Bishop Fenwick
I’m flip-flopping between Catholic Central teams here, going with the Crusaders in favor of Spellman. Simply stated, Fenwick has been downright dominant, averaging more than 43 points per game against 14 points surrendered. The Crusaders’ stiffest competition in their bracket could very well come a couple of league foes in first-round opponent St. Mary’s and Austin Prep. There’s also the possibility they could meet those aforementioned Cardinals down the line, and who wouldn’t like that?
Now: Boston Cathedral
We’ve talked throughout the season how injuries have altered some league and statewide championship races, and it’s hard not to lump Jon Baker’s season-ending injury and M/H into that conversation. Now, the Mohawks could still have a chance at the big pie, with Chris Ahl leading the way, but health has also been a factor for my new favorite. The Panthers are just getting up to speed after Kejonte Hickman – a hero of last year’s triumph at Gillette Stadium – missed the start of the season. With a deep and talented pool of underclassmen, Cathedral could be in store for a dynastic run in their division.
ESPN Boston correspondent
Division 1: Everett
Everett fixes the mistakes they made the first time around again Xaverian to capture the D1 crown.
Division 2: Leominster
Neil O'Connor leads the Blue Devils past No. 3 Springfield Central in the West-Central game, then past No.1 Mansfield for the state championship. But, would those two wins be enough to make Leominster No. 1 in the postseason ESPN Top-25?
Division 3: Tewksbury
Tewksbury looks like the only truly dominant team in Division 3, though the Northeast isn't as user-friendly as it looks with Marblehead and Danvers looming. Plymouth South could present some issues down the road as well, but it's just tough to see anybody beating the Redmen.
Division 4: Doherty
I think D-Y will present the Highlanders with their biggest test yet, but the combination of Isaac Yiadom and Alfred Adarkwah at receiver is too much for the rest of D4. Doherty takes it.
Division 5: Bishop Fenwick
Fenwick is rolling people up in the North, and I just don't see another dominant team in the field capable of knocking the Crusaders off.
Division 6: Blackstone Valley Tech
The Beavers are legit, but D6 Central should actually be a fairly competitive bracket with No. 1 seed Littleton and 3-seed West Boylston. Whoever emerges from that fray will be battle tested enough to win the whole thing, and I believe that will be BVT.