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Quick-hit thoughts from Semifinal Saturday

Some quick hit thoughts from this Saturday’s state semifinal football action:

1. For all of the beautiful feats of athleticism in the St. John’s vs. Springfield Central thriller, months from now when I revisit this game, the lasting image I may end up having won’t be Davon Jones’ high-pointing touchdown grabs. It might not be Andrew Smiley’s one-handed tip-drill pick to seal it at the end of the game. It might be that of the kid who delivered that interception –- Central quarterback Cody Williams –- on all fours on the sideline in almost disbelief, towel draped over his head, buried in the turf, pleading out loud to God for one last chance to win the ball game as St. John’s kneeled out the clock.

It was an incredibly raw moment. But for me, it’s those kinds of intimate moments that make high school sports so worth covering. There is so much tender energy in high school sports, so much organic emotion that is unique all its own. Williams is a Monmouth commit, one of the finest quarterbacks in Massachusetts and a likely finalist for our “Mr. Football” award; his playing days are far from over, his best days are yet to come. But more than the stats or the feats of athleticism, it is those rare moments of raw passion that I’ll remember the most –- a kid so emotionally-charged in a moment of agony that he can’t even stand up straight.

To me, that’s not pain. That’s pride. That's passion. And you can never fault the Williams family for having too much of either.

2. We’ll have more in the coming days on the “play or don’t play” Thanksgiving dilemma now hanging over the 12 teams playing in Dec. 7’s state finals, but one interesting quip I wanted to note from the St. John’s post-game huddle as it pertains to this. Making note of the long and lengthy history between his Pioneers and St. Peter-Marian, one of the nation’s oldest Catholic school Thanksgiving rivalries, head coach John Andreoli told his players “I don’t care if it’s in a parking lot, we line up and play them…Enjoy that game, we’re going to play like we play as a team. And then we’re going to get ready for next Saturday at Gillette. That’s a great week to have as a high school football player.”

Quarterback Andrew Smiley didn’t know if he’d be playing or not, but was hopeful, saying “I have no idea, but hopefully I get to play. I’ve got a bunch of buddies on St. Peter-Marian, so it would be fun to go up against them.”

Obviously there’s a lot of deep emotions invested in some of these Thanksgiving rivalries, which should make the next 96 hours interesting.

3. Interesting sequence of events in the D6 Central/West Final between Littleton and Turners Falls. Littleton is up 52-12 in the fourth quarter and begins kneeling out the clock with seven minutes to go. They turn the ball over on downs, Turners puts together a scoring drive with three minutes to go, then recovers an onside kick and scores again with 1:46 to play. One team was clearly overmatched from the get-go (Littleton led 46-12 at half). Obviously, these two coaching staffs felt very differently about how the fourth quarter should’ve been played.

4. Some really good matchups on tap for Gillette, and lots of subplots within those matchups, but one of the most intriguing for me will be how Dennis-Yarmouth decides to defend Doherty’s high-octane passing attack – or, more specifically, where will Michael Dunn line up? Do they have him mark Boston College commit Isaac Yiadom, the super-athlete who gets used in a variety of ways on the perimeter? Or do they line him up on 6-foot-4 goal line threat Alfred Adarkwah, who’d hold a significant height advantage, and has torched defenses who choose to leave him on an island (eight catches for six touchdowns in these playoffs)? Or, do they not matchup at all? Unique dilemma for the Dolphins.

5. Twitter follower Mike Long posed this question to me earlier tonight: Has Mansfield faced a team yet this year with St. John’s “Blur” tempo? More and more teams around Massachusetts are beginning to use the no-huddle, but even the uber-quick, 10-seconds-or-less no-huddle style popularized by Oregon is somewhat uncommon around these parts. Outside of Lowell or St. John’s, I haven’t seen too many teams try to push the tempo at hyper-speed. Wondering if this should be a concern for Mansfield, because they’ll be the favorites heading into this D2 State Final matchup; and lately, St. John’s has been playing the underdog role like a snake hiding in tall grass.

6a. Northbridge coach Ken LaChapelle is one of only three coaches in MIAA history to reach the 300-win club, and as Jim Wilson of the Telegram & Gazette pointed out earlier tonight, he’s had just three losing seasons: 2005 (3-8), 1999 (5-6), and LaChapelle’s first season back in 1976 (4-5-1). That's remarkable. Throw in 10 Super Bowl titles, and literally some of the best teams to ever come through Central Mass. (the 2002 squad led by Danny Brown and Matt Krevis comes to mind in particular), and you’ve got one of the proudest small-school football traditions across the state. Have to imagine the Rams will bring a pretty cool crowd to the state final, after a gutsy win over Hoosac Valley.

6b. You’ll have to wait a week and a half for my State Championship picks, but let’s put it this way. Central Mass went 4-0 today, and I would not be surprised to see the district go 4-0 at Gillette.