Ahead of Saturday's six MIAA Football State Championships at Gillette Stadium, today we are bringing back our "Tale of the Tape" series to break down each participating team's matchups headed into the game.
In the Division 6 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at Central champ Littleton and South champ Cohasset, respectively.
Division 6 State Championship
LITTLETON (12-0) vs. COHASSET (11-1)
at Gillette Stadium, 9 a.m.
When Littleton has the ball Keep your eyes peeled and your feet on alert, because the Tigers can score at will. They lead all participating teams Saturday in scoring, averaging 40.9 points per game. In the blink of an eye, the Tigers were up 46-0 in the second quarter against Turners Falls, in the Central/West semifinal, before the Indians knew what hit them. As is typical of many lower-division small schools, a handful of versatile athletes provide the damage in multiple spots.
Perhaps nobody better exemplifies this than senior running back Travis Bassett (1,025 rushing yards, 564 receiving yards, 29 total TDs), one of two 1,000-yard rushers along with quarterback Alex McLaughlin (2,557 total yards, 18 TDs). In short-yardage situations the Tigers will go with heavy, double-wing packages, and Bassett can churn out the extra inches in between the tackles. But he is at his most dangerous when he’s put out in space, whether it’s on a speed sweep, a screen pass, or even split out wide as a receiver for a deep vertical route.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, has one of the more underrated arms of any of the teams left. Also a star on the baseball diamond, he recorded a 15-strikeout no-hitter last spring, and his arm strength has translated to the gridiron. Like several other dual threat signal-callers playing on Saturday, McLaughlin is elusive in the open field. What may separate him from others is his vertical leap (Seriously, check out these highlights from last season). With a line led by senior center Andy McGregor, and a number of other perimeter targets including Pete Murphy and Conor Bassett, the Tigers have the ability to put up more fireworks at Gillette.
When Cohasset has the ball: Anybody who’s been around a lacrosse field in the last year or so has known about Skippers junior Cole Kissick (a Richmond commit), but it’s been a breakout season for him on the gridiron. With 1,400-plus-and-counting rushing yards on the season, Kissick has been the man to watch in Cohasset’s backfield. But a foil has emerged in recent weeks, with senior Ryan Gillis making a mark in the playoffs. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound bowling ball of a back has a low center of gravity and is tough to tackle in the open field. Gillis has gone for 100 yards rushing in two of the last four weeks, in addition to an 80-yard performance against St. Clement in the Eastern Mass. final. Gillis could be primed to see a similar workload against Littleton with his ability to run in between the tackles.
With balance achieved in the backfield in recent weeks, that has allowed quarterback Chris Haggerty (1,086 passing yards, 14 TD, 5 INT) to open up play-action and an effective intermediate passing game, with Haggerty completing passes at a clip of 58 percent.
When Littleton is on defense: Cohasset’s offense is throttled to life with Kissick’s impressive running, and stopping him should be Littleton’s primary objective. This isn’t an incredibly big Littleton defense, but they are fast, they play downhill, and they fill gaps responsibly. McGregor is a disruptive force on the interior at tackle, with six sacks and 56 tackles to his name. Behind him, keep an eye on a trio of backers –- leading tackler Matt Jackson (99 tackles, 3.5 sacks), Ryan Clark (80 tackles, 2 INT) and Murphy (2 INT) -– to shore up the front seven.
When Cohasset goes to their air, quarterback Chris Haggerty will have to keep his eyes on where Travis Bassett lines up. The senior is also one of the Tigers’ top defensive players, one of their top shutdown corners, able to take a top option out of the game for long stretches with his closing speed and field awareness.
When Cohasset is on defense: I came away impressed from watching the Skippers’ athletic and opportunistic secondary in the Eastern Mass. final against St. Clement. Matched up primarily on the Anchormen’s All-State-caliber wideout Khaneil Bruce, Skippers senior cornerback Rocco Laugelle fared well in mixed man and zone coverages, tallying three passes defended.
However, the Skippers defense is set by junior linebacker Matt Froio, who leads Cohassset with 107 tackles to date. Froio also showed good instincts in pass coverage, hauling in an interception on a slant route against St. Clement, so McLaughlin will have to keep tabs on Froio patrolling the center of the field. But honus will fall to senior Mickey Barry (76 tackles) and the Skippers defensive line setting the edge and keeping contain, ensuring Bassett and McLaughlin doesn’t feast in the ground game.