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 1 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at North champ Central Catholic and South champ Xaverian, respectively.
MIAA Division 1 State Championship
CENTRAL CATHOLIC (10-1) vs. XAVERIAN (10-1)
at Gillette Stadium, 3:30 p.m.
When Central Catholic has the ball: Perhaps nobody better exemplifies the Raiders’ attitude than senior wide receiver Cody Demers, the Merrimack Valley Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. In the Division 1 North Final against Everett, Demers took a series of brutal blows from the Crimson Tide’s punishing linebackers, including one on kickoff that left him sidelined for several plays. But by the end of the game, it was Demers with the last laugh, carving through one of the state’s top secondaries for the game-winning touchdown – and a program-defining win, punching their first ticket to a Division 1 title game in a decade in a half.
Knock them down seven times, they get up eight. That’s been the motto with these Raiders, who have gone toe-to-toe in physical battle with some of the state’s top teams. And with a backfield led by UNH commit D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie (12 TDs) and change-of-pace back Markus Edmunds (10), along with smoothly consistent dual-threat quarterback Mike Milano (13 TD passes), the Raiders can methodically wear a defense down.
In the trenches, the Raiders will have to find a way to neutralize star defensive end Joe Gaziano, but keep an eye on senior guard Joe Brown. The 6-foot-1, 292-pounder has been one of the state’s top interior linemen, maintaining good leverage on some of the region’s top linebackers and demonstrating a nasty finish in running game.
When Xaverian has the ball: Of all the teams affected by injuries coming out of Thanksgiving Day, the Hawks offense was affected the most.
Hawks leading rusher Shayne Kaminski was lost for Saturday's state championship game, as well as another key contributor to the backfield in fullback Kenny Kern. To make matters worse, Xaveiran's running back depth was further depleted by a knee injury to sophomore John Dean, as suffered during its Catholic Conference-clinching win over St. John's Prep.
Given that dire scenario, the Hawks' offensive hopes will largely fall to Noah Sorrento, who, himself, is recovering from an injury and hasn't played in more than a month. Sorrento has been cleared to play for Saturday and will see a lion's share of the carries. Of course, that isn't to mention the playmaking ability of quarterback Jake Farrell in the ground game. Farrell has a penchant for delivering in the clutch, evidenced by a backbreaking 25-yard touchdown run on fourth and 11 in the Hawks win at Everett earlier this year.
Farrell will also be happy to see D.J. Sperzel return to the field this weekend. Sperzel, a lacrosse commit who suffered a knee injury at Barnstable, returns and instantly adds another layer to Xaverian's passing game beyond A.J. King's ability to take the top off the defense. The Hawks will have to take shots downfield to stretch out a talented Central secondary.
When Central Catholic is on defense: As the highest profile of the bunch, Drummond-Mayrie garners most of the attention at safety – and perhaps deservedly so, when you watch him play. The senior has been terrific in run support, setting the edge with sharp angle pursuit, and rarely lets the play get behind him when teams go vertical in the passing game.
But the back seven overall has been fantastic over the second half of the season, with junior Michael Balsamo turning in stellar junior season paired alongside Drummond-Mayrie at safety. At the linebacker positions, you will not find a more aggressive player in run support than Edmunds, who recorded 19 tackles in the win over Everett. Elsewhere in the linebacking corps, Demers has become a pleasant surprise this fall, while Jon Parsons is adept in both run support and pass coverage.
When Xaverian is on defense: For as talented as Central's secondary might be, the Hawks are equally as impressive -- and young. Freshman Mehki Henderson has spent the majority of the season on an island in man coverage and has acquitted himself well against top flight competition. Damion Wood is a ball-hawking safety with a knack for pulling down interceptions at crucial junctures of games. Junior Ernest Simon has made great strides in the second half of the season as well.
With Kern on the mend, expect sophomore D'Aundre Holmes -- son of Patriots Pro-Bowler Vince Wilfork -- to hold an increased responsibility at middle linebacker.
But, all of this fails to mention the heart and soul of the Hawks' defense -- junior Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Joe Gaziano. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound edge rusher has been double-teamed and held on just about every down this season, but that hasn't prevented Gaziano -- also a member of Xaverian's Div. 1 state title champion lacrosse team last spring -- from raining down havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Gaziano's efforts at strong side defensive end are supplemented by another capable pass rusher in Nick Colantuoni.