Division 6 State Championship
LITTLETON (12-0) vs. COHASSET (11-1)
Brendan Hall: Watching Littleton on film, this much is clear: Alex McLaughlin can sling that ball, and Travis Bassett is a terrific space player. It’s the guys in between that will be the difference, and the Tigers have some impressive two-way grinders such as Matt Jackson, Pete Murphy, Ryan Clark and Andy McGregor. Still, Cole Kissick is a major factor here, and he could be in for a big day on the ground. Sparks could fly here. Littleton, 35-28.
Scott Barboza: I think folks in attendance will get their money’s worth in this game. For schools of their given size, there is a good amount of athleticism to go around on both of these roster, so this could be a really sneaky great game. Kissick has been a major breakout performer this year, but Ryan Gillis can also run for tough yards. Once the Skippers get going on the ground, that opens things up for quarterback Chris Haggerty to catch fire. Cohasset, 27-20.
Division 5 State Championship
NORTHBRIDGE (10-2) vs. BISHOP FENWICK (12-0)
Hall: Quick side storyline to note here: If the Rams win here, it would be the first Grandfather-grandson coach-quarterback tandem to take a Super Bowl title, with head coach Ken LaChapelle’s grandson Koby Schofer leading the charges under center. Anyways, we could be headed for a war of attrition in this one. Charles St. Pierre has been a monster in the trenches for Fenwick, and going the other way Northbridge outweighs many at the point of attack with a line that includes seniors Tom Tabur (6-3, 285), Connor Gatto (6-1, 290) and Zach Livingston (6-2, 270). Something’s got to give. LaChapelle, he of the 300-win club, is a pioneer of passing in Massachusetts high school football folklore. But they’ve actually been relying on the run a lot more, with Schofer pulling most of the load. You can’t factor our Nick Bona and Rufus Rushins in the Crusaders’ option and veer game, either, but I wonder if Rushins only sees the field on offense due to his recovery from a dislocated elbow – and, if so, how much that impacts the trench warfare. This one could go either way. Northbridge, 26-22.
Barboza: For teams that operate predominately out of spread formations, both these squads have some beef up on the lines. Gatto and Tabur are impressive linemen for the Rams, while St. Pierre might be one of the more underrated linemen in the state this year. Given that, I think those matchups will dictate this contest. With Fenwick’s penchant for running dive options with bruising back Rufus Rushins, it comes down to how the Crusaders execute, running into the teeth of the Rams’ strength on defense. While Fenwick quarterback Nick Bona will get his – equally adept making plays downfield with arm as he is with his feet – this is Schofer’s statewide coming out party. Northbridge, 34-27.
Division 4 State Championship
DOHERTY (11-1) vs. DENNIS-YARMOUTH (10-2)
Hall: Aside from the D2 Final, this could be the highest-scoring affair of the afternoon. I don’t know if D-Y has matched up with a receiving corps as talented as Doherty’s trio of Isaac Yiadom, Alfred Adarkwah and Mitch Celaj. Conversely, I don’t know if Doherty has faced a team with D-Y’s brand of speed – what the Dolphins lack in size, they typically make up for with their NASCAR pace. Something’s got to give here, but the key matchup may be wherever the Dolphins place Michael Dunn, one of Eastern Mass.’s elite coverage corners. My gut says to stick him on Yiadom, but do you risk leaving the 6-foot-4 Adarkwah and his prodigious catching radius on an island? The guy has eight catches for six touchdowns in four playoff games, after all. Doherty, 31-29.
Barboza: This game offers some of the most intriguing game-scheming questions presented on Super Saturday. How does D-Y cope with Yiadom’s ability to stretch the field? And how do you cover Adarkwah inside the red zone? I’d expect a big game from a couple of underappreciated Dolphins linebackers in Chip Evangelista and L.K Metz, helping in run support – which D-Y must respect as well with Jahkari Carpenter coming out of the backfield. One of the more difficult games to predict on the day, but I’m going to stick with it and follow through with my preseason prediction the Highlanders would reign. Doherty, 35-31.
Division 3 State Championship
TEWKSBURY (12-0) vs. PLYMOUTH SOUTH (10-2)
Hall: Where do you want to start with this Tewksbury offense? Imagine being a defensive coordinator trying to scout for all of what the Redmen are throwing out there – literally, it’s the oral history of American football. Even on two weeks notice it is a bear to handle. But more importantly, what makes it all click is the versatility of guys like Kevin Dick, Tom Casey, James Sullivan, Johnny Aylward and Eddie Matovu. Defensively, I expect the Redmen to load the box and muck it up. Eventually, that will wear down the Panthers, and Tewksbury takes home its first Super Bowl title since 1996 after leaving Gillette with bitter taste in its mouth two years ago. Tewksbury, 27-13.
Barboza: There could be more pileups in this heavyweight bout as a mountain road in an ice storm. Both of these teams, while undertaking very different approaches, thrive playing a physical brand of football. While the Panthers bank on Dylan Oxsen’s ability to carry defenders downfield, running behind a punishing lead blocker in Matt Bremis out of the I, Tewksbury runs an encyclopedic, amorphous offense that emphasizes the strengths of Aylward, Sullivan and Matovu. And speaking of Matovu, it’s time the entire state gets to see perhaps the state’s best linebacker. This feels like a coinflip to me though. A turnover or a special teams miscue could determine its fate. Plymouth South, 14-13.
MIAA Division 2 State Championship
ST. JOHN'S (9-3) vs. MANSFIELD (12-0)
Hall: Mansfield has faced some fast teams this season, but I’m not sure they’ve faced any team that wants to play as fast as the Pioneers, who seek to line up and snap the ball as soon as the play is whistled dead. And make no mistake, losing junior tight end Brendan Hill for this game is going to have a big impact. His mere presence opens up the field for the rest of the Hornets’ weapons, letting guys like Mike Hershman and Miguel Villar-Perez do what they to best – make kids miss in space. With Hill in, the Pioneers’ defense led by Davon Jones has its hands full. Without him, this may come down to who has the ball last. And if it does, all bets are off. St. John’s, 38-31.
Barboza: Two prodigious offenses. The loss of Hill will affect Mansfield – no matter what – but there’s no better game-schemer in the state than Hornets head coach Mike Redding, and I have a feeling he might pull a little Jedi mind trick on all of us. Minus the Hornets’ leading receiver, it could be a big day for running backs Chris Buchanan and Miguel Villar-Perez. Mansfield’s line, while not the biggest in the state, has been as consistent as a Swiss watch, they’ve kept quarterback Kyle Wisnieski upright and untouched throughout. This one’s going to get wild, so sit back and watch the fireworks display. Mansfield, 47-42.
MIAA Division 1 State Championship
CENTRAL CATHOLIC (10-1) vs. XAVERIAN (10-1)
Hall: Any time you lose a player as talented as Shayne Kaminski, it hurts. Matter of fact, it stings. But with adversity comes opportunity, and this is a chance for some of Xaverian’s talented underclassmen to step up and have a huge game. The long-term potential for guys like sophomore D’Aundre Holmes and freshman Mekhi Henderson is high, and I think we’ll see that Saturday at Gillette. Plus, there is always the Joe Gaziano factor. I expect him to finish what’s been a monster junior season with a career-defining game, in typical Xaverian fashion – low-scoring, knock-em-down, drag-em-out slobberknocker. Xaverian, 13-10.
Barboza: Injuries taketh away, but the Hawks also will welcome some replenished bodies back to the sideline. Running back Noah Sorrento is the X-factor for Xaverian, bolstering a badly depleted depth chart, which saw leading rusher Shayne Kaminski go down with an injury on Thanksgiving Day. Also, D.J. Sperzel is expected to return as well, after missing the second half of the season; he provides a dynamic foil to downfield threat A.J. King. Let’s not forget about this tremendous Central secondary though, as well as linebacker Markus Edmunds who produced a mind-boggling 19 tackles (3 for loss) in the Raiders’ win over Everett. But, ultimately, Hawks quarterback Jake Farrell has shown a flair for the dramatic this season and his legs will carry the Hawks to victory. Xaverian, 22-14.