Northeast 7v7: BB&N claims East title

John McGuirk for ESPNBoston.com

PEABODY, Mass. -- What a difference a week makes.

In the finale of last Saturday's North Regional of the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 tournament, Buckingham, Browne & Nichols walked off of Eustis Field in Exeter, N.H. in disgust and disappointment after suffering a last-second loss to Billerica.

Today, the Knights had their opportunity to claim redemption and did not disappoint in their task. Taking part in the Northeast 7-on-7 East Regional, BB&N played its way through the preliminary rounds before earning a spot in the final against Milton. After an easy victory over Watertown in the semifinals, the Knights had all they could handle against the Wildcats.

Through 20 minutes of regulation, nothing between the two clubs had been settled. In fact, it would take two overtimes before BB&N eventually prevailed, 44-43, to capture the crown at Bishop Fenwick's Donaldson Field.

The Knights will now take part in Wednesday's 10-team New England Championship, field to be played here beginning at 4 p.m.

"It was tough last week losing on the last play but our guys recovered very well and did a great job today," said BB&N second year head coach Mike Willey. "I'm really proud of them. We really believe here at BB&N that winning is important. It is important to win the classroom, it's important to win on the football field and it's important to win no matter when you are competing. We take it serious and it is very important to us. We feel an event like this one is important for our skill guys to come out and compete over the summer."

The Knights managed to stay one step ahead of a Milton squad, who made it quite clear they will be a force to reckoned with this season in the highly competitive Herget Division of the Bay State Conference. The Wildcats are now under the direction of first year coach Steve Dembowski, who, after 21 years of guiding Swampscott, decided to take the Milton position last March.

"We always want to come out and win," said Knights wide receiver/defensive end Jay Symonds. "After last week we had a bit of a chip on our shoulders. We wanted to come out today and play hard and we were determined to win this. This is a big relief and a huge weight off of our shoulders."

The Knights finished 4-4 in ISL play a year ago and have not qualified for a NEPSAC bowl since 2010, when they upended Rye Country Day in the Jack Etter Bowl, under then-head coach John Papas.

"We have a lot of confidence going into this year," said BB&N first year quarterback Jeff Costello, who transferred here following stellar career at Lexington High School. "It was actually pretty tough leaving Lexington because they had built an offense basically for me in regards to the spread. But just knowing the athleticism here was a key point. We had good athletes at Lexington but not of the same caliber as it is here."

Adds halfback/defensive back Graeme Davis, "We have been able to attain a lot of flow with Jeff so far this summer. It's all good right now. The goal for us here is to win the ISL."

Pingree looking to rebound

Had it not been for a rash of injuries throughout last season, the Highlanders, more than likely, would have continue their string of winning seasons. But that was not the case as the injury bug took up residence on the South Hamilton campus, and as a result, Pingree finished last year 4-5.

With that now behind them, the Highlanders are determined to return to the way things use to be. From 2008-2013, Pingree finished with a mark above .500. That, in itself, is quite incredible when you consider this school only started up football 10 years ago.

Under the direction of first and only head coach Chris Powers, Pingree looks to have the intangibles in place to make some noise once again this season.

Led by quarterback Griffin Beal, wide receiver Justin Assad and lineman Nino Leone, expect the Highlanders to make a serious run at a NEPSAC bowl berth. Unlike the majority of prep school programs throughout New England, Pingree is not a boarding school nor does it have any post graduates on the roster. But the one thing it does have is a number of young, determined student-athletes who want to put themselves in the same conversation with the likes of such successful programs as Governor's Academy, Phillips Exeter Academy, Phillips Andover Academy and Lawrence Academy.

"Without the dedicated, talented kids who buy into what we are doing, then would be nothing happening for us out on the field," said Powers, who is 49-19 lifetime here. "We have some good, talented athletes who have bought into the program and have made good names for themselves and the program over the years. Our biggest selling point, besides getting a sound education, is that at the end of the day you are going home to be with your family. I think for some families that is a very important piece as opposed to going off and being at a boarding school. I think that is what sets us apart a little bit. Also with us, is we run an uptempo spread offense which is attractive for quarterbacks and wide receivers. It is an exciting brand of football when you watch it."

This year the main emphasis is to remain healthy which, in turn, allows key personnel to do their thing out on the field. Another concern from the past has been player attitude which has not been as strong as some would prefer it to be.

"Last year we suffered a lot of injuries early on," said Leone, who stands 6-5, 340 pounds and has already received an offer from UConn. "This year the focus is on keeping our guys healthy and keep as many good legs on the field for as long as we can. This year we need to come out firing hard right from the get-go. All of us have worked on our team discipline and I think we have the right attitude that we need heading into this season."

Under Powers' tutelage, the Highlanders have appeared in three postseason championships. In 2009 and 2010, they took home back to back bowl titles. The idea is to bring another one back with them during this upcoming campaign.

"All of us captains sat down with Coach Powers and we said that we wanted to get back to our old ways and continue to set the foundation on what Pingree football is built upon," Assad said. "That includes planning workouts, being there for the summer practices and even team dinners."

Said Beal, "the biggest thing with us is attitude during practice. We've got to really focus on what we are doing. Last year I think we had a bit too much fun at times during practice. I think this year is going to be a lot better in regards to our overall attitude."

Playing in the highly combative Evergreen-Clements League is certainly no picnic. Week in and week out, the Highlanders have no breathers on the schedule. Yet that doesn't mean they cannot control the league and their own destiny as well.

"It's a great conference," said Powers. "I think more people are becoming aware of the level of play in the prep school world and they see just how competitive it really is and just how competitive our conference is from top to bottom. There are no easy games on our schedule."

Bouchard aims to bring Salem back

Last year the football Gods were unkind to first year coach Matt Bouchard and the Salem Witches. This program, fortified with such a solid history, finished the past year 0-11. Obviously, going into this season there is no place to go but up.

Bouchard, a former Salem player, knew the challenges in front of him upon accepting the position. A new coaching staff, with a new philosophy, does not always show results immediately. In Salem's case, things need to take a little time before results appear.

"The biggest thing for me this year is attitude," said Bouchard, who served as head coach at Georgetown High School before moving over to Bishop Fenwick serving as its offensive coordinator prior to his return to Salem. "We started to see an attitude shift during the second half of last season and it was a grass roots type of thing from the underclassmen on up."

The attitude change appears to have remained intact for this upcoming season. The Witches, showing much confidence, made it to the round of 16 during Saturday's Under Armour East Regional before falling to Milton.

"Last year, with a new coach, we were going though a rebuilding process,'' said senior center/defensive lineman Ed Duran. "Coach told us throughout the past year that we just needed time. This year we are starting to adapt to things a lot more."

Senior guard/defensive end Bailey Skeffington agrees with Duran and says what this team was able to learn from last year will play an vital role in the Witches progressions moving forward.

"Obviously, it wasn't the way we wanted to finish last year," he said. "I felt bad for our seniors and I feel that what happened has a lot to do with the motivation we are using for ourselves this year. We're playing with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders this year. We tell one another that things can't get any worse than last year so now we have something to prove. It's always hard when you have a new coaching staff in place, but now we have had a year under them and we know how things are suppose to be run and we know what is expected from all of us."

During its hey day, the Witches were a true force in Eastern Mass. football, having appeared in three Super Bowls between 1974 and 1999, with much of that coming under the direction of Hall of Fame head coach Ken Perrone. But in the last 10 years, Salem has fallen on hard times. The Witches have had just one winning season during that span. It is now time for this year's group to start the rebuilding process of this one-time legendary program.

"I think you are beginning to see this year's group having a better understanding of the steps they need to take," said Bouchard. "The key is a positive attitude and if that cornerstone is broken then it's not going to work. I think we are at a point now where we have it. So the next step is to be competitive. Last year we were competitive for portions of games but it was very inconsistent. This year we are looking for more consistency. If we get that then there is a bright future for this program. But it takes a couple of years to get that foundation built. Right now, some of the pieces are moving faster than others."

Couture ready to control

Tony Couture realizes he has a lot on his plate as he prepares for his first season as head football coach at Chicopee Comp. The former Colt player and assistant coach was handed the keys after Marc Schuerfeld stepped down.

Playing in the difficult Suburban League, the Colts are hopeful they can get over the hump and, in turn, become one of the elite programs in Western Mass. Make no mistake about it, Couture certainly has the proper mindset in seeing that played out.

"I think in general I'm going to be a little more aggressive as a head coach," said Couture, who is also Comp's girls varsity basketball coach and served as offensive coordinator under Schuerfeld. "We've been running the no huddle offense with the main philosophy on being able to maximize the number of plays in a game. As a team, we've been right there the past few years but haven't quite put it all together for consecutive years."

The Colts have won their league in two of the last three years but exited quickly once the postseason began. Their last trip to the Super Bowl came in 2006 when they defeated Auburn in the Division 2A tilt. That also happened to be Couture's first year on the coaching staff. The big question is can Comp discover greener pastures again in the not to distant future? Couture seems to think so.

"I am excited about this year's team," Couture said. "We have a lot coming back and pretty much all of our skill guys back. We have a new quarterback (junior Trevor Johnson) who replaces Mike Whitsett Jr. Mike was an unbelievable player but with Trevor, he is a very smart kid with a very strong arm. Overall, I think this should be a pretty good year for us."

Defensively, the Colts will be under the direction of former Westfield State assistant Graham Raymond, who will be their new defensive coordinator. Under Couture's watch, he expects the defense to take more charge of things than in previous seasons.

"Now, being head coach, you need to focus on everything," he said. "Instead of just doing my weekly game plans with offense, I now will be overseeing the defense and special teams. In the past we have had a bend but don't break kind of defense. But this year we plan to be more active in regards of making big plays and not letting opposing offenses get comfortable against us like before."