FOXBOROUGH, Mass.- Late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division 1 state championship game, Central Catholic was driving the field in a last-ditch effort to cut the Xaverian lead and give itself a punchers chance at a comeback.
The Raiders came out with three receivers to the right, with ESPN Boston Mr. Football award finalist Steven Jackson in the middle. At the snap, Jackson ran up the field while Mathias Villafane, who was lined up as the inside receiver, ran a short out route.
Coby Tippett, another Mr. Football finalist, was defending on the play. Initially, as the outside defender, he dropped back into coverage. Suddenly, he came out of his backpedal and broke on the ball. He timed it perfectly, arriving at the ball before Villafane and taking it to the house for the 80-plus yard touchdown.
“I saw the slot run a slide and I could kind of see out of the corner of my eye when I was going back in coverage that the quarterback was kind of staring at him, looking down for the checkdown, so I broke on it and I made a play on it,” he said.
That play was a microcosm of how the second half went for Central Catholic. After coming out of the gates with two first-quarter touchdowns, it was stymied by the Xaverian defense for the rest of the night. The Hawks put up 31 unanswered points on its way to a second state championship in as many years.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Tippett said. “The first half really didn’t go our way. The second half, we wanted to make a statement and really pound those guys and take them out of this game. We played a hard-fought 20 minutes of football in the second half. I couldn’t thank these guys enough.”
Coming into Saturday’s game, much anticipation was shared for a potential Tippett-Jackson defensive back-wide receiver matchup. How would the Xaverian defense choose to defend the shifty receiver and what would that mean for the rest of Central’s offensive weapons?
The answer to the first part of the question is: a multitude of ways. Occasionally, Tippett lined up across from Jackson in man coverage (8 times unofficially). Other times, it played a zone coverage, forcing linebacker Colin Lama to chip the receiver and trail him to ensure he did not get a free release (10 snaps). A few times the coaching staff put safety Peter Thorbahn over the top of him to take away a potential deep ball (4 snaps).
“He definitely stuck on his hip pocket and he did a great job,” said Tippett of Lama’s play. “I have to give him a lot of credit for that. Not a lot of linebackers can do that, but he did it, so it was great.”
Central capitalized on that attention early on in the game and created opportunities for other receivers. Six plays into the game, the Raiders came out with four wide receivers, two on each side of the formation. Jackson (3 receptions, 91 yards, TD) was lined up in the right slot, with Mike Mercuri in the left slot. At the snap, Mercuri ran a corner route and got behind the defense for a 48-yard touchdown. The play and route resembled the routes Jackson ran against Everett earlier this season that resulted in three touchdowns in two games.
Later in the quarter, Jackson was again lined up in the right slot. This time, he ran a bubble screen towards the right sideline. Edwards (13-of-22, 212 yards, 2 TD, INT) hit his receiver on the quick route, and the senior did the rest.
He made a quick jab step to his left and cut back to the right. Jackson used his speed to get around the corner and get by the defense for the 73-yard touchdown.
“He had a big play early, after that, I thought we did a pretty nice job on him,” said Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson. “We did a lot of different coverages on him. Sometimes Coby would lock on him, sometimes we’d play zone, but I think we put a lot of nice pressure on the quarterback too, so that really helped a lot as well. Once our offense got rolling, I think we put the game in our hands pretty well.”
From there, moving the ball got difficult against the Hawks defense. As a team, it began to get more defensive pressure on Edwards and forced him to make quick decisions or throw the ball away.
Conversely, the Xaverian offense kicked it it into high gear. It dominated up front (171 yards rushing to Central’s 48), which created opportunities for everyone, even in the passing game. Tippett, a do-everything player, got in on the action, catching a 49-yard go-route for a touchdown. He also scored on the ground when he weaved through the defense on sprint right run play for a 6-yard touchdown run.
Ultimately, the Central Catholic passing attack held its own for a short while. It was the Xaverian defense and its own passing game that won the Hawks their second state championship in as many years.
“I was very disappointed they were able to do what they did in the first half with the passing game and that hurt us,” said Central Catholic coach Chuck Adadmopolous. “They’re the best team. That’s all I can say. They’re a better team than us and they showed it tonight. They deserve to be the champs.”