Hendriken now up 19-6 with about 3 mins to play. Looks like the RI school will win this regional pic.twitter.com/vxr5a93lbo— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) July 23, 2016
PEABODY, Mass. -- While it was held deep in the North Shore, one of two competitors that didn’t hail from the Bay State took home the first place trophy at the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 East Regional tournament.
Rhode Island powerhouse Bishop Hendricken bested high-powered Milton and upstart Bedford (20-6) over its final two games to become the last team standing on a scorching afternoon at Bishop Fenwick high school.
“I’m not going to lie, we’re a little surprised,” admitted Hawks head coach Keith Croft. “Our goal was to make the playoffs, try to go 3-1 in our pool and compete. These kids worked their butts off all day and as each game went on they started to believe that we can really hang with these Mass teams.”
The Hawks wound up going undefeated in pool play and defeated a crop of public schools in Stoneham, Winchester and Milton before meeting Bedford in the tournament’s final.
Fresh off a dramatic comeback victory (15-14) over Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, the Buccaneers matched the Hawks with an early touchdown to keep the finals knotted at six with just over 10 minutes to play.
Yet as they had all day, the Hawks came up with a couple of key defensive stops to snare the momentum.
Boston College-bound linebacker Kwity Paye, as well as senior standouts Andrew Hopgood and Sam Hill, anchored Hendricken’s defense in a format that makes it very difficult to slow down opposing offenses.
On the other side of the ball, Bryant commit Chris Hindle demonstrated tremendous poise as the Hawks quarterback and played mistake-free football throughout most of the tournament.
“I’m very proud of the effort from these guys and now we’ve got the trophy to show for it,” Croft added. “Everyone played, everyone contributed and we saw our team get a little better today. We’re going to go back to Rhode Island with a ton of confidence.”
Along with nine other teams that placed highly in recent regional tournaments, Bishop Hendricken will now compete in the Northeast 7v7 New England Championship, to be held at Milton high school on Wednesday starting at 4 p.m.
The list of favorites in this tournament may not have included the Buccaneers of Bedford, but this experienced group made plenty of noise on their way to the East Regional Final.
Bedford upset back-to-back North champion Billerica in the opening round of the playoffs, and blew past an extremely talented Haverhill squad before coming back to defeat BB&N.
Several Bucs battled cramps on an extremely hot day, and afterwards head coach Jack Belcher said, “It’s great to fight through what [the players] bodies must have felt to get here. There’s a lot of good things about 7-on-7's and a lot of unrealistic things, but the competing aspect is certainly huge.”
With talented sophomore Pete Kapanides playing quarterback and safety, the Bucs seem to have a nice mix of senior leadership and young talent that should allow them to compete in the Dual County League this fall.
Working under the tutelage of Belcher’s nephew Drew, who is the current quarterback at the University of Maine, Kapanides progressed tremendously in terms of his reads, while demonstrating plenty of natural ability as a passer.
“[Kapanides] got a lot better as the day went along in terms of seeing things,” confirmed Belcher. “So by the time the season starts and league games begin he’ll be one of the best quarterbacks.”
On the subject of taking down huge schools such as Billerica and Haverhill on their way to the finals, Belcher added, “We’re a small school with only about 50 guys in our program from freshman, to varsity, and to come up against some of these big-time programs will absolutely help us get ready for our season opener.”
Learning the System
During his first year as head coach of the Milton, former Swampscott coach and innovative football mind Steve Dembowski transformed the program into an elite offensive powerhouse that went deep into the Division 3 State Tournament.
With a number of talented seniors graduated, Dembowski sees these 7-on-7 tournaments as a great opportunity to familiarize his new starters with the offensive system.
“We had a tremendous amount of turnover,” Dembowski confirmed. “Our leading receiver coming back is our running bac,k and we only have one other receiver with a catch on varsity. So, a lot of these kids haven’t been to these events before and it’s been an awesome learning experience for them.”
He added, “It’s a chance for the kids to get live competitive reps with officials on the field and you learn a lot about which players are working hard and listening.”
Senior quarterback Owen Keaney led the Wildcats to a semifinals appearance just one week after they advanced to the quarterfinals of the South Regional at Oliver Ames High School.
Star running back Koby Osazee is back to lead Milton’s rushing attack, but the Wildcats will need young receivers such as Eddie Hassell and David Brundage to build on excellent performances in these 7-on-7 tournaments as they prepare for the season.
“I can live with it,” Dembowski said about finishing in the final eight last week and the final four in Saturday’s tournament, which qualifies the Wildcats for next Wednesday’s New England Championship.
“I’m happy with the progress during what is their second year in this system. It’s a tribute to the players that they’ve gotten so far this year and I’m happy that they’re going to get to compete against 10 of the top teams in the region and it’s going to be great to have that in [Milton] for our community to see.”