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What We Learned from the Central Mass Football Semifinals

Thursday, November 29, 2012

 

Shepherd Hill junior running back Jake Gelb follows sophomore offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom on a power sweep. The Rams' ground game was nearly unstoppable against Doherty Tuesday.

With snow beating down on every semifinal football game in Central Mass, new stars emerged, old powers reasserted themselves, and passing offenses froze in the frigid conditions.

Same Old, Same Old

Division I seemed to be wide open as it ever had been earlier this week but, like last year, Leominster and St. John's will play for the championship. Wachusett and Shrewsbury both had great seasons, but ultimately came up short in the semifinals.

For Shrewsbury, the loss to Leominster was a bitter pill to swallow. The Colonials came into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, with a thrilling win over Leominster already on their resume, but still had to play their "home" game against the Blue Devils at Leominster. Shrewsbury quarterback Mike Coggeshall had been playing as well as anyone in Central Mass, but an outstanding effort from the Leominster defense and rough weather slowed the normally explosive Shrewsbury passing attack.

Which leads us to…

Passing Games Not Weather Proof

Shrewsbury and Doherty both feature talented tailbacks- Zach Dionis for the Colonials and Abdulla Webster for the Highlanders- but both offenses live and die with their passing games. With snow falling Tuesday night, neither team was ever able to get its passing game into rhythm.

Still, give both defenses credit.

Shrewsbury lit up Leominster through the air earlier this season, while Doherty outpaced Shepherd Hill, but both the Blue Devils and Rams came out on the attack defensively. Extra blitzing forced both Coggeshall and Doherty quarterback Luke Brennan to get the football out of their hands faster and, with slick conditions, those passes proved nearly impossible to haul in for their talented receiving groups.

Smart Adjustments

Give St. John's coach John Andreoli and his staff a ton of credit for their game plan against Wachusett. The Pioneers came in with sophomore quarterback Drew Smiley producing at a historic level through the air, but they instead opted to keep the football on the ground with star running back Shadrach Abrokwah.

Abrokwah made his coach look pretty smart, carrying 23 times for 215 yards and a pair of scores. Perhaps even more importantly, he flipped the script on the Mountaineers, who hoped to run the ball and keep it out of the hands of St. John's. After a mid-season four-game losing streak, St. John's has responded by winning four in a row, and they now get a chance to redeem an earlier close loss to Leominster.

Getting Defensive

Chances are, Blackstone Valley Tech is very excited to meet Bay Path in the Division VI Super Bowl. And why not? Bay Path is the defending champion, and the Minutemen are the only team to beat BVT this season.

Still, the Beavers should be very concerned about the Bay Path defense. Bay Path held the explosive BVT defense in check earlier this year, limiting the Beavers to only two scores, though leading receivers Shawn Wilkins and Taylor Hanson did get on the board.

With another dominant defensive performance Tuesday against high-scoring Littleton, the Bay Path defense may be peaking at the right time.

Mixing it Up

While the unofficial title of best team in Central Mass is up for debate between unbeaten Nashoba and Auburn, there is no doubt that the Chieftains can beat you more ways.

While the Auburn Rockets are brutally efficient running the ball and setting up play action passes to the flats, Nashoba has benefitted from the emergence of quarterback Jack Sarnoski to balance its offense.

With Sarnoski's play, the Chieftains now have an answer for teams that stack the box against their powerful ground game led by running back John Ojukwu. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the Cheiftain offensive line continues to excel as both a pass-blocking and run-blocking unit.

There isn't much this Nashoba team can't do offensively.

 

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