With the early signing period fast approaching, we will touch on some more recruiting tidbits here and there, but we never really got to do a post-mortem on the MIAA and NEPSAC seasons.
Here are a few thoughts that we wanted to share before we get into other topics, like all-state teams and the like:
— The rash of forfeits due to a number of factors, but in most cases low numbers, has to be addressed, and the kids simply deserve better than what they're getting here. Maybe this is just symptomatic of the larger issue of participation dwindling statewide, but there has to be a better solution than canceling a game outright. These kids work hard all offseason and during the season to compete, and no one benefits from a forfeit. Maybe the teams can find a way to put together a mixed, controlled scrimmage instead. It would at least get the players doing something football related. We don't have any perfect answers because there are none, but it's a problem that deserves creative efforts to help alleviate.
— The ISL fared better in NEPSAC bowl games against the Class A programs than they ever did in a single season, at least to the best of our knowledge. It is no secret that ISL programs have improved by leaps and bounds over the years, but this was the type of bowl performance that really cemented that. BB&N dominated Avon Old Farms, Belmont Hill beat Suffield Academy, and St. Sebastian's only lost to Taft by a point. That was a much better collective performance than expected in this space, and those players and coaches deserve credit for representing the league that well.
— As it turns out, the MIAA's Division 7 Central section was quite the bracket this fall. When we went out and saw Oxford earlier this season, we were certain that the Pirates were good enough to make a real run at Gillette. They were eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to Leicester at the end of the regular season. The foursome that made the playoffs in West Boylston, Assabet Valley, Blackstone Valley, and Leicester all deserved to be there, and a team like Oxford probably did, too. With Blackstone Valley winning the Super Bowl, it represented the best and the worst of a pared-down, four-team field: a worthy, battle-tested champion emerged, and a team that probably could have made some noise if it was included did not get a chance to.
— It is a good point to note that a team like Tewksbury should not have to play a team with the enrollment of Springfield Central in the Div. 3 state title game. That said, we need to remember a few things. Sometimes, when people bring this up, it indirectly diminishes what the bigger school accomplished. And in this instance, Central could not do anything more in terms of going after tough opponents over the years. Central always "schedules up" with nonleague games — the Golden Eagles have played Everett and Bishop Sullivan Catholic (Va.) recently, just to name a couple of which there are many examples — so this program earned its keep and didn't take any shortcuts. Tewksbury is just like Central in that respect. Just this year, Tewksbury scheduled a huge male-enrollment school in the regular season in BC High, and won, 12-0. In recent years, the Redmen have also taken on Everett. Of course, it's different when you're talking about the postseason, and last year's North Attleboro and this year's Tewksbury teams have legitimate gripes. But in voicing them, let's not act like Tewksbury isn't capable of beating bigger schools and Central only won because there are more boys in its hallways. Of course it's a factor, but when that's the only takeaway many people in Eastern Mass. harp on afterward, it creeps into the realm of putting an asterisk on something the kids on the winning team earned, kids who bear no responsibility for creating the situation. The silver lining about this always-uncomfortable discussion is that when the next system takes hold, the "pod seeding" will place a team like Central in Div. 1 regardless of geography.
— Over the course of the season, we became more and more convinced that the current sophomore class, or Class of 2021, will be a special one in this state. That's not to disparage any juniors or seniors, who have and will get their due statewide. But there were so many instances where we'd be covering a game and the talk in the press box or sideline would include, "He's only a sophomore? Really? That kid's not a senior?" We'll do our best to profile as many as possible in the coming weeks, months, and years, and we don't want to list off names right now because we don't want to leave anyone out. But trust, the future is bright. And we're not just talking about impact high school players, but ones that local colleges already have on the radar. It's just good to know that for all the realities of participation numbers dwindling and programs fighting for survival, these kids continue to battle through the adversity and excel. That's worth noting when we bring up the larger concerns of the state of high school football here.