1. North Andover (12-0) — When it comes right down to it, Division 1 was mostly mucked up with teams who did not show much separation from one other over the course of the season. St. John's Prep might have been the last team standing there, but went 0-2 against the best teams on its schedule in Everett and Xaverian, Although a level below in Division 2, North Andover was the most consistent team from start to finish, with wins over four top 15 teams, two of which came in blowout fashion. And not to play the daisy chain game, but one of those wins came over the only team (Central Catholic) to beat a loaded Everett squad. We don't deny that one of the teams behind them could beat the Scarlet Knights on a given day or night, but North Andover never slipped up with a subpar effort. The Scarlet Knights had one of the best group of skill position players in the state, and were underrated on defense. In a year where no team was on the level of last year's Everett squad, North Andover earned this top spot as much as anyone.
2. St. John's Prep (10-2) — At its best, St. John's Prep was a wagon. Its offensive and defensive lines were top-shelf, and junior quarterback Matt Crowley came into his own as one of the best signal-callers in the state. Wes Rockett had a superb year at wide receiver, and the Eagles had a stable of backs that could wear down defenses. Still, don't discount that loss to Xaverian as a fluke. The Hawks beat the Prep straight up, wearing the Eagles down at Fenway the night before Thanksgiving. You can make a very strong argument for the Prep at No. 1, but we felt North Andover did everything it needed to do to hold down that spot.
3. Everett (10-1) — One game was the difference, in our opinion, between Everett losing in the Div. 1 North semifinals like it did, and running the table and earning the runaway No. 1 spot across the board. Central Catholic deserves credit for holding the Tide back, but overall, let's take stock in what the Crimson Tide accomplished. Everett beat St. John's Prep, Xaverian, Acton-Boxboro, Mansfield, and BC High. Again, four wins against top 15 teams, and when this team was clicking, it was the best team in the state. One night, it didn't click. But there's a lot for this outgoing senior class to be proud of, and Mike Sainristil was the best player in the state by a country mile. Be thankful that you got to see him play here.
4. Xaverian (8-2) — This is another team you can make a decent argument for the top spot, even though the Hawks were eliminated by Catholic Memorial in the Div. 1 South final. Xaverian beat St. John's Prep the night before Thanksgiving, and handed CM one of its only losses during the regular season. The other loss was to Everett on opening night. The Catholic Conference champions also scored the best out-of-state win of the year, crushing an Archbishop Stepinac team that won New York's Catholic state title for the third year in a row.
5. Springfield Central (11-1) — When we watched the games at Gillette this weekend, we felt strongly that the Golden Eagles could hold their own with anyone that played there, and that includes the four teams in the Division 1 and 2 games. In the end, you cannot discount that lopsided loss to Lincoln-Sudbury at the beginning of the year. That said, by this past weekend, the Golden Eagles were playing as well as anyone. This was a statement year for this program, and with the young talent coming up the pipeline, it won't be the last one.
6. Central Catholic (8-3) — Another team that you can make an argument for a higher placement, Central has the most impressive win of the year by any team on this list, in our opinion, when it took down Everett in the Div. 1 North semifinals. The three losses? Two to St. John's Prep, and the other to North Andover. For a team that lost almost everyone from 2017, that's a heck of a run. And coach Chuck Adamopoulos brings back a boatload for 2019.
7. Catholic Memorial (9-3) — The Knights made it as far as they could possibly go with this group, a testament to the coaching of John DiBiaso in his first year on Baker Street. The win over Xaverian was impressive, and although the Knights hung around for most of Saturday's game with the Prep, they were not quite on the same level. .A higher ranking would be in order if the Knights played a tougher schedule in the regular season. That said, DiBiaso has stellar talent coming up the ranks, and this team will be in the mix for years to come.
8. King Philip (9-3) — Don't be fooled by the three losses. By the end of the year, the Warriors were playing as well as almost anyone. Those three losses were to Mansfield, which the Warriors avenged in the playoffs, North Attleboro, and our No. 1 team, North Andover. No one played the Scarlet Knights tougher this season. Despite some key losses on defense, the Warriors always reload there, and brings back enough up front and at the skill positions to make another deep playoff run next year.
9. Tewksbury (11-2) — Given the amount of talent and experience it lost off its 2017 team, you'd have to say the Redmen overachieved this season. The only defeats came to North Andover and Springfield Central, two top five teams. Clearly athletically outmatched at many positions, Tewksbury still battled Springfield Central to a four-quarter game. As usual, this team loses a fair amount, but will still be a Div. 3 state title contender next season.
10. Duxbury (11-1) — If you look at the quality wins the Dragons racked up, it really is quite impressive. Duxbury knocked off Scituate, Hingham twice, Whitman-Hanson, and North Attleboro, among others. The only loss came in a bit of a surprise to a Tewksbury team that is dangerous for anyone. There will be heavy graduation losses, but the return of wide receiver Will Prouty and some nice pieces in the front seven on defense ensure an optimistic outlook for 2019.
11. Scituate (12-1) — Was tempted to throw the Sailors a little higher, but hard to leap them over Duxbury when they lost that game head-to-head. Still, this offense was a thing of beauty, and Saturday's win over a good Nipmuc team was one of the more impressive performances of the weekend. The Sailors also earned wins over Hingham, Dennis-Yarmouth, Holliston, and Canton down the stretch. Even with the loss of quarterback Aidan Sullivan, enough pieces return, including standout running back Will Sheskey, to like the Sailors' chances next fall.
12. Nashoba (12-1) — In the first game of the weekend, the Chieftains had zero issues drilling Dighton-Rehoboth. This team put up a ton of quality wins, beating Marlboro twice, Shrewsbury, Gloucester, and Tantasqua. The lone defeat was to a Wachusett team that maybe didn't get enough credit for how good it was. Quarterback Sam Bolinsky put the cherry on top of a tremendous high school career with a standout performance at Gillette.
13. Acton-Boxboro (9-2) — You have to give Colonials coach Tim Bassett serious consideration for any coach of the year discussions. Dealing with a talented, but not particularly deep roster, he led A-B to wins over Lincoln-Sudbury, Reading, Methuen, Dracut, and Barnstable. The only losses came to St. John's Prep and Everett where the Colonials were clearly overmatched. Once a Wing-T program, A-B transitioned into a dangerous spread attack with big-play capability. This team loses quite a bit, but what the Colonials accomplished this season was pretty significant.
14. Lincoln-Sudbury (9-2) — While the Warriors had every expectation of returning to Gillette this season, they simply ran into a buzzsaw against North Andover in the sectional final, ending hopes of avenging last year's loss to King Philip. The first game we covered this season, the Warriors dominated Springfield Central from start to finish. That ends up as the most impressive win on the resume, and even though it was way back in September, it shows you what this team was truly capable of when it was at its best.
15. Mansfield (8-3) — Regardless of what happened in the postseason and at Fenway, any team that wins the Hockomock League's Kelley-Rex Division deserves some major props. The Hornets beat King Philip in the regular season before dropping the rematch in the Div. 2 South final, and lost a heartbreaker to rival Foxboro in the season finale. The other loss? Everett. Along the way, the Hornets also beat what turned out to be a very good Franklin team, BC High, Barnstable, and an Attleboro team that stumbled down the stretch but was otherwise solid. This team brings back a lot, both in terms of experience and talent.
16. Stoneham (12-1) — The only blemish was a nip-and-tuck loss to a very good Reading team on Thanksgiving. Other than that? Well, the rest of the slate consisted mostly of the Spartans dominating teams, with the lone exception Saturday's 26-20 win over Old Rochester in the Div. 6 state final. That was a tremendous, highly-dramatic win over a Bulldogs team that matched up very well with what Stoneham likes to do offensively. You won't get any arguments here if you think this is a spot or two too low.
17. North Attleboro (8-3) — You know the drill with this program. Great players like quarterback Chad Peterson graduate, and the coaching and discipline from the youth levels on up make sure the drop-off is minimal. This team had some huge ups (beating King Philip in the opener, knocking off Canton to seal a Hockomock Davenport co-championship), and suffered upsets at the hands of teams who were tougher than their record indicated in Bishop Feehan and Stoughton. In our opinion, there was no better lineman in the MIAA than Ryan Clemente, and the Red Rocketeers seem to have found their quarterback of the future in freshman speedster Tyler DiMattio. Just one suggestion: bring the home games back to Community Field.
18. Methuen (8-3) — The Rangers were one of those teams at the beginning of the season that we pegged for a down year. They had graduated a talented senior class, and we felt other teams in the Merrimack Valley Conference Large like Central Catholic, Haverhill, and Lowell were superior. Well, we were only right about the first team in that group, as the Rangers beat the other two, along with Reading, Dracut (another team we had pegged above Methuen in the preseason), and Lexington. The only other losses were to Tewksbury — by a point — and A-B. There is enough returning to expect another successful campaign in 2019.
19. Reading (8-3) — We were, let's say, lukewarm on Reading's chances this year after a losing season in 2017. We figured, with a program of Reading's stature, that the setback would be temporary, but not sure to what degree. As it turned out, Reading turned things around nicely, with quality wins over Stoneham and Lexington, and close losses to Acton-Boxboro, Lincoln-Sudbury, and Methuen. We feel next year's team will be closer to this one than the version from a year ago.
20. Franklin (7-4) — This is the team that we absolutely did not have on our radar at the beginning of the season, but the Panthers earned everyone's attention by the end of the year. Of the four losses, two were to King Philip, a third to Mansfield, but even though you don't like to claim moral victories, it was the Div. 1 South overtime loss to Xaverian that really tells you about how good this team was. To go into the Hawk Bowl and nearly end Xaverian's season is notable, especially considering that the hosts went out and beat St. John's Prep not long after. This was a good team that loses a lot to graduation, but will be heard from again in 2019.
21. Hingham (7-3) — The Harbormen played and mostly succeeded against a difficult schedule, but just could not take down Duxbury on two attempts. The third loss was to a Scituate team that was also among the best in the state. Still, Hingham racked up quality wins over Whitman-Hanson, Walpole, Bishop Feehan, Foxboro, and Plymouth North, among others. Injuries also played a factor here, and the graduation losses will take a toll. Still, this program is still on solid footing.
22. Old Rochester (11-1) — Coming into the season, this was the team we had pegged as the best in Div. 6. In the end, Stoneham earned that distinction, but not for lack of a tremendous effort by the Bulldogs at Gillette. This team played with great physicality and speed, and boasted a linebacker group that matched up with anyone in the area. One of them, Desmond Dias, who also played running back, will be sorely missed, but coach Justin Kogler has a good thing going down on the South Coast.
23. St. John's (S) (8-4) — This Pioneers team remained as dangerous as ever on offense, but just had trouble making the key stops on the other side of the ball. Still, St. John's racked up big-time wins with two each over very good Wachusett and Shrewsbury squads. There was no shame in losing to CM or the two setbacks to Springfield Central, and the other loss was to a Marlboro team that is criminally underrated most years. The Pioneers have plenty returning next year for a potential third straight Div. 3 CMass crown.
24. Wachusett (8-3) — For those who did not see this team play this year, did you see Nashoba on Friday night? OK, now picture a team that is good enough to beat the Chieftains, 35-0, and that's what you have here. The only losses were to St. John's twice and an overtime one to Doherty in the opener that the Mountaineers avenged in a non-playoff game. You had to see this team in person to appreciate its brute force. The Mountaineers bring back plenty to be in the mix again next year.
25. Doherty (9-2) — The Highlanders spent most of the year hanging around our top 10 thanks to a roster that not only boasted its usual blend of perimeter talent and speed, but physicality in the trenches. They were bounced from the Div. 3 Central bracket by Shrewsbury, but beat Wachusett, Tantasqua, and a solid Leominster team. This was a special senior class, but this is consistently one of the best-coached programs in Central Mass., so don't expect the Highlanders to go away anytime soon.
First 15 out (in alphabetical order)
BC High (4-7), Brockton (6-4), Canton (8-3), Danvers (8-3), Falmouth (8-2), Gloucester (9-3), Holliston (9-1), Lynn Classical (7-4), Lynn English (8-3), Marblehead (9-2), Marlboro (8-3), Shrewsbury (7-4), Wayland (8-3), Westfield (8-3), Whitman-Hanson (8-3)