MIAA EMass Playoff Primer

In lieu of our weekly MVP column, we are going to preview the MIAA North and South sectionals, as the seeds and brackets were released Sunday.

Division 1 North

The favorite: No. 1 Everett

The top-seeded Crimson Tide have lived up to expectations this year, as their combination of speed, size, and physicality has simply been too much for opponents en route to an undefeated season.

The main contenders: No. 2 St. John's Prep, No. 3 Acton-Boxboro

The Eagles have been playing at an extremely high level over the course of the season, and gave Everett its toughest game of the regular season. Although it would take a near-perfect game to knock off the Tide, the Prep is one of the few teams capable of pulling it off.

A-B stated its case as one of the top teams in the state with a shocking upset of Lincoln-Sudbury. The Colonials have a terrific passing attack on offense, led by quarterback Finn Murray. You don't want to get in a shootout with this team.

The sleeper: No. 5 Lexington

The Minutemen got off to a slow start, as they suffered setbacks to Brockton and Reading. But behind quarterback Anthony Bianchi, who can hurt teams with either his legs or his arm, Lexington has become one of the hottest teams in the state down the stretch.

Best first round matchup: No. 5 Lexington at No. 4 Central Catholic

For as much as Lexington turned its season around after two early losses, the same can be said of the Raiders, who fell to St. John's Prep and North Andover. Central is young and peaking at the right time, and is also a bit of a sleeper in this section.

Pick to move on: Everett

Division 1 South

The favorite: No. 1 Xaverian

The loss of running back and linebacker Mike Saliba to injury does hurt, as he is one of the top two-way players in the area. But this is still a team that has terrific line play and coaching, and this program has won the South every year since the current format was introduced in 2013.

The main contenders: No. 2 Needham, No. 3 Catholic Memorial

Right now, Needham is reeling after losses to Milton and Walpole, but the Rockets still have the offense to compete, as tight end/wide receiver Matt Smith is a home-run threat.

CM nearly knocked off Xaverian in the regular season, and sophomore running back Darius LeClair is emerging as one of the best young players in the state.

The sleeper: No. 5 Brockton

The Boxers may be the hardest team in the section to figure out. Is this the team that blew out Lexington, then knocked off Natick on the road? Or is this the team that was shut out by New Bedford at home? If it is the former, then watch out. The Boxers have talent, but have yet to put it all together.

Best first round matchup: No. 8 BC High at No. 1 Xaverian

Didn't we just see this one Friday night? Yes, but Xaverian's injury issues could make the rematch a little more interesting. The 2-5 Eagles snuck in based on their brutally tough schedule, and will be playing with house money to gun for the upset.

Pick to move on: Xaverian

Division 2 North

The favorite: No. 1 North Andover

The Scarlet Knights have been dominant in nearly every game this season, as quarterback Jake McElroy has found wide receiver Gabe DeSouza over and over again for one big play after another. Junior running back Freddy Gabin has been a revelation in the second half of the season.

The main contenders: No. 2 Lincoln-Sudbury, No. 3 Reading

Lincoln-Sudbury would be undefeated if not for a loss to Acton-Boxboro that may have been the most exciting game of the year. The Warriors are one of the most complete teams in the state, regardless of division.

Reading has bounced back from an uncharacteristic down year to put itself back to where the program usually resides, and that is among the best in the Middlesex League and beyond. The Rockets have solid line play and have only lost to Acton-Boxboro.

The sleeper: No. 4 Woburn

Really, everyone after the first three seeds has to be considered a sleeper, because no one outside of North Andover, Lincoln-Sudbury and Reading has a winning record. That said, Woburn quarterback Ryan Qualey is one of the best in the section and gives the Tanners a chance.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 Peabody at No. 3 Reading

This might be a bit of a stretch, because it does not appear like there are any potential classics in this opening round. That said, Peabody owns a nice win over No. 7 Masconomet, and the Tanners have the type of running game that could make this competitive.

Pick to move on: Lincoln-Sudbury

Division 2 South

The favorite: No. 1 Mansfield

Coach Mike Redding knew he had something with this team, as he scheduled BC High and Everett to start the season, splitting the two. The Hornets showed grit with close wins over King Philip and Attleboro in Hockomock League play, and have talent and experience all over the field.

The main contenders: No. 2 Natick, No. 3 King Philip

Natick's only two losses were the first two weeks of the season to Div. 1 South playoff teams Needham and Brockton, and each game was close. Sophomore quarterback Will Lederman is already making a name for himself as one of the best young signal-callers in the state.

You know what you're going to get with King Philip: a strong, aggressive defense, and a punishing ground attack on offense. That formula has served the Warriors well, and this team never goes down without a fight.

The sleeper: No. 7 New Bedford

The Whalers come in at 3-4, but could very easily be 6-1. Three of their losses came by a combined seven points. After penalties and turnovers plagued the offense early in the season, New Bedford, led by strong-armed quarterback Tru Williams, has found its offensive rhythm.

Best first round matchup: No. 5 Barnstable at No. 4 Wellesley

Really, you could pick any game for this spot, as even No. 8 Bridgewater-Raynham at Mansfield could be a solid take. But Barnstable has played well under first-year coach Ross Jaktola, and Wellesley's offense is always tough to prepare for.

Pick to move on: Mansfield

Division 3 North

The favorite: No. 1 Tewksbury

Even after losing a lot of key players to graduation, Tewksbury has simply reloaded, led by quarterback Jay Connolly and junior running back Shane Aylward. Its only loss was to a North Andover team that is playing as well as anyone in the state.

The main contenders: No. 2 Lynn English, No. 3 Danvers

The second-seeded Bulldogs have only lost a head-scratcher to Malden Catholic, but are still as dangerous as anyone in the section. Quarterback Matt Severance has found receivers like Prince Brown and Mathias Fowler for big plays all season.

Danvers is one of the most consistent programs on the North Shore, and has only lost close games to Marblehead and Beverly.

The sleeper: No. 5 Beverly

The Panthers have had a quietly solid season, and as stated own a quality win over Danvers. Clayton McAlpine, a running back and linebacker, leads the way here.

Best first round matchup: No. 8 Billerica at No. 1 Tewksbury

Sure, these teams may have already played, with the top-seeded Redmen coming away with a 35-14 victory. But the Indians are still one of those squads that no one wants to play, as quarterback Nolan Houlihan gives his team big-play potential.

Pick to move on: Tewksbury

Division 3 South

The favorite: No. 1 Duxbury

The Dragons have dominated most of their opponents, with their most impressive win a 38-20 victory over Hingham. Quarterback John Roberts is a threat both running and passing, and the line play on both sides of the ball has been a positive.

The main contenders: Basically the entire bracket

You can say that this is a bit of a copout answer, which it is, but it is also true. This might be the deepest section in the entire state. Second-seeded Walpole is as hot as anyone right now, and even eighth-seeded Stoughton beat No. 4 North Attleboro, which won a share of the Hockomock League Davenport.

The sleeper: No. 6 Bishop Feehan

This can be a little bit of a hard team to get a read on, but when the Shamrocks are on their game, they are tough to beat. They gave unbeaten Falmouth its toughest game of the season, and also handed North Attleboro one of its two losses.

Best first round matchup: No. 5 Whitman-Hanson at No. 4 North Attleboro

This is a true 50-50 game, as the visiting Panthers are strong on both sides of the ball, and have a difference-maker at quarterback in Ethan Phelps. North Attleboro has been a little inconsistent, but has one of the best linemen in the state in Ryan Clemente.

Pick to move on: Duxbury

Division 4 North

The favorite: No. 1 Marblehead

The Magicians have been the best team in any of the Northeastern Conference divisions, rolling to an undefeated season that includes a 37-12 win over No. 2 Gloucester and a 10-7 win over the No. 3 seed in Division 3 North, Danvers.

The main contender: There is none

This is not to say that there are not any worthy opponents in the section. However, with its dominant win over the second-seeded Fishermen, Marblehead is so far and away the leader here that there is no true lead dog to knock it out.

The sleeper: No. 8 Dracut

At the lowest seed possible, you could call the Middies the deepest of deep sleepers. And even though this is a squad that will open against the favorite to win the section, quarterback Devin Lambert and Co. have played a brutal schedule and can make some noise.

Best first round matchup: No. 5 Wayland at No. 4 Burlington

You could make the argument for several here, including Dracut at Marblehead, but this will also be a very good take. Wayland brings one of the best linebackers in the state in Wellington Pereira. He will be trying to track down Burlington's stellar quarterback Khyle Pena.

Pick to move on: Marblehead

Division 4 South

The favorite: There really isn't one

You could make an argument that No. 2 Milton should be the favorite based on its impressive wins over Needham and Walpole, but coming off a loss to Newton North, the Wildcats don't feel like a true team to beat. Every team in the section has at least two losses.

The main contender: See above

This section is not about its top-heaviness, but its robust middle class.

The sleeper: No. 4 North Quincy

The closest you will come to a team fitting this description is probably this team, which has wins over both No. 5 Plymouth South and No. 7 Westwood. On the other hand, the only win for No. 8 Pembroke was over the Red Raiders.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 Nauset at No. 3 Hopkinton

Nauset has put together a solid season, with a rare win over Marshfield as the highlight. Hopkinton has the defense to repeat as section champs, but has not been as explosive offensively this season.

Pick to move on: Milton

Division 5 North

The favorite: No. 1 Swampscott

You could basically flip a coin between the Big Blue and No. 2 Amesbury for this spot, but Swampscott has played a bit of a tougher schedule.

The main contender: No. 2 Amesbury

There are not many teams in the section who will bring a more physical offense to the table than Amesbury. This squad only has one loss, a 14-6 defeat to one of the best teams in Division 6, Hamilton-Wenham.

The sleeper: No. 3 Weston

Can a top three seed really be called a sleeper? Sure, why not? This essentially comes from the fact that Weston has played a weak schedule, and we are not exactly sure how good this team is because of that.

Best first round matchup: No. 5 Newburyport at No. 4 Pentucket

Either of these teams would make a good choice for top sleeper, but we chose to highlight the opening game here because they are so evenly matched. The first time these teams played, Newburyport came away with a 17-14 win.

Pick to move on: Swampscott

Division 5 South

The favorites: Take your pick between No. 1 Falmouth, No. 2 Holliston, No. 3 Scituate, or No. 4 Canton

You really can't go wrong with any of these four. The combined record of these teams is 24-2, and al come from competitive leagues and played tough schedules.

The main contenders: See above

This is one of the strongest brackets in the state.

The sleeper: No. 6 Dennis-Yarmouth

We were higher on the Dolphins in the preseason than most people, and everyone else had a bit of a better grasp on just how good D-Y would be, which is not quite as tough as last year. Still, even with a young team, the Dolphins are a threat with top-shelf sophomore receiver Geoffrey Jamiel.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 Dennis-Yarmouth at No. 3 Scituate

Any time you get a rematch of last year's sectional final, you've got something special on your hands. During the summer, we saw these teams go at it with vigor on the 7-on-7 circuit, and we expect another high-scoring affair here.

Pick to move on: Scituate

Division 6 North

The favorite: No. 1 Stoneham

The Spartans have been on a tear the entire season, eating up opponents with their double-wing offense. Running back Christos Argyropoulos has been the main weapon on an offense that wears teams down over the course of a game.

The main contender: No. 4 Bishop Fenwick

There are a lot of good choices here, but we are going to go with Fenwick, which has only one loss to one of the best teams in the South, a road defeat at Dedham. Also, since Fenwick owns a 28-0 win over the No. 2 seed (Hamilton-Wenham), this is an easier pick.

The sleeper: No. 6 Ipswich

The only loss for this team was a 20-14 setback to Amesbury, the No. 2 seed in Division 5 North. The fact that Ipswich came that close to an undefeated season and is only the six seed tells you a little bit about the depth of this bracket.

Best first round matchup: No. 7 Austin Prep at No. 2 Hamilton-Wenham

You better believe Austin Prep is going to be fighting like hell to get a win in legendary coach Bill Maradei's final year on the sidelines. The Cougars are coming off a 28-22 win over St. John Paul II, so there is upset potential here. Still, Hamilton-Wenham is the worthy favorite.

Pick to move on: Stoneham

Division 6 South

The favorite: No. 1 Old Rochester

Let's get one thing out of the way: this is another super-deep bracket. However, for now, you have to consider the Bulldogs the favorite. They are versatile on offense, and their linebackers rival any team's across the state.

The main contender: No. 2 Ashland

Yes, the Clockers got clocked by Holliston last week, but the Panthers have been doing that to everybody this year. Right now, though, you have to like how Ashland has been able to play defense and win close games, as the Clockers have four victories of one score or less.

The sleeper: No. 6 Norwell

This is your prototypical team that everyone wants to avoid. The Clippers have a deceiving record, as two of their three losses are to Abington and Scituate, and they own quality wins over Hamilton-Wenham and East Bridgewater.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 Norwell at No. 3 Medway

If things fall the right way, you could see either one of these teams emerging from the section, even though the other side is strong with Old Rochester and Dedham likely coming from that end. Medway's only loss is a one-pointer to Ashland.

Pick to move on: Old Rochester

Division 7 North

The favorite: No. 4 St. Mary's

Don't worry about the 4-3 record. The Spartans played a brutal schedule, and two of their three losses came to Catholic Memorial and Mashpee. The last time this program did not win its section was 2014.

The main contender: No. 1 Greater Lawrence

This one is pretty easy, even though Greater Lawrence has two losses. The only defeats came at the hands of Hamilton-Wenham and a one-point setback to Division 5 North top seed Swampscott.

The sleeper: No. 6 East Boston

You likely won't see the Jets win emerge from the bracket, but there are reasons to like their chances to make a little noise. Their 2-5 record is a bit deceiving, as three of their losses were by one score, and their loss to Pope John XXIII was competitive.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 East Boston at No. 3 Latin Academy

Let's keep it in the Boston City League, as this promises to be a great take. The first time these teams played each other, Latin Academy edged the Jets, 29-28. If this one is anything like that, this is the right choice.

Pick to move on: St. Mary's

Division 7 South

The favorite: No. 1 Mashpee

The Falcons have won three consecutive state titles and are unbeaten after playing the toughest schedule in Division 7. Devaun Ford is one of the top running backs and defensive backs in the state, and tight end and defensive end Xavier Gonsalves also has few peers at his positions.

The main contender: No. 2 Abington

You can pick a number of teams here, but the Green Wave would be the best choice. Abington gave Mashpee a true run for its money when the teams played earlier in the season, and this is a team with the talent and coaching to knock the Falcons off.

The sleeper: No. 5 Cohasset

It's tough to call the Skippers a sleeper, because, in reality, they are closer to a main contender. Still, the fact that they will be starting on the road at Southeastern makes this a sensible choice. This team's only two losses are to Mashpee and Abington.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 Nantucket at No. 3 Case

Case has a strong, uh, case as the team that might actually be the main contender, but we will choose to focus on its game with Nantucket, instead. The Whalers have only lost to Mashpee and Cohasset, and Case just gave Old Rochester a run for its money. This should be a good one.

Pick to move on: Mashpee

Division 8 North

The favorite: No. 1 Pope John XXIII

Another pretty easy choice here. The Tigers played a tough schedule, beating East Boston and West Roxbury to start the season, and dominated St. John Paul II two weeks ago down on the Cape (not an easy road trip from Everett).

The main contender: No. 2 Boston English/New Mission

You could make a strong argument for Lynn Tech here, but we are going to go with Boston English/New Mission, which separated itself as the best team in the Boston City League this year with an undefeated record.

The sleeper: No. 8 Tech Boston

For sure, Pope John did not catch any breaks for earning the top seed. Tech Boston may only be 3-4, the Bears have won three of their last four games, with the only loss a back-and-forth affair against West Roxbury this past weekend.

Best first round matchup: No. 5 Roxbury Charter at No. 4 Lynn Tech

It has been an outstanding first season of varsity football for Roxbury Charter, which jumped out to a 4-2 record this regular season. Lynn Tech is unbeaten against Division 8 opponents and has the type of speed to cause matchup problems for anyone.

Pick to move on: Pope John XXIII

Division 8 South

The favorite: No. 3 Coyle-Cassidy

It might be a bit of a reach to skip over top-seeded West Bridgewater, but we feel that the Warriors have played a tougher schedule and are the best team here. Their only losses are to Mashpee and Bishop Feehan, and Coyle also owns a win over Bishop Stang.

The main contender: No. 1 West Bridgewater

That's not to say West Bridgewater has played an easy schedule, and the Wildcats have a 6-1 record that includes a 33-14 win over No. 2 Upper Cape Tech. This is a program that always finds itself in the mix when push comes to shove.

The sleeper: No. 6 St. John Paul II

Really, it's hard not to put this team in the main contender category, but since the Lions are all the way down at No, 6, we figured we'd put them here. This team is good up front on both sides of the ball and has played a tough schedule.

Best first round matchup: No. 6 St. John Paul II at No. 3 Coyle-Cassidy

No surprises here. This is a tossup game that could be the sectional final under different circumstances.

Pick to move on: Coyle-Cassidy

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