It was a tale of two evenings.
On Friday night, in the midst of sideways rain and constant wind gusts, Danvers used its bruising style of play to outlast Swampscott, 7-6. The win was the third straight for the Falcons by a single point and kept them tied atop the NEC North standings with also undefeated Marblehead.
Richard Canova was the star of the evening rushing for 106 yards to keep the high-powered Swampscott offense off the field. Canova's most impactful play, however, came on the defensive side of the ball. With Swampscott driving down the field for the go-ahead score in the game's waning moments Canova, a safety, blitzed off the edge and stripped the ball away from Big Blue quarterback Graham Inzana. The forced fumble set up an insurmountable fourth down for Swampscott allowing Danvers to escape the night soaked but filled with celebratory relief.
"Richard (Canova) really played well. He made the big play while a lot of other kids made some unheralded plays when it mattered," Danvers coach Ryan Nolan said. "When our kids' backs are against the wall, they're at their best."
Saturday told quite a different story. With the rain from Friday night moving away and a packed house on hand in honor of St. John's Prep homecoming, the host Eagles and Catholic Memorial put on an instant classic. Filling in for injured starting quarterback Barrett Pratt, freshman JC Petrongolo showed that Knights fans have plenty to look forward to in the years ahead. Petrongolo finished the day 11-of-19 for 267 yards and four touchdowns.
Three of those four touchdowns were to do-it-all playmaker Zach Mitchell (3 rec., 3 TDs, forced fumble, INT) while Owen McGowan had a rushing touchdown and collected the game-clinching first down run with less than a minute to play.
"Those final minutes were just wild," Knights coach John DiBiaso said. "They're the defending champs. We let up a little on defense I thought and then they're a terrific team. It was a great high school football game." Petrongolo overshadowed — albeit slightly — the superb performance from Eagles' senior quarterback Matt Crowley. Crowley finished with 302 passing yards and five total touchdowns. In the second half alone, he threw for 208 yards and four touchdowns. Wideouts Jackson Delaney and Matt Duchemin gave the Knights secondary fits with Delaney hauling in a pair of touchdowns and Duchemin finishing the afternoon with 172 receiving yards and two scores of his own.
The win undoubtedly keeps Catholic Memorial as the top team in Massachusetts with the Eagles hoping for another shot at their rivals in the Div. 1 Super Bowl.
Now, here are my five takeaways from Week 6 of the MIAA High School Football season.
1. Div. 3 South Is Wide, Wide Open
Last night on the MIAA Football podcast, Adam Kurkjian and I discussed the state of the Div. 3 South bracket. There is no question that it is anyone's for the taking. The top team in the bracket may very well be in line for the No. 4 seed. After Duxbury began the season 0-2, the Dragons have rattled off four consecutive wins largely due to the transition of superstar Will Prouty to quarterback. Prouty once again racked up five total touchdowns on Friday night and certainly will warrant player of the year consideration comes seasons end.
Elsewhere, Hingham is in line for the number one overall seed if they can finish off the regular season with road victories over Plymouth North and Whitman-Hanson. The Harbormen — who possess weapons and athleticism highlighted by Duke-bound tight end Cole Finney — would surely love another chance to take down their Patriot League rivals in Duxbury. Milford has the potential to go on a run as they have arguably the best quarterback in Div. 3 in Colby Pires.
Stoughton has allowed just 45 points in its first five games.
2. Exciting Postseason Races Ahead
Across the state, tournament races are set to heat up in the coming weeks. While Central and Western Mass. still have three weeks remaining as they only send four teams to their respective district tournaments, the Eastern. Mass brackets are beginning to take shape.
In Div. 1 South, BC High has the chance to avoid a potential matchup with Catholic Memorial until the sectional final if the Eagles can beat St. John's Prep on Saturday and solidify its standing as the No. 2 overall seed. Framingham, meanwhile can make a jolt for the top in the section if they can upset the Knights on Friday. Xaverian is hoping to simply salvage any postseason hopes it still has after a 1-4 start but that likely hinges on a victory against St. John's Shrewsbury this week.
Speaking of the Pioneers, they would certainly love the chance to be at home for their two Div. 3 Central Mass. tournament games. The top seed in the district could vey well come down to a matchup between St. John's and Wachusett in the final week of the regular season.
Div. 2 South has been the talk of the town for most of the season and that is no different as the regular season reaches its climax. Mansfield, Natick, and New Bedford are all jockeying for the top spot with the team that finishes third amongst the group set to go on the road for a pair of postseason games should chalk prevail early on.
Div. 4 North features four teams that are all 5-0 including a Revere team that holds quality wins over Lynn Classical and English.
3. Big Time Games Still Bring Out Big Time Crowds
Saturday's showdown between St. John's Prep and Catholic Memorial proved more than just the preconceived notions about each team's talent level. It also showed that big time games still have the potential to bring out big crowds.
Despite the outrageous traffic that this state continues to offer (seriously I could go on for 17 hours about this absurdity. Trip to Swampscott at 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon was a rousing 1:45 for 29 miles!), plenty of folks from West Roxbury and the surrounding area made the trip up to Danvers to watch the top ranked Knights. You could tell there was a well represented CM fan base even if your eyes were not open looking across the way based on the sheer level of cowbells elicited from the crowd.
St. John's Prep, meanwhile, came with its own enthusiastic fan base with an impressive student section on hand when you consider the fact that students were coming all over.
The fact that it was St. John's Prep's homecoming certainly helped but this to me still remains a bit of a pattern. Last year, the Div. 2 South Final between King Philip and Mansfield was packed with people packed in like sardines on both sides of bleachers despite pouring rain and chilly temperatures.
With the right two teams and in the right circumstances, monster crowds will still happily come to provide the necessary atmosphere to complement the game's energy.
4. Player of the Year Candidates Aplenty
We still have a ways to go. Heck, there are still two weeks remaining for Eastern Mass. teams before the playoffs begin and then another five weeks of football ensues. Its clear, however, that the state has no shortage of player of the year candidates in 2019.
St. John's has a pair on its roster in Jay Brunelle and Eamonn Denis. Brunelle, a senior wide receiver committed to Notre Dame, has 489 receiving yards and four touchdowns over four games while Dennis has eight total touchdowns.
The Knights have what probably many would consider the most valuable player, and the best player on the best team in junior Owen McGowan, who is committed to Boston College. He has shown his ability to be a game-changing player in all three phases.
Matt Crowley could certainly find himself in the conversation should the Prep go another Super Bowl run, while Springfield Central has William Watson III.
It's hard not to put Will Prouty in that conversation after the impact he has had on Duxbury's recent string of high quality play.
5. No Shortage of Young Talent Across The Bay State
One of the more impressive revelations thats arisen during this year's Massachusetts High School football season is just how much young talent the area possesses. The junior class is loaded with playmakers including McGowan, Carter Rice (BC High), Duke Doherty and Sammy Lamothe (Everett), Will Lederman (Natick), and Nayvon Reid (Brockton).
At the freshman and sophomore level there are the likes of Ayden Pereira (Central Catholic), Watson (Springfield Central), JC Petrongolo (Catholic Memorial), Crawford Cantave (King Philip), and James Guy (St. John's Prep),
Massachusetts high school footballl fans have plenty to look forward to in the coming years.
Feld's Hot Take Of the Week: There Is No Excuse for No Rosters
Anyone who followed along with me Friday night from the Danvers-Swampscott game could see this one coming.
I put it on Twitter blast that there were no rosters provided at the game (which there weren't) and that it was pretty inexcusable that they weren't anywhere to be found. Worse, the incomparable Karl Capen of the Boston Globe was sent to two different tables in the torrential downpour where he was told he would find rosters only to, somewhat predictably, discover no rosters of any kind.
This is not a shot at either of the two athletic departments. Rather this is a simple, unequivocal statement that rosters need to be provided at games. It happens far more than it should. Fans, parents, and members of the media arrive at a regular season game only to find that rosters aren't provided at the entrance. Even more preposterous is that has been known to happen more frequently than it should at MIAA Tournament games.
Sorry, but at the end of the day this falls squarely on the school's respective athletic directors. Period.
First, if you are charging for people to get in, you should also be there providing a roster. If the elements aren't too severe to be asking people to pay seven bucks for admission, then they're not too severe to hand out a piece of paper to go along with it.
Second, it's not "just a roster." It's the only way us media members can do our jobs. When we get a name wrong online or in the paper we look and feel terrible. A player is being mentioned or highlighted because they were the subject to a crucial moment in the game and — without a roster — it's all the more likely we will bundle their chance at one week stardom because a typo has been made in spelling their name.
The athletic department or the coach aren't the ones then taking the heat, it's the publication or writer. They're the ones receiving the e-mail at 5:30 a.m. the next morning or receiving the Twitter message at some ungodly hour to describe the unforgivable error. We make enough mistakes as it is — we don't need carelessness on the part of the schools to be a catalyst for another one.
To me there is a pretty simple solution. Print out and make 10 copies of the roster and put them in the press box before the media arrives. This should more than cover any difficulties that may happen in setting up for the game regardless of the weather. We all are here to improve the experience and make sure that the student athletes who take the field every Friday night and Saturday get the recognition they deserve. Having rosters at the ready is a small but necessary step to help us get closer to that goal.