Updated: Oct 23, 2019
By Matt Feld
The St. John's offense has hit its stride.
After faltering the first two weeks of the season to Catholic Memorial and Everett, the Pioneers have exploded over the last five weeks scoring 201 points in that span. Stewarded by senior dual-threat quarterback Colin Schofield, St. John's offensive attack has been unstoppable, highlighted by a 50-point first half showing against Xaverian Friday. On the season, Schofield leads Central Mass. in passing yards with 1,440 to go with 15 touchdowns through the air. On the ground, Schofield has 166 more rushing yards and two more scores.
There are no shortage of weapons for Schofield to work with. Michigan commit Eamonn Dennis has showcased devastating speed both out of the backfield, as a receiver, and on special teams. Notre Dame commit Jay Brunelle has 560 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions over five games. Junior receiver Antonio Stakley can't be forgotten with three touchdowns and nearly 300 receiving yards.
St. John's is in the midst of a roller coaster ride of a playoff race in Div. 3 Central Mass. With two regular season games remaining they currently hold the fourth and final postseason berth — a mere 0.77 ratings points ahead of Algonquin. The Pioneers head to Leominster, who has struggled in recent weeks, before ending their regular season slate against currently undefeated Wachusett.
That game against the Mountaineers and their premiere defense will give the Pioneers a prime opportunity to prove they are the team to beat in Division 3.
This week represents the final one of the regular season for MIAA Football teams in Eastern Mass. We will spend most of our time next week breaking down playoff pairings but before we get to that, I provide my five takeaways from Week 7 of the MIAA season.
1. Battles For the Last Spots Aplenty
Across Eastern Mass., a handful of sectionals are seeing their final few playoff spots come down to the last weekend.
In Div. 1 South, Xaverian is hoping that its fate has not already been sealed as it enters Week 8 in ninth place — 0.9 ratings points behind Taunton for the eighth and final spot. Xaverian likely needs a road win over BC High and a Taunton loss to Franklin to grab a berth.
Div. 2 North is a bit of a free for all as the No. 6, 7, 8, and 9 seeds are all separated by less than a full ratings point. The ninth team in the section, Peabody, has a golden opportunity to make a surge to as high as the sixth spot with a win against Beverly set on Friday night.
Div. 3 North sees a Billerica team that is holding on to the last postseason berth and in order to solidify its positioning will need a road win over North Andover. The team right on its heels — Belmont — hosts Woburn. Defending Div. 5 Super Bowl champion Scituate is currently tied for the sixth seed in D5 South, but can't breathe easy just yet. Foxboro could make the Sailors, Norton, and Medfield all sweat if the Warriors are able to knock off Milford.
2. Rest Time For Top Contenders
Many of the premiere contenders across EMass find themselves with the opportunity to relax a little. The existence of an eight-week regular season meant that every team would be subjected to a bye, and a number of teams elected to insert their bye between Week 7 and the first round of the postseason.
Catholic Memorial finished the regular season a perfect 7-0, locking up the top seed in Div. 1 South over Framingham. Now, the Knights get to rest up for the weekend, giving their starting quarterback Barrett Pratt time to get healthy. Pratt has been out with a leg injury since the fourth quarter of the Knights Week 5 matchup against Xaverian. While not one of the team's more notable future recruits, Pratt's experience under center from last year's Super Bowl run is crucial in order for the Knights to fulfill their title as preseason favorites. The Knights will likely only go as far their senior captain takes them.
The defending Div. 1 Super Bowl champions in St. John's Prep wrapped up their season with a 10-0 victory over BC High. While the Eagles up in Danvers would certainly love another game to try and grab the top spot in Div. 1 North, the week off is necessary in order to get running back James Guy — as well as a handful of key defensive playmakers — healthy.
Duxbury flirted with disaster earlier this season but rallied to win five consecutive games to firmly supplant itself as the team to beat in Div. 3 South. Now the Dragons get to hang back this weekend to see if either Hingham or Stoughton trip up, allowing themselves to move into a higher seed.
3. Reading Is the Div. 2 North Favorite
Compared to past years, the Div. 2 North field seems a little down. Lincoln-Sudbury is still a worthwhile foe but is not the powerhouse they were the past few years. One year after claiming the Div. 2 Super Bowl, North Andover has experienced some growing pains.
Reading, however, has seen itself consistently improve as the season has continued. The Rockets road win over previously undefeated Winchester leaves them in prime position to grab the Middlesex Liberty crown. Since losing to Lincoln-Sudbury to open the season, the Rockets have won five consecutive games allowing just over 11 points per game during that stretch. Freshman quarterback James Murphy looks more than ready to spearhead Reading's postseason run while Dan DiMare is one of the top two-way players in the section. On both sides of the ball the Rockets have plenty of size and physicality allowing themselves to dominate the line of scrimmage.
We seemed primed for a Lincoln-Sudbury-Reading rematch in the sectional final should the seeds align that way. There is no question that the Rockets would love another crack at the Warriors after falling by a point earlier this season.
4. New Formula, Same Results For King Philip
Two weeks ago, King Philip thought its season was teetering when senior running back, and starting linebacker, Ryan Halliday exited with a thumb injury.
The injury forced the Warriors, who usually rely on a ground and pound style of play to control possession and wear down opponents, to put greater onus on the right shoulder of senior quarterback Robert Jarest. The increased pressure, however, has proven to not be any sort of hindrance for Jarest. A starter for the Warriors a season ago when they made their third consecutive trip to Gillette Stadium, Jarest has been more than serviceable this year in helping King Philip find new ways to dissect opposing defenses. Through six games, Jarest has nine touchdown passes — tied for second in the Hockomock — and three more scores on the ground.
Most recently, in King Philip's win over Taunton, Jarest accounted for three scores. Back in week five against Mansfield, when King Philip lost Halliday to injury, Jarest nearly willed the Warriors to victory throwing for 194 yards and a touchdown. King Philip is hoping to get Halliday in the backfield for the postseason, and while they have certainly missed him over the last couple weeks, his injury has at least allowed Jarest to develop to the point where King Philip will be dangerous on offense in more ways than one come November.
5. Ashland Gets Signature Win
One season after suffering a 48-0 trouncing at the hands of Holliston, Ashland got its revenge.
The most impressive win for any team this weekend undoubtedly came courtesy of the Clockers, who slayed TVL Large behemoth Holliston, 35-29. Senior quarterback Dom Cavanaugh was the star of the afternoon finishing 18-of-24 for 259 yards and four total touchdowns. The Clockers are now 6-0 and guaranteed at least a share of the TVL Large crown. It was the first win for Ashland over Holliston since 2001.
Not only does the result give Ashland a statement victory, it proves that without question they are the most feared team in Div. 6 South.
Feld's Hot Take of the Week: Early Recruiting Hurts Late Blooming Athletes
I will fully admit that I am somewhat stealing this point from the incomparable Adam Kurkjian. He made this point during our Mass Varsity football podcast on Sunday night, but he is dead on and I thought it was worth further exploration.
As recruiting takes place earlier and earlier, older athletes who hit their growth spurt — both physically and skill wise — are left behind. This is not to say that kids who impress early should not receive a bevy of attention from premiere colleges. They should. If they look like they will grow into a collegiate superstar, if they carry the maturity of a person who could fit into a college locker room right then and there, and if they show they have the requisite work ethic to develop even greater abilities, then that player should unquestionably field offers from the top schools around.
Its also understandable why so many kids these days are recruited at a young age. After all, colleges are facing a simple economic problem. There are a set number of boxes that players need to check in order to theoretically "qualify" to be a member of the program, and there are a scarce number of players who fit that description.
Competition for kids is high and if a college elects to wait to see if a kid develops further, they could miss out on the next AJ Dillon, Chris Lindstrom, Mike Sainristil, or Lukas Denis.
Unfortunately, however, the drastic volume of early recruitment prevents some kids from potentially receiving scholarships if they hit a rapid increase in development later in their high school careers. It seems that in a fair amount of cases, this late acceleration in development can come simply from the fact that players are experiencing consistent playing time for the first time in their career. On other occasions, it's because they hit their growth spurt later in their high school career than others.
Whatever the reason, it seems more often than not every fall there are a handful of players, now seniors, that have breakout campaigns. They follow up on under-the-radar junior seasons with standout senior years where they show a new ability to maximize their skill set. Except by that point they have already fallen through the recruiting cracks,
While these late bloomers are almost certainly not top-of-the-line, Division 1 recruits, it would certainly be refreshing if a handful of lower-tier Division 1 schools and those dipping in the waters of Division 2 showed a greater willingness to leave a spot or two open for players who fit this description.