We had the chance to take in one and parts of two other CMass games on Saturday, starting with Blackstone Valley Tech's 21-8 victory over Northbridge in Upton.
In the opener for both teams, BVT rode a stable of backs, led by JD Antaya, to take the game over early and finish it off despite a nice rally by the Rams in the third quarter.
Antaya finished with 133 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. One of the few returning starters on offense for the defending Division 7 state champions, the senior was a workhorse, grinding out the tough yards when his team needed him to.
"He's one of the best kids around," Archibald said of Antaya. "He's such a great player. He's an even better kid. He's our guy. He's been doing this for us since he was a sophomore. He's just a tremendous athlete. He had a great summer, a great workout. He's in phenomenal shape. He's got top-end speed. He plays both ways, returns kicks, returns punts. He's our guy. He's a great player. We're lucky to have him. In a game like this, you've got to feed the beast. He was our guy today."
The offensive line of John Furno, Grant Houatchanthara, Owen Oliver, Jack Nasuti, and Justin Carnaroli controlled the action. The Beavers scored two quick touchdowns on a 4-yard keep on a read from quarterback Angelo Cardarelli, and 28-yarder from Antaya, as it looked like the Beavers would run away with it.
Angelo Cardarelli and JD Antaya put Blackstone Valley Tech ahead with two early scores.
Northbridge did start to cut into the deficit with a safety and a 12-yard touchdown run from Brennan Mahoney. The former was set up by a huge, 55-yard completion from Ryan Boyce to Aidan Fair that flipped field position.
Aidan Fair catches a long pass and barely steps out of bounds to prevent a touchdown.
The key sequence in the game came when Valley Tech faced a third-and-7 from the Northbridge 46-yard line, and Cardarelli hit Jared Loiselle down the middle for a 40-yard pickup.
Angelo Cardarelli hits Jared Loiselle for a nice gain early in the fourth quarter.
Three plays later, Carl Muanya was in the end zone from four yards out and Valley Tech had the separation it needed to put the game away.
Carl Muanya punches in Valley Tech's final score from four yards out.
For Valley Tech coach Jim Archibald, it was yet more validation that his program has simply gone into reload mode. He played under Northbridge coach Ken LaChapelle, he legendary head man who made some nice adjustments to keep his team in it, but Archibald took stock in what this meant in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
"We built our program a certain way," Archibald said. "We play a certain way. We expect a lot out of these kids. We're tough on them. We're not easy to play for. They understand that, but these kids respond to it. We've got a great group of kids. They just come and work hard every day, and they're just really, really good kids. We're proud as heck of them. This one's for them. They earned it today.
"We put it on them and they made plays against a really good opponent that, 10 years ago, if we play that team, we probably lose 42-0. So we've come a long way in 10 years. That's a credit to the kids and how hard they work."
A fun aspect of the day was that, across the street, defending Div. 5 Central champ Nimpuc was hosting Littleton in what turned out to be a barnburner.
The teams went to triple-overtime, with Littleton winning on Parker Lanfors' 10-yard run to give his team a 47-41 win.
Parker Lanfors scores his game-winning touchdown to set off a huge celebration.
We got there just in time to catch the ending, and spoke to Littleton coach Mike Lynn shortly after the game to get his thoughts on the victory.
"Kids puking, everything else," Lynn said about his players fighting through the 12-minute quarters with a small roster. "We go pretty fast on offense. We don't huddle much on offense. We get a lot of plays in, too. Our guys held up. We weren't cramping. We had a couple guys have a little bit of crisis, but they dug down and found a way."
Lynn had praise for his entire team, which definitely did not come into this game as the favorite.
"Nipmuc's a great team," Lynn said. "We executed on offense. We dug down on defense when we had to. So, just proud of the effort. They earned it. The kids earned it. If Nipmuc won, I still would have been telling you it was a great game and they deserved to win. We had one more play in us than they did."
Finally, we were able to catch the final half of Shrewsbury's 46-29 win over Tantasqua.
The Colonials were without quarterback Clint Mills, who had been hurt earlier in the week. Stepping in for him were TJ Morgera and John O'Sullivan, and the offense did not skip a beat against a powerful Warriors team.
Morgera finished with 239 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries, and he also completed 6-of-10 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
Jack Peters rushes in for Shrewsbury's last touchdown of the game.
Tantasqua coach John Hargis lamented the big plays his team allowed in the first half that helped the Colonials pull away.
"Shrewsbury's a talented team," Hargis said. "They've got 90 kids in the program, so they're going to be able to 'next man up.' They've got talent all over the field and they coach them well. We knew they were going to come in and be a prepared team, so we just had to come in and execute. We did at times execute properly and, at times, look pretty good. And then when we had mental mistakes and didn't execute our assignments, they burned us a little bit. And with a team like Shrewsbury, you've got to play assignment-sound football with them."
Morgera had not played quarterback in years, but picked it up pretty quick.
"So Clint got hurt freshman year the first couple games," Morgera said. "I played then. I didn't really have a lot of experience, especially throwing the ball. But I played baseball, so it's kind of easy to pick up. Just had to learn how to throw a football."
Aloisi spoke to the difficulty of having to get new players ready for Mills' role.
"It was a challenge, but I just credit our kids," Aloisi said. "TJ obviously stepped up. Jack O'Sullivan stepped up. With the other guys, there was a bit of a domino effect because of our substitution sequence. We had a lot of guys step in. But I think, I just credit the coaches and the kids for getting up to speed really fast. Yeah, it was a challenge, but I'm proud of how we met it."