Sept. 14 Friday pick 'em

We did . . . OK last week. Good, not great or terrible considering the degree of difficulty of the games chosen.

We're going to use a different format this week for the high school game we will be attending, which is Everett at Mansfield Friday night at 7 p.m. We spoke to the two opposing coaches who faced the teams in Week 1 — Al Fornaro of Xaverian and Jon Brillo of BC High — to get their takes on the matchup.

Hopefully, we can make this a weekly feature of our pick 'em.

Onto the predictions.

High Schools

Everett at Mansfield

Xaverian coach Al Fornaro, whose Hawks lost to Everett last week, 34-21

MassVarsity: I know Everett is talented at the skill positions and they're good up front. What was the biggest difficulty in facing a team like that?

AF: You have to account for two exceptional athletes, the wide receiver (Mike Sainristil) and the running back (Isaac Seide). You've got to pick your poison, because they have an offensive line that blocks well. If you want to load the box, then you might be a little bit suspect on the back end. If you want to double-cover someone, you might be a little lighter up front. That's the name of the game in football anyhow. It's all about matchups. But they're physical. They're very physical, and we knew that. And they're good. Those boys that they have up front playing, and a couple that play both ways, what's his name, Smith (Jalen Iles-Smith)? He's a good football player. They have legitimate, college-sized players there. Whether (Smith) is 6-4 or whatever, they're good.

MV: Schematically, when you're facing those guys when they're on offense, Seide and Sainristil, how difficult is it to take those guys away when there are other guys that can hurt you?

AF: Well, that's always difficult. You never want to let the other team's best player beat you, but if they have more than one, that becomes more difficult, obviously. So you want to take away what they do best, and just try to play team defense behind it.

MV: With guys like that, it seems like you can know what's coming and still not be able to make a play because they're so tough to tackle. They're so fast. Is that a big frustration when you play a team like Everett?

AF: I think it's a frustration when you play anybody. You should be able to tackle. That's why you practice. It's not like they're going to say, run the ball, try and stop us. You have an idea. If I had more of an idea, maybe we would have been more successful against them last week. But (Sainristil) runs good routes. He has good speed. At times we try to man up on him because we're trying to take other things away, and they found him, and he caught a touchdown pass. The other kid (Seide), he gets in the secondary, he can go. He can scoot.

MV: What's the most difficult part about facing their defense? Is it their speed? Is it their physicality? Is it the combination of both? What makes it tough to move the ball against them?

AF: It's a combination. They can run. Their front four can run. Their linebackers can run. Their secondary can run. So they can get after the ball. They present problems if you're going to combo block. If you don't come off that block quick enough, the linebacker will just run past you to make the play, which is what they did, I believe, on the second or third play of the game. We did some things OK offensively, not enough of them. We should have really been a little more patient with the run game and taken some time off the clock, which is what you want to do against any high-powered offense. If they don't have the ball, they can't score. I didn't make that stuff up.

MV: There are not a lot of teams that run like Everett around here. How long does it take for the kids to adjust to players that are that fast? Is it something that gets better over the course of the game, or is it something that you just have to deal with?

AF: It's very difficult to simulate in practice, obviously. There's certain things you can do. We used to do it defensively. If teams had really speedy wide receivers, we're going to line them up a yard and a half, even two yards up the field. The secondary would have to adjust to that. They were on them already. But if you've got kids who can run and take proper pursuit angles, you can take some of those things against a running back or a receiver in the open field. But you always want to eliminate a one-on-one situation if you don't have a superior athlete.

MV: And, lastly, what does Mansfield have to do best to beat a team like Everett. Obviously, it's a tough task.

AF: They've got to play mistake-free football. We all try to do that every week. They have to limit Everett's opportunities. And, again, that would be by controlling the ball. And they have to score, obviously. So, rally to the ball on defense, and don't give up the big play.

BC High coach Jon Brillo, whose Eagles lost to Mansfield last week, 21-7

MV: One of the things Al hit on when it came to beating a team like Everett that is so explosive, is just being able to eat up clock, keep the ball out of their hands, have your offense be a defense. Do you think that's something Mansfield can do, sustain drives, not just have big plays and score, but keep the ball away?

JB: Yeah, I think they can do that. Our plan against them was the same approach, it looks like, that Xaverian had with Everett: try to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible, eat the clock. We know what Mansfield does very well. They run their offense, execute it very well. Their running back, No. 22 (junior Vinnie Holmes), was a hell of a player last week. He was a very tough tackle. He doesn't go down on first contact. They've got a couple weapons on the outside. They've got some pretty good speed. If they need to, they can take the top off. But they've got some beef up front. They were able to move and open some holes. We made some mistakes that allowed the big play to happen, and I think they should be able to move the ball well and control the clock against Everett.

MV: One of the things I noticed when I watched Mansfield, I expected them to be smaller, and I don't know why. A few of their teams in the recent past haven't been that big. I know you've scrimmaged them and stuff like that. But this team, they look like a regular Division 1 team in that regard. I know they're Division 2, but they didn't look like a small team to me up front. Do you feel like, with a team like Everett that's also very big up front, they have a better way of matching up than some other teams?

JB: Yeah, I think they definitely do. That was kind of the first thing we noticed was the defensive tackles, defensive ends for them had some really good size. The minute we got their film, we knew our guards, our center were going to have their hands full with their defensive tackles. I want to say that (Mansfield) coach (Mike) Redding told me they're not even with their best d-tackle (Colbey Eason) right now. He's still battling an injury. But they have some great size. The quarterback (Damani Scott) has some great size to be able to see over everything that's in front of him. He's very mobile. He didn't really beat us too much with his feet last week. We were able to contain him, but he does have a very live arm, and with the guys blocking up front for him, he may be able find some receivers open.

MV: The other thing I noticed about Holmes, he looks like a senior, even though he's a junior. He's a two-way player (linebacker on defense), and he seems like a lot of the guys that played for Redding, just hard-nosed, tough guys. Is he someone that Everett is going to have to game plan for on both sides of the ball, like a real, "OK, we have to focus on this guy more than some other kids"?

JB: Yeah, definitely, especially on the defensive side. He was able to sneak by some of our blocks, and I want to say he looked like a real stud Friday night. He was able to find the holes, fill them, make the tackles when they were needed. And then when he was running the ball, he was an extremely tough tackle. He looked like a very good player, very tough. That town, Mansfield, they're a very tough town. they play hard.

MV: The thing about Everett, they have the running back, they have the receiver, they have other kids that can hurt you. What can Mansfield do to sort of neutralize that speed, if at all?

JB: That fast, you want to make sure you're eliminating the big plays. I know Mansfield runs two different types of defenses. We exchanged some films from the preseason. They run, like a hybrid, 5-2, 3-5-type of look, and then a 4-3, which is what they seem to be playing more recently. But they do have the athletes on the outside, and the safeties are very good. They matched up a little bit man-to-man with us at times, and others they were going some zone. But if they can execute like they did last week, they should be able to hold Everett.

MV: This is another game where a Hockomock team or a Merrimack Valley team, when they play a Xaverian or a St. John's Prep or a Brockton or an Everett, a big Division 1 team that gets a lot of attention, it seems like there's a little extra juice in their step. Do you feel like that can be a tangible advantage on their side, or is that something that goes away after the first couple plays?

JB: We scrimmaged them over the years, and that's something that can play a role over the whole game. We've scrimmaged them for a number of years, and they always, from the very first snap through maybe the fourth team that we play, they're all flying around, a lot of life, very engaged in the game at all times. They're very aware of what's going on, the situations, and what needs to be done. So the initial surge of energy may wear off for the first couple plays, first few plays, but they're locked in the whole time from what I've seen over the years.

Our take: We like Mansfield a lot this season, and this year's Hornets team matches up with a team of Everett's caliber much better than a few of its recent outfits. That said, we expect a similar script to the Xaverian game last week. Mansfield can hang around, but a big play or two late will tilt it in Everett's favor in front of what we expect to be a great crowd. From Hawk-beaters to Hock-beaters, expect the Crimson Tide to improve to 2-0.

Prediction: Everett 31, Mansfield 21

St. John's of Shrewsbury at Springfield Central

In one of several good intersectional matchups over the weekend, this is a rematch of last year's Div. 3 state semifinal. Expect a shootout, and even though Central did not do much offensively against Lincoln-Sudbury, the Golden Eagles should put up more points at home. Still, St. John's has had Central's number lately, and we expect that to continue.

Prediction: St. John's 45, Springfield Central 42

Scituate at Duxbury

Boy, were we impressed with what we saw out of Duxbury last week in how the Dragons took down Bridgewater-Raynham. Not a lot of weaknesses there. Scituate can put up points, but can the Sailors match up in a shootout? We don't think so.

Prediction: Duxbury 42, Scituate 30

Bishop Fenwick at Dedham

Don't overlook the importance of this game, because these are two of the best teams in Div. 6 and have realistic state title aspirations. Dave Flynn has done a phenomenal job building things back up at Dedham, and Fenwick looked great in shutting out a good Hamilton-Wenham team. This one truly is a tossup.

Prediction: Dedham 27, Bishop Fenwick 26

Algonquin at Marlboro

Algonquin handled itself well in a blowout win over Worcester North, while Marlboro put away a Leominster that should be much better than it showed a year ago. We like Marlboro's style of play, and this should be one of the harder hitting games of the week.

Prediction: Marlboro 17, Algonquin 13

Needham at Hopkinton

Hopkinton is one of the teams, along with Whitman-Hanson, that was difficult to keep out of this week's top 25. Needham will be favored by most after an impressive win over Natick, and even though we have the Rockets ranked higher, we feel like people are sleeping on the host Hillers a little too much.

Prediction: Hopkinton 22, Needham 17

Brockton at Natick

Another huge game between a ranked Brockton squad and a Natick team that could very well be inside the top 25. Brockton will have to establish its ground game and get out to an early lead against a Natick offense that is balanced and dangerous. We like Brockton to find its rhythm late and let its big lines take over.

Prediction: Brockton 28, Natick 14

Lincoln-Sudbury at Melrose

OK, we will admit when we were wrong, and we were way too down on Melrose before the season. The Red Raiders look to have reloaded, and should be one of the favorites in Div. 4 again. Still, L-S has very few weaknesses and is tremendous up front.

Prediction: Lincoln-Sudbury 23, Melrose 13

Central Catholic at St. John's Prep

St. John's Prep looked dominant in Week 1, and Central Catholic also handled Dartmouth more easily than we expected. This is a young Central team, and St. John's has way more experience. That should be the difference here.

Prediction: St. John's Prep 21, Central Catholic 15

Barnstable at Braintree

These are two of the best teams in Div. 2 South and could very well find themselves matched up again in the postseason. It's tough to say at this early point who the favorite is, but we were a little more impressed with Barnstable's win over Dennis-Yarmouth last week, so that's the direction we will go in.

Prediction: Barnstable 15, Braintree 14

Stoughton at Catholic Memorial

We like what Stoughton brings to the table every year. The Black Knights are always physical and tough, can play good defense and run the ball. But CM has a lot going for it right now, and should avenge last year's loss.

Prediction: Catholic Memorial 45, Stoughton 18

Xaverian at Bridgewater-Raynham

Both of these teams are coming off losses, but each played a top-level opponent, so there is no need to hit the panic button on either side. That said, both play brutal schedules, and seeding-wise, neither team can get too far behind the eight ball.

Prediction: Xaverian 28, Bridgewater-Raynham 7

Grafton at Shrewsbury

Grafton won its opener North Middlesex, and should be one of the better teams in Div. 4 and Central Mass. in general. However, Shrewsbury's passing attack is just a little too explosive to be counted against here.

Prediction: Shrewsbury 34, Grafton 14

Peabody at Danvers

So far, it is hard not to be impressed by both teams. Peabody, as reported by Salem Evening News scribe Matt Williams, operated out of a new look offensively in Week 1 to much success, while Danvers took down a good Masconomet team. We're going with the home team in a close one.

Prediction: Danvers 17, Peabody 16

Tewksbury at Methuen

Methuen also feels like one of those teams that we thought had to replace too much to be that successful this year, but that does not seem to be the case. That said, Tewksbury presents a whole host of problems schematically and has one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Jay Connolly.

Prediction: Tewksbury 24, Methuen 20

Auburn at Dennis-Yarmouth

Like we said, a great weekend for intersectional matchups with one of the best teams on Cape Cod against one of the top Central Mass. contenders. We feel Auburn will be a player in the postseason, but the Dolphins might be a little too quick on the perimeter here.

Prediction: Dennis-Yarmouth 31, Auburn 17

Abington at Rockland

We were a bit surprised that Rockland took it on the chin so decisively against Cohasset last week, but this is not a team that will stay down for long. These are two tough, physical programs that play with a lot of pride. This might be closer than people expect.

Prediction: Abington 24, Rockland 22

Westboro at Nashoba

Westboro lost to an improving Tantasqua program last week in a result we did not expect. That has less to do with Westboro, we feel, than it does with how Tantasqua is coming along. That said, Nashoba should take care of business here.

Prediction: Nashoba 40, Westboro 20

Wachusett at Tantasqua

Wachusett dropped its opener to Doherty, while Tantasqua pulled off what some could consider an upset over Westboro. Still, we feel like the Mountaineers will do what they have done to a lot of teams over the years, which is win the battle in the trenches and get big chunks on the ground.

Prediction: Wachusett 14, Tantasqua 10

Bishop Feehan at North Attleboro

This rivalry might have a little more intrigue to it this year, as Feehan looks to have improved a good bit over last season despite an opening loss to Falmouth. But North just ended King Philip's 25-game winning streak and has to be flying high.

Prediction: North Attleboro 35, Bishop Feehan 14

Reading at Acton-Boxboro

Acton-Boxboro is flying a little under the radar, as not much has been made of the Colonials' 28-0 win over Chelmsford. Reading seems to be back closer to what the Rockets usually are, and last year handled A-B pretty well. We expect a closer game this time around, but the same bottom line.

Prediction: Reading 24, Acton-Boxboro 21

Franklin at Milford

Franklin's win over Andover caught our eye last week, especially the margin of victory (the Panthers won, 34-10). But even though Milford lost its opener against Attleboro, we still like the Scarlet Hawks' chances going forward.

Prediction: Milford 24, Franklin 17

BC High at Marshfield

We knew Marshfield was going to be young and experiencing some growing pains this fall, and the Rams took it on the chin against Whitman-Hanson last week. BC High is coming off a loss to Mansfield, but we feel the Eagles are a bit further along at this point still.

Prediction: BC High 20, Marshfield 7

Mashpee at South Hadley

All year, we have expressed some concern over the loss of a tremendous offensive line from Mashpee in 2017. But the smaller group of Falcons held up well against Nantucket last weekend, and not many teams have the top-end skill Mashpee can roll out.

Prediction: Mashpee 40, South Hadley 14

Stoneham at Arlington

Both teams are poised for big years, and come into this matchup off wins in the first week. We feel that Arlington is coming into its own, but it's hard to bet against Stoneham's Christos Argyropolous and Co., so we're going to bend that way.

Prediction: Stoneham 27, Arlington 24

Cathedral at Brighton

Cathedral hung tough but lost to Old Colony in its opener, while Brighton emerged victorious in a low-scoring game over Southie. We expect a similar type of contest here, and again look for the Bengals to come out on top.

Prediction: Brighton 13, Cathedral 12

Tech Boston at New Mission/Boston English

Another big-time showdown in the city between two of its best teams, this one figures to be a close one. These are both squads that other coaches pointed at as having big potential, but we like Tech Boston just a little more.

Prediction: Tech Boston 28, New Mission/Boston English 25

Westfield at Leominster

A very intriguing Western Mass. vs. Central Mass. showdown here. Leominster is coming off a loss to Marlboro, but we expect the Blue Devils to be fine this fall. Westfield has a slew of dangerous offensive weapons, but Leominster takes this one at home.

Prediction: Leominster 28, Westfield 26

Longmeadow at West Springfield

Maybe we were underestimating Longmeadow's opponent, but we did not forsee Minnechaug beating the Lancers last week. West Springfield lost a lot from last year's team, so this will be an interesting litmus test on how it has reloaded.

Prediction: West Springfield 34, Longmeadow 27

New Bedford at Whitman-Hanson

This is not as easy a pick as it may seem, as New Bedford dominated everywhere but the scoreboard in its loss to Taunton last week. But Whitman-Hanson looks to have a special group and should be able to contain the Whalers' weapons enough to win.

Prediction: Whitman-Hanson 35, New Bedford 28

Lowell Catholic at Georgetown

This is one of those games that features two teams that may be a little better than expected preseason. Lowell Catholic has some nice experience, while Georgetown is coming off a big win over a good Tech Boston team. We'll take the home team in a close one.

Prediction: Georgetown 33, Lowell Catholic 28


UMass at Florida International

We like what we've been hearing out of Amherst this week about the response to last week's disappointing effort in the loss to Georgia Southern. That said, Florida International still looks to have an overall athletic advantage here.

Prediction: Florida International 42, UMass 38

San Diego at Harvard

This one is tough to forecast, of course, because Harvard is coming off a 5-5 season and has not played a game yet. This appears to be a determined Crimson team to overcome last year's struggles, but we feel that next step might not come until league play hits.

Prediction: San Diego 31, Harvard 17

Yale at Holy Cross

It's been a very tough schedule to start the season for Holy Cross, as the Crusaders were on the road against Colgate Week 1, then trekked to Chestnut Hill to face a loaded Boston College team last week. Now back in Worcester, Holy Cross will take on the reigning Ivy League champs. Yikes.

Prediction: Yale 28, Holy Cross 20

LIU Post at Stonehill

The amount of offense Stonehill put up last week in a wild, 57-54 triple overtime victory over Saint Anselm certainly is worth attention. But LIU Post is one of the best teams in the Northeast-10 and should be a tall task.

Prediction: LIU Post 35, Stonehill 24

Western New England at Husson

One of the better Div. 3 games of the weekend, Western New England takes on a 1-1 Husson team that has only lost to a strong Union squad. Western N.E. quarterback Alec Coleman of Arlington had a big game last weekend, and we think he has another one around the corner.

Prediction: Western New England 24, Husson 20

Last week: 26-9

Season: 28-11

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