By Matt Feld
The entirety of the Massachusetts high school sports media was in West Roxbury Friday — or at least so it seemed. After all it was nearly impossible to stay away.
In front of a crowd who's amusement and enthusiasm overshadowed the lack of capacity in numbers, Catholic Memorial picked up its third quality victory of the season defeating Division 3 powerhouse Springfield Central, 21-13. The game was a painting of each of the two sides' strengths and weaknesses, and contained flashes of play that explained why they both believe they are destined to hoist a Super Bowl trophy come season's end.
The path to victory was different for Catholic Memorial compared to its first two challenges, but the result was the same. After using its speed, quickness, and agility to cruise past Lynn Classical and comfortably defeat St. John's Shrewsbury, the Knights showed a willingness to go toe-to-toe with arguably the most physical team in the Bay State. Knights quarterback Barrett Pratt even showed a desire to get in on the rough-and-tumble nature of the matchup throwing a multitude of key blocks that led to a couple of key first down runs before delivering his best throw of the night — a completion to Daniel Lopes for a first down — to ice the contest.
Owen McGowan, meanwhile, continued to prove that he is one of the top players in Massachusetts with a circus catch, two touchdowns, and a couple of sacks. Darrius LeClair added 119 rushing yards out of the backfield.
With week four on the horizon here are my five biggest takeaways from week three:
1. Holliston Has Its Say
For the first few weeks of the season it was easy to consider Scituate the favorite to repeat and claim the Div. 5 Super Bowl for the second year in a row. Saturday morning, however, Holliston made sure to let out a loud "not so fast" as the Panthers showed their might with a 21-18 home victory over Div. 2 South power Barnstable.
Todd Kiley displayed his teams multi-dimensional attributes. Senior quarterback Matt Aravantis went 9-of-14 for 130 yards and a touchdown, while junior running back Tristan Benson compiled 89 rushing yards and a score of his own. For most of the first half Holliston's defense was stellar allowing just six points on a touchdown pass from Red Raiders quarterback Nick Wilson to Harry Lanman.
The key element that the Panthers have now in their back pocket is a legitimate shot at homefield advantage throughout the Div. 5 South playoffs, especially when accounting for Scituate's loss to Duxbury on Friday night. If Holliston can take care of business in the Tri-Valley League, the Panthers are looking at being considered the favorite in Division 5 come tournament time.
2. Natick Proves A Point
It goes without saying that Div. 2 South is in line to be blood bath come November. Heck, I wrote that very thing last week.
On Friday night, Natick made sure to solidify itself among the favorites in the section. While fellow threats to the sectional crown Mansfield and King Philip were idle and other potential contenders in Barnstable, Marshfield, and Bridgewater-Raynham suffered setbacks, Natick ended Week 3 on a high going into Brockton and knocking off the Boxers, 35-25.
Junior quarterback Will Lederman continued to put his full array of talents on display finishing 12-of-19 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Above all else, the Redhawks offense proved just how potent it can be when its ground game is functioning on all cylinders as Jalyn Aponte piled up 114 yards and two more scores. Combine that with Lederman's weapons in Jake Dunlap and Nick Ofodile and the Redhawks are shaping up to have one of the top offenses in Eastern Mass.
3. Come Up And Smell the (Mel)rose Coming into the season many expected Melrose to be a formidable contender in Division 4. No one one anticipated, however, the bludgeoning they have inflicted on opponents to date. On Friday night, the Red Raiders handily defeated Div. 2 North power Lincoln-Sudbury, 41-7, behind quarterback Grant Fennell and his 100 rushing yards to go with three touchdowns. Defensively Melrose was equally as impressive hauling in four interceptions. The win was a follow up to Melrose's cruise control win over Malden. Difficult obstacles are still on the docket with a road trip to Woburn and a battle with Watertown looming but the Red Raiders sure look like they are on a collision course with Marblehead to decide the top dog in Div. 4 North.
4. The Fight For Second Place In Div. 1 South is Wide Wide Open
Alright. Lets not put the cart before the horse. At the end of the day, while Catholic Memorial may be the odds-on favorite in Div. 1 South, in high school football high school football is the definition of unpredictable. Heck, just ask the Knights who two seasons ago went on the road and knocked off previously unbeaten BC High on a last second Hail Mary.
Yet while the Knights are clear in their current dominance atop the Div. 1 South field there is still plenty of uncertainty as it pertains to who their biggest challenger will end up becoming. Catholic Conference rival Xaverian likely staved off a doomsday scenario when Joe Kelcourse rumbled in for a game-winning two point conversion to lift the Hawks past Bridgewater-Raynham. The aforementioned Eagles showcased they may be a potential threat with a dominant win over Marshfield and have the pieces with Brendan Cassamajor, Carter Rice, and Aidan Sullivan pacing the offense.
Franklin is longing for the taste of a sectional final appearance after a heartbreaking loss to Xaverian last year in the Div. 1 South Semis and Brockton has shown flashes of having one of the quicker offenses in the bracket.
Also, don't be so fast to count out Newton North as quarterback Andrew Landry instantly makes the Tigers a threat.
5. These Games Are Incredibly Long
I know this is not exactly Earth-shattering news. Anyone who has played in, coached, watched, or reported on an MIAA game through so far this fall is already aware of the seemingly never ending state of these games.
The third quarter of the Springfield Central - Catholic Memorial game took a grand total of . . wait for it . . . 37 minutes. Thirty. Seven. Minutes. Most of the reason that the quarter took so long was due to the amount of cramping that players on both sides experienced likely due to the fact that they are simply under conditioned, or not used to, playing a game of this length. You are worried about the safety of players so you make the games longer therefore putting the safety of the athletes in peril. That makes minimal sense.
Have no fear as the long interlude between cramps allowed banter up the press box to conclude that Bernie Sanders would be perfect to take up the mantle of taking on the Federation — after all the rules were passed to appease the top percent of those in this state at the expense of working class families (The somewhat hilarious aspect of this whole thing is that this is not that far off).
Across town in Dorchester off the breezy bay BC High's game versus Marshfield lasted a breezy two hours and 36 minutes. Down in Holliston on Saturday morning the first half alone took almost 90 minutes to complete. Its becoming easy to forget these games do not come with media timeouts scheduled in between each possession.
Feld's Hot Take of the Week: Its Time For Students To Get In Free
It's become impossible to hide. One of the biggest problems that high school sports in the area is facing is attendance. Steadily, over the last few years, attendance at athletic events across the state has declined as students elect to go out with friends, partake in screen activities, or spend their time participating in another co-curricular.
At its essence high school sports is there as a foundation to build communities. It's there to build connections and formulate relationships between athletes hoping to become the star of their town and classmates, coaches, faculty members, administrators and community leaders. Yet without the presence of students or fellow future aspiring players on hand to pull for their school that unique aspect of high school sports is lost.
The time has come for schools and administrators to increase their responsibility in enhancing the aspect of community and that starts with allowing students to get in free. Doing so would eliminate the worry that young fans have in needing to scrounge up the three, five, or seven dollars to receive admittance.
With most start times close to 7 p.m., many students already have to pay for a commute home and back to the school or game's location. This often means a fare for public transportation or gas money.
It's time that support for young athletes on the field comes without a cost.