Updated: Sep 8, 2019
EVERETT — There were still some questions about Springfield Central before Friday night's nonleague opener at Everett.
Sure, the Division 3 state title last season was nice, but could the Golden Eagles go into the den of Veterans Memorial Stadium with a freshman starting quarterback and beat Everett? You know, the same Everett program that has won 10 Super Bowls or state titles since 2001?
Yes. Hell yes. And then some.
Springfield Central put a running clock on the hosts and dominated from start to finish in a 40-12 rout. The third-ranked Golden Eagles actually came out of this looking underrated against the No. 2 Tide, who clearly have some work to do.
That freshman quarterback, William "Pop" Watson III, was brilliant in his first-ever high school game, completing 15-of-26 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown. Running back Marcus Crawford carried the ball 18 times for 183 yards and four touchdowns, while outside linebacker Tyson Thornton had a 36-yard pick-six in to give his team an early two-score advantage.
The latter loved being able to play a disrespect card that may not be around for much longer.
"Oh, we love that. We love that," Thornton said. "We've always been the underdogs because of where we're from, and we (represent) it. We rep it so hard, and we're so proud of where we come from. Nobody thinks we can do anything. But we're going to shock them again. We're going to shock them again. We're only 1-0. We start over again, 0-0."
"We rep the whole Western Mass," Thornton reiterated. "The whole Western Mass."
Watson spread the ball around to receivers like Andre Ellison, Joe Griffin III, Justin Gabriel, Myles Ward, and Frank Velazquez, and made accurate throws even when facing pressure and eluding the rush. Griffin (six receptions, 114 yards, TD) and Ellison (five catches, 140 yards) were Watson's favorite targets.
For someone who already gained a UMass offer before he even took a high school snap, Watson did not look fazed.
"Nerves? My heart was racing," Watson said. "My first high school game, but I knew I had a great team behind me, so nervous wasn't really the word. Excited, ready to go, those were the words for me."
Springfield Central quarterback William "Pop" Watson III warms up before Friday night's game with Everett.
"He's amazing," Thornton said. "He's head over heels of where he's supposed to be. Man, that's my little cousin, so I'm impressed by him every day. He's working tremendously hard, tremendously hard."
According to coach Valdamar Brower, everyone in the building and city of Springfield did to put together that performance.
"We just had a very committed offseason with strength and conditioning," Brower said. "The kids are doing better with academics and taking academics a lot more serious. We've got to thank the Central football players that were here before us and led by example and gone to great colleges and great universities. Somebody real to look up to.
"It wasn't about talking, it was about their teammates going off to college and going to great universities and college football. So, very inspirational. We've got a great administration, great coaching staff, great school, great city. So we just support each other and try to get better every day."
Some notes and observations along the way:
— The Central offensive line dominated, especially on the interior. Travis Gause, Greg Harris, Mekhi Abdul-Rahim, Jacob Delgado, and Masai Hallums opened holes all night long for Crawford and kept Watson mostly clean. With an uptempo offense, the unit did not tire out and wore Everett's front down.
"I think we did pretty good," said Gause, a sophomore. "We have some things to work on, communication to work on. But running the ball, we did excellent."
"It was a great victory," he added, "because last year when we scrimmaged (the Crimson Tide) they really got to us. So coming back this year and beating them down, that was really good."
Watson gave Gause and Co. their proper due.
"That o-line, man, they're something special," he said. "They're a bunch of dogs up there."
— You could say the same about the defensive line and front seven in general, which swarmed and created pressure on just about every dropback for Everett quarterback Duke Doherty. Although the junior evaded the rush well and threw second-half touchdown passes to Tyrese Baptiste and Samy Lamothe, he barely had any time to throw.
Springfield Central defensive lineman Terry Lockett (No. 9 in white) collapses an Everett running play in the first quarter.
"We got a lot of work to do," Everett coach Theluxon Pierre said. "Obviously, our weakness shows. We've got to go back and work. Like I said, my o-line was one of our weaknesses and it showed. And (one of) their strengths is d-line and linebackers. So, like I said, we've got a lot of work to do. Like I said, we'll get back to it. It's not the end of the world. First game of the season."
Lockett, a junior who already holds a handful of Football Bowl Subdivision offers, created relentless pressure all game.
"Terry, hey, the offers say for themselves," Thornton said. "He earned everything (that he's received). I remember when he was going to quit football and give it all up. He was in eighth grade. Kid's a grinder. He works for everything he's got. He's a technician. Hey, if you want to see a grinder. I'm putting this out to all the schools out there. He's a dog. Nobody in Massachusetts can block him. He should have (got his respect) earlier than that."
Thornton explained why Lockett almost left the sport.
"He wasn't that good as a kid, and he was playing multiple sports because he was so big and athletic," Thornton said. "And when football wasn't natural. It didn't come as natural as it did for me or anybody else. He had to grind. And I tell you, he's my brother. That's my brother. We grew up together. I pushed him. When he sees me do something, he wants to do it 10 times better."
Said Brower: "Terry has just got to get better every day. He's working. He loves this game. You could see it. You could feel it. That goes to his teammates. He has high expectations from his teammates.
"He's got some physical abilities that you can't teach. He's blessed. Very, very happy to be able to work with him."
— Whether it was rushing the passer, coming up against the run, or covering receivers in the slot, Thornton did a little bit of everything well. His ability to be sticky in coverage against receivers was especially impressive, and his football IQ is on the higher end. After his pick-six, the ball did not come Thornton's way too often.
"Tyson has a lot of jobs," Brower said. "He's matured a lot this year. Remember, he was only a sophomore last year, and, at times, he acted like a sophomore, not so much on the football field but in other areas. This year, he's matured a lot. He's acting like he is on the football field in other areas of his life, which is huge to our football team and his development."
Fellow linebackers Dante Bolden and Cori Jackson also stood out, as the latter made a diving interception in the third quarter.
— Crawford, a junior, scored on runs of 5, 6, 71, and 30 yards. He did not start as a sophomore, but looked certainly capable on Friday, finishing his runs hard and showing breakaway speed when he reached the second and third levels.
"Marcus Crawford has been like that," Thornton said. "Our freshman year, his first touch, untouched for a touchdown."
Expect to see a lot more.
— Griffin, just a sophomore, was a matchup nightmare for the Everett defensive backs, who just didn't have the height or athleticism to stick with the 6-foot-3, 188-pounder.
He did not start in last season, but certainly showed off his talent Friday night.
Griffin's toe-tap touchdown catch on a fade inside the right pylon was pretty, as was a one-handed catch that set up Crawford's first score on the first drive less than three minutes in.
Joe Griffin III makes a one-handed catch on Springfield Central's opening drive.
"He's slept on so hard because we've got a loaded receiving corps," Thornton said. "Last year he got barely any touches. But this is his year. This is splashy. You're going to hear way more. Joe Griffin III, remember that."
— Senior Trey Cavaan had a big game for Central, too, as the safety laid a crushing blow on a pass to Ismael Zamor late in the fourth quarter.
Zamor stayed on the ground for several minutes before walking off the field. The Central secondary gave up some big plays in the second half, but held when it needed to.
Senior Cam Lee also made an interception for Central in the first quarter on Everett's first drive.
— Everett's Egan Gouveia was injured on the opening kickoff and remained on the turf until he was taken off the field by a stretcher. An ambulance took him to Massachusetts General Hospital.
Pierre said the junior was talking as he left the field, and did not know the specific nature of the injury.
"Our prayers are with Egan," Pierre said. "We got word that he's doing OK. That's the most important thing tonight."
— Pierre was simply not happy with his team's play.
"We punted well," he said of the positives for the Crimson Tide.
There were mental errors all over the place, including the opening coin toss. Everett won it, but one of the captains elected to kick the ball. After the official asked him if he was sure about that, the player reiterated his wish. That deferred the decision to Central in the second half, and the Golden Eagles chose to receive and earn possession to start both.
Even though Everett showed more fight in the final 24 minutes, Pierre is looking for his team to come together more going forward.
"We can do one of two things," he said. "We can pack it in and quit for the season, or we come out, man up, and let's play. That's all we can do."