WORCESTER – The St. John’s football team is off to a 2-0 start – and has looked good doing so – but the next three weeks will go a long way to revealing whether the Pioneers are once again contenders for postseason glory or, sadly, pretenders.

The happy memories of season-opening wins over Catholic Memorial (33-3) and Springfield Central (62-39) will fade quickly if St. John’s doesn’t find a way to successfully negotiate its way through road games against Leominster, Wachusett and Shrewsbury. Those three teams, along with the Pioneers, have long been considered the iron of central Mass., high school football.

“We haven’t really thought too much about anything other than this week,” St. John’s coach John Andreoli said when asked if he thought this three-game stretch could be season-defining for his team. “It’s really kind of the same old thing; we’re just trying to zero in on a series of one-week seasons. Our kids have really done a pretty good job of compartmentalizing the season and just focusing on Leominster this week.”

Don’t be fooled by Leominster’s 0-2 start – which came at the hands of another perennial Central Mass. power, Marlborough (28-7) and perennial Eastern Mass. power Everett (33-7) – Andreoli certainly isn’t.

“I think they’re the best 0-2 team that I’ve seen,” said Andreoli, dismissing the Blue Devils winless start. “I don’t look too much at records. I think they’ve played hard against two really good teams. That’s all we really care about. We don’t look at their record as being a factor as far as what they can do and what they can’t do.

“They’re kind of a typical Leominster team,” Andreoli continued. “Physically they’re big and they run the ball hard. They’ve got a balanced attack where they can run it at you and throw it at you. And Dave Palazzi is a great coach.”

Leominster, which has only scored two touchdowns so far this season, is led by junior running backs Adam Couch and Connor Marchand. Couch has been the Blue Devils’ feature back, gaining 207 yards on 31 carries, the 10th best total among Central Mass. running backs. Marchand has added 58 yards on 19 rushing attempts.

Junior quarterback Pat Gallagher, who at 6-feet-3 stands tall in the pocket, has yet to get untracked for Leominster, having completed just 6-of-27 passes for 75 yards and one touchdown.

“Pat Gallagher is the kind of kid who can break out any week and be really effective,” Andreoli said. “He’s athletic and he stepped up last year and had some real success run the ball, running their zone read offense. He is the center of their offense so we have to make sure we account for him.”

The production of the St. John’s offense is in stark contrast to that of the Blue Devils. The Pioneers have scored 95 points in their first two games and rolled up nearly 1,000 yards of total offense.

Senior running back/wide receiver Peter Oliver has emerged as a double-threat for St. John’s, having rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries and caught three passes for 158 yards and another two scores. He is the No. 5 leading rusher in Central Mass., and the No. 7 leading receiver in Central Mass. His five total touchdowns have him tied for No. 8 on the Central Mass. scoring list.

Steve Bucciaglia, the Pioneers’ senior quarterback, is the No. 2 passer in Central Mass., having completed 27-of-39 passes for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. Along with Oliver, senior Coleman Drugotch and sophomore Eamonn Dennis have been Bucciaglia’s favorite targets. Drugotch has caught six passes for 148 yards and a score while Dennis has gained 110 yards and scored twice while catching five balls.

Senior Dan Byers has contributed to the Pioneers’ rushing attack, gaining 76 yards on 14 carries.

“Danny Byers is pound-for-pound one of the toughest kids I’ve seen play the game,” Andreoli said.

Andreoli said he is pleased with the fast start his offense has gotten off to so far this season.

“What I’m really impressed with is the things you don’t see on the stat sheet,” Andreoli said. “We’ve got guys up front that are blocking very effectively in the run game, and our receivers are blocking downfield and springing people in both the run game and the pass game. When I watch the game films I see we’ve done a really good job of executing both parts of the offensive game so far.”

While the play of a rock-solid defense doesn’t receive the same fanfare a high-octane offense does, The Pioneers defense has impressed through two games. St. John’s is led in tackles by a trio of seniors – Liam Doran (18 tackles), Isaiah Keegan (15) and Michael Bernard (13-1/2).

“We’ve played eight quarters and seven have been really solid. We took a hard look at ourselves after the third quarter last week,” said Andreoli, whose team led 41-6 at the half but allowed Springfield Central to score two of the first three third-quarter touchdowns. “Philosophically we all wanted to come out and have a really strong third quarter and we didn’t do it. I think we learned a good lesson and our kids, most importantly responded from that this week.

“We have 10 seniors on the field on defense and those kids kind of looked in the mirror and said ‘we learned a lesson in that quarter and were going to be much better going forward in the third quarter,’” Andreoli said. “We had six three-and-outs in the first half last week and six three-and-outs in the first game the week before. We have the ability to be a really good defense; we just need to make sure we don’t have any letdowns at all in the course of a 44-minute game.”

Other matchups that bear watching this week include:

Doherty at Tantasqua

The Highlanders rebounded strongly from their heartbreaking double-overtime loss against Wachusett with a lopsided win over Holy Name.

Leading the way offensively for 1-1 Doherty is junior running back Tajon Vassar who has rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Vassar is part of a three-headed monster at running back for the Highlanders, a trio that includes senior Herman Acheampong (4 carries, 78 yards, 2 TDs) and Anthony Franco (seven rushing attempts, 148 yards.

Doherty quarterback Chris Schoen is the No. 8 passes in central Mass. The junior has completed 13-of-29 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. His backup, freshman Noah Callery, was 3-for-3 for 66 yards, and two touchdowns in last week’s win over the Naps.

Schoen’s favorite target on the young season has been Evan Brunelle, the No. 4 receiver in central Mass. Brunelle, a senior has seven catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Vassar has six receptions out of the backfield for the Highlanders for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively Doherty is led by junior Charlie Payson, the team’s leading tackler with 19 stops. Junior Paul Yiadom has recorded 13 tackles, senior Sam Duah 12 and sophomore Chris Yeboah 11. Yeboah has also found time to record three quarterback sacks – tops in central Mass. – while Duah, classmates Connor Bisnette and Mike Shaylor and sophomore John Brunelle have all been credited with 2 quarterback sacks.

Jon Forson is among the area’s leaders in interceptions with two. Vassar also has picked off a pass this season.

Tantasqua (0-2) is led offensively by seniors Nick Lawrence, Colin Eliason, Jack Dalton and Liam Gore. Lawrence leads all Warriors’ ball carriers with 40 yards on 15 carries. Gore is right him with 39 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushes. Eliason is 15-of-32 passing for 114 yards and his favorite target has been Dalton with seven catches for 73 yards.

Defensively Tantasqua is led by seniors Billy Jones (13 tackles, 2 quarterback sacks) and Sam Cudgma (11-1/2 tackles) and sophomore Mike Rucki (10 tackles).

St. Peter-Marian at Concord Carlisle

The 2-0 Guardians are looking to stay undefeated while the 0-2 Patriots will be looking to remove the winless adjective from in front of their name.

Dan Malm leads SPM both offensively and defensively. As the team’s quarterback the senior has completed 16-of-24 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns – the seventh-best passing totals in Central Mass. – and rushed for 78 yards and another score on 16 carries. From his defensive back position Malm leads the Guardians in tackles with 14.

St. Peter-Marian running backs Matt Dumphy and Owen Leary have been double trouble for opposing defenses. Dumphy, a senior, leads the team in rushing (20 carries, 169 yards, two touchdowns) and receiving. (six catches, 119 yards, two TDs). Leary, a junior, has complemented Dumphy’s effort nicely with 114 yards rushing (on 14 carries) and 55 yards receiving (on four receptions). Junior wide receiver Jess Sullivan had recorded three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively senior Kosta Drosidis leads all SPM players not named Malm in tackles with a dozen. Leary and senior have each made 11 stops.

Algonquin at Wachusett

While the 2-0 Mountaineers won’t admit it publicly, they surely would like to exact a measure of revenge on the team that not only beat them last year in the regular season, but in the playoffs as well.

The Wachusett offense features a punishing rushing attack that has rolled up more than 400 yards so far this season.

Senior Cole Durkan has led the way, gaining 187 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 20 carries. Sam Brewer has added 100 yards and two TDs on 18 carries – he also found the end zone in overtime on a 75-yard scoop and score against Doherty to win the game for the Mountaineers. Gavin Maenzo has added 76 yards (on 14 carries) to the Wachusett ground game and J’Zhon Henderson has chipped in with 54 yards, also on 14 carries.

Of the seven passes Wachusett quarterback Melke Shabo has completed (for 140 yards), three have been to tight end Barry Walsh and gained 80 yards in the process. Maenzo has two catches on the season, for 57 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Liam Griffin, who has a team-leading two quarterback sacks, is among the leaders of a stingy Mountaineers defense that is allowing an average of just 14.5 points per game.

Algonquin (1-1) doesn’t throw the football a lot, but when quarterback Hayden Kea does, he usually hits his target. The senior has completed 15-of-17 passes for 317 yards and touchdowns, stats which make him the fourth-best passer in central Mass.

Classmate Brett Casellini has been Kea’s favorite target, with a team-leading eight receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Casellini has the fifth-best receiving totals in central Mass. fellow wideout – and fellow senior – John Polymeros has four catches for 117 yards.

Senior Ryan Courtwright leads the Tomahawks’ defense with 10 tackles.

Week 3 Schedule

Bartlett (2-0) vs. Worcester Tech (0-2)

When: 6:30 p.m., Friday

Where: Commerce Bank Field, Foley Stadium

St. John’s (2-0) at Leominster (0-2)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Doyle Field, Leominster

Doherty (1-1) at Tantasqua (0-2)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: The Reservation, Sturbridge

St. Peter-Marian (2-0) at Concord-Carlisle (0-2)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Concord-Carlisle High, Concord

Burncoat (1-1) at Blackstone Millville (1-1)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Blackstone Millville Regional, Blackstone

Abby Kelley Foster (1-1) at Ayer-Shirley (1-1)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Ayer-Shirley Regional, Ayer

Algonquin (1-1) at Wachusett (2-0)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Hal Lane Field, Holden

Groton-Dunstable (1-1) at Shrewsbury (2-0)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Shrewsbury High

North (1-1) at Sutton (0-2)

When: 10:30 a.m., Saturday

Where: Sutton High

Quaboag (0-2) vs. South (0-2)

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Commerce Bank Field, Foley Stadium

Holy Name (0-1) at Uxbridge (1-1)

When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Uxbridge High

The Doherty High football team pushed past its heartbreaking season-opening double-overtime loss to Wachusett Regional by pummeling Holy Name, 56-6, Friday night at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium.

Six different players scored for the 1-1 Highlanders, who led 28-0 at the end of the first quarter and 49-6 at halftime. Herman Acheampong scored on runs of 10 and 46 yards while Evan Brunelle caught touchdown passes of 48 and 50 yards from quarterback Noah Callery. Also getting into the end zone for Doherty were Tajon Vassar, Tony Nuahn, Finbar Courtney and Jose Robles.

“We improved a lot from week one to week two,” Highlanders coach Sean Mulcahy said. “The things that cost us against Wachusett we cleaned up a little bit.”

Mulcahy said the strategy in a lopsided game like the Highlanders had with the Naps is to get the starting unit some work and then get the reserves, who are often younger players, some much-needed experience.

“I’ve been on the other end of games like Friday night so I know how hard it is,” Mulcahy said. “Holy Name is playing a lot of younger kids and playing younger kids just doesn’t translate into success. They’re not strong enough, they’re not fast enough and they’re not experienced enough.”

“I’ve been where Holy Name is so I’m cognizant of making sure we play a lot of kids in games like that,” Mulcahy continued. “Unfortunately that means some of our kids didn’t play as much as they would have if we were playing in a close game. But we’ve got guys that deserve to play that don’t play a lot, so it was good in that game to get everybody a lot of work.”

The double-overtime game with Wachusett was a situation where it’s too bad that there aren’t ties in high school football anymore.

“We’d like to be 2-0, obviously, but I think we’ve showed up and played two really good football games,” Mulcahy said. “Wachusett was one of those games where someone has to win and someone has to lose and unfortunately we wound up on the losing end. If we can continue to play well week in and week out we will get an opportunity to play them, or someone like them, in a playoff game.

“But right now we’re just trying to get better every week,” Mulcahy continued. “I know its coach-speak, but it really is the truth. We have a good nucleus of kids who played a lot last year and played a lot as younger guys who are now are a little older and a year bigger and stronger. I think we’re a little more confident, too.”

The seniors on this year’s Doherty team were eighth-graders when the Highlanders won the Division 4 state title in 2013, and the juniors were seventh-graders.

“A lot of the guys on our team now were on the team that won the state title and some even the year before when we were in the playoffs for the first time,” Mulcahy said. “A lot of the guys playing now are the younger brothers of guys who were on those teams; guys who are playing now, their older brothers were on those teams. Guys like Tajon Vassar, Mike Oppong and David and Phil Adarkwah had older brothers on those teams. My nephew, Connor Bisnette, was the water boy on those teams. So, all those kids were around us a lot.”

Doherty’ starting quarterback, junior Chris Schoen, showed against Wachusett that he can make all the throws.

“Chris is good. We threw him in the fire last year,” Mulcahy said. “He was hurt for three games in the middle of the season and that really hurt us as a team. This year, however, he has made the strides you want him to make. He’s still learning, though, and we’ve got good depth behind him, too. We played a freshman (Callery) the other night just to get his feet wet. He’s going to be a good one, too, so we wanted to get him in the game and get him some experience.”

Mulcahy said he currently has between 75-85 kids in the program.

“We’ve always had good numbers here at Doherty. The kids want to play,” Mulcahy said. “My goal is to always try and have 20 kids in each class. That way, hopefully, in each class you’ll end up with 10-20 really solid football players. And then, occasionally you can put two groups together like we have on this team.”

Mulcahy said both the junior and senior class have about 25 kids on the team and about 16 kids in each class play meaningful minutes this year for the Highlanders.

“We have a lot of good juniors who are not playing a lot because of the guys that are playing in front of them,” Mulcahy said. “They’re guys that would be starters on most of my teams in previous years.”

Burncoat turns back Worcester Tech for first win

The Patriots were another team that managed to overcome a disappointing Week 1 loss and turn it into a Week 2 win, 32-12, over the Eagles.

Senior running back Ben Camacho led the way for Burncoat, rushing for 201 yards on 21 carries and scoring on runs of 1 and 40 yards. Junior quarterback Jack Cooney also had a big day, completing 7-of-11 passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns.

On the receiving end of Cooney’s scoring strikes were Givenchy Smith (a 30-yard TD catch), Matt Amissah (44 yards) and Nick Locantore (9 yards). The Patriots led, 18-0 after the first quarter and 24-6 at halftime.

“Ben moves pretty well,” third-year Burncoat coach Rick Cincotta said of the 5-foot 10, 230-pounder, now in his third year as a starter. “He is a low shoulder-pad runner who would rather run over you than around you. He had a good game in week one [a loss to Nipmuc] too, rushing for 132 yards. Bryant Cordero is our other running back; he blocks for Ben and does a really good job opening up holes and taking on linebackers.”

Cincotta was quick to credit the work of the Patriots’ offensive line as another reason Camacho has gained 333 yards in Burncoat’s first two games. Starting along the Burncoat offensive line are: Jason Tribandis (left tackle); Julio Coffre-Carr (left guard); Mitch Kraemer (center); Jamie Ruiz (right guard); and Armando Perez (right tackle). Rotating in along the line is Heriberto Rodriguez.

“Offensively we couldn’t get anything done without our line,” Cincotta said.

Many of the offensive-line starters play on the defensive line as well, including Ruiz – who had a team-leading 8-1/2 tackles against Worcester Tech – and Tribandis. Also seeing time along the defensive line for the Patriots are Bobby Hilli, Carlos Mareno, Edwin Rivera, and Imanol “Animal” Anaya.

Cincotta, the former Marlborough High standout, has been impressed with the development of signal-caller Cooney.

“Jack has been pretty accurate so far this season,” Cincotta said. “He’s a smart kid who is picking up on what we want his to do. On Saturday he made the reads very well and delivered the ball right where it was supposed to be.”

Burncoat, which won one game last year, will look to double its 2016 win total on the road against 2-0 Blackstone-Millville Regional, which has defeated Bellingham and Millbury on the young season.

Wachusett stays undefeated with strong showing against Tantasqua

Cole Durkan ran for a pair of 28-yard touchdowns and Melke Shabo, Sam Brewer and J’Zhon Henderson all also got into the ender zone as the Mountaineers jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead and cruised past the Warriors, 34-7.

“We’re please with where we are,” Wachusett coach Mike Dubzinski said of his team’s 2-0 start. “We’re pleased with our effort so far but we’re not satisfied. We’re not where we need to be yet. Our goal was to get better from the first scrimmage to the Doherty game and I thought we did that. Then we needed to improve from the Doherty game to the Tantasqua game, and I thought we did that, and now we need to improve from the Tantasqua game to our next opponent, Algonquin.”

Dubzinski said he’s pleased with the progress his players have made from last season to this season.

“All of our kids have played well so far,” Dubzinski said. “Patrick Walsh, our offensive tackle, has done a good job, as has Liam Griffin our tight end. I’m also very pleased with Cole Durkan at running back as well as Sam Brewer. Sam was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time against Doherty to scoop the ball and score in overtime.

“We moved Zac Vandale to center – he was a quarterback in the ninth grade – and now he’s a senior captain playing center,” Dubzinski continued. “Matt Cravedi is a senior guard for us; he missed most of last year with an injury and he worked hard to come back and he has had a good season for us so far. Our quarterback, Melke Shabo, has done a nice job so far as well.”

In Algonquin the Mountaineers are facing a team that not only beat them in the regular season, but in the playoffs as well. The Tomahawks have a new coaching staff, led by head coach Taylor Allen and his brother Mark, the defensive coordinator. Their father was a successful college coach at both Boston University and Holy Cross before passing away in 2004 from complications of ALS.

“Taylor and Mark Allen lead a young, enthusiastic, energetic coaching staff at Algonquin,” Dubzinski said. “They have good skill position players and a lot of energy and excitement in the program. Because of that I think there is an element of the unknown that we have to prepare for.”

Also picking up Week 2 wins were 2-0 St. John’s (62-39 over Springfield Central), 2-0 St. Peter-Marian (35-31 over Uxbridge), 2-0 Shrewsbury (21-14 over Grafton) and 1-1 North High (20-0 over Murdock),

 

WEEK 2 SCORES

Saturday

St. John’s 62, Springfield Central 39

St. Peter-Marian 35, Uxbridge 31

North 20, Murdock 0

Burncoat 32, Worcester Tech 12

Friday

Shrewsbury 21, Grafton 14

Wachusett 34, Tantasqua 7

Doherty 56, Holy Name 6

Auburn 32, South 14

Oxford 35, Abby Kelley Foster 13

WORCESTER – The St. Peter-Marian football team will look to make it two wins in as many tries for new head coach Justin McKay when it squares off against Uxbridge High at 1 p.m., Saturday, but make no mistake, the Guardians will need to deliver another top-notch all-around performance is they expect to defeat the Spartans on the road in Uxbridge.

Both teams enter the game 1-0.

“We’re going to have our hands full; Uxbridge is a very talented program. They are a very good all-around football team. We’re going to have to come to play. That’s been the message since Day 1 this week,” said McKay, doing his best Bill Belichick impersonation. “I think it starts with the coach, Bob Martellio. He’s done a fantastic job turning that program around. They’re a perennial program that has learned how to win and has really turned the corner.”

Uxbridge defeated Maynard High, a Division 4A state finalist last season, 33-22, in Week 1, scoring 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for the come-from-behind win. Senior Matt Johnston was the catalyst of the comeback, scoring on touchdown runs of 1 and 52 yards.

Earlier in the game Johnston caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from Spartans’ quarterback Ryley Rosborough, who completed 9-of-15 passes for 186 yards and two scores. Rosborough, whose other scoring strike was a 12-yarder to Scott Kaeller, also scored on a five-yard touchdown run.

St. Peter-Marian enjoyed a pretty quality win of its own last week, shutting out another perennially powerful Central Mass. program – Auburn High – 20-0.

While the SPM defense was busy holding the usually high-octane Rockets to less than 100 yards of total offense, the Guardians 1-2 punch of quarterback Danny Malm and running back/receiver Matt Dumphy – both are seniors – were busy making their presence felt on offense.

Photo by Jack Neri and Hailey Flamand

Dumphy caught a 31-yard scoring strike from Malm and scored on a 61-yard touchdown run. Malm – the son of standout Worcester State University athletes Don and Judy – completed 8-of-12 passes for 130 yards and two TDs, his other touchdown toss being a 10-yarder to Owen Leary. Malm also had an interception on defense.

Dumphy entered 2017 off a successful junior season in which he rushed for 259 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries and recorded 342 receiving yards (on 18 catches, a 19 yards-per-catch average) and another score. Malm had a good 11th-grade year as well, completing 113-of-201 passes for 1,648 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

“We’re just trying to stress basics and fundamentals,” McKay said. “As a coaching staff we’re trying to put them in the best possible positions to have the best success possible. Danny had a fantastic game; he was awesome for us, both through the air and on the ground. But we have a number of other kids that touched the football, too. We try to spread it out and get everybody touches. We want everybody involved in the offense.

“Uxbridge is so good defensively – they do a lot of different things and they’re very physical at the point of attack – we have to go back and make sure we’re taking care of fundamentals,” McKay continued. “The opening game you come out and the kids are so excited. They’ve learned this new offense and now they’re going and going fast, but they’re making some fundamental mistakes that, realistically we can’t make if we want to be successful for the rest of the year.”

The 33-year-old McKay had a Central Mass. football connection long before he got to Central Mass. He played his high school football at Ashland High, the first three years for Kevin Maines, now the Douglas Superintendent of Schools, and the fourth for legendary North Middlesex football coach Sandy Ruggles.

He went on to play his college football at Assumption for Sean “The Chin” Mahoney, who graduated from Uxbridge High, played at Worcester State, coached at Shrewsbury before going to Assumption and is now at Marlborough High. When Mahoney was dismissed following McKay’s sophomore season with the Greyhounds, McKay decided he was done playing and turned his focus to coaching.

McKay served as an assistant at Wachusett – starting while he was still in college – from 2004-2011, before getting the head job at Algonquin in 2012. He resigned his coaching post at Algonquin in order to take the SPM job.

AKF, Oxford Renew Fast Developing Rivalry

Another pair of teams that enter their early-season showdown with matching 1-0 records is the Bears of the Abby Kelley Foster (AKF) Charter School and the Pirates of Oxford High. The teams will square off at 7 p.m., Friday in Oxford.

AKF’s Week 1 28-16 win over David Prouty allowed the Bears to exorcise some demons from last season.

“We played them last year; it was a close game, back and forth,” AKF Coach Matt Lemire said. “It was one of those games that felt like the team that had the ball last was going to win. We ended up losing 38-36 and we finished the season 5-6.

“Last year was our first full varsity season and we had a chance to finish over .500,” Lemire said. “We feel like that was a game that slipped through our hands and with it the chance to possibly finish above .500. So, playing Prouty was a circle-it-on-the-calendar game for the kids and they were excited to get the win.”

Lemire said the development of the Bears’ football program began with a pair of flag football seasons, followed in 2014 by a freshman schedule. AKF bumped up to a junior varsity schedule in 2015 – although it did play a pair of varsity games at the end of the year – and officially became a full-fledged varsity program last season.

Oxford, interestingly enough, is in the AKF record book as the Pirates were the Bears first official win as a varsity program, back in 2015, by a 24-14 score.

“That was the year we played a junior varsity schedule, but during the playoff weeks at the end of the season (the Central Mass. Football Committee) needed one more team to even off the bracket for the non-playoff teams and the committee selected us,” Lemire said.

Abby Kelley beat Oxford to open last season, shutting out the Pirates, 36-0. Lemire said he knows the Bears will be facing a much different team this season, however.

“Oxford was young last year but it seems like they’ve done a lot of growing up since we saw them last,” Lemire said of the Pirates, who were 1-10 a season ago. “You can see the coaching is really paying off. It looks like they’ve improved quite significantly. They played well against Worcester Tech last week (a 31-14 Oxford win).”

The Bears will look to make it three wins over Oxford in as many tries with a combination of some key returning skill players and the continued solid play of a veteran offensive line.

Leading the list of returning skill players is a troika of juniors – running back Greg Asare, receiver Delvin Attafah and Cyrus Bonsu, who serves as a rushing and receiving threat for Lemire.

“Greg’s not really a speed back,” Lemire said of the 6-foot, 215-pounder who rushed 119 times, gaining 734 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns. “He’s more of a power back who breaks a lot of tackles and drags would-be tacklers with him.”

Lemire has replaced Noah Christo, last year’s quarterback who is now a member of the AKF coaching staff, with junior Matt Kerr. Christo last season rushed for 454 yards and 12 touchdowns on 61 carries and also completed 29-of-55 passes for 429 yards and five touchdowns.

“Matt’s done a pretty good job coming in and picking up the offense,” Lemire said of Kerr who played wide receiver last year and recorded nine receptions for 105 yards and a score. “He played well last week against Prouty.”

Kerr operates behind a senior-laden offensive line that features Eddie Burnett at left tackle, A.D. Ndiku at left guard, Jesse Appiah at center, Elijah Ashmore at right guard and Desmond Ampomah at right tackle.

“Burnett is the only junior on the offensive line and all of our team captains are offensive linemen,” Lemire said, “Appiah (a two-year captain), Ndiku and Ampomah.”

Lemire also pointed out that because Kerr is left-handed it is Ampomah, not Burnett, who is responsible for protecting the QBs blind side.

Week 2 Schedule

Holy Name (0-0) vs. Doherty (0-1)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Commerce Bank Field, Foley Stadium

South (0-1) at Auburn (0-1)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Memorial Field, Auburn

Abby Kelley Foster (1-0) at Oxford (1-0)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Oxford High

Shrewsbury (1-0) at Grafton (1-0)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Grafton High

Tantasqua (0-1) at Wachusett (1-0)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Wachusett Regional

Burncoat (0-1) vs. Worcester Tech (0-1)

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Commerce Bank Field, Foley Stadium

Springfield Central (0-1) at St. John’s (1-0)

When: 1 p.m., Saturday

Where: Pioneer Field, Shrewsbury

St. Peter-Marian (1-0) at Uxbridge (1-0)

When: 1 p.m., Saturday

Where: Uxbridge High

Murdock (1-0) at North (0-1)

When: 3 p.m., Saturday

Where: Commerce Bank Field, Foley Stadium

WORCESTER – Every coach worth his whistle and clipboard wants to start the season with a win, no matter the opponent. But, when your team is able to not only win its first game out but also score the first time it touches the ball, well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

That was exactly the scenario that unfolded for St. John’s in its 33-3 win Friday night at Catholic Memorial in West Roxbury as sophomore Eamonn Dennis opened the Pioneers 2017 season with a 96-yard kickoff return that set the tone for the lopsided victory.

“[Dennis] is a fantastic threat to do exactly what he did,” St. John’s coach John Andreoli said. “He got his hands on the ball at the 4-yard line and he was gone.”

Once he had caught and securely tucked away the football Dennis, who Andreoli said is just one of two Pioneers who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds or faster (Peter Oliver is the other), burst up the middle of the field, easily eluding the few Catholic Memorial players who had a shot at him.

“Once he got through the wedge as quickly as he did – I don’t think anyone laid a glove on him – I think we realized he was going to break it,” Andreoli said. “He’s got tremendous speed; he got through the wedge, put it in another gear and he was gone.”

Complementing Dennis’ blazing speed was the play of Steve Bucciaglia, St. John’s senior quarterback, who picked up where he left off last season, completing 11-of-19 passes for 252 yards and four touchdowns. Bucciaglia’s scoring strikes went to Dennis (34 yards), Coleman Drugotch (also 34 yards), Liam Doran (15 yards) and Oliver (78 yards).

“[Bucciaglia] played very well; he threw the ball well, made all the throws, and stretched the field when he had to,” Andreoli said. “[Bucciaglia] came back bigger and stronger and he is an excellent runner as well as being such an accurate passer. He made a play in the second quarter, on a third and seven, where he was back to pass, nobody was open so he pulled the ball down, ran it, got the first down and delivered a heck of a blow at the end of the run. That was a key play in the game at a key time.”

“Steven’s a great leader,” Andreoli continued. “He’s one of our captains, he’s smart, he knows the offense, he has a very good huddle presence and the kids really respect him.”

Andreoli also credited the Pioneers’ offensive line for the team’s success passing the ball against Catholic Memorial.

“Our scouting report was that Catholic Memorial like to send people on every snap,” Andreoli said. “Our guys up front – Neal Nasuti, Ian Schade, Liam Daly, Frederico Ernst and Andrew Stolberg – they did a real good job blocking their blitz game and giving Steven time to throw.”

The Pioneers defense also turned in an impressive performance, keeping Catholic Memorial out of the end zone all night long.

“Defensively we forced seven three-and-outs in the game and after three of those three-and-outs we scored when we got the ball back,” Andreoli said. “And we forced two turnovers as well. All we gave up was three points on a field goal; that’s a pretty stingy defensive performance.

“All things considered, all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – were pretty solid,” he added.

Up next for the Pioneers is their home opener at 1 p.m. Saturday against Springfield’s Central High School, which lost at home Friday night, 55-13, to Bishop Sullivan High School of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“I give Central a lot of credit for taking on that team in the early part of their schedule. Bishop Sullivan is one of the top 64 teams in the country with a bunch of Division 1 (recruits) on the team,” Andreoli said. “We played them in the sectionals in 2013 (St. John’s defeated Central 37-32 in that game). They’re very well coached, they’re athletic, they can run and they’re physical. They will be a great test for us.”

Campanale, Rioux Lead Shrewsbury past Shepherd Hill

Junior quarterback Drew Campanale rushed for 90 yards on nine carries and completed 4-of-7 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown to help lead the Colonials to a come-from-behind, 14-10 win over Shepherd Hill Friday night in Shrewsbury.

“Drew is a returning starter and a captain and he’s a dual threat; he can throw it and he can run it,” Shrewsbury coach John Aloisi said. “That can put defense in a bind. It’s a big advantage to have him being able to throw and run as well as he does.”

Also playing a key role in the win was senior running back Tim Rioux, who gained 54 yards on 14 carries. Rioux was not around last year for the Colonials’ march to the Division 2 state title game; he missed the last six games of last year with a broken collarbone.

“[Rioux] has been real hungry to get back on the field,” Aloisi said. “He is a real instinctive back; he runs very hard, he is a great competitor and a great leader for us.”

Shrewsbury jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when Campanale hit senior wide receiver Chris Campbell with a 35-yard scoring strike on the Colonials first drive of the game. Campbell made a leaping one-handed grab of Campanale’s pass and then sprinted into the end zone.

Shepherd Hill scored 10 second-quarter points however, and led 10-7 at halftime.

Shrewsbury took the lead for good on its opening drive of the third quarter, marching 63 yards on 13 plays, Jonathan White capping the drive with a three-yard touchdown run. The time of the drive was seven minutes and 38 seconds.

While Campanale and Rioux received a lot of post-game attention, Aloisi said the Colonials offense is multi-dimensional.

“Certainly Drew and Tim and Chris Campbell are key components to our offense, but we’ve got other weapons, too,” Aloisi said. “Guys like Johnny White and Cam Schaefer. I think have good balance as far as our skill positions are concerned.”

While every win is a big win, especially in the season-opener, Aloisi said he thought it Friday night’s win was a momentum-builder for his team.

“We’re young; we don’t have a lot of experience coming back,” Aloisi said. “We have a few guys that played prominent roles last year back, guys like Campanale and Campbell, but for the most part, almost everywhere, we’ve got new guys.

“With that lack of experience it was extra nice to hold on on Friday for the win,” Aloisi continued. “I think we will keep getting better each week. But, we’ve got a lot of work to do; we made a lot of errors. So to beat a team like that, especially Week 1 is nice.”

Guardians Win in McKay’s Debut

Congratulations are in order for the St. Peter-Marian football team, which presented Justin McKay with his first win as its new head coach, defeating Auburn High, 20-0 on Saturday at Guardian Field.

The Guardians not only shut out the Rockets, they held the traditionally potent Auburn offense to less than 100 total yards.

Offensive stars for St. Peter-Marian included: Matt Dumphy, who caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dan Malm and also rushed for a 61-yard TD and finished with 132 yards of total offense; Owen Leary, who caught a 10-yard TD toss from Malm; and Malm, who completed 8-of-12 passes for 130 yards and the two touchdowns, and also found time to pick off a pass from his defensive back position.

Wachusett Turns Back Doherty in 2OT

The opening game of the 2017 high school football season lived up to its pre-game billing and then some as Wachusett defeated Doherty, 28-22, in double overtime Thursday night at Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field.

The Mountaineers prevailed when defensive lineman Sean McGeary made a strip sack and teammate Sam Brewer recovered the ball and returned it 75 yards for the game-winning score.

The game was tied, 16-16 at the end of regulation and 22-22 after the first overtime.

Scoring in the first overtime for Wachusett was Brewer, on a 13-yard run, while Doherty matched the Mountaineers rushing touchdown with one of its own, from Tajon Vassar, who scampered in from eight yards out.

Wachusett jumped out to a 9-0 second-quarter lead on a two-yard run by Cole Durkan and a 22-yard field goal by Griffin McDonald.

Doherty pulled to within a point, 9-8, later in the second quarter when Evan Brunelle caught a 41-yard pass from quarterback Chris Schoen and Vassar bolted up the middle for the two-point conversion.

The Mountaineers extended their lead to 16-8 just before halftime when Gavin Maezo hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass from Wachusett quarterback Melke Shabo and McDonald added the extra point.

The Highlanders tied the game, 16-16, to force overtime with a fourth-quarter score. Brunelle hooked up with Vassar from 52 yards out to pull Doherty to within two, 16-14, and then Vassar tied the game, 16-16, with the ensuing two-point conversion.

Bonsu Leads Bears Past David Prouty

The Abby Kelley Foster Charter School football team opened its 2017 season with a rousing win, defeating the Panthers and new head coach Pat Rossi, 28-16, Friday night.

The Bears led, 14-0 after the first quarter, 21-0 early in the second quarter and 28-8 at halftime.

Cyrus Bonsu scored AKF’s first and last touchdowns. The first came on a 24-yard run, the second on and 69-yard kickoff return. Also scoring for the Bears were Greg Asare – on a 14-yard run – and Delvin Attafah, who caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Matt Kerr.

 

WEEK 1 SCORES

Saturday

St. Peter-Marian 20, Auburn 0

Algonquin 35, North 14

Nipmuc 48, Burncoat 12

Friday

St. John’s 33, Catholic Memorial 3

Shrewsbury 14, Shepherd Hill 10

Oxford 31, Worcester Voke 14

Murdock 28, South 0

Abby Kelley Foster 28, David Prouty 16

Thursday

Wachusett 28, Doherty 22 (2OT)

WORCESTER – The days are getting shorter, leaves everywhere are falling, it’s a little cooler when you first step out of the house each morning and your daily commute is clogged with school buses making all those mind-bending stops.

It all means only one thing – no, not that winter is on the way [it is, but that’s not the point here] – it means that high school football is set to kick of another season of amazing runs, incredible passes and highlight reel catches, all of which will lead to some teams enjoying the most exhilarating of wins, while others suffer the most heartbreaking of losses.

The first week of the high school football season has always been a special time in Worcester and this year is no different. Teams that had successful 2016 seasons will look to continue those winning ways while others will attempt to push a disappointing year just a little further into the rearview mirror with a Week 1 win.

Nothing gets high school football players as hyped up as the first game of the season – except for their annual Thanksgiving Day matchup, of course. But, what about the head coaches; does the first game of the season hold a special place in the hearts of the men that lead our boys into the fray? After all, the first game of the season, at some point, was also the first game of their high school coaching careers.

St. John’s Players Celebrate During Game Last Year/Twitter @SJShrewsbury

For St. John’s coach John Andreoli this year marks the 14th consecutive year he’ll be dealing with the mixed emotions that surround the first game of the season, but he vividly remembers his first game as the Pioneers’ head coach.

“We opened the season at Malden Catholic and there was a lot of preparation involved just to make sure we got down there in time because St. John’s had played down there in the past and one time the traffic was so bad the team arrived at the field 20 minutes after the game was supposed to have started,” Andreoli said. “So we left St. John’s right when school ended, went to Tufts to change into our pads and uniforms and got there with plenty of time to spare.”

The Pioneers troubles were just beginning, however.

“The game started off well for us but they we’re running that double-tight Double Wing offense they run and we hadn’t had a lot of experience defending that particular offense,” Andreoli remembered with a wry laugh. “It was completely different than anything that I or Pat White, the defensive coordinator, were used to. The first half lasted about 20 minutes because they were running the ball and milking the clock by walking slowly out of the huddle and up to the line of scrimmage. We just had no answer for the offense.”

The Pioneers lost that night and Andreoli said he learned when he got back to the school that at St. John’s the team’s supporters don’t pat you on the back and compliment you on the effort.

“So we get home and we go into the locker room and there’s Frank Tomaiolo – God rest his soul, he was one of our greatest supporters – waiting for us. He told us in no uncertain terms that we had to get a lot better or we would all be fired,” said Andreoli who paused briefly to laugh at the memory. So, it was an interesting first game, to say the least. The coaching staff often looks back on that first game when we get close to the start of another season.

For Worcester Tech coach Paul Dowd, Friday night’s game at Oxford will be the first time he steps on the field as a head football coach after 15 years as an assistant coach at Doherty High School. Dowd said he’s already had a few anxious moments thinking about the Eagles opener against the Pirates.

“It’s a lot more nerve wracking preparing for the season opener as the head coach than it was as an assistant,” said Dowd, who played at Doherty before he coached there. Before any first game of the year, you wonder if you’ve done enough. And now that the buck stops with me, as we’re preparing for the game I’m continually asking myself, ‘did I run this play enough? Did I run that play enough? Did we work on this enough?Every coach wants to be ultra-prepared and sure they’ve done everything to prepare their kids for the game.”

Photo: Twitter @eagles_marshall

Dowd said he expects he will have to make a conscious effort to slow himself down and not get overwhelmed.

“I know I will have to keep reminding myself to keep the focus on one play at a time,” the 40-year-old Dowd said. “That’s all you can do, call the play, see what the outcome is and then go on to the next play. You can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”

Wachusett coach Mike Dubzinski remembers very well his first game as a head coach. It was September of 1994 and Dubzinski had just gotten the head job at Natick High. As clear as his memory is of his team’s loss at Braintree High, the harrowing bus ride is even more sharply etched into his brain.

“I remember the week of the game I got a call from a reporter writing a season preview on the team and, while trying to be funny I said to him, ‘I’m learning as I go. I don’t know our kids’ names and I don’t know the names of my assistant coaches, and I’m not even sure where the schools on our schedule are, but the bus driver knows where we’re going, so at least we’ve got that going for us,” Dubzinski said. “After the story came out someone in town stopped me and asked me if I had ever met the bus driver and I say I haven’t and he said to me, ‘you don’t know what you’ve done; you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.’”

The bus driver was a man named Vangie Sticka, a retired Natick firefighter. Sticka was a legend in Natick who was affectionately known as “Mr. Natick.”

Photo: Ryan Bowman – Suite Sports

“So Vangie gets on the bus, introduces himself, and proceeds to head toward Braintree,” Dubzinski said. “He’s taking us through Dover and Sherborn on all these back roads and he’s driving at a pretty good clip and we’re dodging trees and we’re dodging limbs. I’m starting to get concerned so I look at Jeff Stone, the Natick athletic trainer, but he’s been riding the bus for a long time with Vangie at the wheel so he’s not fazed at all.

“All of a sudden,” while he’s driving, Vangie starts giving the boys a pep talk, telling them they have to ‘play like Tigers.’ That was one of his famous phrases,” Dubzinski said. “So, we finally get to the on ramp for

 Route 128 and it’s complete gridlock; everything is bumper-to-bumper.

It’s a Friday night on Route 128 just outside of Boston and not a care on the bottlenecked highway is even thinking about letting the Natick team bus into traffic.

“All of a sudden Vangie steps on the gas and opens the door of the bus so the bus lights come on and the “Stop, School Bus” sign flips out and, in an instant, all of these cars on Route 128 come to a screeching half and Vangie slides the bus into the right lane,” Dubzinski said. “And that’s how we got to Braintree that night; in the right lane, doors open, lights on, “Stop, School Bus” sign open on the side of the bus the whole way.”

All three coaches acknowledged that preparing for the first game of the season is never quite finished.

“I don’t believe there is a coach in the world who thinks they’re ready to go in that first game,” Dubzinski said. “They always want more practice time. I know I do.”

HS Football Games This Week

 

This Weekend HS Football Scores 

St. John’s 33, Catholic Memorial 28
Shrewsbury 14, Shepherd Hill 10
Oxford 31, Worcester Tech 14
Murdock 28, South 0
Abby Kelley Foster 28, David Prouty 16
Wachusett 28, Doherty 22 (Thursday night)
St. Peter-Marian 20, Auburn 0
Algonquin 35, North 14
Nipmuc 48, Burncoat 12