PAXTON – It was – and still is – an unimaginable tragedy.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 2, 2010, Mark Bisnette, a Worcester police officer, was driving home in a slippery snowstorm when his vehicle hit a utility pole and rolled over, trapping Bisnette in the vehicle. He passed away later that day, leaving a wife and four children – Connor, Seamus, Liam and Riley – under the age of 10.

Almost eight years later, Erin Bisnette, Mark’s wife, looks back and sees how the passage of time has only served to prove what she already knew – she’s part of a great family that also serves as her inner circle.

Mark Bisnette

Erin Bisnette’s inner circle is not very big; it pretty much consists of her brother, Sean Mulcahy, and her sister, Kathleen Nodurft and a number of close, personal friends of Mark’s who have become family to the Bisnettes. Her mother, Catherine Mulcahy, was in it, too, but she passed away three months after Mark.

Bisnette found out the hard way that the inner circle shrinks when an unthinkable tragedy hits. Erin Bisnette’s inner circle is loyal and honest and strong and – most importantly – Indefatigable.

“Everybody’s got a circle,” Erin Bisnette said, “and when something terrible – like losing a loved one – happens, you figure out very quickly who’s in your circle. In the beginning, your circle is very big. Over the years your circle gets smaller, but I think that’s normal. For a long time now, Sean and Kathleen have been my circle.”

“Sean showed up the night of the accident, in the middle of the night, and he has really never left,” Erin Bisnette said. “He has been there every step of the way. I’m not surprised; I knew Sean would be there, but to know what he’s done, and the way he is with my kids. And he does it all — anything and everything we ask.”

Many, many people in Worcester know Erin Bisnette’s brother; he is the longtime varsity football coach at Doherty High School as well s being a special needs teacher at the school.

“We never go anywhere with Sean that he doesn’t know at least one person,” Erin Bisnette said with a laugh. “And usually he knows a lot more than that.”

Erin Bisnette said she agreed to this story because she wants people to know how her brother and sister, but especially her brother, have stepped up for her. She doesn’t want sympathy; she doesn’t want anyone to feel bad for her and her children. Erin Bisnette wants people to know that her brother, who people see as a fun-loving football coach and teacher – which he most certainly is – has been the rock which she could lean on, yell at, apologize to and laugh with.

The Bisnettes

“I think it’s great that you’re telling this story because it’s about what a great guy Sean is,” Erin Bisnette said. “It’s a story about him. We’ve done the story about Mark. Most people know what we’ve been through. Sean has this great ability to break things down so that whatever it is, it’s manageable.

“I’m worried about putting them through college and he’ll tell me, ‘just get through the night. We’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow,’” Erin Bisnette said. “Sean is always the guy who knows that everything has an easy solution. I look at the problem or the obstacle and Sean looks at the solution.”

Erin Bisnette said her brother has been there since Day 1.

“The moment this happened Sean stepped in and stepped up,” Erin Bisnette said. “And it was immediate, not gradual. The day Mark was hurt I had to leave in the middle of the night to go to the hospital and Sean is the one who came and stayed all that next day with my kids. And he’s been here ever since.

“I think the best thing Sean has done from the moment this happened is that he has been very respectful of the fact that he is now a parent to them in every sense of the word – he goes to teacher meetings, does homework with them, goes to practices, coaches their teams – everything a parent would do. But, he is very respectful of the fact that he’s not their dad.”

To Mulcahy it’s simple, family is family.

“We were close before Mark passed, but certainly we weren’t anywhere near as close as we are now. I wasn’t as involved in their lives back then the way I am now,” Mulcahy said. “Back then I was Uncle Fun. I would take them places and buy them things; they’d come up and visit me at my place a Hampton Beach. Not that I’m not fun these days, but my role has changed drastically.

Sean Mulcahy and Connor Bisnette

“Early on I was in their lives every day; homework, tubs and rides – lots of rides,” Mulcahy said. “My sister Kathleen is just as involved, but she gets no credit. We were raised to take care of family so that’s what we’re doing.”

Mulcahy’s nephews and niece all love spending time with him. Now just as much as before when he was “Uncle Fun.”

“It’s been awesome having him around so much,” said Connor Bisnette, who is a senior at Doherty and one of the captains of the Highlanders’ football team. “The best decision I ever made was to come here. I’m going to be sad not being able to play for him next year.”

Connor Bisnette will play his final game for his uncle at 10 this morning when Doherty faces Burncoat at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium.

“I’m just trying to soak up everything about this last game,” Connor Bisnette continued. “I’m just going to go out there and do everything I can for the team while playing in my last game for him. I always had a desire to go to Doherty because I was the water boy for the team when I was younger. I kind of got influenced by that and ever since then I’ve wanted to go to Doherty and play for my Uncle Sean.”

Seamus Bisnette, a freshman a Doherty, will dress for today’s game and will no doubt line up along the sidelines next to his older brother.

“I like hanging out with Uncle Sean, I like that I get to see him so much,” Seamus Bisnette said. “He helps me with my schoolwork; he helps get me places with rides. He’s still Uncle Fun. He takes us to Holy Cross games; he takes us to Coney Island. He’s funny and he knows everybody.”

Seamus Bisnette said he sees how much his uncle’s presence help his mother.

“He’s definitely made it easier for her. He’s around more and can give us rides to places or pick us up and it’s less that she has to do or worry about,” said Seamus Bisnette, adding that Mulcahy lays down the law when he needs to. “Absolutely. I listen to him when he tells me what to do or where to go. It’s just easier that way. I think it’s good for us, even though my dad passed away, that we still have a strong male role model in our lives. The fact that it’s Uncle Sean makes it that much more special.”

Liam Bisnette, who is already making plans to play for Mulcahy at Doherty, has a special Friday Night ritual with his uncle.

“He comes over every Friday night and we watch “Blue Bloods” together,” Liam Bisnette said. “Hanging out with Uncle Sean is just the best.”

Erin Bisnette said she has a tendency to get overwhelmed – and who can blame her – but that her brother serves as a calming influence in her life.

“Almost eight years later I still get overwhelmed and say ‘I can’t do this,” and Sean’s always the one saying, ‘this is nothing. This is nothing. We’ve been through way worse,’” Erin Bisnette said. “He’s a very calming influence although he still drives me crazy and we still fight like sister and brother.

The Bisnette family following Doherty’s 2013 State Championship

“The kids are always telling me that I lose my patience too quickly, Sean’s always the one that tries to mediate, the one who reels me back in. He does so while at the same time being very respectful of not undoing anything I said to the kids,” Erin Bisnette said. “He tells me I’m on 10 and I really need to be on six. He’s very good about that. It’s nice for me, not that he’s my partner in this, but it’s nice for me to have that person I can bounce stuff off of.”

Mulcahy’s true influence, his calming, reassuring aura if you will, on Erin Bisnette may have come the night after Mark Bisnette passed away.

“I came home that night and I got my kids to bed and then, in the middle of the night I just lost it. It was my minute to lose it and that’s what I did,” Erin Bisnette said. “So, I go out to the kitchen and there Sean is, wearing a pair of shorts standing at my refrigerator drinking milk right out of the carton with the door open.

“He sees me freaking out and he comes over to me and gives me a fist bump and he says, ‘you got this. You can do this,’” Erin Bisnette said. “And I’m thinking, ‘oh my God, Sean Mulcahy I hope you’re right.’ Back then I couldn’t have pictured that it would look like this now.

“Sean is such a part of us,” Erin Bisnette continued. “I always knew I could call him up and say, ‘I need A, B and C’ and I never doubted that he, or my sister, would take care of it. They’re both such a part of our lives now, especially Sean. The kids expect him here; I expect him to be here. If he doesn’t come over for two nights in a row the kids are all like ‘where’s Uncle Sean?’ Sean being around, that’s all we know now.”

WORCESTER – Quarterback Steve Bucciaglia threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns and a stable of eight running backs gained 319 yards and scored five times as undefeated St. John’s earned a berth in the Massachusetts Division 3 Championship with a 52-33 victory over Springfield Central Saturday in the Central/West State Semifinal at Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field.

Steve Bucciaglia

With the win the Pioneers (11-0) advanced to play Eastern Mass. champion North Attleboro (10-1) at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2. Springfield Central finished its season 8-3.

“This is something we’ve wanted as a group for four years and we finally accomplished it,” said Bucciaglia, who completed 23-of-27 passes in the game. “But, it’s not over yet; we’ve got two more games and we’re trying to go 13-0.”

The fact that Gillette Stadium is where New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady plays his home games was not lost on Bucciaglia.

“It’s definitely different than if it were some other NFL stadium; that’s where the greatest quarterback of all-time plays,” said the St. John’s senior. “To be a quarterback on that field – just to have a chance to play on that field is awesome—but to play on the same field Tom Brady plays on, it will definitely be special.”

Bucciaglia was pretty special against the Golden Eagles; five of his completions were for 20 yards or more and 11 gained at least 10 yards. Senior Zach Pedone was Bucciaglia’s favorite target, catching 11 passes for 111 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown.

Fellow senior Josh Shrestha had four catches against Springfield Central for 86 yards and touchdowns of five and 23 yards. He also had a 49-yard reception. Shrestha was the Pioneers’ secret weapon of sorts, having entered the game with a total of nine catches on the season for 107 yards and a pair of scores.

Eamonn Dennis led the St. John’s ground game, gaining 109 yards on nine carries. The sophomore scored on a 33-yard run on the third play of the game to help give the Pioneers a 7-0 lead.

Junior Colin Deso carried the ball nine times, gaining 97 yards and scoring on runs of nine and 11 yards. Senior Dan Byers gained 80 yards – and scored on a 30-yard run – on eight rushing attempts.

St. John’s also scored on its second possession to take a 13-0 lead with 4:31 left to play in the first quarter. The Pioneers second scoring drive began at their 9-yard line after stopping Central after it had marched inside the St. John’s 10-yard line and had the ball first-and-goal at the 9-yard line.

After getting the ball back the Pioneers proceeded to march 91 yards in 12 plays, Bucciaglia hitting a wide-open Shrestha with a 23-yard scoring strike.

The Golden Eagles scored on its next possession to cut the SJ lead 13-7; driving 57-yards in nine plays, quarterback Aaron-Moses Williams hitting wide receiver Chauncey Cogell with a 27-yard scoring strike.

Williams had a game to remember in the loss, completing 40-of-58 passes for 509 yards and five touchdowns, three of the touchdown passes going to Cogell. Junior Myles Beasley was Williams’s favorite target, catching 15 passes for 188 yards. Central finished with 562 yards of total offense.

On the ensuing kickoff Williams delivered a perfect onside kick, recovering the ball himself at the St. John’s 38-yard line. Central again marched into the red zone, but the drive stalled at the Pioneers’ 19-yard line, Williams being stopped on a fourth-and-one-play.

Following the turnover on downs the Pioneers drove 81 yards in seven plays — four being completions by Bucciaglia — for another touchdown and a 19-7 lead. Deso provided the score, bursting up the middle from 11 yards out.

Central answered quickly, scoring on the first play of the ensuing drive, Williams hitting Jordan Lowery with a 51-yard touchdown pass to cut the St. John’s lead to 19-14 with 8:08 left in the first half.

The Pioneers pushed its lead to 32-14 with 10.7 seconds to play in the half by scoring on two of its final three possessions of the second quarter. Bucciaglia hit Pedone with a 24-yard scoring strike to cap the ensuing drive to extend the lead to 25-14. After an exchange of possessions St. John’s got the ball back when Isaiah Keegan intercepted Williams at the St. John’s eight-yard line with 3:44 left before intermission.

St. John’s needed 15 plays to complete the 92-yard drive, Bucciaglia hitting Shrestha with a five-yard touchdown pass to help make it 32-14.

Central, after a first-down loss of two brought the ball back to its own 45-yard line, called timeout with a tenth of a second showing on the clock. The Golden Eagles scored on the next play, Williams hitting Andre Ellison with a swing pass and then watching as Ellison picked his way through the entire St. John’s defense on the way to a 55-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 32-21 at halftime. The halftime horn, in fact, sounded as Ellison made his way down the left sideline.

“I thought we played pretty good defense in the half, except for that one we gave up at the end of the half with .1 seconds left,” St. John’s coach John Andreoli said. “Give them credit though; they did a nice job of spreading us out on that play. They ran empty against us and put their guys in space, and they’ve got athletic guys that can run. (Williams) did a heck of a job throwing the ball and running around in the pocket, buying time so he could throw the ball.”

The Pioneers extended their lead to 38-14 with 3:46 left in the third quarter, a 30-yard TD run by Byers capping a four-play 60-yard drive.

St. John’s increased its lead to 45-21 on its next possession, the first by either team in the fourth quarter, junior Chris McGillicuddy blasting up the middle from 13 yards away.

After Central cut the Pioneers’ lead to 45-33, with 4:47 to play, thanks to touchdowns on its next two possessions, Deso closed out the scoring, increasing the SJ advantage to 52-33 on a nine-yard run with 2:49 to play.

Despite the fact that the teams combined to score 13 touchdowns and roll up almost 1,200 yards of total offense, St. John’s post-game comments centered around the Pioneers’ defensive effort.

“In the second half we were able to get a hold of our emotions and come back and put together a great defensive effort against a real good team,” Andreoli said. “Our guys were able to make some big plays when we needed them to. We made three big stops in the second half and I feel those stops were the difference because we were able to score off of two of them.”

Keegan, who played a monster game, finishing with a hand in more than a dozen tackles and his clutch interception, said the task facing the Pioneers defense was a simple one.

“We knew we had to stick to our assignments,” Keegan said. “They have an athletic group of guys so we were just trying to make sure everyone is accounted for, and that everyone was doing their job. Worry about the small stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself. Everyone just did their job and things turned out the way we knew they would.”

St. John’s senior Hunter Gorgas, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound defensive end, was able to corral the mostly elusive Williams twice to record a pair of important quarterback sacks.

“Defense still wins championships; you could see that today,” Gorgas said “We played these guys back in Week 2 and in the second half we let up a ton of points. So, we went back as a unit and watched film of that game so we could learn from what we did wrong in that game. We came into this game having tried to fix all of our mistakes because we knew that defense was going to be the difference between winning and losing. I feel like we responded to the challenge very well.”

Officials stopped the game with 1:07 remaining after the play on the field became more and more unsportsmanlike, with pushing and shoving after the whistle occurring on several plays in the last few minutes of the game.

SHREWSBURY – St. John’s High School has begun the process of putting together a committee that will be charged with raising the funds necessary to install field turf and lights at Pioneer Field, two sources within the school confirmed recently.

Both sources also confirmed that the school would like to have the project completed by the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year.

“That’s the plan,” one of the sources said.

Alex Zequeira, St. John’s Headmaster, declined to comment on the matter when reached via telephone at his office Thursday morning.

“We’re not prepared to publicly comment at this time,” Zequeira said, “but we’re very close to talking about projects that are in the planning stages.”

When asked if the field renovation was a project that’s definitely in the planning stages, Zequeira was again non-committal.

“We’re not announcing anything yet,” he reiterated. “What we’re going to roll out in regard to new projects and renovations is still in the planning stages.”

One of the sources contacted for this story, however, said the process for funding renovations of is well underway, with much of the fund-raising committee already in place.

“What I will say publicly is that we have discussed at a lot of venues the importance of health and wellness,” Zequeira said. “Over the years we’ve spent between $20 and $25 million on capital projects, most of which have involved new buildings and renovations to existing buildings. We see a dedication to improving our health and wellness programs as the final piece of the puzzle.”

In addition to other renovations on campus, St. John’s has improved the conditions of its athletic fields, most notably the baseball and football fields. On the baseball field the school has installed permanent seating behind home plate and upgraded the overall condition of the field. In recent years on the football field the grass playing surface has been upgraded and new stands and a field house have been added. The old, dilapidated press box was also replaced.

Because access to Pioneer Field is limited to one gate that is easily monitored, the site – following the addition of field turf and lights – would be in the running, if not the desired choice given its central location – to host central Mass., and state tournaments.

WORCESTER – At 5 feet 6 inches tall and 165 pounds – allegedly – St. John’s wide receiver Josh Shrestha is built like the Patriots’ Julian Edelman, but he blocks like New England’s Rob Gronkowski.

“He’s a great blocker; he makes our screen game go,” St. John’s coach John Andreoli said about the senior.

“Josh is a great player. He is a very hard working, very physical receiver,” Pioneers quarterback Steven Bucciaglia said. “He’s not the biggest guy out there when he’s on the field, but you can tell when he’s blocking out there, whether it is for our running backs, our other receivers or me.”

The soft-spoken but confident Shrestha will again be out there doing his thing – catching a few passes, making a lot of blocks – when undefeated St. John’s (10-0) plays Springfield Central (8-2) in a Central/West state semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium.

Shrestha wasn’t able to be out there doing his thing the first four weeks of the season because of a hamstring injury. He’s made the most of his return however, catching nine passes from Bucciaglia gaining 107 yards (an 11.9 yards per catch average) and scoring two touchdowns.

Josh Shrestha (left) and Steven Bucciaglia (right)

“It’s my last season here and we have a really good team and I wanted to be a part of it,” Shrestha said when asked why he put in the rehab and came to practice the first four weeks of the year. “We had one goal all year — to win a state championship. I just wanted to get back as fast as I could to be a part of this team. When I first came back it was a little tough getting back on my feet but I feel great now.”

Shrestha is part of a receiving corps that includes: Coleman Drugotch (41 catches, 827 yards, 6 touchdowns); Zach Pedone (26 catches, 289 yards, 5 TDs); Eamonn Dennis (22 catches, 382 yards, 7 touchdowns); Jay Brunelle (16 catches, 316 yards, 2 TDs); Mark Cheffers (13 catches, 257 yards, 2 touchdowns); and Colin Deso (11 catches, 148 yards one TD).

“We have a great group of receivers – Coleman, Zach, Eamonn, Jay, Mark and Colin. Any one of us could be a No. 1 receiver at any school,” said Shrestha, who took exception to the notion that the unit is fighting each other for playing time. “I wouldn’t say we fight for minutes. We have a really good bond as receivers and we all understand we have the chance to go 13-0 and that is bigger than all of us.

“It’s been amazing,” Shrestha said of the season. “Nothing is better than playoff time. We’re so close to our goal and we’ve worked so hard for the last four years, it’s tough to realize its coming to an end, but at the same time it’s very exciting.”

Andreoli said Shrestha is the quintessential player in terms of doing all the things that doesn’t show up in the scoring summary.

“In our offense we spread the ball around, but there’s a lot that goes on that you don’t see on the stat sheet,” Andreoli said. “Josh is a great reader of the defense; he’s able to find where he needs to be, whether it is facing a zone defense or a man-to-man. He’s got sure hands. Josh is a guy that’s made so many catches for us in big situations throughout the course of the season – both this year and last. He’s a dynamic, electric player. He’s got a great skill set for the game.”

“Josh has caught several passes for third-down conversions; catches that allowed us to move the chains,” Andreoli continued. “All of our guys have been great like that this year. If you look at the stat sheet you see a lot of balls spread around to everybody – that’s when we’re playing well. Josh doesn’t do it with a lot of fanfare, but he gets the job done.”

With Bucciaglia – 155 completions in 255 pass attempts for 2,868 yards and 34 touchdowns – and the receiving corps leading the way, St. John’s will attempt to qualify for its first state championship game ever against Springfield Central, which the Pioneers defeated, 62-39, in Week 2.

Andreoli said he isn’t worried about the fact St. John’s is facing a team it defeated so definitively earlier in the season.

“I told our kids, ‘I don’t care who we’re playing,’ Andreoli said. “We worry about St. John’s. We’re getting ready the same way on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as we have all year. We’re going out there to play our best football, whether it’s somebody we’ve played or somebody we haven’t. We prepare for them the same. I don’t really care who it is on the other side; whether we’ve played them or not; whether we scored a lot of points or we didn’t.

“They’re a different team than when we played them in Week 2. We’re worried about what we’re doing and that’s all,” said Andreoli, who said he isn’t worried about complacency. “I’m not worried about that at all. We’re playing our best football and we’ve had the best three days of practice than we’ve had all season.”

The Shrewsbury High football team has quietly gone about its business this year, piling up win after win with an efficient – and, at times – exciting offense, and a defense that makes you earn every yard, let alone point you able to get.

Shrewsbury High and St. John’s will play again on Saturday

All facets of the Colonials’ offense and defense – as well as their special teams unit – were on display Friday night against Shepherd Hill Regional of Dudley.

Shrewsbury, there’s really no other way to explain it, systematically dismantled the ground-and-pound Rams, beating them into submission on the way to a not-as-close-as-it looked, 33-7 win in a Division 3 semifinal round game held at Shrewsbury High School.

With the win the 9-1 Colonials, the No. 2 seed in the four-team tournament, earned a rematch with undefeated St. John’s (9-0), the top seed in Division 3, in the final, which will be played at 5 p.m., Saturday, at Leominster’s Doyle Field. The Pioneers earned their way into the final by holding off Doherty, 32-21 in a game also played Friday night.

St. John’s is the only team to have defeated Shrewsbury this year, outlasting the Colonials, 46-35, on Oct. 6, in a game played at Shrewsbury High.

Last year the Pioneers also defeated Shrewsbury in the regular season, 38-35, on a Steve Bucciaglia one-yard run with a minute to play. The Colonials, however, returned the favor in the Division 2 playoffs, defeating the Pioneers, 34-28. Shrewsbury, thanks to a 20-point third quarter, led 34-14 with 11 minutes to play. St. John’s Michael Bernard scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns – on runs of five and six yards – to make it a one-score game.

Shrewsbury went on to win the Central Mass. Division 2 title last year, defeating Algonquin, 21-14, in the final. The Colonials then defeated Westfield, 42-12, in a Division 2 state semifinal, before losing to the Duxbury Dragons, 40-7 in the Division 2 state final game, held at Gillette Stadium.

Friday night against Shepherd Hill the Colonials grabbed control of the game right away. After receiving the opening kickoff Shrewsbury marched deep into Rams’ territory. When the drive stalled at the Shepherd Hill six-yard line, Shrewsbury coach John Aloisi called on junior Henrique De Boni, a two-way lineman, to attempt a 23-yard field goal. De Boni’s kick split the uprights, giving the Colonials a 3-0 lead with 5:56 left in the first quarter.

After Shepherd Hill’s ensuing nine-play drive stalled and the Rams were forced to punt, Shrewsbury took over on its own 16-yard line. Using a healthy mix of passes and runs, the Colonials matriculated down the field in eight plays, junior Cam Schaefer scampering in from seven yards out to push the Shrewsbury lead to 9-0 with 9:41 left in the first half. Junior Phil Smyrnios then tacked on the first of his three extra points, and the Colonials led by double-digits, 10-0.

With 1:35 to play before halftime Shepherd Hill decided, on a fourth-and-two play, to go for the first down, despite being on its own 45-yard line. The Ram’s halfback option pass fell incomplete, though, and Shrewsbury took over. The Colonials drove to the Shepherd Hill 12-yard line in six plays and then brought on De Boni with two seconds left in the half to attempt at 30-yard field goal. De Boni again split the uprights, and Shrewsbury led, 13-0 at intermission.

Shepherd Hill showed signs of life on the opening drive of the second half, driving 79 yards in seven plays, Nate Cooper blasting up the middle from seven yards out to cut the Shrewsbury lead to seven, 13-6, with 8:47 to play in the third quarter. The deficit became just six, 13-7, when Rams’ senior Matt Mulcahy booted the extra point.

Cody Adams, Shepherd Hill’s junior running back accounted for 58 of the 79 yards on the drive, 42 coming on one play when he was able to turn the corner and take the ball from the Shepherd Hill 26-yard line to the Shrewsbury 32-yard line.

Shrewsbury answered Shepherd Hill’s touchdown with one of its own on the ensuing drive, going 56 yards in six plays, junior Jonathan White (nine carries, 86 yards, two touchdowns) capping the drive by scurrying down the left sideline and into the end zone from 22 yards out to help give the Colonials a 20-7 lead with 6:05 left in the third period.

After the Rams were forced to punt on its next drive, Shrewsbury quickly opened up a 20-point lead, 27-7, when junior quarterback Drew Campanale bulled in from a yard out to finish a four-play, 40-yard drive, with 1:48 to play in the third quarter.

The Colonials scored on its next possession, too, to push the score to 33-7 and close out the scoring with 2:53 to play in the game.

On its final scoring drive Shrewsbury took over at its own 25-yard line following a Shepherd Hill fumble and quickly moved down field, needing only six plays to cover the 75 yards. White’s second touchdown of the game, from five yards out, capped the drive.

Shrewsbury finished with 376 of total offense. Campanale completed 9-of-12 passes for 139 yards, and he also ran six times, picking up 31 yards in the process. Campanale’s favorite target in the game was White, who had five receptions for 57 yards.

Also running the ball effectively for the Colonials were junior Alex Cashman (four carries, 26 yards), Schaefer (three carries, 20 yards) and senior captain Chris Campbell (two carries, 12 yards). Schafer also caught a 38-yard pass from Campanale while junior tight end Nate Hautala had three receptions for 44 yards.

St. John’s stymies pesky and persistent Highlanders

All year long the Pioneers have been winning games with their offense, which put up video-game point totals while winning its first seven games. In its last two victories, 24-21 over Marlborough in Week 8 and 32-21 Friday night against Doherty, the Pioneers’ defense has shown that it’s an integral part of the SJ undefeated season as well.

Against Doherty the Pioneers allowed the Highlanders three first-half touchdowns and trailed twice in the first quarter. St. John’s, however, made some adjustments to its defense at the half, kept Doherty out of the end zone in the second half, stuffed the Highlanders on four fourth-down conversion attempts and even helped the cause by scoring on a fourth-quarter safety.

Make no mistake, however, the Pioneers offense made its presence felt, too, scoring four first-half touchdowns, twice wrestling the lead away from the Highlanders to go into the locker room ahead, 24-21.

Senior quarterback Steve Bucciaglia again led the St. John’s offense, rushing for 84 yards and three touchdowns in addition to is 278 yards passing.

After Bucciaglia put the Pioneers’ ahead, 6-0, with a one-yard touchdown burst, Doherty promptly took a 7-6 lead, on a dazzling 59-yard touchdown run that was followed by an extra point off the foot of Sotir Naslazi, with 8:24 to play in the first quarter.

Bucciaglia, on the strength of another 1-yard touchdown run, put St. John’s back in front, 12-7, on the Pioneers next drive.

Doherty, however, answered the quarterback’s score with another one of its own, a 44-yard pass-and-run from freshman quarterback Noah Callery to senior Jon Forson, who caught the short pass and then outraced the St. John’s defense to the end zone. Another Naslazi extra point put the Highlanders ahead again, 14-12.

Still in the first quarter, St. John’s scored another rushing touchdown, this one a four-yard run by Colin Deso, to take an 18-14 lead into the second quarter. The Pioneers pushed its lead to 10 points, 24-14, on Bucciaglia’s third one-yard touchdown run of the game.

Doherty pulled to within three at halftime, 24-21, thanks to a two-yard touchdown run by Vassar.

After a scoreless third quarter St. John’s got some breathing room, going ahead 26-21 on the safety, which came with just under three minutes to play. On the Doherty free kick (a punt) following the safety, Pioneers’ sophomore Eamonn Dennis ran the ball back all the way to the Doherty five-yard line. Deso then followed with his second rushing touchdown of the game, from five yards out.

Jameson Carroll sparked the St. John’s defensive effort in the second half with an interception after Doherty had marched into St. John’s territory late in the fourth quarter.

Malm, Dumphy lead Guardians past Blackstone-Millville

After a scoreless first quarter Dan Malm, S. Peter-Marian’s senior quarterback rushed for one touchdown and passed for two others to help stake the Guardians’ to a 21-7 halftime lead, en route to a 28-14 victory in their Division 6 semifinal round game, played Saturday at Guardian Field.

St. Peter-Marian, the No. 2 seed, improved to 7-2 with the win and advanced to the Division 6 final where it will play top-seeded and undefeated Littleton (9-0) at 2 p.m., Saturday at Leominster’s Doyle Field. BMR, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, fell to 5-4 with the loss.

Malm put SPM ahead, 6-0 with a five-yard run, but the Chargers’ Robbie Siefring put BMR ahead, 7-6, on the ensuing drive with a one-yard touchdown run, which he followed by booting the extra point.

The Guardians went ahead for with five seconds to play in the second quarter, 12-7, when Malm found Dumphy on a 48-yard scoring strike. Dumphy then pushed the SPM lead to 14-7 when he ran in the two point conversion.

St. Peter-Marian freshman Raymond Dewar then recovered the Guardians’ onside kick at the BMR 49-yard line. The ball was moved to the 34-yard line on a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Chargers’ on SPM’s first down play and then, on the last play of the half, Malm again found Dumphy in the end zone, this time from 34 yards out. The touchdown was followed by a C.J. Holmberg extra point which gave the Guardians a 21-7 halftime advantage.

Siefring cut the St. Peter-Marian lead to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter with another one-yard run and PAT, but the Guardians answered his TD with one of its own, a nine-yard scoring run by Cam Williams late in the quarter to close out the scoring and seal the victory.

Week 9 Results

Division 3 Semifinals

St. John’s 32, Doherty 21

Shrewsbury 33, Shepherd Hill 7

Division 6 Semifinal

St. Peter-Marian 28, Blackstone-Millville 14

Non-Playoff Games

Abby Kelley Foster 43, South 8

Quabbin 34, Burncoat 22

Murdock 34, Worcester Tech 8

Maynard 53, Holy Name 16

Hudson 6, North 0

If it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt, the Central Mass. Division 3 playoff game between fourth-seeded Doherty (7-1) and 8-0 St. John’s, the No. 1 seed, should be epic.

For starters, three current members of the St. John’s coaching staff – associate head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterback whisperer Chris Moriarty, defensive coordinator Steve Bucciaglia and offensive line coach Tom Feraco (SJ Class of 1986) – all teach at Doherty High School.

Moriarty, Bucciaglia and Feraco often lunch together at Doherty and are sometimes joined by Sean Mulcahy, the Highlanders’ head football coach, who also works at Doherty High.

Bucciaglia, in fact, was a member of the Doherty High football coaching staff up until a couple of years ago. He coached some of the Highlanders’ juniors and seniors that will be playing when the two teams kick things off at 7 tonight at Assumption College’s Multi-Sport Stadium.

But wait, there’s more. Dan Brunelle, another St. John’s grad (Class of 1997) who was on the Pioneers coaching staff for several years, will have three nephews playing in tonight’s game. Jay Brunelle will start for St. John’s while Evan and Josh Brunelle will start for Doherty.

If that’s not enough, according to St. John’s coach John Andreoli, the teams scrimmaged each other during the season prior to the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons.

“Their athleticism is what stands out to me,” Andreoli said. “Their offensive and defensive lines are filled with big kids who are athletic. They’ll come after you with their linebackers because they’ve got very good athletic ability in the linebacking corps. Then, at the same time they like to play man coverage and lock down your receivers because they have speed and skill in their defensive backfield.”

Andreoli said when the Pioneers are on defense they know they will always have to know where Tajon Vassar, Doherty’s junior running back, is on the field.

“Tajon is one of the best players in Central Mass., so we’re going to need to be able to account for him all the time,” Andreoli said. “The two quarterbacks they have (junior Chris Schoen and freshman Noah Callery) are getting better every week. They are athletic kids who have a good field presence.”

Vassar is the No. 9 rusher in Central Mass., having gained 863 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on just 88 carries. Because of the one-sidedness of some of Doherty’s wins, Vassar has played in the first half of several games.

Callery has completed 36-of-47 passes for 528 yards and six touchdowns, while also running the ball 23 times for 183 yards and three more scores. Schoen has completed 30-of-64 passes for 483 yards and four touchdowns.

Evan Brunelle is Doherty’s leading receiver, having caught 21 passes for 428 yards and seven scores. He is the No. 7 receiver in Central Mass. Vassar is Doherty’s No. 2 receiver, with 17 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

Andreoli played down the fact his team is undefeated and the top-seed.

“Right now the records don’t matter. It’s one game at a time and if you don’t win you go home. That’s the mindset we have; what we’ve done so far doesn’t matter – at all – this weekend. It’s all about (tonight),” Andreoli said. “I like where we are at. Obviously you need to be playing your best football in November – we’ve been telling the kids that all along – and I think we are.”

St. John’s margin of victory last week over Marlborough, three points, was the smallest they’ve had all year, prompting many local high school pundits to say the Pioneers’ 24-21 victory might have given future opponents a “blueprint” for a possible win against SJ.

“I think the blueprint has been out there – long drives that keep their offense off the field, using the game clock and the play clock properly, not turning the ball over, forcing them to turn the ball over, frustrate them – but you’ve still got to go out and do it,” Mulcahy said. “And to this point, nobody has been able to.”

Mulcahy said his focus against St. John’s will be on how his team is playing.

“We need to go out and do what we do and do it well,” Mulcahy said. “How we play is how we play. We know we have to drive the ball down the field, move the chains, and move the clock. Sure we have to stop them, but they have to stop us, too.

“I think the big difference between us and a lot of the teams St. John’s has played this year is we’re not afraid of them. There will be no ‘deer in the headlights’ look on our players,” Mulcahy said. “The bottom line is we have to tackle well on defense. We can’t let an 8 yard run turn into a 30-yard gain or let a 15-yard pass completion turn into a 29-yard pickup.”

SHEWSBURY READY FOR SHEPHERD HILL

The other Central Mass. Division 3 semifinal is a rematch of a Week 1 game, won by the second-seeded Colonials, 14-10. Shrewsbury (7-1) trailed Shepherd Hill (6-2, the No. 3 seed)10-7 at halftime in that game, but opened the second half with an impressive drive that culminated with a three-yard touchdown run by Jonathan White that put the Colonials ahead to stay, 14-10.

Shrewsbury coach John Aloisi downplayed any significance that game may have to tonight’s Round 2.

“Week 1 to now is a completely different situation,” Aloisi said. “It’s like a whole different season,”

Aloisi said the Colonials, because they played the Rams in Week 1, may know their formations and their tendencies, but he said Shepherd Hill is still a tough team to prepare for.

“Preparing for them is difficult because it’s tough to simulate their offense in practice,” Aloisi said. “Plus, when you get out there they throw a lot of subtle things at you that challenge you.”

The book on Shrewsbury to start the season was that they were a talented, but inexperienced, team.

“We were inexperienced to start the year but we’ve made big strides in our play and our leadership,” Aloisi said. “But make no mistake; this is a major challenge for us.”

Shrewsbury is led by junior quarterback Drew Campanale, who has completed 64-of-101 pass attempts for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 324 yards and three more scores.

“Drew is a three-year starter at quarterback; he knows what to do out there,” Aloisi said. “Drew leads by example. The first time we played Shepherd Hill they kicked a field goal late in the second quarter to lead by three at halftime. Coming out to start the second half Drew gathered the team together, said a few things and then marched the team down the field to what would end up being the game-winning touchdown.”

Guardians Host BMR in Division 6 Semifinal

Second-seeded St. Peter-Marian (6-2), winners of four straight will host 5-3 Blackstone-Millville Regional, the No. 3 seed, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Guardian Field. While a lot of football fans in the area are, no doubt, saying to themselves, ‘when did BMR add football?’ Guardians’ coach Justin McKay is well aware of the Chargers’ program.

“I was lucky enough to play BMR when I was a first-year head coach at Algonquin. We sent our Junior varsity team to play them. They were in their infancy at the time; they were still a junior varsity team,” McKay said. “They were actually a varsity team playing a JV schedule and classified as a JV team, but they had varsity players.

Blackstone-Millville, now in its sixth year as a program, is making its postseason debut against St. Peter-Marian.

“They’re very, very talented; we have a lot of respect for them,” McKay said. “It all starts with what coach Josh Euglow does. He has changed the culture over there and built the program from the ground up. He deserves a lot of respect for where they’re at right now. They’re a really impressive football team.

“They’re aggressive, they’re athletic, they’re fast, they make plays and they force you to do things that you don’t really want to do because of the way they play their game,” McKay continued. “They don’t get a lot of the press because they usually play on Saturdays, like we do. So, you don’t see them on the frenzy all that much, but they’re a great football team and we’re going to have our hands full with them.”

McKay said the Chargers run a true spread offense.

“And they do a great job of running it,” McKay said. “A lot of their scheme is built around the talented athletes they have. Their running back, Corey Pollinger, he sets up a lot of what they do with a lot of motion; he‘s a very talented football player. He’s fast, he’s athletic and he’s tough.”

Pollinger has rushed for 313 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries.

“Their quarterback, Robbie Siefring, is very impressive. He is, by far, one of the best athletes in Central Mass.,” McKay said. “He can throw the football down the field and he makes great choices with the ball. He’s physical when he runs, he’s fast, and he has the ability to get to the edge and go. He’s a true triple-threat player. In high school football you don’t see that as much anymore. You see quarterback that can kind of do one or two things. The fact that he’s a triple-threat makes him go from one of the better players to one of the best players in Central Mass.”

Siefring has rushed for 550 yards and 10 touchdowns and passed for 703 yards and seven scores.

McKay said he has been stressing to his team that this is a Central Mass., semifinal.

“That’s what we’ve been telling our kids all week,” McKay said. “You’re playing for a chance to play for a chance to go to Gillette Stadium.”

Several local teams have qualified for the playoffs in their respective divisions, but the highlight of the postseason matchups is, without a doubt, Doherty vs. St. John’s.

The 7-1 Highlanders, who come into the Division 3 semifinal showdown with the Pioneers as the No. 4 seed, have won seven straight games, their only loss coming on the opening night of the regular season, in overtime, to Wachusett Regional.

St. John’s, the top seed in Division 3, enters the game undefeated (8-0), having finished the regular season Saturday with a pulsating 24-21 win over Marlborough, who is the No. 2 seed in the Division 4 playoffs.

The site of the St. John’s game had been determined; it will be played at Assumption College. The day and time, however, has yet to be determined. The Highlanders and Pioneers will square off either Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

Dave Shea, the Worcester Public Schools athletic director and Pat White, the St. John’s athletic director, hope to have the particulars of the game ironed out sometime Tuesday.

The undercard, if you can call it that, in Division 3 is third-seeded Shepherd Hill (6-2) at second-seeded Shrewsbury (7-1) at 7 p.m., Friday night at Shrewsbury High.

This game will be a rematch of the season-opening game between the schools, won by the Colonials, 14-10. The Rams, however, led, 10-7, at halftime and had chances in the second half to re-take the lead, but the Shrewsbury defense came up big every time it needed to in the final 22 minutes.

Shepherd Hill’s only other loss this season came to St. John’s, 64-24.

Shrewsbury seems to be flying under the radar to a degree in Division 3 – if that can be said of a 7-1 team. All the fanfare in the division has focused on St. John’s and it’s high-octane offense, Doherty and the excellent season being turned in by junior running back Tajon Vassar, and event, to an extent, Wachusett, which finished 4-4 and on the outside looking in on the playoff hunt.

The Colonials only loss this season was to St. John’s (45-36) and they tuned up for the postseason by defeating previously undefeated Nashoba Regional, 35-7, Friday night. The Chieftains enter the Division 4 playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

Shrewsbury, which is led by junior quarterback Drew Campanale, senior wide receiver Chris Campbell and junior running back Jonathan White, has scored in the 40s twice this season and in the 30s three times. The 14 points the Colonials scored in the first meeting of the teams was its lowest point total of the season.

Shrewsbury’s underrated defense has posted two shutouts and only allowed more than 17 points once, in the loss to the Pioneers.

Division 4

The aforementioned top-seeded Nashoba will host 4-4 Westborough, the No. 4 seed, at 7 p.m., Friday night, in Bolton. In the other Division 4 semifinal, third-seeded Marlborough (6-2) will travel to Grafton to take on the 6-2 Indians at 7 p.m. Friday night.

Division 5
Third-seeded Auburn (5-3) will travel to Ashburnham for a 7 p.m. showdown Friday night with Oakmont Regional, the No. 3 seed, which is also 5-3.

In the other D5 semifinal 5-3) Northbridge, the No. 4 seed, will visit top-seeded and undefeated Nipmuc Regional (8-0) at 2:30 p.m., Saturday in Upton. In the first meeting of the teams, back on Sept. 23, the Warriors shut out the Rams, 23-0.

Division 6

Despite losing to Auburn Friday night, Millbury qualified for the playoffs and will face top-seeded and undefeated Littleton (8-0) on the road at 7 p.m., Friday night. In the other semifinal 5-3 Blackstone-Millville, the No. 3 seed, will face second-seeded St. Peter-Marian (6-2) at 2 p.m., Saturday, at Guardian Field.

The Guardians cemented their No. 2 spot in the Division with a 35-6 win over Holy Name Saturday afternoon. Senior running back Matt Dumphy led the SPM offensive attack, rushing for a 17-yard touchdown and also scoring on an 80-yard punt return. Quarterback Dan Malm, also a senior, rushed for one score (from 28 yards out) and passed for another, hitting Mike Sheeran with a four-yard scoring strike.

Division 7
Saturday’s semifinals in this division will pit fourth-seeded Assabet Valley (6-2) against top-seeded and undefeated Blackstone Valley Tech (8-0) at 2 p.m., while No. 3 seed West Boylston (6-2) will visit second-seeded Leicester, also 6-2, at 7 p.m.

Leicester and West Boylston met previously this season, the Wolverines winning, 8-3, back on Sept. 15. Trailing 3-0, Leicester took the lead for good in the second quarter, senior running back Kyle Padeni scampering in from three yards out and then adding the conversion rush as well.

Division 8
Fourth-seeded Lunenburg (4-4) is headed to Westford where it will take on the top-seeded Nashoba Tech Vikings (5-3), a 7 p.m., Friday. Also at 7 p.m., Friday, No. 3 Bartlett (5-3) will travel to Fitchburg to play second-seeded St. Bernard’s (5-3).

Other Local Teams In Action Too

At 7 p.m. Friday several other local teams will be playing games as well, they just won’t be part of the playoff picture in their respective divisions. Those non-playoff games include: Burncoat at Quabbin; Holy Name at Maynard; and North at Hudson.

At 6 p.m., Friday, at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium, Abby Kelley Foster will face South.

At noon Saturday, also at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium, Worcester Tech will host Winchendon’s Murdock High.

North Rallies to Defeat Blackstone-Millville

The Polar Bears were one of four teams in Division 5 to finish with a 5-3 record. North, however, lost in the power ratings, its 11.83 overall rating following below the 13.15 rating earned by Northbridge High, which also finished 5-3.

Even though it faced long odds of qualifying for the postseason, North fought until the very end, rallying to defeat Blackstone-Millville, 35-27, with a pair of fourth-quarter scores.

The Polar Bears trailed BMR, 27-21 as play entered the fourth quarter. North tied the game, 27-27, early in the final period when Javon Torres scored on a five-yard run. Later in the quarter Polar Bears’ quarterback Christian Hines scored the game-winning TD on a five-yard scoring scamper of his own.

Hines threw for three touchdowns in the first half, hitting Uriah Kemoh with 36- and 60-yard scoring strikes, and also connecting with Kwaku Saforo on a 66-yard TD toss.

Patriots Lose Heartbreaker

Nashoba Tech saved its best for last – or for the second half at least – scoring 36 of its 49 points after halftime to rally for a 49-48 victory over Burncoat.

The Patriots led, 36-25, as play entered the fourth quarter but the Vikings scored 24 points in the period, including the game-winning touchdown after Burncoat had taken a 48-41 lead with three minutes to play on a 22-yard touchdown run by Ben Camacho.

The rushing touchdown was Camacho’s second of the period and third of the game. He also scored on runs of 10 and 39 yards. He finished with 317 yards rushing and the three touchdowns on 29 carries.

The Vikings’ game-winning points came on a four-yard pass from quarterback Vinny Eramo to Brian Robinson and a conversion rush by Eramo. Eramo, who finished the game with six touchdown passes, completed 15-of-31 passes for 273 yards.

Nick Locantore scored three-first half touchdowns for the Patriots, running in from 2, 5 and 29 yards. Matt Amissah also scored for Burncoat, recovering a Nashoba Tech fumble in the end zone in the first quarter.

Week 8 Results

Doherty 43, North Middlesex 13

North 35, Blackstone-Millville 27

St. Peter-Marian 35, Holy Name 6

Bay Path 40, Abby Kelley Foster 22

Nashoba Tech 49, Burncoat 48

Fitchburg 53, South 14

Blackstone Valley Tech 42, Worcester Tech 8

St. John’s 24, Marlborough 21

Shrewsbury 35, Nashoba 7

Westborough 42, Wachusett 27

With the last week of the regular-season upon us, the majority of the playoff spots have been secured. Oh, sure, there are some No. 5 seeds – and even a few No. 6s – that are hoping for an unlikely win coupled with an unlikely loss by a higher seed to give them just the crease (football term) needed to squeeze into the final spot.

Playoff-bound teams now, for the most part however, are fine-tuning parts of their offensive and defensive game plans and hoping their Week 8 games are injury-free affairs.

DIVISION 3

The top tier in Central Mass. appears to be set with St. John’s (7-0, 22.43 power rating) leading the way, followed by Shrewsbury (6-1, 17.91), Shepherd Hill (5-2, 15.80) and Doherty (6-1 (15.11) in the Nos. 2-4 spots.

The Pioneers will host 6-1 Marlborough at 2 p.m., Saturday; Shrewsbury hosts undefeated Nashoba (7-0) – the top team in Division 4 – at 7 p.m. Friday; Shepherd Hill hosts 3-4 Groton-Dunstable at 7 p.m., Friday, and Doherty plays/hosts winless North Middlesex (0-7) at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium at 6:30 p.m., Friday.

The only team in Division 3 that seems to be facing a win-and-they’re-in scenario is Doherty. If the Highlanders lose to North Middlesex and Wachusett (4-3), currently the fifth seed, beats Westborough (3-4), the No. 6 seed in Division 4, The Mountaineers could sneak in to the final playoff spot.

If that scenario played out it would be a devastating blow to Doherty, but there are some football fans who would say, if you can’t beat a winless team at home with a playoff berth on the line, you don’t deserve to play in the postseason.

DIVISION 4

The top three teams – Nashoba, Grafton and Marlborough – are all set. The Chieftains (7-0) will remain the top seed even if they lose to Shrewsbury. Grafton (5-2, 15.03) also seems locked into its No. 2 spot, even if the Indians lose to 5-2 Northbridge. Marlborough (6-1, 14.43), the No. 3 seed, will stay right where they are, even if the Panthers lose to the Pioneers.

The fourth and final spot in Division 4 provides a little intrigue, however.

Groton-Dunstable is currently in that spot, with a 3-4 record and a 11.03 rating, but hot on the Crusaders’ heels for that last spot are Fitchburg (3-4, 10.43) and Westborough (3-4, 9.31). A Westborough defeat of Wachusett and a Groton-Dunstable loss to Shepherd Hill would create a scenario where the Rangers could leapfrog the Crusaders at sneak off with the final playoff spot.

The final determination in that scenario would come down to the awarding of opponents’ points for wins and losses and I’ll leave that to the slide rule community that governs such things. As I like to say, I majored in journalism in college because there was no math requirement for graduation – and I’m only half-kidding.

DIVISION 5

This is another division that appears set with undefeated Nipmuc (7-0, 20.71) leading the way, followed by Northbridge (5-2, 12.86), Oakmont (4-3, 12.43) and Auburn (4-3, 11.57).

Nipmuc hosts winless Sutton (0-6) at 1 p.m., Saturday, Northbridge hosts Grafton (5-2) at 7 p.m., Friday night, Oakmont travels to Barre to take on Quabbin (2-5) at 7 p.m., Friday and Auburn travels to Millbury to take on the 4-3 Woolies.

North High (4-3) is the team on the outside looking in here. Even if the Polar Bears were to defeat 5-2 Blackstone-Millville at noon on Saturday at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium, and Auburn was to lose to Millbury, it doesn’t seem like North would get enough opponents’ points to overtake the Rockets.

DIVISION 6

There are conflicting points of view about the first three spots in this division. Some of the local ratings pundits say they are locked up, while some of the coaches in those three spots say only the top spot has been determined, but that could, of course, just be coach-speak to keep the kids engaged..

Littleton (7-0, 20.29) is the top seed in Division 6 and the Tigers are, at the moment, followed by St. Peter-Marian (5-2, 17.09), Blackstone Millville (5-2, 15.20) and Maynard (5-2, 14.29).

Millbury (4-3, 13.71) and Uxbridge (4-3, 13.00) could have a shot a cracking the top four, but Maynard would have to lose at Clinton (3-4) at 7 p.m., Friday while the Woolies would have to defeat Auburn and Uxbridge would have to beat winless Southbridge for either to have a chance.

DIVISION 7

This is quite possibly the most interesting divisional race on the final weekend of the season.

Undefeated Blackstone Valley Tech (7-0, 19.29) appears to have the top spot locked up and the Beavers are followed by Leicester (5-2, 15.14), West Boylston (5-2, 14.20) and Assabet Valley (5-2, 13.83).

The Division 7 landscape could change in a hurry, however, if undefeated Oxford – currently fifth in the division’s power ratings with a 7-0 record and a 13.71 rating – defeats Leicester and Assabet loses to winless Monty Tech (0-7). Even if that scenario played out, however, the fact that the Pirates’ opponents’ combined record of 8-41 could keep them out of the playoffs, despite having – at that point – an 8-0 record.

DIVISION 8

This is another division that appears to be all set.

St. Bernard’s (4-3, 12.00) leads the way, followed by Narragansett (4-2, 11.67), Nashoba Valley Tech (4-3, 10.71) and Lunenburg (4-3, 10.69).

Bartlett (4-3, 10.66) has a shot to sneak in; the Indians would have to defeat Tantasqua (1-6) at 7 p.m., Friday while the Blue Knights lose undefeated Littleton, the top dog in Division 6, at the same time – both very possible scenarios.

Even then, however, Lunenburg could garner too many opponents’ points to allow the Indians to overtake it.

Week 8 Games

North Middlesex (0-7) vs. Doherty (6-1)

6:30 p.m., Friday, Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field

Abby Kelley Foster (3-4) at Bay Path (4-3)

7 p.m., Friday, Minutemen Field, Charlton

Burncoat (3-4) at Nashoba Valley Tech (4-3)

7 p.m., Nashoba Tech, Westford

South (1-6) at Fitchburg (3-4)

7 p.m., Crocker Field, Fitchburg

Nashoba (7-0) at Shrewsbury (6-1)

7 p.m., Friday, Shrewsbury High

Blackstone-Millville (5-2) vs. North (4-3)

Noon, Saturday, Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field

Holy Name (2-4) at St. Peter-Marian (5-2)

1 p.m., Saturday, Guardian Field, Worcester

Worcester Tech (1-6) at Blackstone Valley Tech (7-0)

1 p.m., Saturday, Blackstone Valley Tech, Upton

Wachusett (4-3) at Westborough (3-4)

2 p.m., Saturday, Joe Mewhiney Field, Westborough

Marlborough (6-1) at St. John’s (7-0)

2 p.m., Pioneer Field, Shrewsbury

There is no question the St. John’s football team is on a record-setting pace. The 7-0 Pioneers are scoring an average of 50.6 points per game. They have scored 52 touchdowns so far – 28 passing, 18 rushing, four on kick returns and two on interception returns.

St. John’s has scored 60 or more points in a game three times this season, including the last two weeks. St. John’s defeated Shepherd Hill, 64-24, Oct. 14, and Algonquin Regional, 60-0, on Saturday. Back on Sept. 16 the Pioneers defeated Springfield Central, 62-39. All three 60-point performances have come at home.

There are some, however, in the Central Mass. high school football community wondering if the cost is too great. Could St. John’s possibly be hurting the local high school game with its devastating offense?

Are all those points really necessary? Why did they pass for a touchdown — capping a four-play all-pass drive — against Shepherd Hill in the third quarter when they were already ahead, 50-16? Against Algonquin, leading 28-0 after the first quarter, the Pioneers scored four touchdowns in the second quarter. Three were on passes, including the ones that helped make it 41-0 and 47-0.

Being a guy that has covered high school football in Central Mass. for 33 years, these questions and several others are asked of me at the football games I cover, as well as at soccer and field hockey games, when I am substitute teaching at Auburn and Leicester high schools, in the market buying groceries or out having breakfast at Carl’s Diner in Oxford.

You folks asked me, so I asked St. John’s coach John Andreoli.

Q: There is a concern among people in the local football community about the scores St. John’s is putting up, especially in the last two weeks. Is scoring 60 points really necessary?

A:  I really don’t care what people think. I think we play the game hard. Our offense is a high-powered offense. This week [against Algonquin] we had our subs in with eight minutes to go in the second quarter. I declined three defensive penalties. In the second half we had running time. There’s not much more I can do. I don’t look too much at the point totals. Our message to the kids is to go out and play hard, play the way they play no matter who the opponent is. That’s what we’re going to do. I’m not interested in managing point totals. Our offense’s job is to score points; our defense’s job is to stop them from scoring points. That’s the way we’re going to play the game.

Q:  Have you thought this year after scoring on a pass when the score is already in the 40s, or in the second half when you’ve already scored 50 points, maybe we should have run the ball?

A:  No, because that’s not our offense. Our offense is designed to spread the ball around and throw it. It’s not designed to run the ball and kill the clock. That’s the way we play the game and that’s the way we’re going to keep playing the game.

Q:  Does it ever get awkward in the handshake line after a game? Or when you meet at midfield with the opposing coach after the game?

A:  No. This week, for instance … I know Taylor Allen really well; I played for his dad (former Holy Cross coach Dan Allen). I told Taylor after the game to keep plugging away at it. … We played everybody in our program, pretty much, on Saturday. I have absolutely no issues in terms of the way we conducted ourselves on the field as coaches or players, and the way those guys competed. I don’t have anybody telling me we’re running up the scores. To be honest with you, that’s not what we’re about. What we’re about is going out and playing hard for 44 minutes. I’d like to know who those people are that are concerned that we’re running up the score. If someone specifically has an issue, I’m more than happy to address it. I think the way we conducted ourselves this weekend is pretty indicative of the way the program handles those things.

Doherty defeats North; Highlanders control their fate

Win and they’re in – finally.

That’s the scenario facing the Doherty High football team as it prepares to face North Middlesex Regional in the final regular-season game of the 2017 season, thanks to the Highlanders 36-8 win over North combined with Wachusett Regional’s 9-0 loss to Nashoba Regional.

Heading into Week 8 of the season the Division 3 power ratings shake out this way: St. John’s (7-0, 22.43 rating); Shrewsbury (6-1, 17.91); Shepherd Hill (5-2, 15.80); Doherty (6-1, 15.11); and Wachusett (4-3, 13.06). The top four rated teams earn playoff berths.

The Highlanders close out the regular season against winless North Middlesex at 6:30 p.m., Friday, at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium.

Once the Nashoba victory had been verified, Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy and his coaching staff addressed the team.

“We told the kids, ‘for the first time all season you now control you own destiny,’” Mulcahy said. “We told them, ‘we don’t need anyone else’s help. We don’t need a win from someone else to help us out. It’s simple; we win and we’re in, we don’t and we’re not.’ It’s nice to, finally, be in that position.”

The Highlanders are in that position, for the most part, because of their win over the Polar Bears. After a slow start (Doherty led, 7-0, after the first period thanks to a six-yard scoring scamper by quarterback Noah Callery) the Highlanders scored 22 second-quarter points to lead, 29-0, at intermission.

Scoring rushing TDs for Doherty in the second quarter were Tajon Vassar (seven yards), Herman Acheampong (15 yards) and Jose Robles (three yards). Evan Brunelle closed out the scoring for the Highlanders in the third quarter when he caught a 19-yard scoring strike from Callery.

“We played really well against North, probably as well as we’ve played all year,” Mulcahy said. “The players were really focused. Watching them warm up I could see that a lot of them understood what we’ve been explaining to them for several weeks; that all they had to worry about was beating North and that everything else would take care of itself.”

As far as Mulcahy is concerned, Doherty’s playoff preparation has already begun.

“A lot of our players were at the JV game on Saturday and I told them, ‘every game the rest of the year is a playoff game for us – including Friday. You want to continue, you need to win,’” Mulcahy said. “From the start, from that day in August when you hold your first practice, you want to get to this point. We’re there a week early because our last game is really a must-win, too, just like it would be if we were in the first week of the tournament.”

Mulcahy said he is not underestimating, not for one minute, the Sandy Ruggles-coached North Middlesex Patriots. The fact they enter the game 0-7 means nothing to the Doherty coach.

“North Middlesex plays a Mid-Wach League schedule,” Mulcahy said. “The casual fan sometimes doesn’t realize your schedule had a lot to do sometimes with whatever success you may have. Look at Leominster. They’re 0-7. But, if we started the season over they could easily be 6-1 or 7-0. Sometimes it’s just the way things break that determines how successful your season is.”

More than half of the North Middlesex roster – 35 of 54 – consists of freshmen (11) and sophomores (24).

“I know first-hand when you play young guys you struggle a little in terms of wins and losses,” Mulcahy said, “but they definitely have kids that can rise up. Those sophomores that started at the beginning of the year, they’re almost juniors now. They’re hungry to get a win and salvage the season.”

Not to mention being able to play the we-knocked-Doherty-out-of-the-playoffs chip.

“There’s no doubt that they’re going to come in with that as they’re mantra,” Mulcahy said. “We’ll be as prepared as we can be. We’re approaching this game like we’re playing the New England Patriots, not the North Middlesex Patriots.”

Consistent Play Keys Guardians Three-Game Winning Streak

Three weeks ago St. Peter-Marian was just another 2-2 team, and the Guardians we coming off a devastating loss to Doherty High during which SPM led by eight points with less than five minutes to play.

It was the type of loss that could send a team only one of two ways; they could stick around and fight and show what it’s made of, or it could pack it in and tell themselves, ‘this year just isn’t our year.’

The Guardians decided to stay and fight, and the result has been three consecutive wins; 41-35 over Oakmont, 50-34 over Burncoat and 42-14 over Clinton on Saturday. Thanks to the winning streak, 5-2 St. Peter-Marian is firmly in the Division 7 playoff picture as it prepares to play its final regular-season game, a showdown with Central Mass. Conference rival Holy Name at 1 p.m. Saturday at Guardian Field.

“I think what you’re starting to see is that we’re becoming a little more consistent in the way we go about our business, which I am happy about,” first year St. Peter-Marian coach Justin McKay said. “We needed time to put our stamp on this team and this program. You’re starting to see that; we’re beginning to limit some of the mistakes.”

“We were very frustrated with how we lost to Doherty; we felt some of the crucial mistakes in that game were self-inflicted,” McKay continued. “We’ve been adamant about fixing that the last three weeks. Now it’s about fine-tuning and doing things better in all three phases of the game. We’ve been really adamant the last three weeks, about trying to improve upon where we were and how we went about things.”

The Guardians’ offense, led by running back Matt Dumphy and quarterback Dan Malm, appears to be playing at a more consistent level.

Dumphy, a senior, leads the team in rushing with 468 yards and eight touchdowns on 51 carries. Malm, also a senior, has completed 49-of-80 passes for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Dumphy and junior Owen Leary have been Malm’s favorite targets. Both have 14 receptions on the season. Dumphy has gained 281 yards and scored four touchdowns on his catches while Leary has gained 201 yards and caught a scoring strike as well. Junior Jeff Sullivan has chipped in with seven receptions for 139 yards and a pair of TDs.

“We’re trying to get multiple kids the football in multiple ways,” McKay said. “I think that’s been something we’ve been able to do over the last three weeks. We’ve had a variety of kids touch the football and score points for us.”

During SPM’s three-game winning streak Dumphy has scored seven touchdowns, Malm four, Cameron Williams and Mike Sheeran two each, and one apiece by Leary, Sullivan, Justin Laporte and John Keyes.

“We become different when it is not just two or three kids that can score; we become a better football team across the board,” McKay said. “So, we’ve been really trying to work at continuing to expand upon what we do and fine-tuning what we do and getting better at all of the small details.”

“We’re just trying to execute and continue to work on all the things that can make us a more dynamic offense,” McKay continued. “It’s a credit to the kids; they’re very coachable.”

Defensively the Guardians seem to be closing in on that consistency McKay covets as well.

“Defense is harder in terms of game consistency because you see a different look each week,” McKay said. “Once we got through the first couple of weeks of the season and the kids understand how we make adjustments to teams and what we’re trying to do defensively, you can see that their confidence level is beginning to grow.”

“We played five teams in the first five weeks that were all so different offensively. It provided a different challenge and a different way of instructing and applying our defensive logic,” McKay said. “That has led to us to have to continue to be able to grow and I think our kids have done a good job with that. They have become more consistent.”

Malm leads the SPM defense in tackles with 39. He is followed by Sheeran (28), Kosta Drosidis and Jared Kapurch (27 each), Leary (22), and Pat Creagh and Ben Landry (21 each).

“We’re just trying to get better,” McKay said. “Am I pleased? You’re never pleased; you’re never satisfied with where you’re at because you know that there are things on the horizon that the kids really want. We have to improve; we have to get better. I feel where we’re right where we should be.”

“We have a great test this week in Holy Name. We need to win this game to get into the playoffs,” McKay said. “No one in Division 6 is in yet except for Littleton. We need to win this game and we know we’re going to face a tough test. Two years ago Holy Name beat St. Peter-Marian and knocked them out of the playoffs. That will be a constant message this week. If you don’t take care of your business, if you don’t win this game, you can’t go on to achieve the dream you have going forward.”

The current Division 6 ratings: Littleton (7-0, 20.29 rating); St. Peter-Marian (5-2, 17.09); Blackstone-Millville (5-2, 15.20); Maynard (5-2, 14.29); Millbury (4-3, 13.71); Uxbridge (4-3, 13.00).

Week 7 Results

Doherty 36, North 8

St. Peter-Marian 42, Clinton 14

Burncoat 44, South 6

Assabet Valley 35, Abby Kelley Foster 6

Nipmuc 48, Holy Name 6

Bay Path 34, Worcester Tech 21

Shrewsbury 28, Westborough 17

St. John’s 60, Algonquin 0

Nashoba 9, Wachusett 0

Technically it’s Week 7 of the high school football season. It is, of course, better known – especially in Central Mass. – as the beginning of a two-week period known simply as “The Playoff Push.”

While games earlier in the season, obviously, play a role in whether a team qualifies for its respective Central Mass. divisional tournament, these last two weeks the line is more definable.

“All we had to do was beat (team name here) and we would have qualified,” coaches will tell reporters all over the land after the season, conveniently forgetting a bad loss or improbable win earlier in the season that helped create that “win and you’re in” scenario these last two weeks.

Of all the games with playoff ramifications the Doherty vs. North matchup at 6 p.m., Friday, at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium seems the most significant. The Highlanders enter the game 5-1, having not lost since Opening Night, in overtime, to Wachusett Regional. The Polar Bears enter the game 4-2, having had their four-game winning streak snapped by Holy Name, 20-19, last week.

A victory – and all the power ranking points that go along with it – could propel either team into the playoffs in its respective Division (Doherty in Division 3, North in Division 5). A loss and the losing team is almost certainly on the outside looking in.

Doherty has won the last 15 meetings between the teams, including 28-0 last year. North’s last win in the series was Sept. 22, 1992, when the Polar Bears iced the Highlanders, 14-8. The teams did not play between 1999 and 2004.

“First and foremost it’s an Inter-High game and winning the league is our No. 1 goal,” Doherty coach Sean Mulcahy said. “That in itself is important enough for us.”

Mulcahy knows of what he speaks. A 1983 graduate of Doherty High, Mulcahy said he has been in attendance at every Doherty-North game since 1972. As a grammar school student a stone’s throw away at the old Abbott Street School, he would routinely volunteer to be a member of the “chain gang” at many of the Inter-High games played at Foley Stadium.

“All these Inter-High games are big games,” Mulcahy said. “If you’re not an Inter-High guy you just don’t realize how big these games are. Anytime we play North, South or Burncoat it’s a big game.”

Doherty beat South High last week, 53-0, and they will play Burncoat High on Thanksgiving.

Running back Tajon Vassar will be one of several players to lead the Highlanders into battle with the Polar Bears on Friday night. The junior is the No. 5 leading rusher in Central Mass., having gained 773 yards on 80 carries, a yards-per-carry average of 9.7, and scored 10 touchdowns.

“Tajon is playing very well,” Mulcahy said. “He didn’t play a lot against South because we didn’t need him to. It’s not that he was banged up, but having a week where we didn’t have to call on him a lot makes it better, going forward, for this week. This way we can lean on him this week, knowing he’s not nicked up, and he’ll be ready to go.”

The Highlanders have split time at quarterback this year and will do so again Friday night, Mulcahy said.

Taking the snaps for Doherty will be junior Chris Schoen and freshman Noah Callery. Schoen has completed 25-of-55 passes for 415 yards and four touchdowns. Callery has completed 18-of-24 pass attempts for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He has also rushed 14 times for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Senior Evan Brunelle is the Highlanders leading receiver with 15 catches for 291 yards and five touchdowns. Vassar has recorded 14 receptions for 231 yards and two scores. Senior Phil Adarkwah has made four catches for 38 yards, junior Jared Rutkiewicz has three catches for 84 yards and sophomore Jon Forson also has 3 catches, for 58 yards.

Doherty, 5-1 with a power rating of 13.47, is currently third in the power ratings for Central Mass. Division 3, behind St. John’s (6-0, 21.67 rating), Shrewsbury (5-1, 16.53) and Shepherd Hill (4-2, 15.03), and ahead of Wachusett (4-2, 13.17).

Wachusett plays at undefeated Nashoba Regional (6-0) at 7 p.m., Friday night in Bolton.

The Central Mass. ratings gurus believe that if Doherty and Wachusett both win their last two games, the Mountaineers will overtake the Highlanders and slide into that fourth and final playoff spot. Many high school football aficionados assumed, however, that if Doherty won out it would earn the final playoff spot based on their overall record (which would be 7-1), which would be one game better than Wachusett (6-2) if it won out as well.

“They changed the system in midstream, which I think is dirty pool,” Mulcahy said. “We used to get maximum value for a league win despite being a multi-divisional league. The new system doesn’t allow for that.”

Last year a team was awarded 10 points for a win against an opponent in its division or its league. That was the maximum amount a team could earn for a win. In May the Central Mass. Football Committee made changes to the ratings system.

The biggest change was the decision to award 12 points for a win against a team in your division, but only 10 points if you defeated a league opponent that played in a lower division. North and South play in Division 5.

“We made our schedules in February and they made the system change in May,” Mulcahy said. “Doing it that way seems kind of backward to me.”

Mulcahy said the Doherty coaching staff had not discussed the playoff format with their players.

“The kids are smart; they know what the playoff picture looks like,” Mulcahy said. “But we’ve been telling our kids all year long, ‘let’s take the season one game at a time. We can only control what we can control.’ That hasn’t changed. The bottom line is we have to win our last two games; we have to beat North and North Middlesex before any of this becomes an issue.

“Obviously things need to fall into place for us to sneak into one of the four playoff spots. We told the kids this week, ‘we can’t control anything other than playing North, so let’s focus on that,” Mulcahy continued. “If we don’t beat North on Friday night, none of this other stuff matters. I think the players have done a good job this week of focusing on North and not looking ahead. Each Monday we tell the kids, ‘we’re not going to talk about thing we can’t control.’ Like why we might finish 7-1 and be the odd team out.”

Besides, Mulcahy said the Highlanders have plenty to worry about as far as the Polar Bears are concerned.

“The North coaching staff has done a great job getting this program to where it is. I know they stumbled a little last week but they’re a very good team with good athletes,” Mulcahy said. “Those guys have worked their tails off to get that team to where it is. We go to camp with them and I know the limited resources they’re dealing with. The administration at North should be very happy with the coaching staff that they have; they’ve done an awesome job.”

North High seems to have maximized its resources from a football standpoint.

“They’ve built the team the right way,” Mulcahy said. “They haven’t sold their principals out for a “guy they need” at the expense of what they’re trying to do. I’m sure there are some good athletes over there that the coaching staff told to hit the bricks. They wanted to do it the right way and they have.

“That’s the way you’ve got to do it in the city because the players that buy in will really buy in,” Mulcahy said. “By doing it the way they’re doing it you may have 35 players instead of 60, but having 35 guys that are buying in is better than having 60 with 25 not buying in.”

For North, last week’s 20-19 loss to Holy Name – the Polar Bears first sub-par performance of the season – could not have come at a more inopportune time.

“We were up 12-0 and then we lost containment on a long pass, we gave up a long punt return and we committed 5 turnovers,” North coach Dan Boyle explained. “You’re not going to beat a team the caliber of Holy Name playing like that. We imploded at the worst possible time. It was a tough loss.”

“Now we really have our work cut out for ourselves,” Boyle continued. “We finish with Doherty (currently 5-1) and BMR (4-2). We’re going to have to beat both teams in order to make the playoffs.”

North was the No. 3 rated team in Division 5 heading into last week’s games behind Nipmuc and Northbridge and ahead of Oakmont and Auburn. The Polar Bears loss, combined with victories by Oakmont and Auburn – in overtime over Northbridge – have dropped them to fifth, with Auburn moving up to third and Oakmont staying at fourth.

The Division 5 playoff picture: Nipmuc (6-0, 19.00 rating); Northbridge (4-2, 12.33); Auburn (4-2, 11.67); Oakmont (3-3, 11.00); and North (9.70).

Boyle had no comment on the playoff picture this week, instead focusing on the task at hand.

“The Doherty game is a big game; it’s an Inter-High game. The kids all know each other; they competed in the passing league together, they’ve gone to camps together,” Boyle said. “We will be up for the challenge. We will be ready to play. Doherty is the elite team in the city; they’re the top of the mountain. North-Doherty on a Friday night at Foley Stadium with a big crowd on hand. I know my kids will get up for playing in the atmosphere of a big-time game; this is what they’ve been working for.”

Make no mistake, however, North will have their work cut out for themselves and Boyle knows that.

“Doherty is big up front and they have a talented running back in Vassar and they like to run the ball. But, if we load up in the box to stop the run, they can pass it, too, and hurt us that way,” Boyle said. “Defensively we’re going to have to mix things up, show them some stuff that they haven’t seen before from us.

“They’re a big strong physical team so we’re going to need to get creative and do some things they don’t expect us to do,” Boyle said. “Hopefully we’ll catch them off guard and get them off balance.”

Guardians in the Mix in Division 6, but they’ve got to keep winning

St. Peter-Marian, on the strength of its 50-34 win over Burncoat last week – as well as its 41-35 victory over Oakmont the week before – has solidified its standing as one of the top four teams in Division 6.

But, with two weeks to play, six teams are still in the mix for the second, third and fourth playoff spots in Division 6.

The power ratings for Division 6 heading into this week look like this: Littleton (6-0, 18.00 rating); St. Peter-Marian (4-2, 14.87); Maynard (5-1, 14.33); Blackstone-Millville (4-2, 12.87); Uxbridge (3-3, 12.47); Millbury (3-3, 10.83); and Clinton (3-3, 10.13).

St. Peter-Marian hosts Clinton this week (1 p.m., Saturday, Guardian Field) and then finishes the playoff format part of the regular season hosting Holy Name at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.

Maynard has divisional games with top-rated Littleton and Clinton – both on the road – left. Blackstone-Millville will host St. Bernard’s this Saturday and play North at Foley Stadium on Oct. 28. Uxbridge hosts one-win David Prouty and winless Southbridge to close out its season. Millbury plays at Bartlett tonight and then hosts Auburn next Friday. Clinton, as mentioned above, has SPM this week and Maynard next week.

 

Week 7 Games

North (4-2) vs. Doherty (5-1)

6 p.m., Friday, Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field

Assabet Valley (4-2) at Abby Kelley Foster (3-3)

7 p.m., Friday, Kendrick Field

Shrewsbury (5-1) at Westborough (3-3)

7 p.m., Friday, Mewhiney Field, Westborough

Wachusett (4-2) at Nashoba (6-0)

7 p.m., Friday, Nashoba Regional, Bolton

Burncoat (2-4) vs. South (1-5)

Noon, Saturday, Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field

Nipmuc (6-0) at Holy Name (2-3)

1 p.m., Saturday, Flanagan Field, Worcester

Clinton (3-3) at St. Peter-Marian (4-2)

1 p.m., Saturday, Guardian Field, Worcester

Algonquin (1-5) at St. John’s (6-0)

1 p.m., Saturday, Pioneer Field, Shrewsbury

Bay Path (3-3) at Worcester Tech (1-5)

3 p.m., Saturday, Foley Stadium’s Commerce Bank Field