When quarterback Troy Faretra dislocated his right shoulder last season, Westford Academy’s spread offense lost a step.
It was like a bicycle with a rusted chain, the teeth clawing at the gears as the wheels sputtered forward.
Wide receiver Justin Mount proved a serviceable fill-in for the next seven games, as coach Rich McKenna tailored his offense to an option-oriented scheme to get the most out of his receiver’s rushing ability.
Still, Westford finished with a 6-5 record.
But this year is different.
Faretra made his season debut in Week 3 against Malden Catholic, and Mount moved back to wide receiver.
Together, the two have carved their way through opposing defenses to propel Westford to a 5-1 start, the offense running fluidly again as the team storms into Dual County League play.
“It’s unbelievable, the difference’’ having Troy back, McKenna said. “It just feels good to be able to pass on first downs and keep teams off balance.”
“We’re spreading the ball around, and we’re keeping defenses on their heels.”
Thinking back to last season, Faretra jokingly refers to Mount as “noodle-arm,” while the wide receiver satirically refers to his own passes as “missiles.’’
All joking aside, Faretra is happy to be back at quarterback, especially when he can fire it to Mount, his 6-foot-3 target.
On Friday, the two connected for a pair of touchdowns to beat Concord-Carlisle, 20-6.
“I know he’s a good target: He’s a big target and a very athletic kid with good hands,” Faretra said. “I just put the ball there and he’ll catch it.”
In the four games he’s been back, Faretra has thrown for eight touchdowns and 412 yards, while rushing for four scores and 480 yards.
Likewise, Mount is glad he doesn’t have to play quarterback. He’s hauled in five touchdowns from Faretra, while rushing for 605 yards and 10 scores this season.
“It was more of a run offense [last season], which made it tough to move the ball down the field when all teams would stack the box and tempt us to throw it, and it wouldn’t work out for us,” Mount said. “I like catching the ball. I like when Troy’s throwing it, and it’s been good so far.”
There’s another component to the Grey Ghosts offense: Ben Rodman, a junior running back best known to his teammates as The Worm, has racked up 504 yards and three scores.
Rodman “ends up wearing down defenses,” McKenna said. “And once we wear them down, they don’t know who’s going to be the read, so they can’t be overaggressive, and it opens up our passing game.”
Rodman admitted he feels some pressure in the new role, but with his strong offensive line and McKenna’s high-paced practices, he feels he fits in just fine.
“There’s pressure, but there’s so much repetition,” Rodman said. “The line just comes out and gives me a big push and opens up holes left and right. Most of the credit goes to them.”
For Faretra and Mount, the chemistry extends off the gridiron.
The two have been playing basketball together since they were 10, and they can understand each other with a telepathic-like sense.
If Faretra or Mount spots a breakdown in coverage, an adjustment is made and words are not needed.
“Earlier in a game this year, we were playing Malden Catholic, and we both noticed there was an opening, and we just looked at each other and I gave him a signal and we ended up scoring on it,” Mount said.
“It was supposed to be a hitch and we turned it into a seam. Just a little eye contact and we were good.”
For Westford, a team with 18 seniors, the unmatched chemistry can carry them a long way.
“We’re playing with some confidence right now,” McKenna said. “We know if we execute our technique and offenses, we’re going to be tough to stop.
O’Brien steps up,
for now, at Peabody
Matt O’Brien , interim coach at Peabody High, is unsure how long he will be at the helm of the Tanners.
He knows he’ll finish out the last four games of the season, but after that he has to reapply when the job becomes vacant at the end of the season.
In the meantime, O’Brien, who stepped in after Scott Wlasuk turned in his resignation Oct. 9, is committed to building a foundation for the team, which is 0-6 and at the basement of the Cape Ann/Northeastern (Division 1) conference.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be here,” O’Brien said. “We want to focus on technique and fix the little things. Whoever is coming in, it’s going to be a process and it won’t happen overnight.”
Wlasuk, who entered his fifth season with the team at the start of this year, was 0-5 (17-31 overall) before announcing his resignation.
Athletic director Phil Sheridan denied one report of a teamwide disconnect between the players and Wlasuk, although he did acknowledge he had spoken with a few players.
“Coach Wlasuk is a good guy and I respect him,” Sheridan said. “And he put his best foot forward, but for whatever reason it wasn’t working. I did meet with a couple of kids, but not the whole team.”
O’Brien, who served as offensive coordinator under Wlasuk and coached the freshman team from 2008-10, was on Peabody’s Division 1 Super Bowl winning team in 1991, and was the team’s quarterback in 1992.
“There was some consideration to bring an outsider in, but in the long run we felt it was best for kids to deal with someone they knew,” Sheridan said.
O’Brien, whose team lost 42-24 to Revere in his coaching debut Friday, said the future is bright for Peabody, a team with just nine seniors and more than 30 sophomores.
“Everyone here wants the program to get back to what it was,” O’Brien said. “And that’s the goal. People want immediate results, but we’re trying to grow young men here, and people lose sense of that sometimes. If the players are evaluated only on wins and losses, it doesn’t show their true character.”
Here and there
For the second straight week, Wakefield cruised to a win behind its stout defense’s shutout. In a 22-0 win over Wilmington Friday, senior Connor Coogan led the way with three interceptions. . . . For the second time in three games, St. John’s Prep running back Johnathan Thomas rushed for three touchdowns. This time, he led the Eagles to a 49-8 win over St. John’s (Shrewsbury) . . . . Governor’s Academy rolled over Lawrence Academy with a 38-20 win to improve to 4-0. Their offense, led by running backs Tate Jozokos and Elijah Morrissey , is averaging 44.3 points per game.