Well, here we go.
The MIAA’s new playoff system gets underway this weekend, as 114 teams will take the gridiron in search of a spot in next week’s sectional semifinals.
At first glance, Division 2 South appears to be the state’s most competitive sectional, comprised of five league champions with a combined regular-season record of 31-3. Two of those teams will meet Friday night, as fourth-seeded Needham hosts fifth-seeded Duxbury .
Duxbury has been in its share of pressure-packed games over the years. Many of its 26 seniors were on the roster when the Green Dragons rolled over Tewksbury, 35-0, in the 2011 Division 2 Super Bowl. Duxbury then pushed its winning streak to 37 games before Mansfield dropped the Green Dragons, 23-19, in last year’s Division 2 semifinals.
This season started off differently for a program known for its high-powered offense. It took three goal-line stands in the second half — including one on fourth and goal from the 1 with 13 seconds remaining — to stave off Abington, 20-13. The following week, Bridgewater-Raynham ended the Dragons’ 43-game regular-season win streak with a 13-10 victory on Duxbury’s home field.
But once they reached the conference portion of the schedule, the Dragons quickly found their groove. Duxbury went 4-0 in league play en route to the team’s sixth consecutive Patriot Keenan title.
The Green Dragons are lined up for a shot at redemption against Mansfield should the Hornets defeat Wellesley, and Needham coach Dave Duffy knows it will take a team effort to quell Duxbury quarterback Bobby Maimaron (nine touchdown passes) and his arsenal of receivers.
“They have a bunch of guys with four or five touchdowns,” said Duffy. “They spread the ball around, which makes them very dangerous. You really have to stop everything, or try to control everything.
“They have big, quick kids. Their skill guys are very quick. We’re just trying to play fast and work on our talking and blocking.”
Needham also suffered a loss early in the year, but has locked down on defense over the course of the season. In its first game, Westwood shocked the Rockets, 36-26. Led by 32 seniors, Needham closed out the season on a 6-0 run, outscoring opponents by a 197-64 margin over that span.
Mike Panepinto has been the difference for the Rockets, with 18 rushing touchdowns over the course of the regular season. Just last week, the senior back had 374 yards from scrimmage and a team-record six touchdowns in a 42-28 rout of Weymouth that earned the Rockets the Bay State Carey crown.
“He just needs a little seam and you’re looking at the back of his jersey,” said Duxbury coach Dave Maimaron, who is also Bobby’s father. “He’s that fast. We need to control gaps and tackle. We’ve got to wrap up and take care of him. He’s so talented I don’t know if you can shut him down, but hopefully we can slow him down.”
Should Duxbury lock down Panepinto, Duffy said he would turn to third-year starting quarterback Ryan Charter to get the passing game moving. Charter is tied for third in Division 2 with 11 touchdown passes this season, 10 to wide receiver Mike Elcock.
Friday will mark the first postseason home game in Needham’s history, and Duffy anticipates a crowd and atmosphere which could mirror that of Thanksgiving 2012, where 6,000 fans surrounded the field as the Rockets upended Wellesley, 39-21.
History indicates that these teams should continue their success on the offensive side of the ball, but both coaches acknowledge offense won’t be the sole determinant of the outcome.
“If you’re going to be winning this bracket, you better be efficient in all three phases of the game,” said Maimaron.
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Other games of note include top-ranked Everett hosting Malden in a Division 1 North quarterfinal, No. 2 Natick hosting King Philip in another Division 2 South barnburner, and Weymouth at No. 16 BC High in Division 1 South. In addition to the MIAA tournament games, the non-qualifiers begin three weeks of final regular season games leading up to Thanksgiving. The Evergreen League has one of the more interesting games with New Hampton (6-0) hosting Dexter (6-0) in the weekend’s lone matchup of undefeated schools.