FOXBOROUGH — It’s finally here.
Gone are the days of calculating power rankings, navigating through brackets, or debating whether to rest starters on Thanksgiving Day.
Super Bowl Saturday is upon us.
Massachusetts will crown six state champions at Gillette Stadium, with four matchups featuring clashes between Eastern Mass. and Central Mass. teams as a result of the new playoff format.
One such matchup is in the Division 2 Super Bowl, in which Mansfield (12-0) takes on St. John’s (Shrewsbury) (9-3) at 1:30 p.m. in a meeting of programs with plenty of Super Bowl experience.
“I think there is a sense of importance that this is the first time that we’ve gone East vs. Central and West,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said Wednesday, “and it’s a unique chance to do something historic beyond just win a football game.”
Another such matchup: Littleton (12-0) and Cohasset (11-1) clash in the Division 6 Super Bowl at 9 a.m. Up next is the Division 4 game featuring Doherty (11-1) and Dennis-Yarmouth (10-2) at 11 a.m.
Game times are approximate because they will start 15 minutes after the conclusion of the preceding game.
Redding said he’s always wondered what it would be like to stack the two regions against each other.
“I’ve always heard about Leominster, Fitchburg, St. John’s of Shrewsbury, but there’s not a lot of crossover,” he said. “Our state’s so small, we should be having more games [against each other].”
All team captains and their coaches visited Gillette Wednesday morning for the Championship Breakfast. All in attendance got the chance to tour the stadium and take the field.
For some, such as Cohasset senior quarterback Chris Haggerty, it was the first time he’d stepped on the Gillette Stadium turf.
“It’s a little overwhelming just seeing how many seats are here,” Haggerty said. “But I mean, when it comes down to game time, every field is the same size, so I think we should be able to settle in and play.”
With the new playoff system, teams have had nine days to prepare, with their last games coming on Thanksgiving. In years past, teams would end the regular season on Thanksgiving, play in the semifinals on Tuesday, and then play the Super Bowl the following Saturday.
Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward called the old playoff scheduling “brutal.”
“Even kids that weren’t even hurt were hurt,” Aylward said. “We’ve certainly appreciated the extra time to be healthy and have that extra rest.”
With the playoffs beginning at the start of November, the Super Bowl teams have been fighting to reach the next step: Gillette. Win, and you play another day. Lose, and the run is over.
Now, it all comes down to one game.
“The do-or-die, lose-and-go-home is over with. Let’s work hard and enjoy it,” Redding told his team. “The hard part’s over, now let’s come in, play loose, have fun, and get after it.”