Last year Holliston’s offense revolved around Division 3 Player of the Year Dan Barone, who led the Panthers to the playoffs, where he threw three touchdown passes in their loss to Concord-Carlisle.
The Tri-Valley Large champions finished 9-2, with one of their most important wins a 20-0 victory over Hopkinton, which finished the season 10-1.
As the teams gear up for their league game Friday at Holliston, there has been subsequent changes on both sides.
“The key this year has been balance between the run game and the pass game,” said Hopkinton coach Jim Girard. “Mike [Decina] was a dual threat last year, so it was all about him. This year, it’s not so much around one person, we’re balanced in terms of number of different kids that have potential and try to spread the ball out.”
Hopkinton, one of the 20 undefeated teams in the state, is led by captains Hank Rudden, Jake Lehman, and Erik Strout. Rudden, the quarterback, anchors an offense that averages 33.8 points per game, and he has thrown a division-leading 12 touchdown passes. He started three varsity games last season, including the Holliston game, when Decina was out with an illness.
“That experience [of starting last year] really helped him going into this year as far as being confident right off the bat,” Girard said. “He plays with great composure, poise, and is always trying to get better.”
Despite being 6-0, the Hillers say they don’t focus on their record because they know every week is a new challenge.
“We try to approach each game as if it’s a major league game: When you only play once a week, there’s no such thing as a game that doesn’t mean anything,” Girard said. “We know Holliston is an outstanding team, I have a lot of respect for them. They have tough kids, work extremely hard, and are well coached.”
Holliston’s approach has vastly changed in that the Panthers are using two quarterbacks instead of one. Matt Jeye, who has thrown six touchdowns this season, has seen most of the reps, although he shares snaps with Nick Athy.
Nick’s brother, Max, has also been a crucial part of Holliston’s success. In 2009, he was a starting outside linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Panthers. Last year, he was a starting receiver and caught a touchdown pass in the Panthers’ 32-27 postseason loss to Concord-Carlisle.
Athy has scored seven touchdowns this season, including a 66-yard run in the third quarter of last week’s 49-7 win over Ashland.
Most of that success is attributed to the selflessness of the athletes. Captain Thomas Chipman, a starting linebacker last year, is now the center because he was willing to be the veteran with experience the coaches were looking for on the offensive line.
Stephen Hennessey, also a captain, was competing for the starting quarterback spot, but the Panthers needed a defensive end, so he filled that role instead.
With both teams 1-0 in league play, Hopkinton will look to avenge last year’s loss and stay undefeated.
“It’s a great rivalry — nice, clean, and good-spirited,” said Todd Kiley. “Both are solid programs that have done well. This is a big game and the kids are looking forward to it.”
. . .
Second-ranked Everett (5-1) will play another Catholic Conference team this Friday, taking on host BC High (2-3) . . . Duxbury (6-0) hopes to extend its winning streak to 33 games as it travels to Quincy (3-3) . . . Belmont (1-5) will host undefeated Reading (6-0) . . . King Philip (6-0) is back in Hockomock action, facing host Mansfield (4-2). The game was originally scheduled for Friday but was moved to Saturday at 5:30 p.m.