For four decades, Tom Lopez has roamed the sideline at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High as coach of the Warriors’ football program.
Entering the twilight of his career, the 70-year-old Lopez finds himself facing a pair of daunting tasks: Dethrone King Philip, the reigning Division 2 Super Bowl champion, and put a halt to the state’s longest active win streak at 24 games.
In order to accomplish those objectives, Lopez will lean heavily on a team that began the season with the uncertainty of having to replace seven defensive starters and nine on offense.
“We tried to be as good as we could be,” Lopez said, referring to the team’s early-season expectations. “We had quite the void there at the skill positions. It was a lot of questions, and definitely more questions than answers.”
Cal Kenney, a two-way lineman and the Warriors’ junior captain, added, “Honestly, in the beginning of the season we were all kind of scared and nervous because we had a couple of scrimmages that didn’t go so well.
“After that, everybody — from the sophomores to the juniors and seniors — all stepped up and we are all pleasantly surprised where it has taken us.”
One of the main preseason questions was the replacement of Dan Ryan, a three-year starter at quarterback.
But junior Braden O’Connell seamlessly made the transition as the starting quarterback of an undefeated Warriors squad (11-0) after playing cornerback last season on a team that lost to Reading, 21-7, in the Division 1A North sectionals.
“[O’Connell] had a lot of varsity and Friday night playing experience for us last season,” Lopez said.
O’Connell, along with senior running back Andrew Marshall and junior tailback James Dillon, have come to form a dynamic trio for Lincoln-Sudbury. Collectively, they have rushed for more than 3,000 yards and scored 40 touchdowns as the cogs of one of the state’s most explosive offensive attacks, which this season has averaged 42.7 points per game.
Most of Lincoln-Sudbury’s success can be credited to an offensive line anchored by Kenney, a 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pounder, and Mike Ciaffoni, a 6-3, 250-pound junior, both of whom have helped pave the way for the Warriors’ rushing attack to run wild.
“Our backs trust our O-line,” Kenney said. “We have power backs, speed backs, and backs that can do both.”
The Super Bowl matchup against King Philip comes with a sense of familiarity for Lopez, who had fond memories of matching wits with John Lee, the father of King Philip coach Brian Lee, during the elder Lee’s 25-year tenure as Walpole’s football coach.
“[Brian] coaches a lot of the same way,” said Lopez, whose 294 career victories rank fifth all time in the state. “Really aggressive and everybody is fast on that team. They really fire off the ball.”
But Kenney best summed up Lincoln-Sudbury’s No. 1 priority Friday night at Gillette Stadium.
“The thing we have to do is stop their running back,” he said. “If we can slow him down, that will be key for us.”
The running back to which Kenney referred was King Philip standout senior Shane Frommer. The Yale-bound tailback has rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the second straight season and has scored 17 touchdowns, which has only added to Frommer’s résumé and his reputation as one of the main reasons King Philip is seeking a repeat title after going undefeated the last two seasons.
Senior quarterback Brendan Lydon, who has thrown for 17 TDs this season, has factored prominently from the pocket, making every start in the 24-game win streak.
As Lopez knows, putting a halt to King Philip’s reign will require the involvement of everyone standing on Lincoln-Sudbury’s sideline at Gillette Stadium. Including the coach.
“As a coach, you really look from week to week,’’ Lopez said. “We are just moving on. A Super Bowl isn’t the type of thing you think of until after it happens and you say to yourself. ‘Geez, that was really a great experience for us.’
“I have been fortunate enough to play in seven Super Bowls and state championships, but the kids are the ones who remember it the most.”Karl Capen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.