Quarterback lineage runs deep for Thursday’s Division 3 Super Bowl between Milton and Walpole.
Patrick Miller, a 6-foot-2-inch senior at Milton who has a D3-leading 29 touchdown passes, and Noah Mackenzie, a 6-4 junior right behind with 28 for Walpole, are merely the latest in a long list of prolific passers for the programs.
Walpole has an impressive history under center, which includes Butch Songin, the first opening-day starter for the Boston Patriots in 1960, as well as Todd Collins, a second-round draft choice of the Bills in 1995 out of Michigan who went on to enjoy a 16-year NFL career, with Buffalo, Kansas City, Washington, and Chicago.
Collins, back at his alma mater as offensive coordinator under coach Chris Sullivan (Walpole class of 2000), has played an integral role in the development of not only Mackenzie, but of previous starters such as Will Jarvis and Corey Kilroy, who are playing collegiately at Brown and UMass-Dartmouth, respectively.
“Noah has had the advantage of learning and also possessing some excellent abilities,” Collins said. “You look at his frame, he’s got a big body . . . We can do a lot with him. We give him a lot of latitude for what he’s going to do at the line of scrimmage. The sky’s the limit for him, he doesn’t really have many weaknesses and continues to work on the ones he has.”
As spread offenses continue to permeate the high school game, the Timberwolves remain multiple, favoring the spread while still utilizing two-back sets and their signature counter based on yearly personnel.
“Todd’s adapted to a lot of the spread game,” Sullivan said. “He was of the old two-back, one-tight-end set; he really loves that, but he’s able to help the quarterbacks read the defenses and get in their drops.”
In Milton, coach Steve Dembowski has been preaching the virtues of the spread offense for more than two decades — first at Swampscott, where he guided the Big Blue to a Super Bowl win in 2007, and immediately upon arrival with the Wildcats in 2015, when Milton won its first league title since 1962 with future UMass quarterback Mike Fallon.
The Wildcats have received excellent quarterback play in recent years from Chase Vaughan — the only three-year starter Dembowski has ever had under center — and last season from Owen McHugh, who assumed an apprentice role as a junior under Vaughan, much like Miller did last fall.
“He’ll take time out of his day to put football first, we don’t take it for granted,” Miller said of Dembowski. “It’s great to have some one-on-one time with him, see what he likes, we just try our best out there to make plays.”
As an understudy at quarterback, Miller watched as McHugh set single-season records with 31 touchdown passes and a 64.7 completion rate as Milton made its first Super Bowl appearance, a 34-28 loss to Wakefield.
“Patrick has waited his turn and worked hard,” said Dembowski, a former tight end at UMass. “He’s done his part in his own way. Each one of the guys we’ve had here in Milton has had different things they’ve done and we’ve tried to adjust the system to what they do well. I think that’s the case this year; I think the offensive line has come together nicely. Teams will play the pass and we’ve been able to run the ball efficiently.”
What’s most impressive about Milton’s return to the Super Bowl is that it comes not only with a new QB in Miller, but with a nearly entirely different group of pass catchers — the Wildcats graduated their top four receivers.
Camaraderie remains strong among those who once shared the quarterback room with both programs.
Mackenzie said he received an upbeat message from Kilroy prior to the team’s Week 3 game vs. Wellesley, when the Timberwolves remained winless (0-2).
“Told me to keep my head up,” Mackenzie said. “He was there against Milford [in the semifinals] and it was great to see him after the game.”
Miller said he sends weekly texts to Vaughan (Wesleyan) and McHugh (Williams) prior to their NESCAC games; McHugh, who originally committed to UMass-Lowell for baseball, wound up throwing for 1,272 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman for the Ephs.
“They were my captains,” Miller said. “I try to look after them and make sure they’re doing well.”