The finale Saturday against winless Canton, which was essentially locked up on the strength of a 21-point blitz in the second quarter, wrapped up a perfect 7-0 regular season for the Oliver Ames football program, the first for the program since 1964.
But when the game clock expired after the 41-13 win, eight-year OA coach Jim Artz and his squad were already thinking about Medfield, their Division 3 Southwest first-round playoff foe on Friday night.
“[The record has] got some historical value, but from this point forward, no one cares,” Artz said after his players had posed for a team photo on the track surface after the game.
“It’s now win or go home. It’s great for now and we’ll celebrate it for the next 12 hours, but come 6 a.m., we’ll start on Medfield and move forward from there.”
The Tigers will join a host of upstart programs like Patriot (Fisher) standout Scituate and South Shore Small leader Cohasset that qualified for the MIAA playoffs in the inaugural season of an expanded statewide format. In all, 27 high school programs from communities south of Boston are in, representing Divisions 1-6.
Their quest for a Super Bowl title will kick off Friday or Saturday.
Oliver Ames, which qualified for the postseason for the first time two years ago, finished 6-5 in 2012, including a 1-3 mark in the Hockomock’s Davenport Division. The Tigers struggled mightily after senior captain Danny Louko , a starting guard, suffered a season-ending knee injury. There were growing pains, said Artz, and his young squad also developed “cliques.”
Following the lead of captains Nick Cidado and Chris Duggan , along with two other seniors, receiver Reid Starr and running back Matthew Berksza , OA has developed a selfless identity.
The four have also extended their unselfishness to the community, volunteering manual labor in late September (the night before a game) to set up tables for a Comedy Nite fund-raiser put on by The Children’s Museum in Easton at Oakes Ames Memorial Hall.
“I heard it was wicked funny,” said Duggan, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound two-way lineman, adding that he went home that night with a rewarding feeling after doing a “simple” thing for his community.
Earlier this month, the team also participated in the inaugural D.J. Henry 5k race, named in memory of the 2007 OA grad who was killed in Thornwood, N.Y., in October 2010 while he was a member of the football team at Pace University.
Starr has been involved in a form of charity every year, such as the Turkey Brigade as a sixth-grader in which he delivered turkeys and other food to families in need. He said a sense of brotherhood, in part nurtured off the field, has helped the Tigers shine on the turf. Talent has never been an issue.
“Our defensive line is really strong,” he said, taking note of a unit that has yielded just 7.9 points per game this season. The Tigers forced four fumbles against Canton and strong safety Danny McCarthy blocked a punt.
“And on the offensive side of the ball, definitely Nick Cidado [stands out].”
A second-year starter, Cidado (13 touchdown passes) offers maturity and experience. He was the punter on the Tigers’ trip to the playoffs his sophomore season.
He said he feels more comfortable in the pocket, goes through his reads better, and stopped forcing throws, which has lowered his touchdown/interception ratio.
“I think we’ll be a very dangerous team in the playoffs,” Cidado said. “It’s absolutely exciting. For this group of seniors, the team two years ago had their shot; this is the first playoffs for our school in a while. It’s like, here we are again.”
primed for playoffs
Cohasset is feeling that same excitement after making its first postseason appearance since 2009.
Coach Peter Afanasiw’s team will host Nantucket in the Division 6 South quarterfinals. He said the new format was interesting because the schools are near the same size.
South Shore foes, such as Abington, Rockland, and Mashpee, all larger programs, have traditionally kept the Skippers out of the playoffs.
But with 20 seniors from a pool of less than 200 boys in the school, notably quarterback Chris Haggerty, Afanasiw is feeling confident moving forward. He also expects junior back Cole Kissick to produce.
“I would put Chris up against any of the quarterbacks in the area,” he said. “This year in particular, he’s really managed the game pretty well. He’ll take a timeout if he needs to. He’s really composed and as they say, he is a field general. He really controls and commands the offensive group.”
Scituate last qualified in 2010; the following June, coach Herb Devine wore a headset as part of the South coaching staff for the Shriners Classic. Holliston coach Todd Kiley was standing alongside. On Friday night, the Sailors will take on Kiley’s squad.
A defensive-minded coach, Devine said he carefully scouted Holliston’s “tough” offense.
“They’ve got athletes all over the field. Their quarterback [Matt Jeye , 18 TD passes] is outstanding. They know to win,” Devine said.
“Holliston’s been in the Super Bowl. They’ve been in big games before. For us, we just have to match the intensity of the game. We’ve just got to play our style and do what we do.”
Enter senior Dawayne Kirton. After rushing for 1,500 yards last season, he has rushed for 150-plus yards in each game this season.
Devine said Kirton’s breakaway speed and tough running will be the most dangerous part of his team for opponents to counter in the playoffs.
for a rebound
Handed the ball 44 times on Friday night, Walpole sophomore Steven Cuqua delivered a whopping 308 yards rushing and six touchdowns against Natick.
But after he was denied on his two-point conversion attempt in overtime, the Rebels were dealt a 56-55 loss.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Cuqua said. “I mean, there’s really nothing we can do. They’re a good team. We gave our best.”
Cuqua said he wanted to make a statement his sophomore year and still wants to make one in the Division 3 Southwest playoffs against North Attleborough Friday at 7 p.m.
Coach Barry Greener’s team has struggled on occasion this season minus senior back/safety Connor Moriarty (injury), specifically in a 26-7 loss to Milton.
But they have been energized by Cuqua, along with sophomore back Lovevindjy Salvant.
Greener said he hopes to get the injured players back in time for the playoffs, but the Rebels have newfound confidence after their shootout against Natick.
“They expected to win. That’s the one thing,” Greener said. “They don’t look at odds. If we can get a lot of our ponies back in place, I think there’ll be a big uplifting effect to the whole team.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.