The road to Gillette Stadium, and the eight MIAA Super Bowls on the first weekend in December, is now ready to be navigated with Sunday’s release of the North and South tournament brackets. The Central and West seeds and pairings will follow next week.
First-round games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
In a 128-team field in EMass, there are quality programs North and South, but the most challenging road test is in Division 6.
There are 28 programs with sub-.500 records in the field — including one winless team — but only one (3-4 Essex Tech) in Division 6. The two No. 1 seeds, Stoneham and Old Rochester, are both unbeaten. And ORR advanced to last year’s sectional final.
“We’re going to have to play well to get through,” said Old Rochester coach Justin Kogler. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see how good we are. The goal right now is to get back to the final, and the kids are excited to see if we can get through.”
Old Rochester hosts a familiar foe, Bishop Stang (4-3), on Friday night.
Only two reigning state champions earned the top seed in their respective bracket, Everett (7-0, Division 1 North) and Mashpee (7-0, Division 7 South).
Mashpee is riding the state’s longest winning streak, 27 games, but coach Matt Triveri calls Division 7 difficult.
Despite the winning pedigree, Triveri is not optimistic about the tournament matchups.
“We’re proud of it, but honestly it doesn’t help us to be the No. 1 seed,” said Triveri. “The mind-set is not in a great place and the kids need to get it together or we’ll be out early.
“If we win it again, it will be the most difficult one we’ve had.”
Mashpee opens its quest against Archbishop Williams (3-4), a rematch of last year’s section semifinal, which the Falcons won, 22-6. But the Bishops are now under the tutelage of first-year coach Matt Reggiannini.
Two divisions do not include the defending state champion. Middleborough (Division 6) and Millis (Division 8) did not qualify. Division 8 is now especially wide open, with West Bridgewater (6-1) taking the top spot in the South, and Pope John (7-0), under new coach Paul Sobolewski, claiming the best record in the North.
Pope John will host a tough TechBoston (3-4) in the tournament opener.
“There’s so many good teams in the North with a lot of parity,” said Sobolewski. “This is one bracket that has a lot of strong teams. We just have to pretend that it’s August again and start over.
“Whoever does make it to the EMass final will be battle tested.”
Another surprise? Amesbury, the No. 2 seed in Division 5 North. Behind strong defense and senior leadership, the Indians (6-1) have completely turned the program around from a two-win campaign in 2017.
“This team doesn’t behave like they haven’t been there before,” said Amesbury coach Colin McQueen. “I’m really confident in this group of seniors. It’s the little things that separate teams, so we have to show up and execute.”
A couple of brackets were determined on the final day. In Division 4 South, Dighton-Rehoboth claimed the top seed after Milton losts its finale to Bay State Conference rival Netwon North. The Falcons (5-2), a top seed in 2015, will host Pembroke (1-6) in the first round.
“It’s quite an honor,” said D-R coach Dave Moura. “There’s always places to improve, and we’re only concerned about getting through Pembroke.”
Now back to Division 5 North, where a winless Triton squad earned the final spot with its 5.71 power rating, over Lynnfield (1-6, 5.57) and Watertown (1-6, 5.00). Coach Ryan McCarthy is making no apologies for his team’s entry.
“We’ve got probably the toughest schedule of anyone in Division 5 North. We’ve played Marblehead (7-0), Swampscott (6-1), Ipswich (6-1), Amesbury (6-1), North Reading (5-2). It’s a tough league we play in [Cape Ann Kinney]. We compete every week to the best of our abilities. We’ll prepare all week and do the best we can on Saturday.”
In its best game, Triton fell to Newburyport, 15-14.
McQueen calls Triton “a competitive team that is never over-matched physically.”
Other bracket notes:
■ The top two seeds in Division 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8 in the North brackets flipped from last year’s tournament. Said North Andover coach John Dubzinksi: “Getting the top seed is good, but you’re going to play good teams no matter what.”
■ In Division 8 South, the 1, 3, 5, and 8 seeds from last year’s bracket are all out this season, including two-time defending state champion Millis.
■ Division 5 South features a first-round matchup between Scituate (6-1) and Dennis-Yarmouth (4-3), a rematch of the 2017 sectional semifinal that D-Y won, 45-33.
Dan Shulman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.