When Ross Jatkola was hired as the head coach at Barnstable ahead of the 2018 season, participation in voluntary weight room sessions quickly doubled.
After their 2018 campaign ended with an early exit from the Division 2 South tournament and a Thanksgiving loss to rival Falmouth, the Red Raiders spent the better part of the offseason maintaining a rigorous workout regime, sporting shirts that read “Everything to Prove” on the back.
On the opening night of the 2019 season, Barnstable certainly proved something by stopping perennial D1 state title contender Xaverian for a 20-14 victory.
For Jatkola, the opening night win was more than just a step in the right direction, it was the culmination of an entire year of work.
“It’s hard in this day and age to get guys to buy-in, day-in and day-out, to the weight program,” said Jatkola, a Dennis-Yarmouth alum and former tight end at the University of Albany.
“From the day Thanksgiving was over last year, kids committed everything to be in the weight room and be a productive player to earn their spots. They’ve given everything to the program over the last nine months. It’s cool to watch a group of kids work so hard and get rewarded.”
Jatkola also put in plenty of work by scouting Xaverian in-depth and crafting a savvy game plan.
The Hawks have won three state championships over the last decade by playing a smash-mouth brand of football and dominating the line of scrimmage. But Barnstable was able to win the battle up front by rushing for 216 yards on a rain-soaked Friday evening and holding Xaverian’s run-heavy offense scoreless through three quarters.
“We wanted to take away the inside run,” said Jatkola. “That’s what [Xaverian’s] most comfortable with. They don’t like playing from behind either. They’re used to having control of the game. We told our kids that we thought we’re the ones who could control the line of scrimmage and we did a good job of that.”
In order to stifle Xaverian’s run game, Jatkola had his defenders shift to a 5-3 front whenever the Hawks came out in a double-tight set. Anytime Xaverian trotted out multiple receivers, the Red Raiders would shift back to their base 4-4 defense.
Senior linebacker Colby Burke functioned as the changeable piece in those formation shifts. Burke also rushed for Barnstable’s first touchdown and served as a valuable lead blocker, helping Brian Frieh rush for a game-high 116 yards.
But the proverbial game ball went to Barnstable’s experienced offensive line. With senior left guard Declan Moriarity, senior center Max Kennedy, and senior right guard Alex Saradino leading the way, the Red Raiders got back to their smashmouth roots, an approach many fans feel has been lacking since Barnstable last won a state title in 1999.
Jatkola, who spent two seasons as the offensive line coach at Salve Regina and helped steer Cheshire Academy (Conn.) to the 2016 NEPSAC Wayne Sanborn Bowl title, regards offensive line coaching as his speciality.
“Every job I’ve had over the last 15 years has been with the offensive line and that’s where the game is won,” said Jatkola. “To me, that’s the most important thing. You always talk about the skill guy with 4.4 speed, but high school football is won on the line.”
The 34-year-old coach said he hopes to use that expertise to bring Barnstable back to its status as a regional power, with this statement victory serving as an early indication of the Red Raiders potential.
“It was all about the energy the kids brought,” said Jatkola. “We had this game circled on our calendar, obviously, like you would with any game where you can really see where we stand in the state. These kids really gave us everything they had for four quarters and I’m so proud of them.”
■ This year marks a statewide shift from NCAA to National Federation High School rules, including the mandatory implementation of 12-minute quarters in all leagues.
But teams in the Mayflower League aren’t ready to acquiesce to that change, citing player safety concerns since some programs have fewer than 30 rostered players available.
On Saturday, Cape Cod Tech edged Bristol-Plymouth, 30-28, in a thrilling Mayflower crossover matchup that was played with 10-minute quarters. According to Southeastern athletic director Dan Tripp, athletic directors in the Mayflower League voted to continue playing 10-minute quarters within the league, but plan to play 12-minute quarters in any nonleague matchup.
“We’re worried about the cumulative affect on schools that are on the smaller side,” said Tripp. “If you look at the numbers, that’s three to four extra games by the end of the season. The Mayflower is not trying to be underhanded. We don’t want to be the Black Sheep [of the MIAA], but we want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the kids.”
League play between teams in the same divisions of the Mayflower will open in two weeks, and Tripp said the matter is still up for discussion with the athletic directors planning to meet again hursday.
■ Mark Nutley’s debut as Hingham head coach had no shortage of drama, as junior Cooper Estes produced a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 49.6 seconds left and the Harbormen came up with an interception in their own end zone to preserve a 34-27 win at Braintree . . . Ipswich used a pair of touchdown passes from Cam James to Justin Bruhm to pull away from Amesbury, but needed a touchdown-saving tackle and a sack from Cole Terry to construct a goal-line stand that ensured a narrow 26-25 victory . . . In a tough opener at Whitman-Hanson, Concord-Carlisle got into an early 14-0 hole, but produced six turnovers and got two second-half touchdowns from junior Jordan Corbett in a 34-21 road win. Corbett, who handled fewer than a dozen touches on varsity last year, was pressed into action when starting running back Tim Hays suffered a minor injury. “We got down fast and the defense really buckled down, which was great to see, because we had a lot of new guys out there,” said C-C coach Mike Robichaud. “It was a good comeback.”
■ Top-ranked Everett was dealt a 40-12 loss to Springfield Central on Friday night, marking the program’s first regular season home loss since October, 2015. It was an uncharacteristic night for the powerhouse program with an early start due to weather concerns. There were no programs, and no marching band. The Everett captains apparently used the wrong verbiage on the opening coin toss, telling the official that they would like to “kick” rather than “defer.” There are four options available to the team that wins the coin toss: receive, kick, choose a side, or defer, and by choosing kick, the Tide forced Central to receive the opening kickoff and allowed the visitors to choose their preference in the second half. Central capitalized with two more touchdowns early in the third quarter to open a commanding 33-0 lead.
The best news? Crimson Tide junior linebacker Egan Gouveia, who was taken off the field on a stretcher after absorbing a hit on the opening kickoff, was released from Mass General that night with a mild concussion and deep bone bruise in the leg. According to assistant coach Steve Gallagher, he will make a full recovery and the team is hopeful for his return in the coming weeks.
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.