Orchestrating an Ashland attack that is averaging 29.3 points per game, Dom Cavanagh leads Division 6 in touchdown passes with 29. The 6-foot senior quarterback is the Tri-Valley League Large MVP. He has directed Ashland (11-1) to its first Super Bowl appearance since 1995.
“It wasn’t any different from when he was a junior or a sophomore,” said Andrew MacKay, in his ninth season as head coach at his alma mater.
“He’s one of the best leaders, if not the best leader, we’ve ever had, so his approach never really changed.”
In the march to Saturday’s Division 6 Super Bowl against Bishop Fenwick (10-2) at Gillette Stadium (11 a.m.), Cavanagh has been in the forefront.
In a rematch of last year’s South final, Cavanagh got the Clockers started in their 20-19 win over Old Rochester with a 47-yard TD pass in the second quarter. It was one to savor after last year’s 28-6 defeat.
In the state semifinals, he accounted for six touchdowns in a 49-20 win over Millbury, passing for five TDs and rushing for another.
The Clockers laid the foundation for those numbers long before the season started. A number of skill position players, wearing their helmets and shoulder pads, often headed to the field to work on plays and concepts.
“Can’t even count how many times me and the receivers went out to the turf and threw,” recalled Cavanagh. “We got a hold of the playbook, studied it, and knew it like the back of our hand. We understand concepts really well and we recognized what we weren’t great at last year.
“We took it upon ourselves to just know what we were doing and know the purpose behind what we were doing in terms of our offensive scheme.”
MacKay, who has coached at both the college (Framingham State, Assumption) and high school levels, noted Cavanagh knew the playbook better than him.
Cavanagh credits the weapons around him, specifically 6-6 wideout Kevin Russell and senior receiver Jake Latessa.
“Since Pop Warner, we’ve been doing things together,” said Latessa. “If he’s getting sacked, I’m coming back to the ball. If I’m running a route and he gets under pressure, I’m turning the other way. We’re football kids and we know what to do.
“Having your best friend as the quarterback pays off because the chemistry on and off the field is there.”
Led by Cavanagh’s four touchdowns — including two in the fourth quarter — Ashland recorded its defining victory of the season, 35-29, over rival Holliston Oct. 19. The perennial Tri-Valley League power had crushed the Clockers, 48-0, a year ago.
“It’s definitely when the kids started believing that they were a part of something special, that game wasn’t about revenge, but whenever you can beat a premier team in the state that will put us on the map,” said McKay.
His star quarterback echoed that sentiment.
“It showed how disciplined we could play and how we could do our job at a very high level,” said Cavanagh. “Beating Holliston was a big steppingstone in building our confidence.”
In addition to handing Holliston its lone loss, Ashland also shut down dynamic playmakers such as Hamilton-Wenham’s Ian Coffey and Rockland’s Dante Vasquez. The Clockers will need to lean on those experiences against Fenwick, which features a terrific tandem in the backfield with David Cifuentes and Joe Rivers, along with QB Chrys Wilson.
“Everything we do relates back to the Holliston game, they had threats all around and they were a well-rounded team,” Latessa said.
“It’s all preparation and that’s the reason we play those games is to prep for this game.”
All season, the Clockers played in memory of two former teammates, PJ Ferrier and Jake Silver, who both succumbed to osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in the past year.
“Our promise to each other before the season was that we were going to represent them in the way that we conducted ourselves,” said MacKay.
“We were going to be all in and give everything we had toward our goals and that’s it. We want to pay the respects to both of them and how they carried themselves in their courageous fights against cancer.”
The Patriots Hall of Fame allows each Super Bowl champion to a hang a team jersey to commemorate the season. If the Ashland wins, the team plans to ask if they can hang up two, in honor of Ferrier (5) and Silver (63).
However, the season will not be considered a failure if Ashland is denied.
“Win or lose, our kids have fulfilled that promise and made our community proud,” said MacKay. “It’s definitely a special time to live in Ashland.”
Steve Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.