High School: Final MIAA Top 25 Poll

What a season. It truly was a terrific year, with standout performances every week from the talented players in this state.

As we put together our final list here, we wanted to lay out the groundwork of how this one was done. First of all, we did a total reshuffle from our last list after Thanksgiving. We did not like where things stood, so you’ll see a lot of movement there.

Also, the criteria for the last poll is not simply who the best teams are. We look at the whole resume, and not just how good they are, but what the program actually accomplished. In some instances that last part counted more than others, and we think you’ll see where that came into play.

This was a tough ranking to sort out, but fun to do.

Enjoy.

Final Top 25

1. Catholic Memorial (12-0) — We know, we know. Catholic Memorial should be in Division 1. And we never got to see the dream matchup of the Knights against the No. 2 team on this list. In those respects, there is a bit of this that feels incomplete. But the Knights were utterly dominant. They scored 40 or more points in every game but one, against St. John’s Prep, where they put up 38. The offense was an embarrassment of riches, and the defense was underrated. The resume the Knights compiled was impressive. They swept the Catholic Conference, beat the two best teams in Rhode Island, and blew through a stacked Div. 2 bracket. We spoke to CM coach John DiBiaso at length on Saturday. Most of the conversation was off the record. But one point Dib did make in answering his critics was that of the 16 state title participants, only two were Catholic programs. As we look forward to 2022, CM is loaded again. An informal count of returning starters has about 17 of the 22 positions returning. This was a junior-dominated team that will only be better with more experience.

2. Springfield Central (10-2) — Our preseason No. 1 team lost on the opening weekend to Central Catholic. The only other “blemish,” if you can even call it that, was a defeat at the hands of an IMG Academy team that is as good as anyone in the country. CM is a deserving No. 1, but if you want to make a case for the Golden Eagles, you can, and it’s not a total stretch. This team avenged the Central Catholic loss, and should be rewarded, not penalized, for scheduling IMG. As good as Div. 2 was, winning the Div. 1 crown is the more impressive accomplishment. Like CM, this team will be loaded again in 2022. The Golden Eagles return six offensive starters, and the defense could be even better than it was this season. This program has made incredible strides in the last decade and is on one hell of a run.

3. Central Catholic (11-2) — This team again had a terrific record against a tough schedule. The Raiders lost two games — in the regular season to St. John’s Prep and at Gillette to Springfield Central. You know what, though? They also beat the Prep in the playoffs and the Golden Eagles in the opener. So you’re looking at a team that had a stellar resume. The Raiders lose quarterback Ayden Pereira, but there were plenty of junior contributors elsewhere, and this program reloads at quarterback better than most.

4. Franklin (10-1) — This was the best team to not make it to Gillette Stadium. With a senior-dominated roster, the Panthers were balanced on offense and had some strong performances on defense. While the South Shore League was the best small-school conference in the state, if you’re looking at mid-sized-to-big schools, that honor went to the Hockomock. Franklin beat King Philip, Mansfield, and Milford, and earned nonleague and playoff wins over Duxbury, Methuen, Wachusett and Brockton. This program is on solid footing, but the Panthers have to replace a lot of good players next year.

5. Marblehead (12-0) — For the better part of the season, this team kind of flew under the radar. But really, when you consider everything, the Magicians were one of the most consistently dominant teams of the fall. No one in the Northeastern Conference was on the Magicians’ level, and most of their wins were of the blowout variety. Connor Cronin was superb at Gillette in the win over North Attleboro and is only a junior.

6. Scituate (11-2) — The Sailors have risen to the cream of the crop of South Shore programs, and the region produced some of the best teams in the state this season. This team was terrific at the skill positions, but was probably severely underrated when it came to the lines. The only losses were to Duxbury in the regular season and Hingham on Thanksgiving. The Sailors avenged the Duxbury loss at GIllette and were not at full strength against Hingham. This was a senior-heavy team that will have to replace a lot.

7. Duxbury (10-2) — Speaking of Duxbury, the Dragons had a strong season that included losses to a great Franklin team and Scituate. This program was in Div. 3 in the previous alignment, and absolutely would have competed well if it was in that bracket again. Top wins included those over Scituate in the regular season, Marshfield on Thanksgiving, and Foxboro in the playoffs. With Matt Festa returning at quarterback, the Dragons will be in the mix again in 2022.

8. King Philip (9-3) — Let’s get something straight. Brian Lee’s comments have gotten a lot of attention the last few days. And we don’t agree with everything Lee said. But the coach’s points are valid, and have merit. And, let’s face it, he’s far from the only one who feels that way. He’s the only one to really state that opinion on the record. He deserves credit for doing so. This is an issue that needed to come into more public discussion, and his quotes accomplished that. As for his team, the Warriors had a terrific season and did well against a tough schedule. There are some tough losses to graduation, but a solid nucleus returns.

9. Marshfield (9-3) — Coach Chris Arouca had a nice run at Hingham, and it did not take long for him to get things going once he went to Marshfield. The year started with a near-upset of St. John’s Prep, and the Rams lost to another Cathollc Conference opponent in CM in the playoffs. The other loss was to a very good Duxbury team on Thanksgiving. Wins over Lincoln-Sudbury, Methuen, and La Salle Academy (RI) were the highlights. There are heavy graduation losses, but this program is on solid footing under Arouca’s steady hand.

10. Everett (9-1) — All right, look. From an accomplishment perspective, the Crimson Tide fall short based on their playoff loss to Methuen in the first round. But a closer look at the resume and the team itself warrant the jump up here. For starters, Everett beat Xaverian in Westwood to open the season. The year ended well, too, with a decisive, Thanksgiving win over a St. John’s (S) team that played well in the second half of the season. Everett also ran through the Greater Boston League schedule with ease. This was a seriously talented team that fell short but, in our eyes, still deserves heavy praise. So many seniors were in key spots. This team needs to restock the shelves.

11. Xaverian (8-3) — An interesting year on Clapboardtree Street. The three losses are to very good teams in Everett, Catholic Memorial, and Springfield Central. There were not as many quality wins as you’d expect, but some usually stout programs on the slate simply had down years. The biggest win was the last one. The Hawks beat St. John’s Prep on Thanksgiving in an entertaining, 36-35 win. There are some holes left by graduation, but next year’s team will be experienced up front with some emerging playmakers.

12. Swampscott (12-1) — This program has always been good, but is on even more of a roll of late with Div. 5 state titles in 2019 and this year. The only loss was to our No. 5 team by a late field goal. The win over North Reading at Gillette was impressive on both sides of the ball. There will be heavy losses from a personnel standpoint, but this team won’t fall off the map.

13. Lincoln-Sudbury (9-1) — Only got to see this team play once in a running clock blowout of Wayland. Needless to say, we were thoroughly impressed. The Warriors had a big-play passing game with a solid offensive line, running game, and defense. There were not a ton of quality wins, and the dream ended in the Div. 2 playoffs with a loss to a good Marshfield. L-S will be replacing most of its starters in 2022.

14. Reading (10-1) — This may be a bit low, but the Rockets had a strong season. The only loss was to Catholic Memorial, but even in defeat, we were impressed with standout junior quarterback James Murphy, who had a nice game. In the Middlesex League, wins over Woburn and Stoneham were notable, and nonleague wins over Barnstable, Danvers, and Bishop Feehan were big. Reading returns a nice core for next fall.

15. Milford (9-3) — We saw a lot of Milford this season, and usually came away impressed. Injuries played a part late in the season, but overall, this was a very good one for the Scarlet Hawks. The best wins included two over Natick, and one each over Wellesley, Foxboro, and Mansfield. There were two losses to a very good KP squad and another to an also very good Franklin team. This team returns standout QB Evan Cornelius and speedy WR Isaiah Pantalone, among others.

16. St. John’s Prep (8-4) — We never got a great read on how good this Prep team was. The highs were very high, as the team beat Marshfield, Central Catholic, and Wachusett. But the Prep also lost to St. John’s (S), CM, Xaverian, and Central Catholic in the playoff rematch. We think the Prep will be fine come next year, as standout S/WR Joenel Aguero has transferred back from IMG Academy. He is currently rated as a five-star prospect by 247sports.com. Jesse Ofurie also returns and is one of the top receivers in the state.

17. Mansfield (7-4) — By no means was Mansfield at the level they were in 2019 when the Hornets won the Div. 2 state title. That said, Mansfield reloaded in impressive fashion and was still playing at a fairly high level this fall. The most impressive wins were over Foxboro, North Attleboro, St. John’s (S), and Barnstable. The losses were all to good teams — twice to King Philip and one each to Franklin and Milford. There is enough returning next year to expect an even better output in 2022.

18. Foxboro (9-3) — This is definitely a team we undervalued in the preseason, even though we were impressed with their athleticism in the Northeast 7v7 tournaments. The running game was as good as you saw anywhere in the state, and this was just an explosive squad. The biggest wins were over North Attleboro and Plymouth South. The Warriors lost to good teams in Milford, Mansfield, and Duxbury. Graduation will hurt, but this team is always competitive.

19. North Attleboro (8-4) — Perhaps this is a little low, but any way you slice it, the Red Rocketeers did well by their proud tradition with how they performed this fall. The losses — to Bishop Feehan, Mansfield, Foxboro, and Marblehead — were all to good teams, and there were some quality wins mixed in over the likes of King Philip, Milton, and Billerica. There are some good linemen returning and quarterback Chase Frisoli is a freshman with a bright future.

20. Grafton (11-1) — If you consider St. John’s (S) to be an Eastern Mass. team now that the Pioneers are in the Catholic Conference, you must seriously consider Grafton to be the best team in Central Mass. this season. Grafton only lost to eventual Div. 4 state champ Scituate, and that game was extremely competitive. Tyler Dimond was one of the best quarterbacks in the state, and this program continues to impress.

21. Natick (9-2) — We expected Natick to be OK in the preseason, but felt firmly that the Redhawks would have trouble retooling after Fall II. But credit to the coaching and structure of this program because Natick kept winning. The only two losses were both to a very good Milford team. This is currently the best program in the Bay State Conference, and the Redhawks have enough coming back to be strong again next year..

22. Methuen (8-3) — In the summer, we were impressed by Methuen in the Northeast 7v7, but did not include them in our preseason poll. The Rangers made us look foolish for that, as they pulled a huge win in the playoffs over Everett. This team also beat North Andover, Lawrence, and Andover. The three losses were to top 10 teams: Franklin, Central Catholic, and by a point to Marshfield. This will be one of the best teams in the Merrimack Valley Conference again next fall.

23. Rockland (10-2) — You have to love how this team played this past week at Gillette Stadium in a win over Abington for the Div. 6 state title. The Bulldogs played great defense, forced turnovers, and hit big plays on offense and special teams. The losses — to Middleboro and East Bridgewater — were not bad, and any team that beats Abington twice in one year has accomplished something.

24. Cohasset (10-2) — Another team from the South Shore League that came up big when it mattered most. The Skippers beat a very good Wahconah team in the Div. 7 state title game. Over the course of the season, Cohasset overcame some big injuries to beat the likes of Hamilton-Wenham and Mashpee twice. The losses were to Abington and Pembroke. This is one of the most consistent programs on the South Shore, and it was great to see the Skippers win some hardware this season.

25. Randolph (8-4) — OK, now, would this team beat, say, Barnstable or St. John’s (S). Probably not. But this one you check in on the “accomplishment” category. The Blue Devils trekked deep into Western Mass. for their first two wins of the Div. 8 playoffs. The team capped its dream season with a win over Hull at Gillette. This program had some serious dark years in its history, so this title was historic and downright inspiring. Congratulations to these kids and the staff there.

First 15 out (in alphabetical order)

Abington (11-2)

Ashland (10-1)

Barnstable (8-3)

Billerica (9-3)

Blackstone Valley Tech (7-3)

Masconomet (7-3)

Milton (8-3)

North Reading (11-2)

Northbridge (10-2)

St. John’s (S) (5-6)

St. Mary’s (10-2)

Stoneham (9-2)

Wachusett (8-3)

Wahconah (11-1)

Westfield (8-2)

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