By Samuel Reis
I will be giving my thoughts and observations of the three high school Super Bowl games I witnessed in their entirety at Gillette Stadium: Central Catholic vs. Springfield Central (D1), Catholic Memorial vs. King Philip (D2), and Scituate vs. Duxbury (D4). Then I will provide my overall takeaways of the Super Bowls, including the experience of being there at Gillette.
Division 1: Central Catholic 22-15 Springfield Central
Coming into Thursday night’s matchup, an offensive showdown was anticipated by many, and with good reason. These two teams met early on in the season with Central Catholic coming out on top by a basketball-like score of 67-52. I was in attendance for Springfield Central’s 60-49 victory over Franklin in the Semifinals and fully expected both the Golden Eagles and Central Catholic to hit the 40-point mark in this game.
The start did not surprise me whatsoever with two star quarterbacks in William “Pop” Watson and Ayden Pereira wasting no time leading their offenses on the biggest stage. However, after Springfield Central took a 14-8 lead early in the second quarter, their hard-hitting defense started to make plays and this was something that certainly stood out.
As the Golden Eagles went to the locker room with a 22-8 lead, I would have called you crazy if you told me they would not score another point AND get the win. But that is exactly what happened and a big compliment has to be given to Springfield Central’s defense. Although the defense of the Raiders did everything they could in the second half, the Golden Eagles continually answered the call and managed to slow down Central Catholic’s offense in a way very few teams in the state have been able to. Despite not scoring in the second half, I thought Springfield Central’s offense did a really great job of adjusting to the circumstances and understanding what they needed to do in order to win. The Golden Eagles were able to craft a 19-play drive that lasted nearly ten minutes. In a drive that consisted of two third down conversions and two fourth down conversions, the intelligent play calling of Coach Brower was on full display. Despite committing 15 penalties in the game, Springfield Central showed resilience by maintaining the lead throughout the second half.
Although it was not the high scoring contest I was anticipating, the game lived up to the hype and ultimately game down to the wire. The most impressive thing about Springfield Central’s win was the way they were able to adjust and execute in a bit of an unfamiliar situation where the game was low scoring. I don’t think many expected the Golden Eagles to pull it out in the fashion they did but they got it done in what was their first year in Division 1. For everyone previously questioning how Springfield Central would do in Division 1, they made a statement that they clearly belong. With plenty of talent returning next year, the rest of the state has to watch out because these guys out west are the real deal.
Division 2: Catholic Memorial 42-18 King Philip
Catholic Memorial came in as the clear favorite but King Philip arguably played them tougher than any opponent that the Knights had faced all season. With the final score being slightly deceiving, Catholic Memorial were made to sweat even in the fourth quarter when the Warriors cut the deficit down to 10.
Ultimately Catholic Memorial’s offense had too much offensive star power for King Philip to contain. However, I thought that KP got off to the best possible start. Right out of the gate, it was evident that Coach Lee’s defense was ready for the occasion. After forcing a turnover on downs on CM’s opening drive and then forcing a fumble that they recovered on CM’s ensuing possession, it was clear to me that the Warriors were not going to back down and that they were going to put up a good fight. Playing that well defensively for a quarter is one thing but doing that for 48 minutes is a completely different story.
That proved true when the Knights finally found some offensive rhythm in the second half. I think KP would have been more than pleased to go into halftime trailing just 7-3 but a second touchdown late in the first half was huge for the Knights.
While Catholic Memorial tended to run away with games in the second halves of many games against quality opponents throughout the season, King Philip simply kept punching back and would not go away. CM even used a little bit of trickery at times, including the Amendola/Edelman throwback play from 2014. I read that as a sign that the Knights were acknowledging that KP’s defense was not making things easy for them most of the game. At the same time, perhaps CM would have made similar play calls even if the score had been more lopsided.
With a team as talented as Catholic Memorial, there is the potential for big plays on both sides of the ball at any given moment. Those big plays would eventually come in the second half and CM did well executing when they needed to. When you are on the field to watch CM first hand, you quickly realize how many great athletes they have and how much speed they possess. The talent depth on the roster is also unbelievable and it showed again in this game. The Knights finished with 446 yards but it felt like a quiet 446 yards as KP’s defense stood tall at times.
Coach Lee’s team fought to the very end but Catholic Memorial were the deserving champions of Division 2. As a legendary coaching career continues for John DiBiaso, it seems that wherever he goes the trophies follow. After a 43 year drought, Catholic Memorial are finally state champions once again.
Division 4: Scituate 14-13 Duxbury
It was only fitting that the last Super Bowl of the eight was an instant classic between two conference rivals. Duxbury had a strong start and I thought it took a little while before Scituate was able to settle in. The Sailors did not do themselves any favors by digging themselves into an early hole but did well to keep it close heading into the later stages of the game.
I thought at the time that holding Duxbury to a missed field goal to end the first half would be a huge confidence booster for Scituate heading into the third quarter. I was mostly wrong as there was no offensive rhythm at all for either offense for the duration of the third quarter. I think part of it was these two teams knowing each other so well after facing off earlier in the season and another part of it was the pressure getting to the players a little bit in such a high-stakes game.
The fourth quarter was completely unpredictable as the momentum swung back and forth and both teams missed some great opportunities to capitalize. This unpredictable aspect added to the intrigue of the final minutes of the game.
After not leading the entire night and trailing 13-6, I had my doubts as to whether or not Scituate would be able to get into the end zone with under two minutes left, starting the drive at their own 25. Any doubts I had were quickly thrown away by the Sailors when they seemingly turned their earlier offensive struggles into a distant memory and put together a perfect drive resulting in a touchdown with 27 seconds left. The way Scituate drove down the field efficiently down the stretch in a timely manner with so much on the line was what made the ending incredible. The decision to go for two after that touchdown was an all-or-nothing gamble by Coach Devine and that gamble paid off after Keegan Sullivan charged into the end zone. This sudden sequence of events was absolutely stunning and even I could not quite believe what I had seen.
Hats off to both teams who gave it their all and you could tell how much this win meant for Scituate after falling to Duxbury earlier in the season 27-26. Keegan Sullivan was the star of the show and it felt like whenever the Sailors needed him to make a play on either side of the ball, he delivered. The gutsy decision to go for two by Coach Devine showed me the great confidence he had in his team in such a big moment. Of course a huge amount of credit has to go to all of the players who got the job done in epic fashion. Even though Duxbury fell short of the ultimate goal, the Dragons also had a great season, suffering just their second loss of the season.
The wait was worth it. After an empty feeling last fall with no high school football season or super bowls due to COVID-19 it was fantastic to have the biggest games of the year back at Gillette Stadium again.
The new format is a big success. With the new statewide format for the state tournament, we had the two best teams in each division playing for a state title, as it should be. This was not always the case in the past when there were plenty of years in multiple divisions where the two, or sometimes three, best teams in the state were in the same section and only one could make it to the Super Bowl. Now that is no longer an issue. There was a lot of skepticism coming into the season about how the new format would pan out but it has to be said that the MIAA got this one right. I will admit that there are still some flaws with the new rating system in determining the seeding for the state tournament but overall the positives outweigh the negatives with the new format compared to the old one. Lastly, I think way too much was made, mainly by parents and not players, out of having to travel further distances for state tournament games. The state of Massachusetts is small enough where sectionals are unnecessary and it is perfectly appropriate to implement the statewide format that is now in place. Not many teams had to travel much more than they did in the old format anyway. For those that did, it did not seem to play that much of a role. Case in point, Randolph went to Lee (~ 2 hrs) and won and then the very next week went to Ware ( ~ 1.5 hrs) and won. They of course went on to win the Division 8 Super Bowl.
Spinning off the point of the new format being a success, that was proven by the product of the eight super bowls Wednesday through Friday at Gillette Stadium. All eight games were competitive and entertaining. There was never really a dull moment and you could feel the excitement from 3 pm when the first game of the day kicked off all the way until 10:30 pm when the last game of the day ended. Five out of the eight Super Bowls ended in a one-score game and the margin of victory was 15 or less in seven out of the eight games.
There was also a lot of talk about the Super Bowls being in the middle of the week rather than the traditional Friday-Saturday schedule due to the Revolution’s playoff game. Was it ideal? Not really. Was it feasible? Absolutely. Considering the circumstances, I think the MIAA and the Kraft’s did a great job fitting all eight games in at Gillette during the week and making all of this possible. It was a very well run operation from Wednesday afternoon to Friday night. All of the games ran on time for the most part and there were no notable delays due to one game taking longer. Plus, a bonus was all of the Super Bowls this year were 12 minute quarters. Typically they are 10 minute quarters since they have to fit six games in on that Saturday.
The Super Bowls should stay at Gillette Stadium. Being at Gillette Stadium to witness the high school Super Bowls for the first time allowed me to witness first hand how awesome of an experience it is for the players. When heading down from the press box to the field, I happened to run into Central Catholic on Thursday and Scituate on Friday walking through the tunnel and getting ready to go out onto the field. I could tell that a number of players were taking it all in and soaking up this once in a lifetime experience for many. Then during the game itself, being able to look up at the huge jumbotron to watch the replay of a big play is the coolest thing for players. Just stepping foot on the field of an NFL team is unbelievably awesome in it of itself. While I understand that some will argue that it is silly to play in a stadium that is mostly empty for these games, I will say that when you are down on the field, it is a surprisingly good atmosphere and you are still able to hear the crowd in full force.
The debate of whether or not Catholic/private schools should be in the MIAA will continue to be a hot topic. As someone who attends a public school, I agree with the points that public school coaches have made in regards to the fact that it is unfair that Catholic/private schools get to recruit and public schools have to work with the players they are dealt. At the same time, I do like how when a public school takes down a Catholic/private school, the win is that much bigger for the public school. An example of this was Springfield Central beating Central Catholic in the Division 1 Super Bowl. It is tough to really say if change is necessary and if only public schools should be in the MIAA.
To wrap things up, I had a phenomenal experience being at Gillette Stadium for the Super Bowls on Thursday and Friday. It was really special seeing the top high school football players in the state competing for state titles. Every game was exciting and all of the players and coaches gave it their all to get to Gillette and try to win a state championship. It is tough to say goodbye to the fantastic season that was but we will just have to be a little patient for now and before we know it, the 2022 season will be here!