By Dan Harrison
---- — Today, the North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie football team will see just how much its grown over the course of the 2013 season.
After falling to Blue Hills 16-7 in week two in September, the Bulldogs (7-3) will have another shot at taking down the Warriors (7-4) — this time in the Small School Vocational Bowl championship at Braintree High School today at 4:30.
“This has been one of best years I’ve ever had coaching. I didn’t expect this,” NST/EA head coach Paul Worth said of the season his Bulldogs have enjoyed with just six seniors on the team. “I can’t speak highly enough of how the kids have taken to coaching and how much better they’ve gotten. It’s been a joy to be with this team.”
The two teams met in just the second game of the season when a handful of the NST/EA youngsters were just getting their bearings. Now, with a full 10-games under their belt including a playoff game on the road in a hostile environment at Madison Park in Roxbury, the Bulldogs are a far more savvy team.
“At that time of the year we were young. We opened against Tri County and got away with a lot of mistakes,” said Worth. “We were better against Blue Hills but we didn’t know how to finish yet and I think we learned that over the season.”
The Bulldogs actually held the statistical edge in yards when the two teams first met back in September. North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie, however, stalled on a few critical drives while Blue Hills managed to punch in the extra touchdown.
Worth’s group doesn’t throw much at all and relies on the running game to get first down after first down. That means penalties are that much more costly. Against the Warriors, the Bulldogs had a procedurepenalty on third and two that stalled a 17-play, third quarter drive.
Ross Murphy had 113 of NST/EA’s 229 rushing yards in the loss.
“Murphy ran well and we were able to power ‘em off tackle and run our little toss sweeps. The only thing that hurt us was twice, deep in their end we put ourselves behind schedule in our run game with procedure penalties,” explained Worth. “If we eliminate those mistakes we’ll be OK.”
One of the reasons the Bulldogs remain confident is the steadily improving play of a young but solid offensive line. With three sophomores up front, the group has come together more and more each week. Senior John Sabbio and sophomores Bryan Raustad and Brent Campbell have had exceptional seasons for the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Small champs.
The group bounced back phenomenally in the second half against Dorchester when NST/EA came back from down 24-points to pick up the win.
“I have to give kudos to Dan Connors our offensive line coach, he’s done a super job. I’m real happy they’ve come as far as they have,” said Worth. “And I think this will tell us just how far they’ve come. We made some errors blocking where Murph was able to gain some yards because he’s Murph. If we open up holes we could gain six or seven yards instead of just two or three.”
Defensively the Bulldogs will rely heavily on middle linebacker Dan Bailey, who is the heart and soul of the defense. Blue Hills doesn’t try to fool opponents with its offensive game plan so North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie knows exactly what’s coming. The Warriors run a Wing-T led by fullback Dimitri Revolus.
“We did OK in the first game (defensively) but we had some alignment errors early against some of their sets,” explained Worth. “They are real simple. They run the old school Wing-T. They run trap, sweep, jet, wiggle pass and belly pass. They run six plays but you never know what’s coming. They execute and come off the ball hard. It should be a good game because we’re good too.”
The Warriors are the one seed and the Bulldogs are the two seed so once again NST/EA will have to travel a good distance to meet its foe.
The team is very used to playing away from home. In fact, with today’s game, the Bulldogs will have played their final five games on the road including trips to Roxbury, Chelsea and Dorchester.
“They (Blue Hills) are in Canton so they’ll be in their backyard. It’s just like another away game for us. We’ve been on the road all year,” said Worth, who’s team played only three home games. “I think that is going to help us a great deal. I think we have a great shot at it.”