The road to the Super Bowl is much longer and has more obstacles than ever before.
After a few upsets last week, just three area teams remain as we turn the page to the MIAA football North sectional semifinals this weekend. Here’s what you can look for tonight:
DIVISION 3 NORTHEAST SEMIFINAL
MASCONOMET (5-3) at MARBLEHEAD (7-1)
How they got here: The Magicians won a share of the Northeastern Conference North title and by power rating were seeded No. 2 in the Div. 3 Northeast bracket. They pulled away from No. 7 Wilmington, 34-7, in the second half of last week’s quarterfinal at Piper Field.
The Chieftains made it as a wild card after finishing third in the Cape Ann League Large. They were seeded No. 6 and went to third-seeded Danvers last weekend and earned a purposeful 30-0 victory.
Statistical leaders: Marblehead is led by Brooks Tyrrell, who has an area-high 190 carries for 1,255 yards rushing and 16 TDs. Matt Millett has completed 91-of-143 passes for 1,314 yards and 15 TDs, with an efficiency rating of 116.7 (on the NFL scale). His top targets are Brian Daly (26 catches, 557 yards, area-best 12 TDs), Jeremy Gillis (28-357-2 TDs) and Will Millett (18-227-1 TD).
The Chieftains’ leading rusher is Gavin Monagle, who has carried 24 times for 151 yards and a score. He was pressed into the lead tailback role with Mike Tivinis and Mackenzie Cashin both injured. Troy Bunker has thrown for 672 yards and seven scores and is the only player on the North Shore to have scored a TD, a two-point conversion, an extra point and a field goal this season. Corey Tines (15 catches, 378 yards, 6 TDs) is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
The Skinny: Masconomet played like one of the preseason favorites in Div. 3 Northeast last weekend with a dominant defensive effort. The Chieftains have a number of defensive linemen that attack the line of scrimmage and rotate them to keep fresh bodies driving their legs on every play.
Masco’s defense has not allowed a point against an NEC opponent this season (shutting out Div. 3 Northeast semifinalist Gloucester, 27-0 and Danvers, 30-0). Over the last three years, they’re 14-2 against NEC teams and allow 12 points per game in those contests.
Offensively, you wonder if injuries at running back catch up to Masconomet tonight. Austin Cashin and Monagle were excellent in the playoff win over Danvers, but Marblehead now had a week to prepare for their speed. Bunker ran the ball well, too, but he’ll have to be more accurate in the passing game to keep drives alive against Marblehead.
The Magicians appear to have righted their ship after struggling late in a win over Gloucester and losing to Beverly last month. Those were both physical fronts, something Masco possesses, so Marblehead has a prime opportunity to prove they learned from those games tonight.
On offense, Marblehead is dynamic. They can run it with both Tyrrell and Matt Millett and can throw in a variety of ways. Daly has done a fair amount of damage running deep patterns, but Millett has completed a high percentage of his passes (64%) and can move the chains with short, quick hitters. It’ll be very challenging for Masco’s defense to contain all three, so they may look to rush the passer as they did in the second half against Danvers.
The winner gets the winner of tomorrow Gloucester/Tewksbury semifinal next week. Marblehead would travel to Tewksbury but host Gloucester, while Masco travels either way.
DIVISION 5 NORTH SEMIFINAL
Austin Prep (6-2) at Bishop Fenwick (8-0)
How they got here: The Cougars were the top-seeded wild card in Division 5, having lost only to Fenwick and Division 5 South semifinalist Cardinal Spellman. Austin Prep laid a 36-0 beating on Whittier Tech in the quarterfinals last week.
The Crusaders are still unbeaten into November for the first time in a decade and punched the top spot in Div. 5 North by winning the Catholic Central League title. They beat St. Mary’s, 33-12, last week in the quarters.
Statistical leaders: With Rufus Rushins (1,137 rushing yards, 18 TDs) sidelined for at least this week with an elbow injury, senior QB Nick Bona leads Bishop Fenwick in both rushing (505 yards, 8 TDs) and passing (1,019 yards, 13 TDs). Charlie Maistrellis will get the bulk of the carries while he, Eric Razney (21 catches, 398 yards, 5 TDs) and James Traversey (7-104-3) are Bona’s prime targets.
For Austin Prep, Jonathan Saurman ran for 147 yards in the playoff win over Whittier and has 10 rushing TDs on the season. Nicholas Mulcahy is also a threat with 13 scores on the ground this fall. QB Connor Duffy has 4 TD passes.
The Skinny: Bishop Fenwick pounded the Cougars at home a few weeks ago, 48-18. Look no further than Austin Prep’s playoff game last week for proof that this contest could be different.
AP beat Whittier in its season opener, 22-14, and turned that around with a convincing 36-point win in the rematch last week. Head coach Bill Maradei, with nearly 150 wins in 21 years at Austin Prep, is one of the most respected coaches in the state. If there’s anything to improve on from that first outing against Fenwick, he’s capable of finding it and teaching it to the Cougars.
For Fenwick, Bona was the key first time around as he threw for 168 yards and two TDs and ran for a game-high 86 yards and another score. It’s fair to wonder if the Cougar defense was keying on Rushins, something they won’t have to do tomorrow night, but if they overplay Bona, then Maistrellis could have a monster night.
The other facet is the Fenwick defense, which has been stout all year save the first half against Hamilton-Wenham and has flown under the radar because the Crusaders’ offense has been so exciting. If they stop the run the way they have most nights, the Black-and-Gold are in good shape.
The winner will face the winner of tomorrow morning’s Northeast Regional/Manchester Essex semifinal in the North sectional final next week.