Friday Night Kickoff

The smoke has cleared and the first Friday night is in the books for Central Mass. football. I took in the Wachusett/Doherty game tonight and wanted to come right out and say it: reports of the Mountaineers’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Wachusett’s defense was just as good as last year, as the Mountaineers romped over Doherty, 23-8.

I had a hard time getting a read on Wachusett so far this year. I knew they’d be competitive (I had them going to the playoffs in my preseason predictions – that will be online soon, by the way, they just got held up by the game coverages) because they had some great defensive players in Gary White and Casey Devereaux and they were getting a good running back in Eric Darko back from injury. But Wachusett was replacing seven starters on both sides of the ball and I figured it would take a week or two to get rolling.

Meanwhile, I thought Doherty was ready to make “the leap” this year. The Highlanders have been getting better the past few years, jumping from 1 win to 6 wins to 8 wins last year. Doherty had a great defensive duo in Yawin Smallwood and Curtis Hickson and I figured the Highlanders would have that locked down. Plus, I hear stories like Doherty using more spread formations and the thought of Smallwood running a Wildcat-like offense makes me think they’d get a few wins.

However in a persistent rain last night at Wachusett, that attack was pretty much nullified. Between that and the swarming Wachusett defense – they came at Smallwood almost every play – the Highlanders were pretty much all done from the start. Doherty couldn’t get a thing going on offense. They got three first downs in the first half and had fumbles end two drives.

Devereaux had two sacks, while White had another. Devereaux, B.J. Foley and Darko all recovered fumbles. I tried to grab Darko after the game, but I missed him. He had a great return after missing the majority of last year with an injury. Darko scored twice for Wachusett and had 40 yards on 10 carries. Matt Pedone led the way 71 yards on 11 carries while White added 62 yards on 11 carries. That three-headed running attack is going to give a lot of people trouble.

Plus, Wachusett is big up front with tackles Kyle Daigle and Tyler Wiseman, guards Tom Long and Tim Livingston and center Alex Goodhile.

And yes, Wachusett fans, I will be putting them into my poll next week. Not sure where, yet, but they’ll be there. They missed the No. 10 spot – taken by Doherty – by two points.

So what does this mean for the Highlanders? Nothing, really. It was a loss and Doherty still hasn’t shaken that “big game stigma” yet. Doherty won 8 games last year, but those eight games were Oakmont, South, Milford, Nashoba, Westboro, North, Shrewsbury and Burncoat. Other than Oakmont (albeit early in the season) and Shrewsbury, that’s not exactly much to hang their hats on. Doherty has Leominster next week, then Marlboro and Milford in the next three weeks before their league starts. They should be able to rebound from this – and hopefully give Leominster a good game.

It will be interesting to see how the Highlanders respond. They scored late tonight and didn’t quit – although I’m not sure I was a fan of kicking the onside kick after Wachusett started putting in the second-team offense. Leominster’s defense will be just as tough as Wachusett’s, so they’re going to be challenged again. That Doherty line has to step up and give Smallwood and Will Franco and Tim Bushey time to make things happen, otherwise it will be a long season.

Most of you hopefully noticed the front page of Telegram.com bring littered with scores and game recaps as they came in throughout the night, so I won’t do my usual roundups, but I will be back in a little bit with some thoughts on other games around the league. It was a great night in high school football around the area, and I’m really looking forward to this year.

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