What did we learn from Thursday’s games?

What a great night of Central Mass. foootball. Three games kicked off the season tonight and each one of them taught us some very interesting things about all six teams involved.

We’ll start it off with the game I roamed the sidelines for: Shrewsbury at Auburn.

This was a typical Week One game, as both teams were trying to get their feet under them for most of the game. Both teams are replacing quite a bit of talent from last year, so it was understandable they were trying to see who shined under the lights, what plays worked and what ones didn’t.

It seemed Auburn had their chances to put the game away, but a few costly turnovers or untimely offensive stalls kept the Colonials hanging around. Shrewsbury coach Terry Walles said after the game that if he knew Auburn was only going to score six points, “I would have taken that any day of the week.”

You have to credit the Rockets’ defense. A lot of people thought it was going to be a question mark after graduating linebackers Macy Washington and Anthony Mandella and DL Doug Flink. Auburn essentially pitched a shutout against Shrewsbury for the second year in a row, as the Colonials’ only points came when Auburn quarterback Marcus Backlin took an intentional safety with time winding down.

It was an interesting moment on the Auburn sideline, as when the coaches made the decision to have Backlin scramble back to his own end zone from the Auburn 45-yard line to save time, a few Auburn players openly questioned the decision to give Shrewsbury points and the ball back with under a minute remaining. However Auburn’s Steve Wallace showed once again the Rocket coaches know what they’re doing by delivering a big pick that sealed the win a few moments later. Auburn defensive end Mykal Diaz had a nice block of a C.J. Butt pass on third-and-long to end one drive.

The 6-2 Auburn win put the Rockets in a tie with Northbridge, Clinton, North Middlesex, St. Peter-Marian and Marlboro for the unofficial Central Mass. record of 25 wins in a row. The Rockets play Grafton next Saturday and if they win that game they take sole possession. Just my knee-jerk reaction, but I can see the Rockets starting out 4-0 before the Northbridge game, so that bears watching.

Auburn stuck to the tried-and-true rushing attack tonight. The Rockets don’t seem to have that dynamic back of a Corey Roy or a Brian Desimone (yet), but seem to have a capable assortment of backs that give opposing teams a different look with every play.

Junior running back Dan Flink had the play of the game, getting stopped cold for what should have been a five-yard loss in the backfield. However he twisted out of a sloppy arm tackle and spun toward the left sideline, breaking away for a 17-yard touchdown.  Senior Jeremy Lavallee and senior Atta Oweso – who transferred to Auburn from South High – also were impressive with their carries. Oweso could surprise some people. I’m rooting for him just because he went to Eastbay and got “Baby Bush is back” embossed on his cleats.

Also, as a former linemen, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I was impressed by new sophomore offensive linemen Steve Domenick and Matt Ramirez at the guard spots for the Rockets. They already have one of the best in CMass. in left tackle Evan Sweet, and the sophomores will learn a lot from him as well as center Joe Marin and tackle Tom Sarkisian.

As for Shrewsbury, they kept hanging around in a game they probably should have been down, 18-0, at one point. The Colonials went with the senior Butt under center tonight, as sophomore QB-in-waiting Mike Coggeshall was too banged up from baseball to go. However Coggeshall did warm up on the field at halftime after Butt threw into double and triple coverage too many times in the first half for Walles’ liking.

Shrewsbury started getting in gear in the second half, as Butt and WR Sean Dixon started connecting. Dixon showed he could gather the YAC for the Colonials. Shrewsbury also showed off the talented Alex Paulina in the backfield for a few pretty carries., while Kristian Jackson showed he can pick up some yards when needed.

The Colonials showed plenty of heart last night. Captain Dominic Sassone gave a fiery speech to his teammates in the postgame huddle and credited their tenacity and ability to pick each other up all night. Shrewsbury plays Westboro next Thursday and that will be a good rebound game for the Colonials, who will go back to work next week and tweak all the right things to right the ship.

Over in Northbridge we learned that the Rams might not be as much of a lock for the Division 2 Super Bowl as we thought – and we also learned Millbury coach Ryan Matson may have the Woolies closer to competing than we thought as well.

After Northbridge jumped out to a 12-0 lead the Woolies fought back with three touchdowns to take a 21-12 lead and the Rams were getting nervous.

Millbury struck at the perfect times, with Brandon Richard (13 carries, 158 yards) blistering the Northbridge defense for a 67-yard run, then Bobby Boire adding a 1-yard run before Andy Ekstrom added a 35-yard pick-six to make it 21-12 in the blink of an eye. The key play was Northbridge quarterback Tom Murphy’s 7-yard scamper to cut the lead to 21-20 just before halftime. That was a big swing that kept the Rams in the game.

Northbridge relied on seniors to pull them back in the second half. Murphy threw for 236 yards and three scores, running back Colby Brochu rushed for 118 yards and receiver Evan Mackintosh caught eight passes for 150 yards in three quarters.Murphy hit Greg O’Donnell with a 12-yard score and Brochu added a 9-yard score to give Northbridge the win.

After the game Murphy called it a “good wakeup call” for the Rams. He’s right. That scare from the Woolies was a good thing for Northbridge, as they probably won’t be caught napping again this year.

Meanwhile credit Matson and his players for sticking with the Rams until the end. All preseason I was hearing good things about how the players have responded to the former St. John’s standout and Sutton native. This was a loss for Millbury, but a win for their program, as the Woolies grew up quite a bit in this game. It was great to see it come out just how badly his players want to win for their new coach and that his methods are working in Millbury.

Over in Holden, it looks like Wachusett is going to be playing mad all season long again – which is bad news for opposing teams. Wachusett went 13-0 last year but was hit hard by graduation, and that has a lot of people (including yours truly) anointing St. John’s as the Division 1 favorite. They also weren’t mentioned at all on the Friday Night Frenzy this year, so they feel like they have a lot to prove.

Unfortunately for Doherty, the Highlanders were the sacrificial lambs tonight. Wachusett scored 27 straight points and ended this one early with a 37-12 win at Foley Stadium.

Once again, the Mountaineers will be relying on the run, as Eric Darko, Nick Maxner, Nick Champlin, B.J. Foley and  Scott Beardsley all rushed for touchdowns tonight.

Wachusett also showcased another dominating defense, with Alex Goodhile continuing to shine, but assisted by new faces linebacker Scott Mellecker and cornerback Justin Cravedi. Matt LeBlanc also had a key interception for the Mountaineers.

I kept hearing about how coach Mike Dubzinski wasn’t sure what he had on his roster as far as players that will step in, but I knew the Mountaineers will keep rolling. Wachusett has too many numbers and too good of a coaching staff not to fill those graduation holes with solid players. They’re going to be a great team to watch this year.

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