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The Key to Victory: Shut Down Air Attack

September 21, 2018

Ahh, the passing game. A lost art in some respects at the high school level, which prefers the run game (and to be honest, reporters on Friday night deadline prefer the run game, too, hint hint... keep that clock moving!) to the deep ball.

However, when 0-2 Fitchburg hosts 2-0 Nashoba Regional and 0-2 Leominster travels to 0-2 St. John’s for their respective tilts on this last day of summer, the Red Raider and Blue Devil defenses -- especially their respective secondaries -- will certainly find a challenge on their hands when it comes to keeping two potent passing offenses in check.

Both Pioneers quarterback Colin Schofield and Chieftains quarterback Sam Bolinsky rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in Central Mass. through two weeks of action: despite the record, Schofield has already thrown for 385 yards and a CMass-high six TD passes against Catholic Memorial and Springfield Central, while Bolinsky is at 214 yards passing and three scoring strikes.

Leominster will have to keep tabs on two of Schofield’s favorite targets: Shea Gallo-Kolegue, who already has 12 receptions for 162 yards, as well as Jay Brunelle, who has six receptions for 104 yards, four catches of which going for St. John’s touchdowns.

Schofield has also run the ball eight times for 101 yards and two TDs.

Bolinsky, though, has spread the ball around to several different receivers, part of his 13-of-17: Troy Barksdale has one reception, and it was a big one, a 52-yard touchdown pass. John Duros has six receptions already.

But Nashoba is also a run team, spreading the handoffs around, too: Alex Childs has 90 yards rushing, and Brendan Lee has 27. Key for the Chieftains has been field position and its own defense, limiting its opponents: so far, Nashoba has only allowed one TD in the first two weeks, and it was a garbage time TD in a 35-7 win over Westboro last Friday night.

Key for both Fitchburg and Leominster tonight will be the play of their respective secondaries, as well as their pass rush game. Both FHS and LHS have speed and athleticism at the corners -- but both Nashoba and St. John’s have speed and athleticism in their receiving corps, too. Wrap-up immediately after the catch will be essential to not allow an already-big (read: 15 yards or more) play get bigger.

Both Fitchburg and Leominster are coming off tough defeats in Week Two: both held halftime leads on Shepherd Hill Regional and Westfield, respectively, and the Rams and Bombers won in the closing stages with close victories.

The Blue and White have the dubious honor of being the first opponent in St. John’s switch to Friday night lights (7 p.m., Pioneer Field, WPKZ 105.3 FM).

Over the summer, Pioneer Field -- one of the last holdouts to Friday night football, preferring to play Saturday afternoons -- underwent a $2.8 million renovation to switch from grass to turf, as well as installing lights and another turf field for use by its freshman sports teams.

Other matchups in North Central Mass. tonight are as follows (all games 7 p.m. unless noted):

Lunenburg will look to improve to 3-0 this week when it makes the drive through Downtown Fitchburg and heads up to Monty Tech to take on the 0-2 Bulldogs. The Blue Knights are coming off a 33-12 win over Gardner, while the Bulldogs look to shake the memories of last Friday night’s 48-8 defeat at the hands of St. Bernard’s.

The Bernardians are also 2-0, and they’ll make their first road trip of the season when they take on 2-0 Narragansett Regional. The Warriors easily handled Athol in Week One, 48-16, but they had some difficulty in dispatching perennial doormat Quaboag Regional, 12-6, a week ago.

Oakmont earned its first dub of the season last week in a 33-16 win over Clinton, and have a tough task on its hands when the Spartans host Littleton in a key Mid-Wach C matchup. The Tigers are also 1-1, like the Spartans, but are coming off a 42-0 shellacking of Hudson. Should be a dandy in South Ashburnham tonight.

Gardner will look to get off the schnide against a Quabbin Regional team that has yet to score this season; Ayer-Shirley travels to Abby Kelley Foster, and North Middlesex is at Auburn.

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