High school football: Statewide tournament has spurred cross-state clashes

  • Franklin Tech scat back Josiah Little runs against Smith Vocational in Montague on Thanksgiving morning last year. The Eagles will face Groton-Dunstable this week. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Easthampton at South Hadley football STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • South Hadley's Owen Dawson runs away from Easthampton's Topher Reardon last year in South Hadley. The Tigers will face St. Bernard’s of Fitchburg this week. FILE PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2022 9:17:14 PM

Unfamiliar faces have dotted many Western Massachusetts football schedules this season. With the advent of the statewide tournament last season, teams are reaching out beyond their sectional borders for opponents.

This week is the last one team have to schedule independent games before league play start, and six teams are facing out of area opponents – one even out of state.

South Hadley will travel to Fitchburg to face St. Bernard’s, while Smith Vocational is at Keefe Tech in Framingham. Minnechaug will travel to Wachusett, and Franklin Tech is visiting Groton-Dunstable. McCann Tech is hosting Mashpee, while a nationally ranked program out of Washington D.C. in St. John’s College High School is coming to Springfield to face Central.

“Everything comes down to state playoffs now, seeing the numbers and where you can be. You need to find the right numbers that are going to get you into the tournament,” South Hadley coach Brian Couture said. “If a team keeps it close, even in a loss you can still get decent numbers to help yourself out in a state tournament.”

Western Mass. teams have played six previous games against schools form others parts of the state and gone 2-4. Central picked up both of those victories. Smith Vocational hosted Quaboag last week as the second game in a two-year contract.

“With the invention of the state tournament, it was a matter of time before this started to happen,” Smith Vocational coach Alex Subocz said. “Personally I think it’s fun to mix it up a little bit.”

Most games are scheduled as two-year, home-and-home commitments. Sometimes one coach knows someone who potentially knows someone and they connect. Others it involves cold calling or soliciting options on Twitter. Alex Subocz sent messages on the recruiting site Hudl to try and fill a schedule vacancy.

“On paper it sounds like a really good matchup and should be a fun game,” he said. “Last year we played Easthampton, and we both agreed that wasn’t really a worthwhile matchup, so we kind of ended up on the hunt. I wanted us to play another tech school to get a lay of what the other voc schools are like across the state with one of our big goals being to end up in the voc tournament and trying to make a run this year or next year.”

As much as travel can be a hassle and an expense, it’s also an investment for teams trying to build or advance their programs.

“It’s showing them outside of Western mass. A lot of these kids, they don’t get out of Western Mass,” Couture said. “It’s nice for these kids to see what else is out there besides little old Western Mass.”

There is a balance in matching games, however. Teams don’t want to overextend themselves or provide a detrimental matchup. Like Smith Vocational and Easthampton calling off their game, South Hadley was supposed to host Bishop Fenwick out of Peabody in the opening game. The Crusaders are one fo the best teams in the state, and the Tigers had 23 players at the start of camp.

“As much as a competitor as I am, I want to look out for other programs,” Couture said. “We may be competitors, but we know we need to help each other look out for each other.”

Ultimately the goal is about finding the best game. Geography matters less than it ever has.

“Any time that you can schedule a competitive game, I don’t care where the high school is located - as long as it’s within reason - as long as the kids can play a competitive game I think it’s great that coaches can agree to make that happen,” Subocz said. “If we have an awesome game against Keefe Tech, win or lose, I hope they’ll end upcoming out to us next year and we can hopefully make a thing of it.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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