Title time: Hoosac Valley, Millis set for Division VIII championship clash

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Millis running back Kurt Hopkins entered the Division VIII state semifinal against Cathedral having rushed for over 300 yards in his last two games. Cathedral loaded the box in an effort to slow down Hopkins and the gameplan was successful, holding the senior to 60 yards on 17 carries. The downside of Cathedral's efforts to stop Hopkins was its failure to account for quarterback Bryce Latosek. Latosek, a two-year starting signal caller, passed for 379 yards and four scores in the Mohawks' 40-22 win.

The Mohawks (11-1) passing game will present quite the challenge for Hoosac Valley (12-0) during today's state championship game at Gillette Stadium.

The senior has put together a strong career, throwing for over 60 touchdowns while leading his team to its second straight state title game. His receiving group of Dominic Zonfrelli, P.J Adams and Andrew Brooks have all caught 10 or more touchdowns. Raymond Hailaire is another key receiver.

"Their quarterback has broken a ton of records. He does a great job of getting the ball to open receivers and picking apart coverages," Hoosac Valley coach Dayne Poirot said. "His stats show for it. ... He does a really good job. For us, it's just having our kids aware of what's going on. Always working and communicating and getting ready to see that. It's certainly different than some of the teams we've seen recently. ... We've just got to adjust and make plays with our athletes, wherever they are on the field."

Hoosac's secondary of Vance Eugene, Izaha Stubbs, Nick Waterman and company will have to be ready to defend the whole field. Even with a deadly passing attack, Millis isn't a one-dimensional team. Hopkins has gained over 1,000 yards on the ground in back-to-back seasons behind a physical offensive line.

"We like to be balanced," Millis coach Dana Olson said. "You can't really gear up to stop one kid. ... We've got a bunch of kids that can catch the football. That's what we feel makes us dangerous. When we're running and throwing well, we feel real good."

Olson said Millis shares a lot of similarities to Hoosac. Both teams feature hard-nosed players from small towns. One key difference is the mobility Eugene brings to the quarterback position. His ability to scramble on passing plays gives the Hurricanes an extra element to their offense. Olson said his team is aware of Eugene's scrambling ability, and they've done well against other mobile quarterbacks. The Mohawks held Wareham quarterback Isaac Nasicmento — a top-five finisher in the Eastern Mass. Division IV 100-meter dash — to just 11 yards in the Division VIII South final.

"Any time you have a mobile quarterback that's a run threat — [Eugene's] a fast-twitch kid — obviously you've got to always be aware of where he is," Olson said.

"They don't throw the ball a ton, but he's certainly a capable thrower. Anytime he drops backs — we always say as a coaching staff, one of the toughest plays to defend is a broken play — he can drop back, he can pick a lane and he can go."

Hoosac enters the game undefeated, but Millis has already dealt with some adversity. The Mohawks dropped their first game of the season to Holliston, and then they lost arguably their best player to injury in 6-foot-7, 280-pound, highly-recruited sophomore left tackle Kevin Pyne, son of former NFL offensive lineman Jim Pyne.

Millis responded to the tough circumstances well, reeling off 11 straight wins.

"It's a testament to the character of our kids and the program that they've built," Olson said. "This senior class, that was my first year as a head coach when they came in as freshmen. We knew they were a good group of kids. They're a bunch of lunch-pail kids. ... We're a football-based community at Millis with a long history."

Defensively, Millis plays an aggressive style. The secondary likes to go for interceptions and the front seven is good at generating pressure. The Mohawks play more as a collective than with one standout player, but Olson said they're preparing to stop Hoosac's dominant run game.

"Our kids are well aware that [Hoosac] is very explosive offensively," he said. "We're taking it as a challenge. They scored 76 points the last time they played. We've got a really good defense. They've been good all year and our kids are excited for the challenge on Saturday."

Hoosac's had two weeks to prepare for Millis, while the Mohawks faced off against rival Medway on Thanksgiving Day. Millis won 17-0.

The team's seem evenly matched on paper. Hoosac is bigger at the skill positions, but one advantage Millis has over the 'Canes is recent championship experience. Millis won its first state title since 1999 with its 30-18 defeat of Maynard last season. That game was played at Worcester State. Today's game will be at Gillette, but Olson said many of the lessons learned last season will help his current squad.

"I think it helps preparation-wise," he said. "All these kids played significant roles and significant time last year through our playoff run. They know what to expect practice-wise and everything else. We hit the ground running on Monday and the kids are just getting after it."

Akeem Glaspie can be reached at aglaspie@berkshireeagle.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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