Cohasset High School might be only 33 miles east of Foxborough, but Skippers co-captain Jackie Lyons said he’s never been on the turf at Gillette Stadium.
“This is my first time ever being here, actually,” said Lyons, quickly adding that includes ever seeing the Patriots in person. “It feels awesome to be here with my co-captain and my team on Wednesday, it feels great.”
Lyons might be a newbie to Gillette, but the Skippers are not strangers to state championship games. Coach Pete Afanasiw’s team won a state title in 2014, beating Littleton 35-22 in the Division VI championship game. Littleton happened to beat McCann Tech in the state semifinal that year.
In 2013, Cohasset had lost to Littleton in the D-VI final 55-25 before bouncing back and winning a title 12 months later.
The Skippers, much like Wahconah, have been a South Shore gold standard team. Since the MIAA started having state tournaments in 2013, Cohasset was a top seed in the South sectional three times. The last top seed was in 2019, but Cohasset lost in the South semifinals. The Skippers did lose in the state semifinals in 2018.
“Being on the field and knowing I’m going to be here with the team, it’s a whole other feeling,” said co-captain Michael Donahue. “It feels earned, but we also feel like we have more work to do.”
Cohasset enters the game with a 9-2 record and is coming off a 42-0 win over rival Hull in the 34th Thanksgiving game. The Skippers jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead and cruised home to win the SSL Tobin Title. Henry Dionisio had three first-half touchdowns, while backup quarterback Liam Appleton threw two TD strikes. Appleton, the leading rusher on the team, was moved to quarterback because of an injury to starter Will Baker. Appleton was 10 for 13 for 164 yards.
The score was a touch lopsided because while the Skippers played their regular lineup, Hull’s coaches went with backups and junior varsity players. The Pirates are also playing in a state championship game. In fact, Hull and Randolph play right before Wahconah and Cohasset at Gillette on Wednesday.
“It was no decision for us,” Afanasiw told the Boston Globe on Thursday. “We’ve been here before where we are going to a Super Bowl and we played our starters. What is the point of playing on Thanksgiving if you aren’t going to play?”
“We’ve had a tough schedule,” Afanasiw said. “It’s been a long season. It’s been a good season. The kids have done a nice job. They’ve stayed with it. They saw their mistakes and they seemed to get better each week.”
The Skippers run a spread offense, and the veteran coach said they will use their athleticism and speed.
“But it’s not like we’re Central Catholic,” he said with a laugh, referring to the Division I team that will play Springfield Central for the state title.
The challenge Afanasiw said was to prepare for Hull while preparing on a parallel track for Wahconah. The Warriors have done nothing but get ready for the Skippers, which is not the case on the South Shore.
“They’re 11-0, so they look like a great team,” said Lyons. “They played some good teams, had a hard schedule. We’ve got to come ready.”
So, what does the coach think of his Wednesday night opponent?
“They’re a very good team. They have a lot of really good skill kids. What I did notice is there’s not any one individual who is the ‘go-to’ person,” he said. “I know their running back [Jonah Smith] is having a hell of a year. They have a lot of kids they try to spread the ball out to. It’s going to be a daunting challenge, that’s for sure.”