The teams that comprise Central Mass. Division 3 football are spread across a geography larger than Rhode Island, but the schools that will decide which program is the area’s best are less than 2 miles apart.
St. John’s High (6-3), the No. 3 seed, and fourth-seeded Shrewsbury High (7-2) will meet to determine a Central Mass. champion at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Doyle Field in Leominster.
The Pioneers notched a 42-34 win over the Colonials when the two met Oct. 6.
Going back a bit further, this game is a rematch of last year’s Central Mass. final, in which St. John’s topped Shrewsbury and went on to complete a 13-0 season on the turf of Gillette Stadium, where it celebrated a state Super Bowl title.
Going even further back, the meeting between the schools has been more than a decade in the making in some cases, as the Shrewsbury players and St. John’s student-athletes from Shrewsbury grew up as youth football teammates.
In fact, most of the Shrewsbury seniors and 10 seniors from St. John’s played youth football in town together under the guidance of coaches Mike Campanale and Tom Schaefer.
Mike’s son, Drew, and Tom’s son, Cam — though injured — are key contributors for the Colonials.
The elder Schaefer has continued to be a football mentor for St. John’s captain and center Liam Daly, and Schaefer follows the Pioneers closely and pulls for them in most games, with an obvious exception.
One gets the feeling, the sides could play a game of flag football on a Sunday morning in front of zero fans and bring out the best in each other.
“The Shrewsbury game is a huge rivalry, and always has been,” St. John’s coach John Andreoli said. “This will be the sixth time we’ve played each other, between regular season and playoffs, in the past three years. Every one of those games has had playoff implications.”
The St. John's offense seems to firing at optimal level at the right time. Last weekend, junior quarterback Colin Schofield continued to pile up numbers, passing for 368 yards and four touchdowns.
The Pioneers' vaunted “blur” offense puts defenses on their heels and forces opposing coaches to figure out a way to slow Schofield’s strong and accurate arm from connecting with a batch of explosive playmakers, including Jay Brunelle, Shea Gallo-Kolegue, Eamonn Dennis and Antonio Stakely.
“St. John’s offense is not one-dimensional,” Shrewsbury coach John Aloisi said. “From the offensive line to the QB, running backs and wide receivers, they have the ability to hurt you in many ways.”
Shrewsbury has proven in the very recent past — as in last weekend in a semifinal win a against Doherty — that it can match athleticism and speed with just about anyone.
The Colonials are led by senior quarterback Drew Campanale and a dangerous group of backs and receivers led by T.J. Morgera, John White and Phil Smyrnios.
“Drew Campanale is tremendous playmaker,” Andreoli said. “We need to contain his ability to extend plays.”
Shrewsbury proved in the Doherty game that it has at its disposal some thunder to go along with its lightning.
The Colonials used the power game effectively by getting the ball to tight end Nate Hautala and power running back Tucker Montague.
The Shrewsbury-St. John’s games are typically close, so the kicking game bears watching, and Smyrnios is perhaps the most reliable place kicker in the area.
“We appreciate the rivalry and enjoy the high level of competition,” Aloisi said.
—Contact Tom Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tgsports.