MIAA State Finalists Gather at Gillette
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last 12 teams standing in the MIAA football tournament met at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday morning to look ahead to Saturday’s state title games.
They just were warned not to look too far ahead.
“When they tee up that football and the guy kicks it off and all heck breaks loose, it’s your script to write,” 12-year New England Patriots veteran Pete Brock told a room full of senior captains and coaches at the state association’s Football State Championship Breakfast.
“Who can tell me what the most important play of the season is? … The next one. You can’t do anything about what happened before. You can’t do anything about what’s going to happen 10 minutes from now. The only thing you can affect is the very next play.”
Brock, who serves as president of the Patriots’ Alumni Club, was the featured speaker at the event, which celebrated the finalists in each of six divisions and gave the teams’ captains a chance to meet one another.
The former offensive lineman shared a story from his own career that taught him the value of staying in the moment.
In a game against Miami at the old Sullivan Stadium in 1983, Brock injured his knee on the first play of the game (afterward, it was discovered he fractured part of his femur, he said). It was the first time in his already eight-year career he had been injured, and in the huddle, he told teammate John Hannah about the injury.
“John said something that changed my life,” Brock said. “He said, ‘Can you go one more play?’ “
With the future Hall of Famer’s question spurring him on, Brock kept going back for one more play until he had played all 76 offensive snaps in a 17-6 Patriots win.
“I want you to remind each other that all you have to do … is come off that ball every play like it’s your last one,” Brock said. “You have the opportunity to write that script, and I challenge you to make it one play at a time.”
With the current crop of Patriots on the West Coast getting ready for Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, the high school student-athletes had the facility to themselves on Tuesday, but Gillette’s full-time residents were very much on the minds of their guests.
“Westfield [State] was cool, don’t get me wrong,” Wahconah senior Sean Rice said. “But this is awesome to play in a pro stadium where so many legends have played -- Tom Brady, [Vince] Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi, so many guys that you look up to who have played here. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Wahconah will get the feeling again at 3:30 on Saturday when it takes on South Sectional champion Holliston for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 4 Championship.
The venue is the same but the stakes are even higher than the last time Wahconah went east for a Super Bowl. In 2012, many of this year’s seniors were in uniform for a 24-21 Western Mass Super Bowl win over South Hadley -- the last such season finale before the MIAA adopted the statewide playoff format last fall.
As MIAA Associate Director Peter Smith reminded the players in attendance on Tuesday, 289 high schools started the football season in August, but just 12 -- 4 percent -- get to play in December.
Like Rice, Marco Anastasio played in that 2012 Super Bowl and enjoyed the chance to get back on the field on Tuesday.
“It brings back some memories,” Anastasio said. “You come here, and it’s almost like it’s a different atmosphere every time. I don’t remember it being this big. It brings back memories, but it’s also a whole new feeling because it’s for a bigger game against a great opponent.
“I’m definitely excited.”
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In addition to enjoying a full breakfast in the stadium’s Putnam Club overlooking the field, there were a number of logistical details to be shared with players and coaches -- everything from where to bring the bus to where to go for the post-game awards ceremony.
But Patriots Senior Vice President Jim Nolan told the players in the room that MIAA and stadium staff will be with them every step of the way until the opening kickoffs of their respective games.
“As you go back and talk to your teammates, tell them all you have to do is show up,” Nolan said. “You can focus on the most important thing -- playing the game.”
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Nolan was the most senior Patriots official in attendance on Tuesday and spoke on behalf of his boss, Robert Kraft, who is in California with his teams -- the Pats and the Revolution, which plays the L.A. Galaxy in the MLS Cup on Sunday afternoon.
“This is one of his favorite events if not his favorite event that he hosts,” Nolan said of Kraft. “He wanted to be here today. And he sends his regrets.”
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A series of coin flips on Tuesday morning determined the designated home team in each of Saturday’s game. Wahconah lost the coin toss and will be the visitor, which is only fitting since Foxborough seems a lot more like home to Holliston High, a mere 14.8 miles from Patriot Place, than it does to Wahconah (141 miles).
But while Wahoncah wins the award for longest commute on Saturday, Holliston’s drive is not the shortest of the 12 teams going to Gillette. That honor belongs to Xaverian Brothers of Westwood, which is 10.3 miles from the stadium.
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Although Wahconah’s kickoff is scheduled for 3:30, that time comes with a big asterisk. It is the fourth of six games on the schedule, and everything after the 9 a.m. Division 6 game between Cohasset and Littleton is approximate.
All six games will be televised live on Comcast New England.
Those planning to see the action in person can purchase tickets through Ticketmaster ($17 for adults, $14 for students and seniors, free for kids 5 and under). The ticket price includes parking, admission to all six games and a $3 game-day discount at The Hall at Patriot Place.