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Holliston: Prowling for a Turkey Day Feast

Posted by Andrea Murphy on Sep 10 2005 at 05:00PM PDT
Holliston Coach Todd Kiley has built the Panthers program back into a title contender, guiding the team to a 9-2 finish last season. This season, Holliston is determined to win the title and beat Westwood on Thanksgiving day By Sean Jacquet Metrowest Daily News Correspondent Holliston returns strong core, seeks redemption after disappointment Fighting back tears, Holliston's Dave Menapace crouched in the north end zone at Holliston's Kamitian Field, contemplating what had just happened. Locked in a Thanksgiving Day battle with rival and defending Super Bowl champion Westwood -- with the Tri-Valley League title and a berth in the EMass Division 3 playoffs on the line -- Holliston dropped a bitter, 7-0 decision with only an 81-yard touchdown run from the Wolverines' Amadeus Guerrero separating the Panthers from their first postseason appearance since 1991. Moments later, news of Dover-Sherborn's 35-34 win over Medfield drifted over the loudspeaker, sealing the Panthers' fate. By virtue of the Raiders' victory, Holliston lost its hold on a complicated tiebreaker, allowing Westwood to slip into the playoffs. Menapace and Co. packed it in for the season. Their Turkey Day nemesis went on to win a second straight Super Bowl. Nearly 10 months later, that memory has not subsided. Having come so close to going somewhere no Panther squad had since the elder George Bush held the presidency, the Panthers are intent on earning redemption this year. The chief source of motivation: beating Westwood. "We have one goal and one goal only, and that is to win the TVL," says Menapace. "There are obviously some good teams coming up in the TVL, but Westwood always seems to reload, and we expect they'll have a good team even though they lost a lot of players. Beating Westwood will be motivation for us." The Panthers and head coach Todd Kiley will have their work cut out for them. Charged with the mission of returning his alma mater to its glory days of the late-80s and early-90s, the 36-year-old former Westfield State quarterback has done so in his first two seasons. The Panthers, who went 1-10 in 2002, were 5-6 in his rookie campaign, and 9-2 and within one win of the Super Bowl last year. But several key starters from last year's squad are gone, including league MVP Tyler Parrino, now at Washington & Lee University. The centerpiece of a Panther offense that averaged 30 points per game and failed to reach that mark only twice, Parrino accounted for nearly 2,000 yards of total offense (1,400 passing, 500 rushing) to go along with 23 touchdowns (18 passing) against only four interceptions. Luckily, Kiley has a contingency plan in the form of his senior running back duo of Menapace and captain Zach Rogers. A converted wingback, Menapace made a seamless transition in his first season as a full-time tailback last year, rushing for 800 yards as the second option. With Parrino gone, Menapace will certainly face an increased workload -- as will his blocker and best friend, Rogers. A bruiser at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, Rogers has paved the way since his sophomore year, earning a TVL All-Star selection last year. Working tirelessly in the weight room to add speed, Rogers is anxious to do more than just block, as evidenced by his 130-yard performance in a 26-8 win over then-unbeaten Medfield last October. Instrumental in the off-season weight training program, Rogers has earned the respect of both players and coach. "He's the best fullback in the league and has been since his sophomore year," says Kiley. "We had about 35 kids at every lifting session over the summer, so the commitment was about as high as we could have hoped," says Menapace. "Zach's been on people to get into the weight room, and he's the main reason we got the commitment we did." The Menapace-Rogers tandem will also prove crucial for Kiley on defense, as the coach will assume the role of defensive coordinator after Dave DiGirolamo left to take over for Sandy Ruggles at Ashland. Meanapace will bolster the secondary, while Rogers anchors a strong linebacking core that remains intact with senior Derek Wilson and junior Marc Petercuskie returning. Despite DiGirolamo's departure, the defense will feature the same ball-hawking, blitz-happy style favored by Kiley. Armed with a strong combination of power, speed and experience in the backfield, Menapace and Rogers have committed themselves to getting over the playoff hump. Of course, the only satisfactory way to punch their ticket would be to dispatch rival Westwood. In a word: redemption. League Tri-Valley League (EMass Division 3) Coach: Todd Kiley (3rd year, 14-8) Last Year's Record: 9-2 (8-1 TVL) Last Playoff Appearance: 1989, a 41-8 loss to Whitman-Hanson in the EMass Div 4 Super Bowl Captains: RB-LB Zach Rogers (5-10, 205 Sr.,) WR-CB Chris Vaillant (5-7, 165 Sr.), OL-lb Derek Wilson (6-1, 195 Sr.), OL-LB Brendan Shea (6-1, 225 Sr.) Returning Starters (11) Rogers, Valliant, Wilson, Shea, Dave Menapace (5-9, 175, Sr.), WR-LB Mark Petercuskie (5-11, 175 Jr.), OL-LB Brendan Shea (6-1, 230 Sr.), TE Jon Neal (6-2, 205 Sr.), DB Brian Zunner (5-11, 175 Sr.), RB-LB Chris Harris (5-10, 190 Sr.), Rob MacNamara (6-0, 220 Jr.) Team Strengths: With speed (Menapace), bulk (Rogers) and experience (both), the running game boasts all the necessary attributes to replace the production of the departed Tyler Parrino. Speedy southpaw Joe Santos steps in for Parrino and has already elicited comparisions to the departed MVP. Throw in returning TVL all-starts Neal and Vaillant (8 TD catches), and the offense could be as formidable as last year's unit. Team Weaknesses: Graduation gutted the left side of the offensive line, claiming TVL Lineman of the Year Bobby Evers (guard) and center MIke Ghiloni. Last year's left tackle Dick Bell opted for prep school, thrusting three new starters into the front six. Inexperience could be a concern, as is depth in the secondary. Opening Game: Friday, Sept 9 vs O'Bryant (7 p.m.) League Opener: Friday, Sept. 23 at Medway (7 p.m.)

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