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Sizzle is Back in Football Rivalry

Posted by Andrea Murphy on Nov 17 2004 at 04:00PM PST
By Sean Jacquet/ Sports Correspondent Thursday, November 18, 2004 Far faster than even the most educated of sports writers could have imagined, Holliston football coach Todd Kiley has guided his alma mater to the top of the Tri-Valley League heading into the Panthers' annual Turkey Day grudge match with rival Westwood. Throughout the '90s, this contest has lacked the spice and sizzle it had in its '80s heyday when the winner invariably went on to play in a Super Bowl. But the rivalry had been anything but close since 1991, with Westwood winning every game except the 2000 battle, in which, ironically, the Panthers rode a stellar effort from 1,100-yard rusher and current Holliston assistant Brian Martinelli to its lone victory in over a decade. But the sizzle is back. The decade-long absence is over as the Panthers come in at 9-1 (8-0 TVL), and have won eight in a row since a heartbreaking 27-24 loss to Wayland in Week 2. The Wolverines are 7-2 (6-1 TVL) and can muddy the title picture with a victory prior to the Thanksgiving Day tryptophan intake. And while the Wolverines are fresh off a Super Bowl title last year, and were the favorite to represent the TVL again this year, the Panthers have arrived well ahead of schedule. After a 1-10 season in 2002, Kiley was hired in hopes he would "restore the tradition." Even after a surprising 5-6 in his rookie campaign, there were few who expected them to be in a position to reveres their 2002 record while exorcising the Westwood hex and earning a trip to the playoffs. "The attitude and the commitment has changed," says junior wideout Chris Valiant. "When coach Kiley came, he got us all in the weight room, and he got us motivated. He definitely put us back in the winning mode." And for Valiant and crew to nail down their postseason trip, they'll have to continue the "winning mode." However, the Wolverines present a number of challenges. Playing without tailback Amadeus Guererro, the Wolverines managed very little on the ground last year, but quarterback Jeff White threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in Westwood's 13-7 victory. Wideout Chris Laham had 120 yards receiving. Joe Fabiano split time in the backfield and at the slot. This year, Laham, Fabiano and White are back and Guererro is healthy, making the Wolverines' offense as dangerous as any the Panthers have faced all year. "We know they have a big play offense," says Kiley. "We know we need to shut down their big play and contain White, Guererro, Laham and Fabiano. If we execute and do what we're supposed to, they'll have a tough time beating us." Execution was a bit of a problem last Thanksgiving as the Panthers threw four interceptions, including one on a halfback pass. But the defense prevented any points off turnovers, keeping the game close until the Wolverines picked off a pass with a minute to play. Still, if last year's near miss isn't sufficient motivation, Holliston has 13 years of frustration to draw upon. "There's a little bit of motivation to get back at Westwood," says Valiant. "But we're mostly playing for a chance to go to the playoffs. I'd say it's about 50-50. We're definitely excited to play them," says Valiant. "We know what's at stake. We know we're in a position for the league title." And the Panthers have the tools to make it happen. Behind quarterback Tyler Parrino, Holliston has topped 24 points in all 10 games, while surpassing 30 points in eight encounters. Valiant has caught eight touchdown passes and has four interceptions. Tri-captain Mike Shilalie mans the slot. Jon Neal can catch and block as a tight end. Junior Dave Menapace is the feature back, running behind TVL all-star fullback and classmate Zach Rodgers. And while the players have improved dramatically, the significance of coaching in this turnaround season can't be understated. In addition to Martinelli, Kiley has a host of dedicated assistants, who are all willing to burn the midnight oil. "I couldn't ask for a better group of assistants," says Kiley. "The hours they put in watching film and preparing is just incredible. We're all working hard toward one goal." That goal, of course is a TVL title and a playoff berth. Kiley knows anything less will be considered a disappointment. "Last year we were happy to compete," says Kiley. "We were always right there and we had a shot at the end. This year, you can see it. We're not content, and that's a good thing. We've already clinched a share of the league title, but we're not satisfied. We want to be remembered as the first Holliston team to win the TVL and go to the playoffs in 13 years. We want to finish what we started."

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