Norwood, Ashland vie for top spot in the Tri-Valley League Large
The ultimate sign of respect is when one coach says he wants his team to emulate someone else’s.
That’s precisely how Norwood football coach Manny Lopes feels about Friday night’s opponent Ashland in a showdown for the Tri-Valley League Large title. Since taking over as head coach in 2019, Lopes has developed a fondness for the way Ashland operates as a program.
“I didn’t know anything about the Ashland kids, but when we played them in my first year, I told my guys that’s who I want us to be like,” Lopes said. “They just looked like a tight-knit group of friends who play for one another and always have each other’s back.”
Lopes, who starred on the 2000 Norwood football team that captured a Super Bowl title and finished ranked No. 1 by the Boston Herald, has the Mustangs headed in the right direction. They enter the contest undefeated in league play (5-1 overall) and feature two of the better backs in the TVL in Bryan Metayer and Subodh Dhakal.
“We’ve been coming as a program, our numbers are up again,” Lopes said. “A lot of these kids have taken a lot of snaps in the last three years and they feel like they’re ready for this.”
And they have to be against an Ashland team which is no stranger to the top spot in recent years. Under Andrew MacKay, the Clockers captured a Super Bowl title in 2019, earned a share of the TVL title during the Fall 2 campaign, and sport a perfect 6-0 record this year.
“One of the keys has definitely been our senior leadership,” said MacKay. “They’ve put us in a position where we could win a league title for the third year in a row which is unheard of around here.
“We didn’t know what to expect coming into this season because of COVID. We didn’t even have a weight room available to us until July but these kids are resilient. They show up every day, they have tremendous character and it’s really enjoyable to be around them.”
Not surprisingly, both coaches feel whichever team is the more physical should go a long way in determining a winner. While MacKay and his team haven’t tasted defeat, Lopes knows what it felt like and hopes to avoid a relapse this time around.
“In the one game we lost, Silver Lake came right out, punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond,” Lopes said. “This game is going to be just like that. Ashland has an awesome setup, the students are right up on you, it’s loud and crazy and I love it. We know Ashland is going to punch us in the mouth and we’re going to have to be willing to take that hit and come back.”
In other key contests on Friday, Wilmington and Stoneham will meet with the winner likely to emerge as the Middlesex Freedom champion. Duxbury looks to maintain its decade-long dominance of the Patriot Keenan when it travels to Hingham, while Wayland tries to slow Lincoln-Sudbury down in a Dual County League crossover battle.
On Saturday, two key contests in the Independent School League features Milton Academy at Governor’s Academy and BB&N at Noble & Greenough. Over the Northeastern Conference, Beverly hosts an unbeaten Swampscott squad.
In a rare Sunday football game, Xaverian and St. John’s (Shrewsbury) will get the opportunity to play at the new Polar Park in Worcester.