High schools

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL Notes

At Lincoln-Sudbury, staff assistance has been instrumental in program’s success

LINCOLN-SUDBURY ATHLETICS
From left, Lincoln-Sudbury first-year coach Jim Girard and captains Jamie Sampson-Lizotte, Ben Ohler, Finn Garrity, and Andrew Cahill celebrated the team’s Division 4 title Friday night after a 27-15 win over North Andover.

Jim Girard knows more than most – it takes a full staff to create a championship-caliber high school football program.

After stints at Wayland, Dover-Sherborn, and Hopkinton, Girard has guided Lincoln-Sudbury Regional to a Division 2 Super Bowl appearance in his first season as head coach, despite lowered expectations with just 11 seniors on the roster.

Lincoln-Sudbury (8-2) executed a masterful game plan to down defending state champion North Andover, 27-14, in Friday’s D2 North final, and Girard is quick to share the credit with his assistant coaches for figuring out how to stop the Scarlet Knights.

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Girard retained three assistants – offensive coordinator Dan Sullivan , along with Brandon Anderson (wide receiver/defensive backs) and Matt Healy (strength & conditioning) – from his staff at Hopkinton, where he coached from 2010 to 2018.

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When he took over at L-S for retiring legend Tom Lopez , Girard also enlisted former St. Peter Marian and Algonquin coach Justin McKay as defensive coordinator.

“[McKay] was a terrific pickup,” said Girard. “He’s extremely detail-oriented and one of the most prepared coaches I’ve ever worked with. It’s great when you basically have another head coach that you’re working with, and have all that experience to bounce ideas off each other.”

For Girard, the relationship between head coach and defensive coordinator is all about trust. He learned all about that dynamic while cutting his coaching teeth as DC under Wayland coach Scott Parseghian.

Wayland went 22-4 during Girard’s three-year stint from 2005-07, including a 13-0 season and Super Bowl title in 2006.

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“There was a complete trust that [Parseghian] had in me and I respect him for that,” said Girard. “He gave me a lot of latitude in game planning and was really important in my development as a coach because of the autonomy he gave me to grow and try new things.”

Now Girard and McKay are the innovators behind a shifting L-S defense that has allowed 8.75 points per game in eight wins. The Warriors coughed up 41 points in an early-season loss to D4 North champion Melrose and 45 points to Girard’s former program at Wayland.

But with senior Jimmy O’Connor calling the signals and adjusting the defensive front from his inside linebacker position, L-S has steadily improved throughout the season.

“Honestly, at the beginning of the year, everyone kind of wrote us off,” said O’Connor, the team’s leading tackler.

“People said it’s difficult with a new coaching staff, and that we graduated 31 seniors, so it’s going to be a gap year. But our team and the coaches believed we could be here [heading to the Super Bowl] right now.

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“It’s not too much of a surprise for us because we knew what we’re capable of.”

L-S is making its second trip to the state final at Gillette Stadium in three years despite facing adversity on offense as well.

Sophomore quarterback Riley O’Connell was filling in admirably for his graduated brother, Braeden, but the Warriors lost O’Connell to injury for the season in a Week 6 win over Westford.

In stepped Collin Murphy, a junior who was starting at defensive back but never had let his preparation lapse as the backup quarterback.

Against North Andover, Murphy made all the right reads while completing 6 of 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

His ability to learn quickly and adjust on the fly is emblematic of a Warriors team that is full of upperclassmen that waited their turn behind a huge senior class.

“My staff and I are extremely impressed with this group of kids,” said Girard. “They’re just football smart. They pick up on schemes, communicate well, and have been able to adapt and persevere. Even though we’ve sustained a lot of injuries, whenever somebody went down, somebody else stepped up and was in position to learn.”

The final exam certainly will be trying for Girard’s pupils, but the Warriors have two weeks to prepare for D2 South champion Mansfield. The Hornets (9-1) absolutely dominated in-state competition this year and rolled through a challenging D2 South bracket without being closely challenged.

Mansfield’s offense is almost impossible to game plan against because the Hornets have four backs (Vinnie Holmes , Nick Marciano , Cincere Gill, and Mike DeBolt ) that complement and can counter off each other.

“[Mansfield] is tremendously talented at every position,” said Girard. “We saw how they tore through the D2 South bracket, which for years now has been the toughest in the state. They’re arguably the best team in Massachusetts.”

Extra points

The list of Super Bowl-bound teams started to form after an exciting round of sectional finals:

Plymouth South edged Milton, 27-22, in the D4 South final, snapping Milton’s streak of 16 consecutive home wins . . . Duxbury earned its 15th consecutive win over rival Hingham, 20-10, in the D3 South final. The Dragons will face D3 North champion Tewksbury in the state semifinals this weekend for the second straight year . . . Ashland stopped Old Rochester on a last-minute two-point conversion attempt to stave off a furious comeback and earn a 20-19 win in the D6 South final . . . Bishop Fenwick won a 25-20 thriller against Stoneham in the D6 North final and will face either Ashland or D6 Central champion Millbury in the state final . . . Melrose rolled past Revere, 41-7, in the D4 North final, advancing to a second Super Bowl over the past three seasons . . . Catholic Memorial and St. John’s Prep will meet in the D1 Super Bowl for a second consecutive year after respectively handling Franklin and Central Catholic in their sectional finals . . . Holliston handed Canton its first loss, 27-13, in the D5 South final and Swampscott ran past Amesbury, 39-8, in the D5 North final to set a state semifinals showdown with the Panthers . . . In its second year as a varsity program, Lynn’s Kipp Academy wrapped up a D8 North sectional title with a 49-13 win over Keefe Tech, and will face D8 South champion West Bridgewater in a state semifinal.

Nate Weitzer can be reached at nathaniel.weitzer@globe.com.