There are times when the media can be guilty of overstating the significance of an event. Games are built up to be more important than they really are, plays are overanalyzed. That will not be the case, however, when Belmont Hill and Buckingham, Browne, and Nichols face off this weekend. This really is a big game, but don't just take my word for it.
"This is probably the biggest game in school history," said BB&N coach John Papas of the impending Independent School League showdown.
Both teams are undefeated, which, in the case of Belmont Hill, is not really a surprise. Last year's squad went 8-0 and returned 12 starters, including wide receiver Corey Gatewood and linebacker Dan Williams. Both were heavily recruited and will be attending Boston College next year on full scholarships. They have lived up to the hype, as Gatewood is third in the league in scoring with seven touchdowns and a 2-point conversion for 44 points. Williams is fifth in scoring with seven touchdowns for 42 points.
BB&N did not enter the season with the same expectations. The Knights went 5-3 last year, but lost quarterback Adam Farkas to graduation. Farkas both rushed and threw for over 1,000 yards last season before taking his considerable talents to the University of Maine.
"I think the rest of the league is surprised by our success," said Papas. "We only had three seniors returning, but this is the hardest-working football team I've ever been around in all my years of coaching."
Papas is in his fourth year at the helm of BB&N, but has been coaching for the last 29 years. The work his team put into the weight room in the offseason has really gone a long way, and while Belmont Hill boasts Gatewood and Williams, BB&N has a stud of its own in Mike Paladino.
"I know we have three guys in the league going to BC, but in my opinion Paladino is the MVP," said Papas. "He's rushed for 598 yards, but he also leads the team in receiving."
Paladino is the leading scorer in the league with 10 touchdowns, four of which are receptions. Paladino also plays linebacker and is second on the team in tackles. When he runs the ball, he is following the lead of junior fullback Nico Papas and senior tight end Andrew Knez. Nico Papas plays nose tackle on defense and leads the team in tackles.
Paladino is also a leader for the basketball team, and has not yet decided on a college. Should he decide to focus on football, he would likely attend one of the schools in the Patriot League. But Paladino is entertaining the idea of continuing to be a two-sport athlete in college, and is looking at the New England Small College Athletic Conference as well.
"It's virtually impossible to play basketball and football in college because the seasons overlap," said Papas. "The seasons are shorter in the NESCAC, so that's a possibility."
With Paladino leading the way, the Knights are averaging 423 yards of total offense per game, and over 200 yards rushing per contest. They will have their work cut out for them this week.
"Belmont Hill is the best team in the ISL year in and year out," said Papas. "The last time we beat them was 1986."
The Knights have been narrowing the gap in recent years.
"The last two times we played, the games have been close," said Papas. "They've both come down to the last quarter. Last year came down to the last minute."
Another game coming down to the final quarter would ensure that this is not a case of another game being over-hyped, but the Knights aren't looking to just stay close. They are hoping to break through for the win and end 20 years of frustration.