Sports

Acton-Boxborough running a triple threat with the Wing-T

Acton-Boxborough QB Hunter Arnold hands off to fast and versatile running back Billy Jackman.
Acton-Boxborough QB Hunter Arnold hands off to fast and versatile running back Billy Jackman. Credit: Jon Chase for the Boston Globe

ACTON — They stood together on the sidelines covered in sweat but otherwise showing no signs of fatigue.

The three Acton-Boxborough Regional running backs — juniors William Tejeda  and Thomas Saponaro , and senior Billy Jackman  — were their team’s offense. They had combined for more than 200 yards rushing and six touchdowns in last weekend’s 41-16 nonleague win over Marshfield. But they smiled and laughed with each other, full of life, looking for the next thing to do on a Saturday night.

“I feel pretty fresh right now,” Saponaro said. “I could go play some more.”

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All three still had plenty left to give after sharing ball-carrying responsibilities, but that was by design. The varied, energetic attack has provided the Colonials with an offensive formula that works.

For the second straight week, Acton-Boxborough (3-1) had scored more than 40 points.

“We’ve got some good running backs that we can rotate through,” said coach Bill Maver . “Four of them are playing defense, so we try to give them a rest here and there. Some of them are better blockers than others, and some better receivers than others, so we try to put them in good positions.”

Maver has run the wing-T offense at Acton-Boxborough for the last 27 seasons, and this fall is no different. He has sprinkled in some different formations — a three-receiver set, and a two-back set at times, too — but at its core Acton-Boxborough is a wing-T team. The system allows Tejeda, Jackman, and Saponaro to be on the field simultaneously, making it difficult for defenses to focus on one player.

Tejeda finished last week’s game with 13 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns. A week earlier he scored five times to beat Lexington, 48-14. At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he’s fast enough to outrun defenders and strong enough to shake their tackles with a dip of his shoulder.

Colonials public-address announcer Ken Mayer called Tejeda’s touchdowns against Marshfield as if welcoming the featured performer in a one-man show: “Ladies and gentlemen — William Tejeda!” 

But he has help.

Saponaro is often used as a lead blocker for Tejeda’s runs up the middle. But he’s also dangerous with the ball in his hands, as he showed against the Marshfield Rams when he took seven carries for 56 yards and three touchdowns.

Jackman, the team’s quickest player, is more versatile. He can be used to take handoffs up the middle — as he did on his 4-yard score last week — or block for sweeps to the outside. The cocaptain is also used as a slot receiver in certain formations. As the team’s kick returner and starting safety, his carries were scaled back last week. He only had four for 21 yards, but, like Saponaro, he said he had plenty left in the tank afterward.

Senior cocaptain Zach Adgate  and senior Dan Joyce  also took carries with the offensive starters. Together, the constant reloading of energized backs can give opposing defensive coordinators fits.

Wayland High coach Scott Parseghian  watched the Colonials run against Marshfield, and knows his tacklers will have their hands full when the two teams square off Friday.

Every year, he said, Mayer “has got tough kids that just run the ball hard. But for me, it’s always about the offensive line in high school football, and his offensive line might come off the ball faster than any team I’ve ever played against. That gives them an advantage. They’re able to pound the ball.”

Senior center Thomas Cotter  anchors an experienced group of linemen for Acton-Boxborough. Senior tackles Ciaran Stewart  and Sean McGavick  are strong on the edges, and help pave the way for the team’s run-heavy attack.

With more than a third of their schedule behind them, the Colonials’ focus now is to capitalize on the improvements they’ve made in the last two weeks.

“We want to put a big focus on staying high and not having highs and lows,” Jackman said. The last four games of the season are against Dual County League Large Division rivals, he noted. “For us to be best prepared for that we have to stay consistently working hard in practice and in games.”

And the Colonials have to keep the legs of the wing-T offense fresh — something they seem to have already figured out.

Holliston adapts to new strategies

Holliston has had great success utilizing the spread offense in recent years. Last fall, the Panthers won their third straight Tri-Valley League Large Division title, and two years ago they won the Division 3A Super Bowl with their high-octane offense.

This year, things are a bit different. In order to adjust to the defensive schemes they’ve seen through the first four weeks of the season, the Panthers (2-2) have moved away from the spread at times. Though spreading out helped in their 23-13 win over Medfield last week, they’ve also utilized their “war” formation (featuring a double-wing) and a new “ice” formation (two running backs, one tight end).

Though players have had to shift back and forth between styles, coach Todd Kiley said, they’ve adapted well. After starting the season 0-2, Holliston has won two in a row and are unbeaten in league play.

“Our philosophy is you try to keep it basic,” Kiley said. “It’s basic with whatever we’re doing. Then you build once you feel like they’ve mastered it, and then you move on from there. We’ve been able to build in each of these sets. I think the kids are picking up very nicely. They’re a hard-working group of intelligent kids, and with that, you can do a lot.”

Junior Matt Jeye  has seen most of the time at quarterback, while sophomore Nick Athy  has also received snaps as the signal-caller. The one constant, though, has been senior captain Max Athy . No matter the formation or the situation, he has been Holliston’s rock on both sides of the ball.

He has 347 yards rushing and three touchdowns as the lead back, and 37 tackles, four sacks, and an interception as an outside linebacker.

“He’s the one that kind of holds the whole thing together offensively and defensively,” Kiley said of Athy.

“He’s the one with the most experience. He’s played in a lot of meaningful games. When the going gets tough, we sort of lean on him as a team. And I think he thrives in that situation.”

Here and there

When Andrew MacKay  took over the Ashland High program last season, it was in the middle of a 25-game losing streak. They won three (3-8) last year and have already matched that total (3-1) this season. The Clockers face a good test Thursday against last year’s TVL Small Division champ, Millis/Hopedale. “We haven’t played a game like this in a while,” MacKay said. “They’re a good football team, but we’re quickly turning into one ourselves.” . . . Belmont Hill School’s first-year coach, Christopher Butler, who replaced longtime head man Kevin Fleming,  recorded his first win last week, beating Independent School League foe St. Paul’s, 35-14.

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