Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cougars look to establish winning tradition

Monday, December 1, 2008 2:42 AM EST

Tri-County QB Lucas (9) Mistler follows the block of Chad Todesco (44) against Holbrook/Avon. (Staff photo by Tom Maguire)
Cougars look to establish winning tradition

FRANKLIN - Could this be a harbinger of things to come for the football program at Tri-County Regional High School?

Amidst the cult of tradesmen, more than a handful of athletes have put on shoulder pads and helmets and laced up their shoes to become league champions, to become Super Bowl contenders.

The winning has become contagious - seven straight now for the Cougars, who will meet Pope John High of Everett in the semifinal round of the MIAA Division 4 playoffs Tuesday (7:15 p.m.) at Taunton High School.

"The first ever outright league (Mayflower) championship, the first ever playoff berth, this is stuff we've always dreamed about," said Tri-County High coach Dan MacLean, whose Cougars won the Small School Division title and eight games along the road to the postseason.

In winning seven straight games, the Cougars have allowed just six points (to Nantucket) over the past four games, along with shutouts of Diman Voke, Holbrook and Old Colony. In winning seven straight games, the Cougars have outscored their foes 146-46.

Senior quarterback Lucas Mistler has piled up a single-season Cougar rushing record in excess of 1,200 yards and added nearly another 800 throwing the ball.

But, the Cougars have other weapons too, like senior wide receiver Jarred Gaumond, like senior receiver-runner Mike Foster, like senior running back Shawn Roche.

"We've been able to hold onto the ball and execute," added MacLean of the Tri-County offense. "We've had some nice, sustained drives, like against Holbrook and Old Colony. We're taking care of the ball and moving the chains."

Mistler has had a spectacular season, being able to read defenses, being able to make the right decisions, being able to protect possession of the football.

"Foster is a small kid, but he's been our go-to guy," added MacLean. "He gets through the line and goes. And Roche might be the best blocking back that I've coached - he hits you and you feel it."

The Cougars will need to protect the ball and be proficient with it against a Pope John team (7-4) which likes to grind it out on the ground and take time off the clock.

Pope John, coached by Chris Buckley, takes a six-game win streak into the semifinal round, not having lost since a 30-12 decision to St. Mary's of Lynn in October. The key players are junior running back Justin Nascimento and senior quarterback Nick Loiselle.

"They remind us a lot of Southeastern," said MacLean, reviewing game film and watching Pope John beat Lowell Catholic 30-20 on Thanksgiving Day to clinch the Catholic Conference's Small School Division title and the playoff berth.

"They run a lot of misdirection with the quarterback, some variations of the single-wing," added MacLean. "They like to pound the ball, but they also have some speed. They have two or three big guys up front, but they don't have a lot of numbers (lack of depth). "They like to find the hole and grind it up the middle. So for us, our defense has to be on its toes. We have to continue to be aggressive and be physical, like we've been over the past month."

The Cougars have spent the past three days practicing on the artificial surface at Franklin High School, thanks to Panther AD Brad Sidwell. Other than a non-league game (and loss) to Shawsheen Regional, the Cougars have not played on a clean surface.

If anything, it might aid the Cougars. "The game is a little bit faster on turf, which is good for us," said MacLean. "We can either pound the ball or go outside."

What the Cougars also to have going for them is the excitement of extending their season, the excitement of school spirit (several busloads of students and fans), the excitement that this could be the start of Tri-County as a Small School Division annual title contender in the Mayflower League.

"The kids are very excited about playing, they've been very business-like and focused in practice," added MacLean. "You have to remember this is all unchartered territory for us."

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