Gillette Stadium is used to hosting championship football games. In the past 10 years alone, six AFC title matches have taken place in Foxborough.
Saturday brought more championship contests. But this time it wasn’t Tom Brady and the Patriots on the field. It was high school players from all around the state playing in the state high school football championships.
Although it’s high school football, there’s at least one thing in common these teenagers have with the pros who typically occupy the gridiron in the cavernous stadium: In Massachusetts, the football championships are called Super Bowls.
From Scituate to Springfield, players, coaches and fans from the smallest Catholic schools to large public schools converged on the state’s biggest football venue.
Like the schools they represent, the teams that make it to the Super Bowl vary wildly in size, talent and style.
While some squads utilized a modern spread offense that focused on speedy receivers and precise passes, others ran archaic ground and pound schemes, like the double-wing, that were popular back in the ’60s and ’70s.
There was a total of eight Super Bowls at Gillette, and each had its own unique twists and turns. Friday had two contests, a 31-0 rout by the Nashoba Regional Chieftans over the Dighton-Rehoboth Falcons in the Division 4 title game and a 6-0 shutout by North Andover over King Philip.
The next day was a marathon of football and emotions. The first match-up was a track meet between St. Bernard’s and Pope John XXIII, who combined for 626 total yards between the two squads, in a 46-35 victory for St. Bernard’s. When the clocks struck zero, it was the second-highest scoring game in MIAA bowl history.
While the games all had unique outcomes and story lines, the emotions on display by players and coaches were uncannily similar. For the winners, it was elation and joy as the years of hard work and countless hours of practice, prep and playing finally paid off in championship hardware.
After each game, both teams were presented trophies from MIAA as their supporters had a chance to look on. For the champions, it was a time to celebrate with their friends and families — and reflect on what the game meant to their communities.
After Springfield Central took down Tewksbury in a 20-7 win that made the Golden Eagles the first team from western Massachusetts to win a state title under the current system, junior quarterback and defensive back Isaac Boston, who threw for a touchdown pass and returned a fumble for another, was emotional. He said Springfield deserved the trophy.
“This puts everybody on notice,” he said. “This shows that western Mass. has the talent that we always talked about, you know? Coach always says, 'Don’t talk about it, be about it.' And I think today we showed that we’re about it.”
After Stoneham took down Old Rochester 26-20 in one of the more nail biting contests, Stoneham head coach Bob Almeida said he was elated. He struggled to be heard over the roar of the fans.
“It’s just the greatest feeling in the world,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in sports as a player or a coach. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The scene couldn’t have been more different for the team that lost. During trophy presentations, the losing teams got hardware for finishing as the second-best teams in the state in their divisions and had to share the stage with the team that had just beat them. Some players stared blankly ahead. Others hung their heads, thinking about what could have been. Some cried.
“I’m very proud of our team,” said Old Rochester Head Coach Justin Kogler after his team’s loss. “I mean, it’s been 25 years since our school’s been here. And we came and we fought as hard as we could. And I’m not disappointed in anybody’s effort. Everybody played as hard as they could, I’m proud of them. But, you know, we just didn’t execute the way we needed to to win this game.”
For many of these young men, these Super Bowls may be the highlight of their athletic careers. Playing for a state title on the same field Tom Brady plays on is an experience few have had. And for a good part of the weekend, the gridiron at Gillette belonged to teenagers with the eyes of their communities on them.