MANSFIELD — It will be a unique experience for the DeGirolamo family when the Mansfield High football team travels to nearby Gillette Stadium for the MIAA Division 2 Super Bowl on Friday.
Defensive coordinator Mark DeGirolamo has the Hornets defense, including his oldest son Mark, a sophomore defensive tackle in the program, buzzing on that side of the football.
“It’s been fun having my son on the team,” said DeGirolamo, who is in his 16th season on the Mansfield coaching staff, having called defensive plays since 2010.
“He’s really excited, but he’s used to it, growing up with dad as a coach (and knows) that it’s business time,” DeGirolamo added. “We’re going there to win a football game. And we’ll celebrate and talk about it after, but right now, let’s focus on what we have to do to try and get a win for the program.”
The South Sectional champion Hornets (10-1) will take on North Sectional champion Lincoln-Sudbury in the Division 2 state championship on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at One Patriot Place.
The DeGirolamo-led Mansfield defense enters the title game having allowed a little more than 10 points per game in 11 games this season. In addition, the Hornets have held all three of their postseason opponents to six points or less in their tourney run. Mansfield held both Marshfield and King Philip to six points and Natick to just three points.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding largely credits his defensive coordinator for that success.
“Mark (DeGirolamo) is doing a great job,” Redding said. “Every week, we’ve got new fronts and new blitzes. We’re showing people (teams) things they haven’t seen. So, between Mark’s coaching and the kids just buying in and playing hard, we’re playing really good ‘D’.”
Mansfield players agree. Senior captain and linebacker Vinnie Holmes said the Hornets believe they are the best defense in the state due to the preparation provided from DeGirolamo and others like defensive line coach Tim Selmon, secondary coach Andrew Doherty and linebacker coach Dylan Finnerty, who helps DeGirolamo with the position group.
“We game-plan hard all week to try and stop certain things and ‘Coach D’ (DeGirolamo) does a great job putting the right guys in the right position. It has us making a bunch of plays all over the field,” Holmes said. “He (DeGirolamo) goes over, in detail, what we’re going to do in certain sets and how we’re going to stop it. And it’s just hearing it from him, he just knows defense.”
Mansfield allowed Marshfield 97 yards of offense while completely shutting down the Rams’ running game (23 attempts for -7 yards) in the South Sectional first-round contest. Next, in the semifinal round, the Hornets held King Philip to 3.25 yards per carry while limiting the Warriors to 163 yards of offense. In the South Sectional final against Natick, the Hornets dominated again, holding Natick to just two first downs and 22 yards of offense.
What’s the main cause behind the success? Both Redding and DeGirolamo said it’s not the size (or lack of) of the Hornets. The lone player who jumps off the page in terms of measurables is 6-foot-4, 245-pound defensive end T.J. Guy.
“I think that’s been one of our things since I’ve been here. We don’t always pass the eye test,” DeGirolmao said. “We get off the bus and we may not look the part, but when those kids step on the field, they can play.”
Among the Hornets’ biggest strengths, DeGirolamo said, is the senior savvy and knowledge that comes with having a veteran group. Defensive players are able to understand matchups and integrate what they learn in the film room. Like any good defense, Mansfield concentrates on opponents’ tendencies early in the week and drills it into the mind how they’re going to stop those tendencies.
“It helps a lot. It’s great when you have really good kids, who have been around and done that,” DeGirolamo said. “And we are, we’re really fortunate. A lot of our seniors have been playing since they were sophomores so they’re really battle-tested—(Nick) Marciano, (Vinnie) Holmes, (Mikhi) Baskin, (Michael) DeBolt— those guys have all been starting since they were sophomores and they’ve played at a really high level.
“It’s made them really smart football players. I can’t tell you how valuable it is when I see something and they can tell me, ‘I think this is how it’s happening.’ They have a really good way of articulating it to me. And I’ve learned to trust them a lot on the field.”
Holmes, a senior linebacker, leads the team with 85 tackles (14 for loss) and two sacks. Standouts in the defensive backfield, Marciano has one interception, four pass breakups and 33 tackles while DeBolt has compiled 27 tackles and one fumble recovery. A leader on the defensive line, the Boston College-commit Guy has recorded 32 tackles (four for loss) with four additional sacks. And there’s so many others. Baskin (22 tackles, two turnovers, three pass breakups), Nick Bertolino (22 tackles, nine pass breakups), Nico Holmes (37 tackles with four for loss), Will Graham (31 tackles, five sacks), Mark DeGirolamo (20 tackles, five QB pressures) all complement the defensive output.
“It’s a very deep group. There’s plenty of other kids that are really good players and just had to buy their time,” DeGirolamo said, specifically noting the contributions this season from linebackers Joe Plath (27 tackles) and Paden Palanza (25 tackles, four sacks), as well as defensive lineman Garrett Polutchko (18 tackles).
“And I think one of the keys is so many of these guys can play so many different roles that it really makes my job easier,” DeGirolamo said. “When I want to have a certain scheme, or want to do something, I know I have the guys that are multiple that can do it. I think that’s the biggest benefit — having guys that are so multiple, that are talented obviously, and they just understand the scheme that were running so they don’t have to think too much. They just go out and execute.”
Now, DeGirolamo and the Mansfield defense will have to put together a plan they can go out and execute one more time.