It’s going to be a whole new ballgame when our area high school football teams kick off their seasons tonight.
I don’t mean that figuratively either.
This fall will see a major change in the way Massachusetts high school football games are officiated, as the MIAA switches all sports to National Federation of State High School Associations rules. Previously local schools played using modified NCAA rules, and since the switch was announced local players, coaches and officials have had to study up on the 238 differences between NCAA and NFHS rules.
Some of the changes are pretty significant, too. So what can fans expect this fall?
Among the more notable changes, games will utilize 12-minute quarters with three timeouts per half using a 40-second and 25-second play clock between downs. There will be wider hash marks, and any kick that lands in the end zone will immediately be ruled a touchback. That means no Auburn-Alabama-style returns on a short field goal attempt.
There will be changes to penalties too, the most important being that defensive pass interference can now be called on an “uncatchable” pass, and intentional grounding can be called if the quarterback exits the pocket and doesn’t throw the ball near an eligible receiver.
That one in particular will no doubt cause grousing from angry parents when a quarterback inevitably gets flagged for throwing a pass out of bounds to escape pressure.
These changes are going to take time for everyone to get used to, the officials included. So as the great Kevin Doyle once wrote, lets keep things in perspective this fall. High school football is supposed to be fun, so let’s have some fun this fall as another great season kicks off.
With that being said, onto the picks. With Pentucket and Governor’s idle and Newburyport and Triton playing each other, we’re expanding our slate with three bonus picks this week.
1. Newburyport at Triton
The 2018 Border Battle was one of the most exciting games of the season last fall. Triton, which had just lost starting quarterback Kyle Odoy to injury, debuted a completely revamped run-based offense and gave the Clippers all they could handle before Newburyport mounted a late comeback to pull out the win. Triton is healthy now and there’s no reason to believe this shouldn’t be another great game, but for now I’ve got to give Newburyport the edge until the Vikings show their improvement on the field.
THE PICK: Newburyport 21, Triton 14
2. Ipswich at Amesbury
Amesbury was the story of the Cape Ann League last fall, turning things around from a two-win season in 2017 to a nine-win season in 2018. Can the Indians sustain that success? They’ll have a great opportunity to make a statement in Week 1 against an Ipswich team that returns eight offensive and nine defensive starters from last year’s 8-3 team.
THE PICK: Amesbury 24, Ipswich 21
3. Tech Boston at Georgetown
This was a barnburner last fall, with Georgetown getting the 35-34 win in last year’s opener. I’d expect another exciting game to open this season, but with no Hunter Lane and questions remaining on defense, I’m leaning Tech Boston for now.
THE PICK: Tech Boston 34, Georgetown 28
4. Whittier Tech at Austin Prep
Whittier Tech returns prolific rusher A.J. Espinal, who went for 1,339 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns last fall, and also features Colby Rice, the grandson of Red Sox legend Jim Rice. New Austin Prep coach Billy Tucker will be making his debut in succession of the legendary Bill Maradei, expect the Cougars to welcome him a winner playing at home.
THE PICK: Austin Prep 34, Whittier Tech 21
5. Bridgewater-Raynham at St. John’s Prep
Byfield’s Tripp Clark is expected to be a key player on defense for the defending Division 1 Super Bowl champions. Plan on the Eagles to start off on a high note.
THE PICK: St. John’s Prep 24, Bridgewater-Raynham 14
6. Nashua North at Winnacunnet
Amesbury’s loss is going to be Winnacunnet’s gain, as former Daily News Coming Attractions pick Tony D’Arcangelo is now playing north of the border for the Hampton-based New Hampshire powerhouse. The sophomore lineman has a bright future ahead of him, and he should make an impact right away for a reloading Warriors team. The first challenge will be slowing down Nashua’s Curtis Harris, who may rank among the Granite State’s most explosive players.
THE PICK: Nashua North 34, Winnacunnet 21
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.