EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 25, 2013

On paper, Whittier boasts many advantages

Revamped Reggies aiming to pull off the upset

By Dave Dyer

---- — Forget it all, says Whittier coach Kevin Bradley.

Forget that the Wildcats (6-4) defeated Greater Lawrence handily, 43-20, back in September and never mind that the Wildcats are completely healthy while the Reggies (5-5) are without their quarterback, Ellicen Pena (1,661 passing yards, 14 TD passes), who shattered his thumb and has already undergone surgery.

When Greater Lawrence hosts Whittier at 6 p.m. tomorrow in their fifth Thanksgiving matchup, none of that matters, according to Bradley.

“It’s a good rivalry and anything can happen,” said Bradley. “We’re going to need to play well, like we have been.”

On paper, the Wildcats are definitely favored. Their top back, Jesus Sanchez has gained 1,029 yards on the season and, in the earlier meeting, rushed for 143 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Connor Bradley has become more consistent through the air and a number of receivers have stepped up.

Defensively, Whittier has been gotten stronger throughout the season, led by David Sachs and Jaylin Deveau at the ends. Sidney Taylor has been immense as an outside linebacker and his absence was felt when he missed three games with an injury.

Effective defensive lineman Ralph Francesconi missed Whittier’s last game with an injury, but he’ll return tomorrow.

“We’ve played better and better on defense and I think the key to this game is if we come out and play aggressive right away on defense and set the tone,” said Bradley.

That was certainly the case in the first game as the Wildcats zoomed to a 22-0 lead in the first quarter.

Greater Lawrence coach Tony Sarkis is aware of Whittier’s advantages, but he insists his squad is not fazed.

“We’re definitely the underdog, but the kids are excited and we think we’ll give them a game,” said Sarkis. “The key for us is avoiding turnovers. Turnovers have been a problem for us this year. If we can play mistake-free, we’ll be fine.”

Defensively, the Reggies could be in good shape. Linebackers Manny Rosario and Eric Rodriguez are healthy and playing well and backer Shane Dunn could return for the first time since getting injured in September.

Angel Martin has taken over at quarterback and shows potential as a passer and he’s also a fine runner. In the Reggies’ last game, a 30-21 win over Georgetown, Martin led the team in rushing with 53 yards. Jeremy Torres, Rodriguez (46 yards in just four carries) and Anthony Vasquez also were effective carrying the ball.

“We’re mixing it up, seeing who has the hot hand,” said Sarkis. “Angel is our main guy now, but he’s learning on the job. We do have some potential there.”

Which is exactly what Bradley is worried about.

“You just never know — they’ve got some athletes,” he said.