How the undefeated 2006 Wayland Warriors won it all
In 2006, Wayland High School won the MIAA Division 1-A football state championship, defeating Marshfield 28-0 in the Super Bowl. This is the story of how a bunch of kids from Wayland completed a perfect 13-0 season, defeating a number of powerhouse programs along the way. So, you ask, how did a team from a school with less than 1,000 students manage to win a Division 1-A championship? One game at a time.
It’s late in the second half of the 2006 MIAA D1-A state championship game, and Wayland leads Marshfield 21-0, but the game is far from over. Marshfield has the ball inside Wayland territory and is looking to trim the Warriors’ lead to 14 and mount a miraculous comeback. Marshfield’s quarterback takes the snap, and throws the ball towards Wayland’s end zone. Senior free safety Wade Critides steps in front of the Marshfield receiver, and intercepts the pass. He immediately turns upfield and sprints 98 yards for a touchdown, cementing the Warriors’ perfect 13-0 season.
This is the story of that season.
Part I: One Game at a Time
In 2005, Wayland had high expectations for its football team. The Warriors had quarterback Alex Jenny, who would end up as the school’s all-time leading passer, and wide receiver Phil Hastings, who would go on to set the all-time mark in receiving yards. Although the team finished with a 9-2 record, many of the players were disappointed with their season.
“We had Alex Jenny at quarterback, Phil Hastings at receiver, our defense was pretty solid,” senior running back and captain Tony Torres said. “We all thought that year was going to be our year. What happened was we overlooked some opponents and lost to some teams that weren’t good. We overlooked Boston Latin, overlooked Westford, because we were focused on [Acton-Boxborough] and Lincoln-Sudbury.”
When head coach Scott Parseghian met with his team’s captains before the 2006 season, one thing stuck out in their minds regarding the previous year: they wanted the team to focus on one game at a time, not to look ahead to big games, or overlook lesser opponents. Torres suggested that the team’s motto be “one game at a time.”
“I just remembered how painful it was to lose that year , and didn’t want that feeling again. So the next year I was like ‘we just have to take this one game at a time. We can’t overlook anybody, we can’t look ahead to L-S and A-B,” Torres said.
For many teams, mottos and slogans can prove to be nothing more than a cliche; they are plastered onto team apparel, used as motivation during practices, and yet don’t actually mean anything to the players who created these phrases. That was not the case for the 2006 Wayland Warriors.
“This team took it to heart,” head coach Scott Parseghian said. “We ended up getting the phrase engraved on our Super Bowl rings; that’s how important it was to them. We never looked ahead. It really helped to keep us from overlooking bad teams.”
A couple of years prior to 2006, the Warriors’ football team was nicknamed the “dirty thirty”, because the program only had 30 players on the varsity team. Fast forward to 2006, and 66 players were suiting up every Friday night. In a small town like Wayland, having that many kids on a team was incredibly rare, and it is still the largest team Parseghian has ever coached. This depth had a trickle down effect, as it meant that the offensive and defensive units were, for the most part, completely separate units. Only three players, Ben Sherry, Wade Critides, and Dana Sharry, started both ways throughout the entire season. During practices, the starting offensive players would go up against the starting defenders, instead of facing a “scout team” made up of back-ups.
“Practice was huge. I remember a certain seriousness that year,” captain Chris Lash said. “The level of competition was really high. You start to get used to it. I think it was a big part of our success… We had over 60 [players] on the team, which meant we could specialize. I could focus just on our defensive playbook instead of having to learn two playbooks; that meant people had an identity. You were either part of the offense or part of the defense, and the two units were able to be competitive that way, because the guys on offense want to put points on the board, and the guys on defense want to stop them.”
“From an offensive line perspective, as a coach, it was like the NFL,” Parseghian said. “When those guys came off the field I was able to sit down with all five of them and talk about what they saw and what adjustments we needed to make.”
Having depth certainly played a role in Wayland’s success, but the Warriors’ host of talented players was certainly what made this team special on the field.
Quarterback Ben Sherry led the team’s offense. Sherry would eventually be named the D1-A Player of the Year, accounting for 2,500 yards of offense and 35 total touchdowns, according to the Metro West Daily News. The quarterback also starred on defense as well, racking up 63 tackles and two interceptions. Sherry’s talent was obvious to coaches and players alike.
“I remember this one play when [Sherry] blitzed through the line right as the ball was snapped, and they were running a pitch, so the quarterback was trying to pitch the ball and Ben intercepted the pitch, or I think he knocked it down and then scooped and scored. As a player on the defense, that’s what you love to see. Complete disruption. Bam-bam, all the sudden we’re up another seven points.That play was pretty ridiculous,” Lash said.
Lining up in the backfield alongside Sherry was fellow team captain Tony Torres, the team’s star running back, who would later earn a full scholarship to play football at Northeastern University. Out wide, Wade Critides and Dana Sharry were on the receiving end of many Ben Sherry touchdown passes. The Warriors scored an average of 33.6 points per game during the 2006 season. On defense, captains Chris Lash and Ben Sherry spearheaded a unit that shut out five teams, including Marshfield in the Super Bowl.
Along with their talent, the team also possessed great team chemistry. Many of them had been playing football together since middle school at the Pop Warner level.
“They were a very tight knit unit. They did a lot of things together as a group, not just upperclassmen, but with the sophomores and freshman as well. Winning is contagious, once you get on that winning streak, everyone would show up to practice and compete and have fun,” Parseghian said.
The first eight weeks of their 2006 campaign went fairly smoothly for the Warriors. They blew out every opponent except for rival Lincoln-Sudbury, who they defeated 13-6 in a hard fought defensive battle. So far, the team had executed their pre-season plan to perfection; they had focused on one game at a time, not overlooking anybody. Now, they had an 8-0 record going into their long awaited matchup with rival Acton-Boxborough, the Dual-County League’s super power and perennial champion. If Wayland wanted its first playoff berth in decades, the Warriors would have to take down the Colonials.
Part II: The Turning Point
In 2006, the only way to make the MIAA state tournament was to win your conference. This meant that the Warriors, being a part of the Dual-County League, had to beat out the likes of Lincoln-Sudbury and Acton-Boxborough for the DCL crown and to secure a spot in the playoffs. Having already defeated Lincoln-Sudbury earlier in the season, one final hurdle remained for the team: the Acton-Boxborough Colonials.
“[Acton-Boxborough] had recently won a bunch of state titles, and had a 54 game win streak that had ended the year before. It was week 8, and both of us were 7-0. We knew it would be an unbelievable opportunity,” Parseghian said. “It was the biggest game of my life.”
There was plenty of hype going into the game. Seemingly every local newspaper was writing about it. Could Wayland finally overtake Acton-Boxborough for the DCL title? Well, over 6,000 spectators showed up at Wayland High School on November 3rd, 2006 to find out.
“We walked out for pregame warmups, and the place was packed. Usually it takes until halftime for everyone to show up…this was unlike anything I’d ever seen,” Parseghian said.
The game was never in doubt. The Warriors demolished their competition 45-6, handing the Colonials their worst loss in a decade. Tony Torres collected 250 yards on the ground behind an offensive line led by captain Henry Hastings.
“For as long as I could remember we were always getting our butts kicked by those guys, so beating them was a great feeling,” Hastings said.
Following their dominating victory, Wayland players couldn’t help but think about the implications of the win for their season.
“We really beat them badly, on our home field, in front of the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at Wayland High School,” Sherry said. “That was when we were like ‘Okay, we’re now 9-0, we basically just locked up a playoff berth for the first time in at least 15 years.’ At that point I realized that once you’re in the playoffs, you only have to win one game before you’re in the Super Bowl, so if you can get there, that’s half the battle. I’d say [beating Acton-Boxborough] was the turning point in the season.”
“Growing up, A-B was always the powerhouse team, we hadn’t beat them in years. So all of a sudden we conquer them, and I then realize that we’ve got something special on this team,” Lash said.
The Warriors dispatched their final two opponents with ease, beating Bedford 38-7 and then Weston 38-0 on Thanksgiving. Now with a record of 11-0, Wayland had made the playoffs for the first time in years. But, as one of the smallest schools in Division 1-A, many still doubted the Warriors could make any noise in the postseason.
Part III: Perfection
Wayland’s semi-final matchup would be against Central Catholic, a private school powerhouse that was almost always in contention for a state title. Few believed the under-sized Warriors would have much of a chance against a team of Central Catholic’s caliber.
“[Central Catholic had] 1,000 students, who are all boys. So it’s really like going up against a 2,000 student school,” Parseghian said. “In the playoffs, they let the head coach go out for the coin toss with the captains, and I was looking at those Central Catholic guys and realizing their running backs were as big as our linemen. I remember thinking ‘Oh boy, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The teams went back and forth for most of the game, with the lead changing hands multiple times. Finally, the Warriors managed to pull ahead by 10 points late in the second half.
“I remember Tony Torres running a sweep to the right and there were four or five defenders waiting for him, so he reversed field and signaled to Ben Sherry to lead block for him,” Parseghian said. “So you’ve got Torres coming around the left side of the defense on a broken play with his quarterback lead blocking, and they take it to the house. I think Ben [Sherry] wiped out two guys in the process. A quarterback blocking like that. Amazing play.”
Wayland ended up defeating Central Catholic by a score of 34-24. With the win, the Warriors advanced to the MIAA D1-A Super Bowl game, where they would face the Marshfield Rams. Once again, Wayland had its doubters.
“Here we were, the smallest team in Division 1A, playing in the championship. Every week people would say ‘Wayland can’t keep this going,’” Parseghian said.
One might expect Wayland’s players to have been nervous about playing in their first championship game, or to at least show some seriousness before the biggest game of their high school careers. But this team was different, in a good way.
“This team was like no other team I’ve ever coached. They were loose as could be… right before we’re about to go play [in the Super Bowl], everyone in the locker room was singing, rapping, and dancing to this song they played before every game. So here we are getting ready for the Super Bowl, and our guys have their helmets on backwards, with no pads on, just wearing their girdles,” Parseghian said.
In fact, the Warriors’ unique pre-game tradition may have worked to their advantage prior to facing Marshfield.
“Our locker room was across from Marshfield’s, and their door opens, and Marshfield’s players and coaches see us dancing and singing, and they’re thinking ‘this team isn’t even ready, they’re just happy to be here,’” Parseghian said.
Wayland came out in dominating fashion. Ben Sherry and Co. could not be stopped on offense, and the Warrior defense, led by defensive coordinator Jim Girard, suffocated the Rams’ attack. Late in the second half, Wayland had extended their lead to 21-0, and was looking to put the game away with one final big play. That play came from Wade Critides. With the opponent driving into Warrior territory, Critides intercepted a Marshfield pass and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. The score was now 28-0. Critides had put the game out of reach; the Wayland Warriors had won the state championship.
“That was the moment where I really realized that it was over, that we had capped off our season with a championship,” Sherry said. “We had completed the 13-0 run.”
“I remember the moment when the clock ran out,” Torres said. “It was bittersweet. I was like ‘Wow, we accomplished some crazy stuff this year.’ All the coaches and players were running out on the field and everything. I remember specifically thanking Coach Girard. He had a lot to do with our success that year, along with all the coaches.”
What made this Wayland team special? Was it their unusually large roster? Their top flight talent and depth on both sides of the ball? Their great team chemistry? All of those qualities played a role, but perhaps the most important element of this team was the Warriors’ commitment to focusing on one game at a time.