KP Defense Puts the Pressure On to Stop Xaverian

King Philip Football
KP put constant pressure on Xaverian quarterback Henry Hasselbeck, holding the Hawks to just 14 points and pulling out a marquee win against one of the state’s top teams. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WRENTHAM, Mass. – During Brian Lee’s tenure at King Philip, the Warriors have displayed a penchant for making life difficult for even the most prolific offenses. In big matchups, like Friday night’s visit of highly ranked Xaverian to Macktaz Field, KP manages to turn the game into a low-scoring, ball control, defense-oriented affair.

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Against Xaverian, it was a prototypical KP performance. The Warriors had multiple players in the backfield on seemingly every play, making sure that star quarterback Henry Hasselbeck had next to no time to make plays down field. KP finished with four sacks, a forced fumble, a couple of passes batted down, a pick-six, and countless quarterback pressures.

Riding its defense’s dominant play in front of a packed house, the Warriors pulled out a 19-14 victory, solidifying its place among the state’s elite again this fall.

“Really just put a lot of pressure on him, and sustained pressure, and the back end and the secondary did their job too,” Lee said about his team’s defense. “When you’re playing an opponent who has such a reputation, it’s going to amp you up. Everybody knows what Xaverian is, how good they are, how well-coached they are, they have a culture, all the things you’re afraid to face in a program.

“We knew it was going to have to be our best, sustained effort.”

Right from the start, the Warriors were sending blitzes from every angle to make Hasselbeck uncomfortable. On Xaverian’s second possession, Carson Meier’s pressure forced an incomplete pass on first down and Kyle Abbott’s pressure caused one on second down. Will Astorino chased down Michael Oates on a screen pass for a loss of four and a three-and-out.

“Coach Wassel planned a ton of blitzes against them,” Astorino explained after the game. “We knew that if we got pressure we could disrupt them. We did that and that’s why they couldn’t get anything going offensively. That was a great defensive performance. We put on a show.”

On the next Hawks drive, Sean King came up with the big hit on Oates, forcing the ball loose. KP recovered at the Xaverian 40 and used the short field to take the lead. Astorino got the call on three straight fullback dives and then Abbott (18 carries, 66 yards) gained seven. Nathan Kearney got a first down to the 19, but KP managed only three more yards and Matthew Kelley split the uprights on a 33-yard kick.

Jonathan Monteiro almost immediately gave the visitors the momentum with a 52-yard kickoff return. After a Christopher Sesay sack, Oates had his best run of the day, gaining 21 down to the KP 19. Abbott read the sweep and dropped it for a one-yard loss. A drop on third down and a penalty made it fourth and 14 before Kearney got a big hand on a screen pass attempt, leading to a turnover on downs.

KP went into the break leading 3-0 and hadn’t allowed a point in 10 quarters to start the season. Early in the second half, the defense showed that it can score as well as keep other teams off the board. Sesay again got into the backfield, hitting Hasselbeck as he threw. The pass fell into the hands of Meier short of midfield and he went the distance to make it 10-0.

Lee said, “It was huge. We definitely struggled on offense. It was a defensive battle, everybody was having trouble moving the ball. Once we got up 10, it really felt like alright, okay, now we’ve got a little bit of breathing room here. It was just a huge, huge play for us.”

Hasselbeck (8-of-16, 148 yards) just didn’t have the time to get anything going for the Hawks. On the next drive, Abbott pressured one incompletion and on third down, Astorino chased down the quarterback for a four-yard loss.

Thomas Brewster’s good punt return set KP up with another short field, starting at the Xaverian 39. A 16-yard completion from Tommy McLeish to Connor Mello converted a third down to the 21. Aiden Astorino had a couple of carries and on third down KP took no chances with a QB sneak to set Kelley up for a 30-yard kick and a 13-0 lead.

The visitors would get the ball back in the closing seconds of the third. Aiden Astorino batted down the first pass attempt, but on the final snap of the quarter, and with multiple Warriors draped all over him, Hasselbeck was able to lay a ball out for Monteiro on the edge and he took it 77 yards for the score. It was the first points allowed by KP this year.

KP got the ball back midway through the fourth quarter, starting at its own 46. On fourth and three from the Xaverian 47, McLeish was able to draw an offsides penalty for a critical first down. Three plays later, play action fooled the Xaverian defense and McLeish hit Kelley down the right sideline for a 36-yard completion. It was KP’s longest play of the night.

“The offensive coordinator (Shawn Hill) was like I want to throw and I was like I don’t know,” Lee said about the big play call. “It’s three minutes and maybe we just eat some clock here because you could feel every second was going to count.”

Kearney got the ball on the next snap from the six and he churned for extra yards and got an extra push from the line to get into the end zone.

The conversion failed but KP restored its two-score lead with just 2:20 to play. Hasselbeck tried to get the Hawks up the field quickly to give themselves a chance. With the help of a personal foul penalty, Xaverian got to the KP 25 with a minute to go.

Luke Danson got the fourth sack of the night, dropping Hasselbeck for a loss of four, but on the next play the Xaverian QB found Monteiro in the back corner of the end zone. After a brief conversation, the officials ruled him inbounds to cut the lead down to five with 43 seconds to go.

Daniel Silveira snagged the onside kick attempt, sealing the victory for the Warriors.

Astorino, who wasn’t unable to contain his excitement after the win, said, “So proud of those guys. They gave it all that they had. We knew they were going to be a tough challenge. Probably every one of their players outweighs us by 50 pounds, but we played with some heart and some passion. That’s how KP plays.”

When asked about the significance of beating a program of Xaverian’s pedigree, Lee explained, “It’s knowing you played a good team and you were able to compete. I didn’t know really what we were. I didn’t know how mentally tough we were, I didn’t know how resilient we were, I didn’t know what we would do when we couldn’t run the ball, who would make plays in the pass game for us, and can we play that old school KP ‘D’ that has kept us in games.

“We got a lot of yeses and a lot of things to feel better about this week.”

King Philip (3-0) will open Kelley-Rex play next Friday with a visit from also unbeaten Taunton.

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Canton Leaves It Late, Steals Win Over Stoughton

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Emily McCabe (19) celebrates Mekhala Costello’s last second goal that secured a win for Canton, despite the Bulldogs trailing Stoughton by a goal with just three minutes remaining. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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CANTON, Mass. – For about 77 minutes, Stoughton had yet to put a foot wrong. The Black Knights were organized, compact, and keeping Canton’s dynamic attack at arm’s length. Unfortunately for Stoughton, all it took was three minutes for the Bulldogs to finally find a way through and pull out an unlikely victory.

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Stoughton led Monday’s game at WWII Veterans Memorial Field for more than 50 minutes following Shayla Ford’s opener, but in the closing moments Emily McCabe finally found space in behind the defense to equalize. With nearly the last kick of the game, McCabe played a one-two with Mekhala Costello, who curled a shot inside the far post to break Stoughton’s hearts and snare a 2-1 victory.

“I think it was good that we fought all the way to the end and we were able to grind a result out,” Canton coach Idris Senyonjo said. “That’s the league, the games are coming thick and fast now and you have to respond to what’s in front of you and hope that you can get a good result out of it.”

The Black Knights have shown a lot of resiliency so far this season, having lost close games to Oliver Ames and King Philip, and came into Monday on the back of two straight wins. They were intent on making sure it wouldn’t be easy for Canton, which went with a rotated lineup as the Bulldogs were playing their fifth game in 10 days.

Canton still had some good early moments. Gisella Berardi played a nice cross from the wing that found Lauren Shatkin in the middle, but the shot went wide. A minute later, Caira McKinney cross clipped off the head of a Stoughton defender and fell to Shatkin, but the shot was blazed over the bar.

Stoughton grew into the game. Ford played a give-and-go with Morgan Cook on the edge of the box, but Cook hit her shot straight at Canton keeper Marissa Staffiere.

In the 21st minute, the visitors went in front. A clearance out of defense was played up the far sideline towards Ford. The senior speedster felt the defender on her back and was able to spin her, racing onto the ball and into space in the right channel. With a full head of steam and at an acute angle, Ford fired her shot just inside the near post.

“I’m waiting for a team to realize you can’t play high on her and you’ve got to drop somebody back,” said first-year Stoughton coach Jon Grant. “Canton did have somebody dropping back in the first 10-15 minutes but I think they got antsy, they wanted to push, push, push, and Shayla was able to turn that girl and get past her.”

The goal gave the Black Knight confidence with Emma Tran pulling the strings in midfield and Ford and Cook regularly combining. Sofia Issa had a go from distance, but Staffiere was right behind it for the save.

Canton went to some of its regular starters following the goal, notably McCabe and Costello, to try and turn the tide. McCabe, who came into Monday with eight goals in her first four games, nearly equalized with her first touch. Shatkin’s ball into the box ricocheted off a pair of defenders before falling to McCabe, who poked a shot just wide.

Emma Cahill passed the ball from the left wing to Shatkin, whose nice first touch played the ball into the path of McCabe, but Stoughton keeper Katrina Varnum was off her line quickly and bravely got down at the forward’s feet to deny the shot.

“We stayed organized for I’d say 77 minutes and they kind of caught us with that last three minutes,” Grant explained. “They played great coming out of the gates, staying organized, shutting them down, not letting them through us. They got around us, a few dangerous crosses, but other than that we played a great first half.”

The game started to fall into a familiar pattern. Canton was able to have the lion’s share of the possession, while Stoughton worked hard to keep its shape and not allow any great chances. Costello nearly opened things up with a cross from the right to McCabe but Emma Tremblay got across to block.

Tran tried to double the lead with a long free kick, but it was right at Staffiere, who held onto it comfortably. Two minutes later, McCabe was given a chance with a 30-yard free kick, but Varnum used her long reach to safely tip it over the bar.

“They boxed all our forwards in in the right areas and they knew exactly what to do and when to do it,” Senyonjo said of the Stoughton defense. “The goalkeeper is also very commanding in the air, so nothing was going past her easily, which is credit to them.”

Costello played a ball into McKinney, who teed it up for Han Hong, whose second attempt was held by Varnum. It was hardly one-way traffic, as Stoughton showed its ability to counter quickly. Ella Derby played a give-and-go with Tran to find room to run in the right channel, but as she bore down on goal Kristina Keefe recovered to make the block.

McCabe had a shot closed down by Isabella Rodrigues on one end and on the other Tran’s free kick was glanced wide by Makenzie O’Connor. Stoughton had one golden chance to double the lead with four minutes to play. Ford broke free again, getting behind the Canton defense but Staffiere closed the angle and was able to make the kick save. The ball came out to O’Connor, who spun and fired but curled it just wide.

Grant said, “Shayla had that opportunity and then it bounced out and Kenzie was able to get a shot off as well that just went wide. Even after they scored, right off the kickoff, we went back down and I love that mentality they have, let’s just go.”

After being so close to sealing the win, it was shocking to see what happened next. Costello played an angled ball in behind the Stoughton back line. McCabe ran onto it, getting the slightest touch to take it past Varnum, and then slid in to get the ball across the line ahead of two Stoughton defenders.

“The middle was so clogged up,” Senyonjo said. “I just said let’s move Mekhala somewhere else because you know she’s going to be dangerous wherever you put her and as long as there’s half a chance in the box you know Emily will take it.”

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors. As time was just about out, Costello passed it into McCabe on the edge of the box and she slid a perfect pass inside the right back. Costello collected it, picked her spot, and coolly bent her shot around Varnum and into the bottom far corner to win it.

“The nature of the game, coming off the game we played Saturday (against Norwell), how well everyone played, the morale was up,” said Senyonjo. “This would’ve deflated us going into the next couple games, but the way they fought until the end could actually elevate us even a little bit more.”

Canton (4-0-1) will continue its busy start to the season on Wednesday with a trip to Milford. Stoughton (2-3-0) will try to bounce back when it visits North Attleboro.

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North Makes Goal Line Stand to Win at Mansfield

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North Attleboro senior Greg Berthiaume drags a Mansfield tackler with him for a first half touchdown, one of his two scores in the game. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MANSFIELD, Mass. – With under eight seconds remaining in the second quarter of Friday night’s rivalry game at Alumni Field, Mansfield faced a third down from the one-yard-line. The Hornets had traveled 61 yards in 45 seconds, now they just had to punch it in. North Attleboro senior Jack Munley had other ideas and stopped Rocco Scarpellini short of the end zone.

Having started the first overtime period with a touchdown, North’s defense had the chance to repeat its earlier trick, stop the Hornets from the one, and clinch a second consecutive impressive road victory. Mansfield QB Connor Curtis tried to keep it himself, looking for a hole in the middle of the line, but was swallowed up by white shirts.

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For the second time in the game, North’s defense made a stand, this time sealing a 27-21 win, avenging last year’s double-overtime defeat to the Hornets at Community Field. It was North’s first win at Mansfield since 2015.

“Whether you get the ball first or second, you’ve got to stop them and it came down to that at the end,” said first-year North coach Mike Strachan. “I’m just really proud of my football team, they fought. To beat Mansfield at Mansfield, with this great team, and this great tradition they have here, I’m really proud of my guys.”

Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted that he will be second-guessing his call on that final play for a while.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” he explained. “I’ll go over this for 10 years on any call that would’ve worked.

“We’re trying to come up with a little bit of a counter to kind of get them overflowing, get Connor back, he’s great off the fake finding the seam to run. Once we get to the one or two, they’ve just got 11 big, strong bodies up front and we’re young up front and we just can’t quite get movement to punch it in.”

The Hornets started the game on top. Aidan Gleavy made a nice read on a screen pass to force a three-and-out. After Munley sacked Conner Zukowski, Mansfield was able to convert third and long with Zukowski (18-of-28, 300 yards) throwing a 20-yard strike to Trevor Foley (five catches, 134 yards) on the near sideline. CJ Bell followed with a nice grab on the far sideline, hauling in a 29-yard reception.

After Zukowski and Foley combined again for another 17 yards, Scarpellini punched it in from a yard out to make it 7-0.

In the second quarter, Kyle Murphy sacked North quarterback Chase Frisoli to force a punt from the three. Mansfield started at the North 30-yard-line but a holding call stalled the drive. North took over possession and took the momentum.

On third and short from the North 42, Frisoli (12-of-22, 180 yards) looked deep down the sideline to Jovany Rivera (six catches, 123 yards). The 41-yard completion put the Rocketeers in the red zone for the first time. Eight yards and three plays later, facing fourth and two Strachan elected to go for it. Greg Berthiaume wouldn’t be stopped, dragging a would-be tackler with him for a nine-yard, game-tying score.

The North defense followed up that score by forcing a three-and-out. A short punt gifted the visitors the ball at the 26 and North took advantage. A timeout before Austin Clemente attempted a 46-yard field goal led to a change of plan, with North electing to go for it and Frisoli finding Rivera for 21 yards to the eight. On the next snap Berthiaume caught a pass in the flat and dove for the pylon to put Big Red in front.

Mansfield only had 53 seconds on the clock but wasted no time racing up field. Zukowski hit Drew Sacco for 15 yards and Bell for 17. He then fired a 30-yard pass to Foley to get the Hornets down to the two. After a false start, Nolan Bordieri took a sweep for six yards but just short of the end zone. An incompletion and Munley’s big stop, left the Hornets down 14-7 at the break.

Strachan said, “I think we were physical up front. I thought we were very physical and controlled the line of scrimmage.”

North added to its lead on its first possession of the third. Frisoli’s quick release to Rivera down the sideline for 25 yards got them into Mansfield territory and a perfectly executed play action left sophomore Ryan Bannon all alone in the secondary for a 26-yard touchdown.

The Hornets were struggling to get the ground game working but Zukowski was having a lot of success through the air. On the first snap of the next drive, he looked down field for Foley, who made a great adjustment to the flight of the ball and pulled in a 47-yard catch. On the next play, Foley out-jumped the defensive back in the back of the end zone, snatching a 20-yard touchdown.

Down seven in the fourth quarter, Mansfield got the ball back at its own 11. A first down got it out to the 23 and Zukowski again looked down the sideline, this time to Brandon Jackman, who made a great catch for 37 yards. Zukowski appeared to get a cramp at the end of the play and had to come to the sideline. Curtis jumped in and immediately broke away for a 40-yard touchdown run that tied the game with under six minutes remaining.

“We let them go up 14 and then we kind of woke up and started playing clean,” Redding said. “Zuk started throwing the ball well, we spread them out. We really started playing great from when they scored to go up 14 until overtime. We showed a lot of heart.”

North had one more chance to win it in regulation. A 10-play drive to the Mansfield 19 gave Clemente a chance from 36 yards out, but his kick was wide left with just 20 seconds to play.

The visitors had the ball first in OT. On first down, Frisoli flipped a pass over the shoulder of Aidan Conrad in the flat and he walked in with the go-ahead score. Ryan DeGirolamo was in tight coverage to breakup the two-point conversion try, leaving North up six.

Mansfield had four plays to try and tie it. Zukowski looked for Foley on each of the first two plays, with Rivera doing a good job in coverage on the second. On third down, Zukowski hit Sacco in the flat and he showed patience to pick a hole but North converged at the goal line to keep him a yard short.

Curtis came in for the final play, trying to force his way through North’s defensive line, but Zachary Gallagher, Bannon, Berthiaume, and others were on hand to keep the Hornets just short and add another exciting chapter to this historic rivalry.

“We practiced all week in the goal line, what to do, we practiced our new formations, and I really think we just executed it like we’re supposed to,” Berthiaume explained. “When you don’t make mistakes, you win football games.”

Strachan said, “We go to work each week, we talk about that, we say we put the money in the bank and the payout is on Friday nights. This was a big check mark for us and it was a really big test for our team. We’re going to try and enjoy this one, but I’m just really happy with our football team.”

Following a bye week, North Attleboro (2-0) will have its home, and Kelley-Rex, opener when the Rocketeers host currently unbeaten Franklin. Mansfield (1-1) will head out on the road for the first time next Friday, traveling to Worcester to face Doherty.

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