MANSFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield started Friday night’s league-opener at Alumni Field with back-up quarterback Jack Mousette under center. He lasted two series before an injury, following a 38-yard run, sent him to the sidelines for the rest of the night. With starter Damani Scott unavailable and Mousette on the bench with his arm wrapped in ice, the Hornets turned to senior Aidan Sacco to be the emergency QB.
Sacco only threw five times in the game, but he completed three of those passes for 42 yards and the Mansfield defense clamped down, forcing three turnovers in the second half and shutting Franklin out until the final two minutes of a 24-6 victory.
“It’s a gutsy win,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “Jack comes in and did a nice job running the ball but the danger doing that is your QB is going to run and get hit and he just landed funny. Aidan Sacco came in…he’s never played quarterback in his life and he leads us to a win against a good football team, so we’ll take it.”
Franklin started the season 2-0 for the first time since 2012 and was looking for its first win against Mansfield since its unbeaten 2009 season. The Panthers moved the ball well, but failed to finish drives, twice reaching the red zone but both times coming away with no points.
“It was one of those night where try as we may, we did everything wrong that we could’ve from bad special teams snap, we dropped two touchdowns, every time they put the ball on the ground they got it back” Franklin coach Eian Bain said. “I even think we executed, we just didn’t finish the big plays.”
The Panthers drove all the way to the Mansfield 15-yard-line on their opening possession. Junior Thomas Gasbarro completed two of his three passes, both to Sean Leonard (six catches, 82 yards), but a draw play at the 19 lost six yards and eventually his keeper on fourth and 15 only gained nine to end the drive.
Mansfield made quick work of an 85-yard drive, needing only four plays, to take the lead, but in the process lost its starting quarterback. After Nick Marciano broke free on the right side for a 28-yard gain out to the 43, Mousette raced for 38 yards down to the Franklin 19 but was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. Two plays later, Sacco went up the middle for a 14-yard score.
Sacco also fielded punts and his 29-yard return gave the Hornets the ball back at the Franklin 41. Junior Vinnie Holmes (11 carries, 65 yards) gained 27 yards on two carries to get the ball all the way to the Panthers 12, but a fumble on the next hand-off forced Sacco to retreat 18 yards. Two plays later, Michael DeBolt, who was also 3-for-3 on extra points, booted a 35-yard kick for a 10-0 lead.
Franklin’s offense went right back to work on its next possession. Senior Nick Gordon (10-23, 174 yards) was the new quarterback and he found Leonard twice in a row for 43 yards down to the Mansfield 17. On third and seven from the 14, Gordon scrambled and his pass to Ryan Driscoll in the back of the end zone was inches over the receiver’s head. The Panthers settled for a field goal attempt but Parker Chevrant’s kick was wide right from 30 yards.
Gasbarro intercepted a Sacco pass to end the next Hornets drive, but he slipped on the return and couldn’t gain extra yards after the turnover. Franklin was forced to punt from its own 32, but a high snap rushed the play and it was sliced out of bounds just six yards downfield.
Mansfield made the great starting field position count to add a score before the break. After an incomplete pass, Sacco hit Holmes in the flat for a 28-yard gain. Sacco was unable to handle the next shotgun snap but Holmes was able to scoop the loose ball and gain eight yards. On the next play, he bulldozed for two more and a three-score lead.
Redding said of the late touchdown to end the first half, “That was big. You outplay them but it’s only 10 and you give them the ball to start the half and they score and it’s a whole different game. Then we thought, if we can win the third quarter, which it ended up 0-0, as long as we didn’t let them get back to two scores.”
The third quarter was marred by turnovers by both teams. Gordon was intercepted by Cincere Gill and then sacked by Chris Copponi and Daenin Walker to end a possession. Austin Jordan recovered a Mansfield fumble to get it back for the Panthers but only three plays later the Panthers put the ball on the ground and Jack Barry recovered.
“We do a pretty good regrouping, but I think we pressed a little on the first drive coming out,” said Bain. “Then we moved the ball again and we moved the ball again, but we all took turns tonight, coaches included, making the little mistakes. When you play the best, you can’t play anything but your best and we weren’t at our best tonight.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Walker forced another fumble that was recovered by Copponi at midfield. Gill (eight carries, 95 yards) gained four yards on first down and then burst through the right side of the line and raced 46 yards for the touchdown that sealed the win.
The Panthers didn’t give up and responded in just four plays. Gordon hit Driscoll on a go route down the near sideline that made sure there wouldn’t be a shutout. The two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
Mansfield came away with a win, but the Hornets will now head into a showdown with two-time defending league champion King Philip with a third-string quarterback at the helm. According to Redding, the Hornets will be relying even more on their defense to come through.
“We had to get this one,” Redding admitted. “We lose this with a quarterback going down, now we’re fighting a losing battle. Now, Aidan’s got some confidence playing in a game. Our guys will be ready for next Friday. They’ve had our number the last few years and we’ll be ready to play.”
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – It may have only been the second week of the season and both teams had yet to even play a handful of games this fall, but the intensity of the play on the pitch Wednesday night was reminiscent of a playoff game or at least when these teams meet with the Blue-Red Cup on the line.
It was tight, it was physical, and in the end it was tied. Briley Harnois scored with 15 minutes left in the game to cancel out Kayla Pasquel’s first half strike and earn Attleboro a point in a 1-1 draw with North Attleboro on the Beaupre Field turf.
“We’ve been a slow starting team and I challenged them today to really start right off the opening whistle,” said Attleboro coach Steve Santos. “They worked hard. We knew it was going to be a physical game. They have a lot of speed up top and on the wings and we knew we had to slow them down.”
The Rocketeers created enough chances over the course of the game that on another day, with more composed finishing, they could have pulled out the victory. But, for all the chances created by the hosts, the two goalies finished with the same amount of saves because North struggled to put the ball on frame.
North Attleboro coach Bill Wallace said, “We had some chances. A lot of shots we were leaning back on and they were going high, but this is a completely different team than last year and these kids are working real hard. It’s been a crazy preseason, crazy start to the season, and we’re starting to find ourselves.”
Ashlyn Gaulin was the primary focus of the Attleboro defense, with several players taking turns to man-mark the senior forward (who has accounted for six points in a game twice already this season), but she was still able to work scoring opportunities.
Just seven minutes in, Gaulin’s nifty footwork opened up the Attleboro defense but her shot from the right side of the box was right at Bombardiers goalie Tayla Drape. Seven minutes later, Gaulin flicked a pass through the defense to Pasquel, who then gave it right back but the shot went over the bar.
North found its breakthrough in the 23rd minute. Again it was Gaulin who opened up the Attleboro back line, showing off her skill to get space on the left side and then deftly chipping a cross to the back post. Pasquel beat her defender to the ball and bundled it over the line for a 1-0 advantage.
While Attleboro was not getting as many shots on goal, the Bombardiers were giving North’s defense something to worry about on the break with the speed of Harnois and fellow sophomore Isabella Salviati keeping the Rocketeers on their toes. Senior defenders Sam Hawkins and Bishop Feehan transfer Olivia Bishop both had to cut out chances.
After Julia Reyes had a shot from the right wing that went into the side netting, Attleboro got its first shot on target in the 35th minute. A Harnois free kick from 25 yards was saved under the bar by a leaping Emma Noreck.
Just a minute later, Emma Gaulin sent in an angled free kick from nearly midfield that found the head of Haley Ferrin, but the header was right at Drape. North had one more chance before halftime, as Emma Gaulin played the ball through to Lydia Santos, who picked out Ashlyn Gaulin, who then fed Pasquel, but again the final shot was too high and off target.
The Rocketeers continued to get shots off early in the second half. Pasquel teed up Alex Moulson racing in from the left side but she could not keep the shot down under pressure from Ashley Lauzier and Gaulin and Pasquel combined again for a chance only to have the shot smack off the football goalposts.
“I rotated a few defenders on Ashlyn to keep her man-marked,” Santos explained, “and in the second half we had to push a few more up and create more chances, put pressure on their backs. They had some chances early that I’m sure they wish they had back.”
As long as the game stayed 1-0, Attleboro felt like it had a shot. In the 55th minute, Jessica Gates got free on the right and her cross went all the way across the box to Reyes, who had her shot blocked. The rebound bounced to Salviati but again the shot found the leg of a North defender. Three minutes later, Gates had a long free kick that Noreck was able to catch.
In the 65th minute, the Bombardiers found an equalizer. Salviati ran onto a bouncing ball down the right side and played a clever, one-touch pass in behind the North defense that Harnois was able to run onto. With Noreck racing off her line to cut down the angle, Harnois made no mistake with a rasping finish into the far corner.
“It was a good finish,” Santos said. “I thought she had one more chance when she came down here and she just mis-struck it. When you show up at North Attleboro, you know it’s going to be a battle.”
After the goal, Attleboro had momentum and nearly took the lead but Reyes’ cross was just in front of Salviati on the edge of the six-yard-box. North had one last chance in the final six minutes, but Gaulin saw her line drive free kick held by Drape.
“We’re beginning to be a little more offensive,” said Santos. “We have some girls who are feisty and they’re willing to be scrappy. The girls are starting to believe in themselves and that’s what you need to compete in the Hock.”
Wallace added, “This was a good motivational game for them because the intensity was there. We hadn’t faced this kind of intensity yet this year. At this point in the season, we’ll take the point and move on, but hopefully we’ll finish those chances.”
Attleboro (1-2-1) will try to build on the draw when it hosts defending league champ King Philip on Monday. North Attleboro (2-0-2), which moved into a one-point lead in the Davenport, will host Taunton on Saturday morning.
FRANKLIN, Mass. – In a game where chances are at a premium, with physical battles being waged all over the pitch, and with defenses largely coming out on top, finishing is the difference between taking home the points or leaving with none.
Mansfield had one great chance in the box and put it away. Franklin had two chances in the box and both went narrowly off target. So, on Monday night at Pisini Field, the Hornets walked away with a hard-fought 1-0 win and stayed unbeaten, while, for the second time in a week, the Panthers lost a close game with one of the two defending Kelley-Rex division champions.
“It’s such a tough opponent, such a tough place, a great coaching staff, so it’s a good win,” said Mansfield coach Kevin Smith.
The first scoring chance of the game fell to the Panthers. Junior Carly Alston sprung senior Hailey Toolin down the right wing and she crossed the ball into the six-yard-box. Junior Anna Balkus had made a late run from midfield and got free right in the center but she tried to redirect the ball with her right foot and could only touch it wide.
Mansfield took a while to get going in the game. Franklin’s pressing in the midfield was causing problems for the first 15 minutes, but eventually the Hornets started to string passes together and create looks on goal.
“They pinched their four midfielders together, so it was 4-on-3,” said Smith. “They went forward and brought more people up and then it was man-up or man-even and we were able to take advantage of that or finally go wide and then find a passing angle. Sometimes it takes a while to see what they’re doing and readjust.”
Melissa Reef had the first shot from distance but it was easily saved by Franklin goalie Breanna Atwood. Bryn Anderson nearly opened the scoring with a free kick from 18 yards out, just to the right of the box. Her shot to the near post was only a foot over the bar.
Franklin continued to worry the Mansfield defense with cutting passes in behind. Calen Frongillo was able to slide a pass through the right channel to again get Toolin, who just beat the offside trap, into space but she could only play a ball through the box that was in between a shot and a cross and that Balkus could not get on the end of.
Alston also freed up freshman Stella Regan to make a run at goal, but Mansfield defender Emily Vigeant showed off her pace (and long reach) to get a toe to the ball just before a shot could be taken. Franklin’s young forwards were giving the Hornets back line a fight, but Vigeant and fellow senior Mikaela Maughn were solid throughout.
“She’s so good. She’s been such an unsung player for us for years,” said Smith about Maughn. About Vigeant, he added, “She’s got great soccer IQ. If she has a lack of speed compared to what she’s up against, she reads it quicker than the other person and it makes her look even faster than she is.”
In the 24th minute, Mansfield struck. A giveaway at the back gifted possession to Steph Kemp in the attacking third and she quickly played the ball out to the left toCassidy McMahon. The duo played a quick give-and-go to isolate the last defender and get McMahon free on goal and the senior picked the bottom corner with a cool finish.
Mansfield had two chances to double the lead in the opening five minutes of the second half. Anderson sprayed a pass out to McMahon on the left wing and she squared the ball into Kemp inside the six, but the senior forward could not get the right contact and it was an easy save for Atwood. Anderson again played provider shortly after to set up Sydney Mulkern, but her chipped shot went over the bar.
Just two minutes later, Franklin had another golden opportunity to get on the board. Sophomore Sydney St. Marie got space to attack down the left wing and she played a perfect low cross into the middle to pick out Balkus, but her side-foot effort was again just inches wide of the bottom corner.
“It was the same thing against KP,” Franklin coach Tom Geysen explained. “I thought our kids handled the pressure pretty well, moved the ball pretty decent, made good choices up front, but when you have it wide open and can’t put it in the back of the net…”
Kemp nearly added a second for Mansfield in the 53rd minute only to be denied by Atwood. After making a tackle on the edge of the box, the forward found room to unleash a shot that looked destined for the top corner, but the keeper was able to get fingertips to it and tip it around the bar at full stretch.
Franklin continued to push until the final whistle, with the physicality from both teams ratcheting up as the seconds ticked down. In the end, Mansfield keeper Caty DeMassi made a couple of routine saves, but was well-protected by the defense in front of her and the Hornets headed home with the two points.
While disappointed to not come away with a result, Geysen was still pleased with the effort of the Panthers against one of the league title favorites.
He said, “I don’t think they (Mansfield) were expecting what they got from us after last year. When we played them the second time last year, we had nobody, but we’ve got kids that if we can just take one more step then we’ll score the goals to be competitive with everybody.”
In eighth grade, Mary McNeil had an important choice to make. She was preparing for her freshman year at Canton High and thinking about what fall sport she would choose to play. McNeil was a soccer player and had been throughout her youth, but that was the same season as field hockey.
McNeil had not played field hockey growing up, in fact she did not start the sport competitively until she got into high school, but after watching four sisters go through the Canton field hockey program, including her sister Michelle who was going to be a senior that fall, could she really end the family’s legacy in the sport?
As it turns out, no she could not. And she has no regrets for that decision to hang up the soccer cleats and pick up a field hockey stick.
“I kind of decided last minute [to switch] because my sisters were like, ‘You’re really going to decide to play soccer?’ But I love it and it was the best decision,” McNeil said in a phone conversation this week.
Eight years after making the decision to join the family tradition, which started with her mother Kathleen, who played field hockey at UMass Dartmouth, McNeil is now a standout at Merrimack College. The senior midfielder is a three-time all-conference selection, an All-American, and one of the top 10 scorers in Merrimack history. She also has the Warriors ranked No. 6 in the nation, according to the latest National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) Div. II poll.
“I just kind of picked it up,” McNeil said about her transition from soccer to field hockey. “My sister was a senior my freshman year of high school, so that summer I just kind of played knowing that I was going to start off preseason and I chose field hockey, we worked all summer together to get ready to go.”
Michelle went on to play Div. I field hockey at Holy Cross. Their older sisters Lisa and Patty both played in the Northeast-10 at Stonehill College, while Lauren also played at Merrimack. A sixth sister, Andrea, is now a freshman on the St. Anselm team.
“There was a lot of support,” McNeil replied when asked how it was having so many field hockey players in one family. “They all came to my games. It was pretty great.”
There was plenty of advice to go around, but McNeil said that it has helped her grow into the player that she has become and added that it was always positive criticism, especially from Michelle, who was closest to her age. “Field hockey has changed a lot,” McNeil said. “When my sisters played in college it was on grass, so it’s a way faster game now, but it all goes back to that.”
After three all-star seasons at Canton, which included a league title and a Div. 1 South title as a freshman, McNeil joined the Merrimack program, continuing another family legacy. She credited the time she spent watching her sister Lauren play (and attending Lauren’s husband’s football games) at Merrimack for helping make the decision to go to the North Andover campus easier.
McNeil made an instant impact for the Warriors, starting 21-of-22 games and leading the team in goals (14), assists (11), and points (38). She was second in the NE-10 in goals and was named to first team all-conference and an NFHCA Second Team All-American. With McNeil leading the way as just a freshman, Merrimack went 16-6 and reached the national championship game where they lost by a goal to East Stroudsburg (Pa.).
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” McNeil said of her freshman season. “I came in just being motivated to help the team and my individual goals were just to get better every day and help the team win. It was awesome but losing in that national championship has just made me want to get back there more.”
Over the last two seasons, the Warriors have failed to hit the same heights. The Warriors went 9-8 in 2016, despite McNeil again being named first team All-NE-10 for scoring seven goals and recording a team-high seven assists. Last fall, Merrimack went 11-7, but McNeil’s numbers dropped to just three goals and a team high-10 assists. She was named second team all-conference.
The Warriors are 3-1 to start the new season with the only loss coming to East Stroudsburg by a goal. McNeil is firing in the goals again with five on the season to go along with four assists. She credits a renewed team chemistry, and a large recruiting class, for helping get Merrimack on track in the early going.
“We had 10 freshmen come in and we had a transfer too,” she said. “So, we’ve had a lot more girls this year, which has been awesome. Everyone’s excited, everyone loves practice and the energy is there every day.”
In addition to the family legacy at Merrimack, there is starting to be a Canton legacy as well. Junior forward Lindsey Nolte, who also played ice hockey and lacrosse with McNeil in high school, and freshman goalie Riley Brown are on the roster. Former Milford standout Jessica Palmer is also part of Merrimack’s Hock contingent.
McNeil said that the familiarity helps get prepared for the season. She said, “Especially in the summer, training, being in the same town, just knowing what’s expected from our coach and working together.”
As the season progresses, McNeil continues to move up the program’s all-time rankings. She is currently eighth all-time in points and second all-time in assists. She shrugged off talk about what it would mean to set a new record, instead focusing on her desire to win titles this season.
“It’s awesome,” she said, “but at the same time I want to win. So, just doing anything I can to end our season getting to the goals we want to accomplish.
“Stepping on the field with energy, focusing at practice on getting better every single day, building off each game, working on what we have to, our ultimate goal is a national championship but we’d love to win an NE-10 championship as well.”
On Nov. 6, in the penultimate game of the regular season, the Warriors will host St. Anselm. It will be the final home game for McNeil, her senior night, and it will also be a family reunion, as it will be the opportunity to face her younger sister Andrea for the first time.
“I think it will be fun,” McNeil reflected. “Obviously, I want to win, but it will be fun to play against her too.”
Merrimack will get back on the field against Franklin Pierce on Tuesday and the quest for a conference title will begin with NE-10 play next weekend.
McNeil said, “We are where we want to be but at the same time there’s so much that we want to work on. We hope to peak at the right time.”
MILFORD, Mass. – On its opening three possessions of the game, Franklin managed about 30 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice. But the Panthers got one more chance to break the scoreless deadlock before halftime and made it count, scoring on the final play of the second quarter.
The momentum carried over into the second half, as Franklin would score on both of its possessions in the third quarter to break Friday night’s rivalry game with Milford wide open and pull away for a 21-0 victory that sends the Panthers into league play with a 2-0 record.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “This is a tough place to play. To get out of here 2-0, and more importantly 1-0 this week and focused on this task, we’re going to enjoy it for 24 hours.”
The game did not get off to a start that either team would have hoped for, with turnovers on the opening two plays. Shapel Feaster fumbled on the first play from scrimmage for the Hawks, but he made up for it on defense by forcing a Jack Nally fumble at the one-yard-line on Franklin’s first play.
Both defenses were in control for most of the opening half.
A Brendan White sack of Franklin starting quarterback Thomas Gasbarro ended one drive and Ryan Pearl picked off a pass by Nick Gordon, Franklin’s second quarterback, to end another. Milford was trying to mix things up, spreading out the Panthers on one play and bunching up on a power set on another, but the Panthers defense stood tall.
With under two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin took possession at its own 42. Gordon (6-11, 147 yards) hit Nally down the sideline for 21 yards and then found Ryan Driscoll (four catches, 115 yards) for nine yards to the Milford 28.
After an incomplete pass, Franklin had eight seconds left in the quarter. Gordon dropped back and again looked down the far sideline where Driscoll had gotten open in between two defensive backs for the game’s opening score.
Milford coach Anthony Vizakis admitted that it was a deflating moment for his team. He said, “It was because they knew we were close to going in with a 0-0 ballgame and that’s a totally different mentality. It’s a totally different feeling. I thought we came out [for the second half] with a little energy but it just wasn’t enough for tonight.”
The Panthers took control with the opening possession of the second half, marching 75 yards on seven plays to make it a two-score game. Gordon again hit Driscoll on a go-route down the sideline for 38 yards into Milford territory and then found Will Davis for another 11 yards. Three plays, including two Gordon keepers, later, Gordon was able to scramble and keep a play alive before finding a seam for a seven-yard score.
The Milford offense had to try and speed up, focusing on the spread formation and the passing game to try and cut into the lead, but that also played right into the strength of the Franklin defense – its secondary.
“With a two touchdown lead, you sort of take war off the table,” said Bain about Milford’s run-first set. “Our strength of the defense is our speed…whereas the war is what they do best and they can dictate to an opponent. To get them out of that was a big step in the second half.”
Milford’s junior quarterback Colby Pires completed three of his four passes in the first half, but with the Panthers dropping back into coverage then he was only able to complete two of 14 passes in the second half. Driscoll and Nally both broke up passes in coverage and Nolan McLaney was able to bat a pass down at the line of scrimmage.
“We had the clock against us and sometimes when you’re down two scores you try to speed things up a little bit,” Vizakis explained. “It was frustrating because we just couldn’t hit anything over the top.”
Franklin’s success defending the pass was largely done without getting much pressure on Pires. Adam McMorrow had the only sack of the game for the Panthers and it came on Milford’s possession.
Franklin made it three straight possessions with a touchdown and sealed the win before the end of the third quarter. The Panthers went 57 yards on 11 plays, including a 40-yard pass from Gordon to Driscoll. On third and goal from the six, Gordon took a keeper to the left side and snuck inside the pylon with a leap over the goal line.
Parker Chevrant made it three for three on extra points for a 21-0 lead.
Bain said, “We do spend some time talking about scramble drill and Nick’s able to that. It was a great night for the boys.”
“They run the spread very well,” Vizakis said. “Their quarterback runs the ball very well and we’ve just got to stay in our assignments, stay disciplined.”
Franklin (2-0) will open Kelley-Rex division play next Friday night at Alumni Field against Mansfield. Milford (0-2) will look for its first win when it starts Davenport division play with a visit from Canton.