CANTON, Mass. – Stoughton coach Greg Burke said that his team liked to play “ugly and tough,” but on Friday night at World War II Veterans Memorial Field, against rival Canton, the Black Knights showed flashes of pretty football too, scoring 42 points and totaling four touchdowns of more than 60 yards apiece.
Canton scored a couple of touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, but Stoughton rolled to a 42-22 victory that keeps it just a half-game back of North Attleboro in the Davenport division title race with two more league games to play (North plays Saturday at Sharon).
“That’s Black Knight football right there,” said Burke after the game. “It isn’t pretty, but I like it. I don’t care, I like the way we’re playing. That’s how we play. Our team wants to be ugly and tough.”
The opening kick-off bounced a couple times before the Black Knights covered it at their own 13-yard-line, but it took only one play to get on the board. An inside trap to fullback Justin Ly broke for 87 yards down the Stoughton sideline to make it 7-0. Canton answered back on one play of its own. Tony Harris took an end around and raced 65 yards down the Bulldogs sideline to tie the game.
Two plays from scrimmage, two touchdowns, and only 44 seconds had elapsed.
Canton was forced to punt on its second possession and Thomas Monagle drove Ryan Sullivan all the way back to his own 14, but the senior running back made the catch and then broke up field, splitting the coverage and putting Stoughton back on top with an 86-yard return.
“Personnel-wise we’re not very deep,” said Canton coach Dave Bohane about the punt coverage, “and we try to get guys off the field but even with guys like [Brian] Smith and Jude Albert we’ve had trouble the last two weeks on punt return. We’ll continue to work at it but it’s disappointing and disturbing to see two weeks in a row.”
Burke praised Sullivan for his ability to break open a game. He said, “He’s just phenomenal. He’s not only the nicest kid in America, he makes plays. He was sort of a skinny, little kid before and now he’s getting to be a grown man. His best days are ahead of him.”
Early in the second quarter, Stoughton struck again, this time through the air. On third and 14, sophomore quarterback Evan Gibb (3-5, 84 yards) saw busted coverage on the right side and hit a wide open Izon Swain-Price for a 60-yard touchdown.
“They put a lot of guys up at the line to take away the run and they did,” said Burke, “but you can hit a couple of passes and Izon had a couple long ones, but that’s Izon for you. You’ve got to be able to throw a couple play action and we did.”
Bohane admitted, “We just couldn’t give them easy ones and we did. Usually against Stoughton we make them earn everything. Tonight was a number of big plays…but they’re very good.”
With two minutes left until halftime, the Black Knights extended the lead. A nine-play, 52-yard drive, which included a five-yard scramble and dump off pass from Gibb to Sullivan to convert a fourth down, was finished off by Sullivan from three yards out for his second TD of the game.
While the Stoughton offense was making big plays, the defense was also controlling the game, particularly at the line of scrimmage with Andrew Iverson, Jason Joseph, and David Cellucci in on seemingly every play.
On the third play of the second half, Iverson hit Canton quarterback Dan Dillon to force a fumble that was recovered by Ryan Pierre at the Bulldogs 24. After an offsides call against Canton, Gibb threw his second touchdown of the game, hitting Jack Connelly for a 19-yard score. Cellucci, the holder on extra points, fielded a high snap and ran in the two-point conversion.
“He’s playing good, “ said Burke of Gibb. “He’s a young kid and we just have to protect him; he’s a sophomore, you can’t let him run around. Eventually he’ll be the fourth running back.”
Swain-Price (three carries, 112 yards) put an exclamation point on the game when it looked as though the Black Knights were buried deep in their own end. He cut inside on a sweep to the left and broke free for a 94-yard touchdown that made it 42-7.
Dillon had stepped in for Canton to replace Dennis Ross, who was unavailable for the game, and he was able to get the offense moving late in the fourth quarter. Despite the deficit, the Bulldogs kept fighting and put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive that featured carries from Dillon, Dan Alice, Mike Marino, and Joe Mulkay, who finished it with an eight-yard option pitch for the score.
Alice broke the plane of the goal line for the conversion and Harris leapt above the Black Knights hands team to recover the onside kick. This drive was capped by Dillon, who punched it in from a yard out.
“I’m very proud of Dan,” said Bohane. “He comes down to practice every day and probably knew coming into his senior year that he didn’t expect to play much. It didn’t faze him, plays special teams, takes a lot of snaps, and he’s gotten his opportunity here.”
The win keeps Stoughton right behind current league leader North Attleboro, hoping that the Rocketeers could slip up in the final two weeks of league play. Burke explained, “Who knows what North’s doing, but we’re taking it one at a time and hopefully good things happen.”