With the same goal in mind for this year, the Bulldogs exacted revenge in the opening round of the 2019 tournament with a convincing 34-14 win over the defending state champion Sailors.
After a defensive battle in the opening half, Canton scored four touchdowns in the final 24 minutes of the game and put on another defensive showcase. The Bulldogs blanked the Sailors for three quarters before Scituate scored on a long pass play with under six minutes to play. Scituate’s second touchdown came in the final minute against the second unit.
“It’s awesome [to get revenge],” said Canton senior Kyle Fitzgerald, who rushed for 167 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns. “Last year they beat us 21-0 and go on to win the state championship and handle every other team. This year we knew we had to take care of business. And they aren’t [a typical] eight seed.”
While Canton talked about last year’s matchup, the focus was on fixing what went wrong in that game.
“We didn’t play particularly disciplined [last year], or fundamentally sound,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “We learned some lessons in that game, so it had to be talked about because we didn’t play great. But as far as revenge, motivation…I don’t know if that played into it too much. The kids know [Scituate] pretty well, they have respect for them. They were the state champions last year, they did it with class. I think there’s mutual respect and both teams played hard. Fortunately this year we came out on top.”
Canton’s defense yielded just 20 yards combined between Scituate’s first three drives, all resulting in punts. But the Dogs didn’t have much success on the offensive side either, turning it over on downs on the opening drive and then back-to-back punts.
Scituate’s first drive of the second quarter resulted in yards but not much else as the Bulldogs’ defense forced back-to-back incompletion to force a turnover on downs. The Canton offense was able to connect on its first play on the ensuing drive.
On the second play, senior quarterback Johnny Hagan (4/10, 102 yards passing; 12 carries, 32 yards, two touchdowns rushing) led Gersom Rivera perfectly with a throw down field, going for 57 yards all the way down to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Hagan plunged up the middle for a touchdown. Owen Lehane’s first of four successful extra point attempts made it 7-0 with 5:13 left in the second quarter.
Scituate’s fifth and longest drive of the opening half went for 39 yards on 10 plays but came to an end after failing to convert on third down and fourth down. The Sailors were 1-for-10 on third down in the game and 0-for-4 on fourth down.
A big return from Fitzgerald on the second half kickoff put the Dogs in good position, and four plays later they marched to the red zone. But on the first play from within the red area, Hagan’s pass ended up in the hands of Scituate’s Nate Gould at the 2-yard line.
Canton’s defense came up with a big answer though. After the Sailors moved out near midfield, a bad snap on third down resulted in a fumble and Jahmi Aldin raced to recover the loose ball and get Canton the ball back.
The Bulldogs weren’t able to capitalize and had to punt the ball back, but the Canton defensive line featuring Jack Connolly, Matt Connolly, Nnamdi Onyemelukwe and Aldin, along with linebackers Robbie Gallery, Lucas Ragusa, and James Murphy, continued to apply a lot of pressure.
That pressure paid off as Fitzgerald went up and hauled in an interception on the third play of the ensuing drive.
The turnover proved costly for the Sailors as Fitzgerald took the first play up the middle for a 40-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
“He’s our leader, he’s the guy we lean on as much as anybody,” Bohane said of Fitzgerald. “He was dialed in all week, as were all the kids, but Kyle he really appreciates the big stage. He’s an excellent student, a great kid, very well respected by the kids in the school. He gets it, he gets the magnitude of these games.”
Scituate’s next drive didn’t get off the ground before the Bulldogs’ defense had another takeaway. This time it was Gallery in coverage, keeping pace with his man down the sideline before leaping up and hauling in an impressive interception.
Canton marched 48 plays on nine plays (most plays in a series for the game) to extend the lead. Hagan connected with junior Jack Albert for 16 yards and Fitzgerald had an 8-yard run to make fourth down manageable.
The Bulldogs face fourth and four to open the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get the Sailors to jump offside with a hard count. But after sending a player in motion and going with another hard count, a Scituate defender did cross the neutral zone for a 5-yard penalty and a first down.
Three plays later, Hagan battled his way through a pile for a 2-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 10:26 left to play.
“The offense needed a jumpstart a little bit, we just couldn’t get a rhythm going,” Bohane said of the turnovers helping the offense get going. “I give [Scituate] a lot of credit, Coach Devine does a super job with his players. They were very prepared both last year and this year. We had to digest a lot and we have kids who can make big plays. A lot of guys contributed.”
Scituate’s offense continued to struggle gaining traction with four straight incomplete passes to give Canton the ball back. Five plays later, Fitzgerald was in for his second score on a 7-yard rush, bowling over a defender at the goal line for a 28-0 lead.
Up until this point, the Dogs limited the visitors to 146 yards of total offense. Sheskey, one of the top backs in the area, was held to 12 yards on seven carries.
“We were concerned, debating on how many guys we wanted to bring,” Bohane said. “And we were really concerned about [Will] Sheskey so we had to figure out how to get a pass rush. Coach [Jeff] Eckler, our defensive coordinator, dialed up some creative things. But we’re very fortunate to have Matt Connolly, Jack Connolly, Nnamdi [Onyemelukwe], and Jahmi Adlin, the defensive line did a great job. They created a lot of pressure on their own.
“We have 11 really good defensive players out there, to be honest, we don’t really have a weakness. Our secondary is very good, our linebacker play is outstanding, and our line has a lot of size. I think Coach Eckler does a really good job of preparing them every week. And the offense has helped too.”
The Sailors finally connected on a long pass play on their next series to get on the board. Matt Scibilio (14/36, 232 yards) connected with Nate Gould for a 65-yard touchdown with 5:41 to play.
Canton recovered the onside kick and answered Scituate’s first score with an immediate touchdown of its own. Fitzgerald found space up the middle and sprinted the entire way for a 56-yard touchdown.
Scibilio connected with Gould for a 48-yard touchdown against Canton’s second defensive group with under a minute to go for the Sailors’ second score.
“This one felt a lot better than walking off that field in Scituate last year,” Fitzgerald said. “Obviously it was a much better outcome. Now it’s on to Foxboro, a rematch, it’s one of the only teams that gave us a really hard game. We have to correct a lot of mistakes [from that game], it starts by coming in at 8:00 AM tomorrow morning. So it’s a short memory on this win.”
Top-seeded Canton football (8-0) will now host Hockomock League Davenport division rival and fourth-seeded Foxboro, who knocked off Norton in their opener. The two teams clashed in league play in the second week of league action with the Bulldogs prevailed 26-20. It’s the most points Canton’s defense has surrendered to an opponent this year.
The game is set to kick off from Canton High on Friday night at 7:00.