CANTON, Mass. – The teams were so similar that it was destined to be a close game. Canton and Stoughton both have speed in the backfield, strong offensive and defensive lines, and athletes all over the field. It was like looking in the mirror. So, it came down to turnovers and one drive that decided the game.
Having managed only five first downs to that point, including one drive stuffed inside the Stoughton 10, the Bulldogs took over possession with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. The drive started at their own 35 and nine plays later resulted in the game’s lone touchdown.
Senior quarterback Johnny Hagan (17 carries, 125 yards on the ground and 9-of-18 for 80 yards passing) had the big play on what turned out to be the game-winning drive, breaking free of the Stoughton defense for a 31-yard gain down to the one. Two plays later he got the last yard to give the Bulldogs the lead with just 14.4 seconds to go before halftime of their 10-0 victory in the 100th meeting between the Thanksgiving Day rivals.
“It was definitely a long two weeks,” said Hagan about having a bye last week. “We were itching to play last week, but just to get out here with the crowd and everyone was very fun.”
“I thought they’d be good,” Canton coach Dave Bohane said about his defense, which has now allowed only seven total points in three games. “To beat these guys 10-0, to play well against a very quality team, they maybe exceeded my expectations but we have good speed and some experienced guys. Experience really showed up tonight.”
The Canton defense allowed only three first downs and no points to a Stoughton offense that came into the night averaging 41 points per game. The Bulldogs held talented running backs Christopher and Christian Aiss to a combined 46 yards, while recovering three fumbles. Linebackers Owen Lehane, Lucas Ragusa, Robbie Gallery, and James Murphy were all over the field, making plays from sideline to sideline.
“We play five of them and that’s the strength of our team,” Bohane explained. “There was one play where Ais had the ball and Murphy came out of nowhere. Sometimes James finds another gear on big plays and he was really impressive on that. A lot of kids have had those guys tackled this year and it takes two or three people to bring them down so really credit to our kids tonight getting those guys on the ground.”
On its second possession, Canton came close to making the breakthrough. Hagan had the big play, a 47-yard keeper down the far sideline that got the Bulldogs to the Stoughton 24. They got as close as the two, but Carlvin LaGuerre stuffed Kyle Fitzgerald (21 carries, 64 yards) on third down for a one-yard loss and then Jerry Brisson and Oluwole Fabikun stuffed him again on fourth down.
“We battled,” said Stoughton coach Greg Burke. “They did a good job. Their big player is the quarterback, no doubt. He’s the key and we practiced all week trying to get him but it’s hard to duplicate him.”
It took until its fourth possession for Stoughton to manage a first down. Christian Ais finally got a seam and he broke a 33-yard run down to the Canton 15, but two plays later quarterback Clayton Rahaman couldn’t get a clean hand-off away and Matt Connolly pounced on the loose ball to end the drive.
Burke said, “I thought we hung in there but we fumbled down here and then fumbled down there. Without having the ball, you can’t score. We got the ball back a bunch of times but we didn’t do anything, so back to the drawing board.”
The game seemed destined to be scoreless at the break until the Bulldogs finally succeeded in finishing a drive. It was a huge momentum swing coming in the final seconds before halftime.
“It was huge because it wasn’t really materializing there and then all of a sudden we hit a couple plays and I was like we may put one in here,” said Bohane. “Obviously, we’ve got to work on our short-yardage stuff because that was frustrating to not put them in but Johnny kind of stepped up there.”
He added, “But, we were up 7-0 on Thanksgiving, so that came up a lot in the locker room.”
Canton got the ball to start the second half and marched into Stoughton territory, but stalled at the 36. Bohane elected to punt and David Allen’s effort was dropped at the 10. Murphy dove on top of the fumble to give the Bulldogs new life. A holding penalty denied Hagan his second touchdown, but Canton came away with points on a 27-yard field goal by Lehane.
Hagan said, “That was huge going into half and then coming out third quarter we needed to have a big third quarter. Making it a two-score game was definitely huge for momentum.”
It wasn’t what the hosts were hoping for, but a two-score lead felt insurmountable with the defense continuing to shut the Black Knights down.
The biggest play of the second half for Stoughton was a screen pass from John Burke to Christopher Ais for 15 yards but the ball was pried loose and Lehane recovered. Ais would answer by recovering a Gersom Rivera fumble eight plays later, but by then the clock was winding down and there was no chance for Stoughton to come back.
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