Last year, the Bulldogs ended on a sour note when rival Stoughton came to town and earned an upset win.
Canton wasn’t going to let that happen again.
The Bulldogs (10-1), who won the Davenport division outright this season, capped a historic season with a 30-8 win over the Black Knights (10-1) in the 94th annual Thanksgiving meeting between the neighbors.
It marks just the fourth time in program history the team has won 10 games, joining 1979, 1981, and 1987.
“The kids were disappointed last year, we didn’t play great and Stoughton came to play,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “You see it over there on their sidelines…we had to live with that for a whole year. We didn’t want to let that happen again. I always knew it was important to the program, but that win two years ago and that whole feeling. It was a great day for the program, as is today, and it kind of started this run.
“We have a healthy rivalry. There’s a lot of talk about how the playoffs have taken the luster out of Thanksgiving, but not around here. I know how [Stoughton] values this rivalry, and I know how much we value it. Its two teams with mutual respect. Stoughton has a very good team that is very well-coached. Beating them on Thanksgiving is quite an accomplishment, that’s how we view it.”
Canton scored twice in the second quarter to take the lead and its defense pitched a second half shutout out, holding the Black Knights without a first down for nearly the entire second half.
Not only did the Bulldog defense prevent the Black Knights, who were without star two-way players Christopher Ais and Christian Georges due to injury, from moving the chains after the break, they limited the visitors to less than five yards on its first five series of the second half.
“For this program, for our class, this means everything for us,” said Canton senior David Allen, who had a second half touchdown catch. “We’ve won a lot together from when we were young. Getting knocked out of the playoffs hurt but to be able to take this trophy home to end the season means a lot to everyone on our team.
“It’s such a big rivalry. After a loss, you get to think about it but then it’s on to the next game, and especially with Stoughton, there’s a lot of extra motivation behind playing on Thanksgiving against them. We played very well defensively today, and we just had to grind it out on every play.”
After a scoreless first quarter that saw Canton come up with a stop against a goal-to-go situation for the Black Knights, the Bulldogs started the second quarter with 1st and goal from the 10 after a nice run from senior Kyle Fitzgerald (eight carries, 85 yards, touchdown) and 21-yard pass from Johnny Hagan (5-for-15, 99 yards, two touchdowns) to senior Jace Emma.
But similar how to the Black Knights were denied in the opening quarter, the Bulldogs couldn’t solve Stoughton’s defense. Despite getting down to the one-yard line, Stoughton got a good push up front from the likes of Carlvin LaGuerre, Oluwole Fabikun, Jerry Brisson, and Kelven Rodriquez, and senior Jaden McCall and junior Sproul Derolus combined for a huge tackle for loss on third down, and a fourth down pass fell incomplete.
Despite not scoring, the Bulldogs were able to flip field position, and cashed in on its next drive. On the first play from the Stoughton 35-yard line, Hagan floated one down the middle that Fitzgerald went up and grabbed over the defender and battled his way the final five yards for a touchdown. Owen Lehane’s point after made it 7-0 with 8:14 left in the second quarter.
Stoughton’s next drive didn’t go far thanks to a tackle for a loss on second down from Canton senior Jack Connolly, and a sack on third down from senior Lucas Ragusa. A good punt return from senior Gersom Rivera gave the Dogs the ball at the Stoughton 20-yard line.
Two plays later, Fitzgerald took his second straight handoff on a jet sweep and cut right up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 5:39 left in the first half.
“It was a long break coming off the Holliston game, and you always worry if there will be a hangover from that loss,” Bohane said. “There was a couple of days I was a little worried but once we got back together, I could sense it. They are a very mature group, a lot of them play multiple sports and compete all the time. I could tell by the way they were acting that we’d be alright. The coaches did a great job preparing them and the kids came to play today.”
Stoughton responded with its best drive of the game to make it a one-score contest. Senior Clayton Rahaman (7-for-20, 147 yards) lofted one down the sideline that junior John Burke made a nice adjustment to haul in for a 35-yard catch, earning a first down on 3rd and 20.
Junior Jake Queeney got open and drew a pass interference call two plays later, and then moved the chains with an 11-yard catch. Sophomore Anthony Girolamo (11 carries, 30 yards) scampered for 13 yards to move inside the 10-yard line, and two plays later junior Christian Ais extended at the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown.
Rahaman connected with senior Anthony Pizzano for the two-point conversion to make it 14-8 with 1:14 left in the second quarter.
A good return from Rivera and a run from Hagan got Canton into scoring position with under a minute to go, but Ais came up with an interception in the red zone to put an end to the drive.
Neither team moved the ball to open the second half as Canton punted after a three-and-out, and Stoughton did the same after going backward. Field position benefitted the hosts again as they started at the Stoughton 29-yard line. Canton moved into the red zone but a holding penalty pushed them back and Burke broke up a pass in the end zone.
The Bulldogs settled for a 28-yard field goal from Lehane to make it 17-8 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
While Canton’s offense tried to establish itself in the second half, the defense came it plenty of chances. Stoughton’s first four drives all resulted in punts and totaled -14 yards. Its fifth drive didn’t yield any yards and ended with an interception two plays in.
“The defense has been outstanding all year,” Bohane said. “We played great against Stoughton the first time too. We had a couple of lapses but Coach Eckler did a great job with his adjustments at halftime and we really never had any issues with the defense the rest of the way, it was an outstanding performance.”
Stoughton senior Savion Scott put an end to Canton’s next series with a terrific diving interception but the Bulldogs were back in business on their next series. Starting at their own 47-yard line, the Bulldogs needed just four plays to extend the lead.
Fitzgerald sprinted for a 19-yard gain, junior Cam Sanchez took a handoff for six yards, Hagan kept it himself for 20 yards, and Rivera capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown and a 23-8 lead with 1:41 left in the third.
The Bulldogs’ defense picked up a lot of contributions from linebackers James Murphy, Ben Guerini, and Robbie Gallery, as well as linemen Matt Connolly and Nnamdi Onyemelukwe. Senior Vicki Revanche earned time on the offensive line in the fourth quarter.
Canton started its next drive at the Stoughton 33-yard line, and back-to-back runs from Sanchez and Rivera moved the sticks. Back-to-back penalties put Canton into 1st and 26, but Hagan delivered a pass to Allen right to the marker for a first down. Three plays later, Hagan hit Allen on the slant for a 7-yard touchdown and a 30-8 lead.
“When we lost last year, it was tough,” Gallery said. “Throughout the year, we were all looking forward to the Thanksgiving game and getting payback, that’s what it’s all about. It was a good win and it’ s nice to go out on a high note.”
This article was updated on Saturday, November 30th to include the 1987 Canton team as a 10-win team.