CANTON, Mass. – With leading rusher Cam Sanchez sidelined with an injury and facing a short week ahead of Thursday night’s visit from Sharon at WWII Veterans Memorial Field, Canton was searching for different ways of getting into the end zone.
For the first time this season, the Bulldogs found success in the passing game. Canton threw a pair of first half touchdowns, including one on a halfback pass by Jack Albert, and leaned on its defense during a scoreless second half to pull out a 17-6 win over the Eagles that moves the Bulldogs back to .500 on the season.
“We’re trying to find ways to replace Cam Sanchez, and it’s a difficult thing to do when you have someone that dynamic,” admitted Canton coach Anthony Fallon. “The guys are finding their way into different positions. Sometimes you give up some yards and then you can buckle down when you figure it out.”
Canton had good field position to start its opening drive and took advantage, going 59 yards in 10 plays to jump in front. The Bulldogs had good balance, with Colin Albert (15 carries, 59 yards), Jack Albert (nine carries, 65 yards), and quarterback Robert Botelho all getting positive yards on the ground.
After a false start on fourth and two back the Bulldogs up to the Sharon 33, Botelho (7-for-13, 77 yards) rolled out to his left and hit Vincent O’Brien in stride down the near sideline for the touchdown. It was Botelho’s first career touchdown pass.
The Bulldogs would started their third possession from their own 42 and again made the good field position count for points. Botelho found Jack Albert for a 23-yard gain down to the Eagles 26. Bahsor Mahn gained six on third and five down to the 15-yard-line, but the drive stalled there. Will Keefe made sure Canton didn’t leave empty-handed, kicking a 33-yard field goal.
Sharon needed a spark and found some life offensively on the ensuing possession. Kiran Chandrasekaran (11-for-20, 174 yards and 14 carries for 55 yards) rushed for 29 yards on a keeper to get the ball into Canton territory. On first down from the 20, Chandrasekaran fired a strike on the far sideline to PJ McManus. The extra point was blocked, but the Eagles cut the lead to 10-6.
It was Canton’s turn to answer and the Bulldogs needed only three plays to get back in front by double digits. Andrew Butler’s kickoff return out to the 44-yard-line set up the drive. Jack Albert took a toss for 11 yards to the left. Butler went around the right side for 13. Fallon called for a little trickery, as Albert took the toss to the left, pulled up, and lofted a perfect pass to Butler for a 32-yard score.
“A little jet pass from Mr. Albert,” said Fallon. “We ran that in practice and this afternoon I think he was all geared up and wanted to run it and we thought it was good time to do it. Senior night, you want the win but you also want them smiling and having fun and that was part of the fun tonight.”
The visitors had more than two minutes left in the half and tried for an instant response. A 40-yard pass to Owen Conway got them into Canton territory and a personal foul call added 15 more yards down to the 19. Carson Campbell made a big play to drop Ike Ogbannanze for a five-yard loss, on third down Ryan Richards sacked Chandrasekaran, and the Bulldogs forced a turnover on downs.
“Kiran had a great game,” said Sharon coach Dave Morse. “He helps us with both the run and the pass. The receivers did a great job with a couple of big catches. We’re moving it but then we’ve got to finish it off. It’s been the story of the last couple of years and the next three weeks we’ve got to figure out how to finish.”
Late in the third quarter, Canton went for it on fourth and three at the Sharon 41, but Albert was stripped of the ball and Jack Murphy jumped on the fumble for the Eagles. Nico Marrero picked up nine yards to convert a third and five and Chandrasekaran hit Ogbannanze for 13 on a fourth and six.
Sharon got as far as the Canton 24 but a Campbell sack on fourth down put an end to the drive.
“We really killed ourselves with penalties and field position, so that was the difficult part of moving the ball in the second half,” Fallon explained. “They had couple of sustained rives where we didn’t lock it down until they got deep into our territory.”
After a three-and-out by the Bulldogs, Sharon was on the move again. Chandrasekaran and McManus (four catches, 53 yards) combined for 24 to the Bulldogs 40 and then Conway made a grab down to the 27. A holding call backed the Eagles up but gains of seven, six, and eight yards brought up fourth and one from the 18. Chandrasekaran’s keeper was stuffed for a loss of one.
Penalties were an issue for the Bulldogs throughout the second half and a holding call pushed Canton back to its own eight. On third and 17, Butler came up with a huge play that effectively sealed the win, He took a sweep to the right, cut inside and broke a 22-yard run for a critical first down.
“He did a great job there,” Fallon said of Butler’s run. “He hit the seam really nice and covered up the ball when he had contact too.”
Morse added, “We had some guys up front, all did a great job and the linebackers were getting more aggressive. Defensively, I think we saw the progression we wanted. A couple mistakes and they bit us for it but I was very, very happy with the effort to the football.”