The Bulldogs’ defense stuffed the Hawks from the one-yard line on back-to-back plays, securing the team’s third shutout of the season in a 35-0 rout over Milford in whipping winds and constant rain.
With the win, Canton takes sole possession of first place in the Davenport division.
Canton’s defense continued to shine, posting its second shutout in league play. The Bulldogs limited Milford to 53 yards of total offense and six first downs, with the majority of those yards and conversions coming on the final drive of the game with a running clock.
“We were looking at the weather all week and we were thinking it might work in our favor,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “[Milford] has such a good passing attack, they can throw the ball so well, so dynamic. Their slot [receivers] really got our attention. Sometimes our defense, we have to play the physical aspect against good running teams like Stoughton, and tonight we were challenged in the passing game. I’m very proud of the defense.”
The Bulldogs made life difficult for the Hawks, limiting the visitors’ potent passing game to just three completions in its first seven drives. But four of those drives ended in punts, another in an interception, a turnover on downs, and the end of the first half. The final drive, which spanned 66 yards on eight plays, was denied at the goal line to end the game.
“The conditions were advantageous with how we play defense,” Bohane said. “The defense has played any style we’ve asked them to play. I thought the coaches did a good job preparing, mimicking Milford’s offense and how they go about it — and they are very good, very explosive. We have some pretty big guys up front so we thought we’d be able to hold up against the run. It’s tough to get to their quarterback because he gets rid of it so fast, so we felt we had to have a body on a body, just accounted for everyone.”
Milford’s defense was equal to the task to start the game, forcing a turnover on downs on the opening series and then a three-and-out on Canton’s second offensive possession.
But Canton senior Jace Emma read a hitch route perfectly on Milford’s first play of their second series, jumping in front for an interception and giving the Bulldogs terrific field possession.
From there on out, Canton’s offense was unstoppable, scoring on its final five possessions of the game.
Following Emma’s pick, Canton needed just six plays to go 35 yards to take a first quarter lead. Highlighted by a 31-yard dash from senior Kyle Fitzgerald (19 carries, 109 yards), the Dogs punched it on fourth down when senior quarterback Johnny Hagan (11 carries, 56 yards, three touchdowns) kept it himself for a three-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 2:14 left in the opening quarter.
“Jace has been so good for us for so long,” Bohane said. “We lost one of our corners to injury and Jace stepped in. I was telling him that he belongs out there, I think he was up for the challenge. He stepped up and made that pick, and it was all him, he read it right in man coverage.”
After getting the ball back after a quick three-and-out, Canton marched 58 yards on 11 plays to double its advantage. An offside call shortened a fourth down and the Dogs gave the direct snap to Robbie Gallery on a fake punt to move the chains.
Fitzgerald converted another fourth down on the drive, and two plays later Hagan kept it himself and got around the edge to find the end zone for a 21-yard score.
Canton wasn’t done in the half though, with its defense once again forcing a three-and-out while pushing the Milford defense backward.
This time it took just seven plays to go 44 yards for the Bulldogs, After a healthy mix of Fitzgerald, Hagan, and Gersom Rivera (nine carries, 39 yards) on the ground, Canton caught the Hawks’ defense with a pass play as Hagan delivered a perfect pass to Emma on a slant for 22 yards.
On the next play, Hagan kept it himself for another three-yard touchdown, giving Canton a 21-0 lead heading into halftime.
Bohane and his staff were well aware the game was far from over, and with the firepower that Milford possesses, the Bulldogs’ put a big emphasis on the opening drive of the second half.
With its defense on the field, everything continued to go the Dogs’ way. An incomplete pass was followed by a second down sack from junior Matt Connolly, and a tackle from Jahmi Aldin for no gain on third down.
“We felt like the first series in the third quarter was going to be very important,” Bohane said. “The kids came out and played hard. I can’t remember how exactly it went down but we continued to play well on both sides of the ball. Everyone stepped up and contributed, it was overall a good night for us.”
The first offensive possession of the second half didn’t go exactly as the Bulldogs had planned but still ended up in points nonetheless. Hagan dumped a screen pass off for Fitzgerald, and he took it 45 yards to the end zone but the Bulldogs were whistled for a hold.
That meant Canton had to punt for the first time all night, but the Milford returner couldn’t field it cleanly and the Dogs pounced on the muffed ball.
Again, Fitzgerald found the end zone on a rushing play but again, a holding call negated it. Canton took advantage of a personal foul on the Hawks’ defense, as Rivera took it up the middle from three yards out to make it 28-0 with 5:12 to go in the third quarter.
But a couple plays later, Jack Connolly, Lucas Ragusa, and Gallery combined for a big sack on first down. And Ben Guerini delivered a third down sack two plays later, and the Bulldogs forced an incompletion on fourth down to get the ball back.
It took eight plays to cover the 35 yards, the longest play of the drive coming on Rivera’s 13-yard run up the middle as he bounced between defenders for a score and a 35-0 lead with seven minutes left in the game.