MANSFIELD, Mass. – The first game back in September was a surprising shootout, but the rematch in the pouring rain on Friday night at Alumni Field was more of what has come to be expected from battles between Mansfield and King Philip.
Defense was the story of the Div. 2 South final. The Hornets scored a touchdown on their opening possession but were held off the board for the remainder of the game, while the Warriors were held without a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter.
King Philip came away with a hard-hitting 10-7 victory over its division rival, securing its third straight trip to the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
“There’s playing teams and then there’s playing Mansfield,” King Philip coach Brian Lee remarked. “You know what you’re going to get and it’s just how are you going to move the ball when they’re big and mean and tough and we’re just trying to find a way.”
Mansfield took the lead midway through the first quarter, taking advantage of a short punt to score its only touchdown of the game.
After a three-yard punt, the Hornets got the ball at the KP 37 but then backed up 10 yards on a pair of false starts. On third and 15, Aidan Sacco was able to pull the ball down and scramble for 16 and a first down. Two plays later, Sacco again found space to run and rumbled in untouched for a 16-yard score.
The ensuing kick was fielded at the one by Aidan Bender, but he returned it 47 yards out to midfield. The Warriors were unable to make it count, but the defense got the ball right back.
KP forced a Mansfield three-and-out and regained possession inside Hornets territory. Ryan Halliday (27 carries, 96 yards), with help from a defensive holding call, got the ball down to the 21, but Mansfield held firm and forced a 38-yard field goal from Cole Baker that cut the lead to 7-3.
Mansfield had a chance to add to its lead before halftime when it go the ball back at midfield. The drive started poorly, as Sacco was sacked by Halliday and Max Armour, but a personal foul following an incomplete pass gifted the Hornets 15 yards and a first down. Sacco then hit Cincere Gill for 20 yards down to the KP 18, but two plays later Gill fumbled and Bender recovered for the Warriors.
“When they didn’t score before the half, I thought we were okay,” said Lee. “We couldn’t have played any worse offensively and made some mistakes on defense, but if we could get into the half and make our adjustments and only be down four I thought alright that’s KP football, we’re fine.”
The third quarter continued the trend where defenses were in control of the game. Even without Vinnie Holmes at linebacker, Mansfield was getting big plays from Chris Copponi and T.J. Guy. KP was getting typically strong performances from Armour and fellow linebacker Jack Webster to stymie the Mansfield offense.
The score stayed the same heading to the fourth before KP finally got something going on the offensive side of the ball. The Warriors ate up six minutes with an 11-play, 51-yard drive to take the lead.
“We started just grinding it out, pounding it,” said junior quarterback Robbie Jarest about the go-ahead drive. “The line was doing really well, we were just grinding it out.”
Halliday continued to be the workhorse back, grinding out yards, including a two-yard burst to convert a fourth and one. On second and six, KP called for a bootleg from Jarest and he bounced it to the outside for 11 yards. On third and six, Jarest scrambled and managed to dive ahead for nine and another first down to the Mansfield 12.
On the next play, he hit David Morganelli just outside the goal line for a first and goal from about a foot, which Jarest finished off with a sneak.
The Hornets had 5:38 on the clock to try and get back the lead. Back-to-back nine-yard gains by Gill and Joe Plath got the ball out to the 43. After an eight-yard gain by Khristian Conner pushed the ball into KP territory, Mansfield took a chance downfield. Sacco tried to squeeze a pass in down the middle but it was picked off by Deric Casado at the 16.
On third and eight, again KP turned to its quarterback on a bootleg and Jarest weaved his way through the Mansfield defense for nine yards and a dagger first down that sealed the win.
“Robert gave us a little wrinkle at the end that was just enough,” said Lee. “That’s kind of what we do at KP, just enough. He’s really done a great job stepping up, taking the coaching, and I’m really proud of his efforts.”
No one was quite sure what to make of this KP team at the start of the season. With no returning starters on offense, this didn’t seem like a Warriors team that could make it back to the state title game, but here they are again booking a trip back to Gillette Stadium with eyes on a three-peat.
“It’s a very different team and it’s presented challenges along the way but they still have the same theme, which is keep believing, keep working,” Lee explained. “The one thing that stayed from the last two years is their work ethic and their belief that they can pull it off.”
He added, “We have heart, we have guts, we have teamwork, and we use it on this team better than anybody. Anybody can be a hero on a different play.”
King Philip (8-2) will face Franklin on Thanksgiving Day and then take on North champion North Andover in the Div. 2 title game. Mansfield also finished the season at 8-2 and will finish its season with its Thanksgiving Day rivalry game against Foxboro at Fenway Park.
But the story of the night ended up being Scituate’s defense.
The Sailors pitched a shutout, limiting Canton’s offense to just over 100 yards and six first downs, to earn a 21-0 decision and the D5 South title, the first in program history.
“Our guys were prepared, motivated, and fired up to play defense tonight,” said Scituate head coach Herb Devine. “We did a great job all night long playing defense. We tried to take away what they wanted to go. We knew [Johnny Hagan] and [Kyle] Fitzgerald are just great players so we tried to limit what they do. Our defense played outstanding.”
Scituate came into the game averaging over 40 points in its two playoff games, putting up an impressive 57 points in a semifinal win over Holliston. While Scituate’s defense gave up a total of 61 points in its first two playoff games, its defense allowed a total of 69 points all of regular season (including 35 to Duxbury).
“They gave us a lot of trouble,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “We have so many playmakers…maybe we leaned on them too much and got away from the fundamentals. We just didn’t execute at a high level. I tip my hat to Scituate, they had a good plan, their kids played good, and they are a good team.”
The Sailors flexed their offensive muscles early on, taking the first drive of the game down the field for a score. It turned out to be Scituate’s second longest drive of the game as they moved 77 yards on eight plays to take an early lead.
Facing a third down early in the drive, Scituate quarterback Aidan Sullivan (10/15, 219 yards) completed a 10-yard pass for a first down. The Sailors didn’t face a third down the rest of the drive and Will Sheskey (24 carries, 135 yards) punched it in from 5 yards out for a 7-0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
The next three series – two from Canton – resulted in punts, but the Bulldogs nearly had a chance to change the game. After punting, Scituate tried to field the kick on the bounce but a nice play from the Bulldogs knocked the ball free. Canton had two shots at it – one player diving on top but the ball jumping free, and other a chance right before the sideline – but neither player could get a hold of the ball in the pouring rain and it went out of bounds, keeping possession with Scituate.
The Sailors made to take advantage of the lucky bounce and needed just three plays to find the end zone. On second on 5, Canton brought a lot of pressure but Scituate had the perfect play call on as Sullivan dumped a screen pass off to Sheskey and he went virtually untouched for a 63 yard touchdown, giving Scituate a 14-0 lead with 9:35 left in the second quarter.
“We knew they like to blitz in some situations and our quarterback absolutely made a great read.” Devine said. “It can be either a little hitch route or a screen and he made the right read and Sheskey went for the touchdown.”
Canton responded with its best drive of the opening half. A unsportsmanlike conduct penalty helped move the ball 15 yards, and Johnny Hagan (86 all purpose yards) hit Gersom Rivera for an 18-yard gain to the Scituate 34-yard line. The Dogs had a chance to complete a pass down field but the receiver was held, giving Canton first and 10 at the 22-yard line.
But a false start, a two-yard rush, and a run for no-gain put the Dogs in a 3rd and 13 situation at the 25-yard line. Hagan tried to make a play but was intercepted at the goal line.
Scituate nearly tacked on another score before half, driving all the way down to Canton’s 23-yard line but Ben Seaman came up with a big sack on third down and Canton forced an incompletion on fourth, keeping the deficit at 14-0 heading into half.
A holding call on the first play of the second half put Canton’s offense in a whole and it was forced to punt quickly thereafter.
Canton’s defense continued its strong play on Scituate’s ensuing drive. The Sailors got inside the red zone, all the way down to Canton’s 8-yard line. But Seaman came up with a big sack on third down and David Allen broke up a pass on fourth down to keep the Sailors out of the end zone and the lead at 14-0.
The Bulldogs offense moved the ball forward on seven straight plays, but faces a 4th and 3 at their own 40. With little time left in the third quarter and a two-score deficit, Canton went for it but Hagan’s pass was picked off just over midfield.
Scituate killed a lot of the remaining time with its next drive, needing nine plays to cover 47 yards. It was’t until a 1-yard sneak from Sullivan on fourth down that Scituate added its third touchdown of the game to go up 21-0 with 8:46 to go.
“The defense gave us a chance,” Bohane said. “Ultimately we didn’t do enough offensively. We just never got that rhythm that we need so badly. We didn’t find it today. The defense kept plugging away even though they gave up an early score which has been a little bit of an Achilles heel. We needed to make plays offensively and we didn’t but they didn’t make it easy for us.
“We just didn’t find any consistency, we never got comfortable in our offense. We didn’t find a play or two that we can hang our hat on but credit to Scituate, they didn’t give us an inch on offense.”
Canton football drops to 8-2 with one game left on Thanksgiving against rival Stoughton. While the future for the Bulldogs looks bright with the majority of its lineup made out of juniors, Bohane stressed how important this senior class has been to this season.
“Scituate played in this game last year, it shows.” Bohane said. “But I can’t get beyond the fact our seniors really poured their heart and souls into this season, into the playoffs, everything. Right now I really feel for this guys. It’s a learning experience for sure but it’s so difficult for the seniors.”
The Hornets might not have gotten the stop in terms of yardage, but they got something even better.
Going for it on fourth and one from its own 34-yard line, Barnstable quarterback Matt Petercuskie (12/38, 116 yards) lined up under center, snapped the ball and appeared to get enough of a push for a first down. While fighting for extra yards, the QB extended the ball out.
Mansfield senior linebacker Philip Dinov alertly punched the ball free and it popped right into the arms of junior Michael DeBolt (eight carries, 48 yards), who took off for a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 21-10 Hornet advantage with under nine minutes to go.
It turned out to be the biggest play of the game and the Hornet defense didn’t break the rest of the way as top-seeded Mansfield earned a 28-10 victory over the fifth-seeded Red Raiders.
“I thought the defense played lights off,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “The fake punt was foolish on my part but we only gave up the three which helped. In the second half, the defense was lights out. Makhi [Baskin], obviously the picks were gigantic momentum changers. The offense played well enough to score enough points. That’s a good football team that we just beat. We were a little shorthanded tonight so it was a gutsy win. I think tonight it was the defense stepping up against a really good offensive team that had 35 points last week, this was a defensive win tonight.”
DeBolt finished with three touchdowns with his two others coming on the ground. The junior missed the first three games after suffering an injury in preseason. He’s played on the defensive side of the ball since Week 4 but didn’t start on offense until the final game of the regular season.
“It feels great to be back out there,” DeBolt said “I was really down after I got hurt in preseason but I’ve worked my way back here. On that fourth down, there was a big pile and Phil Dinov just punched the ball free. It popped up right to me so I just took off, I didn’t hear a whistle so I kept going.”
While Mansfield extended the lead with the fumble recovery, the Hornets put the game to rest with its next defensive series.
Facing another fourth down, this one from its own 41-yard line with six yards to gain, Petercuskie dropped back to pass but Mansfield junior Makhi Baskin read it perfect, jumping the route and picking off the pass. Baskin took the return 40 yard down to the Barnstable 14-yard line.
Two straight runs from DeBolt resulted in a score, the second one from 3-yards out and the Hornets suddenly had a 28-10 lead with 5:40 to play.
“Turnovers turned the game,” Redding said. “Our defense came up big and forced those turnovers and our first unit didn’t turn it over. “We were expecting a sneak [on the previous drive], we were blitzing in and they still got a push, it looked like he was fighting for extra yards and coughed it up. That’s a huge turnaround right there. And then we got the interception on the next series.”
The last 5:40 took 30 minutes to play but the Hornet defense didn’t break at all and kept the Red Raiders out of the end zone despite a pair of trips inside the red zone.
Though Mansfield’s defense had a terrific game, it had a slow start as the Red Raiders came out firing. The visitors marched 75 yards on 16 plays, converting a fourth down inside the red zone on a questionable catch call. Barnstable’s hurry up offense and quick screens gave Mansfield some issues, and Petercuskie used a QB option keeper to score from five yards out to make it 7-0 just 5:03 into the game.
Mansfield’s offense had an important response right away, scoring on its opening drive to tie the game. After DeBolt had a nice return, the Hornets used their ground game to move the ball. After quarterback Aidan Sacco (14 rushes, 110 yards) had a couple of nice gains, DeBolt punched it in on third down from two yards out to make it 7-7 with 2:05 left in the first quarter.
After the opening drive, Mansfield’s defense did a nice job adjusting to the Barnstable offense, which Redding credited to defensive coordinator Mark DeGirolamo. The Raiders’ next two possessions ended in three-and-outs and negative yardage.
“Coach DeGirolamo talked to the secondary about how to line up against the quads. We didn’t practice it all week and he did a good adjustment to handle their quick little screen game. We were able to double Conner Baldasaro, took their best receiver out of the game and the key was we covered the other guys one-on-one and did a great job there. Coach DeGirolamo gave them a lot of different coverages, their QB is so smart so we tried to throw a lot of looks at him and we might have thrown him off a little bit.
Mansfield’s offense didn’t fair much better as they saw a 33-yard field goal attempt go wide right on their second drive. And on their third drive, facing fourth and 5 from its own 44, the Hornets elected for a fake punt call and came up a half yard short with 1:15 to go in the half.
That was just enough time for Barnstable to get down field and Jonathan Silva hit a 25-yard field goal as time expired to give the visitors a 10-7 advantage at half.
Similar to its first drive of the first half, Mansfield’s offense had a key opening drive to the second half. The Hornets orchestrated a 10-play, 59 yard drive to take the lead for the first time in the contest.
After yet another good return from DeBolt on the kickoff, the Hornets converted a first down n a carry from Vinnie Holmes at midfield, only for an unsportsmanlike penalty to knock them back 15 yards. Although Sacco ran for 11-yards, the Hornets were called for holding on the next play and faced 1st and 20 from their own 39 yard line.
Sacco ran for four yards, hit Danny Rapoza for a key 10-yard gain and then jolted seven yards past the marker for a first down.
DeBolt followed with a 19-yard run and then Holmes took one up the middle, breaking a tackle and looked like he was about to fall into the end zone for a touchdown. But the ball was poked free and rolled into the end zone. A handful of players jumped on it but it was Holmes that somehow got up and jumped on the ball for a touchdown.
With Mansfield leading 14-10, the teams traded punts to finish out the third quarter, setting up the next drive where DeBolt had the fumble return.
Now Mansfield football turns its attention to the D2 South Final, where it will host rival King Philip. The third-seeded Warriors took down Natick, 17-7, to advance to its third straight sectional final. The teams met back in September at Alumni Field with Mansfield prevailing, 28-27, after KP’s two-point conversion attempt in the final minute came up empty.
“I asked them what could be better than beating KP twice in one season?” Reading said of his brief postgame comments to his team. “They did it to use last year and now we have a chance to do it to them. I think it’s great for our league that the two best teams can make it to the final and have an all-Hockomock League final with the winner going to Gillette, it just shows how good the league is.”
The D2 South Final between the Hornets and Warriors is scheduled for a 7:00PM kickoff at Alumni Field on Friday.
DUXBURY, Mass. – For the fourth straight year, perennial Div. 3 powers North Attleboro and Duxbury squared off in the playoffs. After the Rocketeers dominated the 2017 matchup, on their way to a Super Bowl appearance, the Dragons were out for revenge in the South semifinal on Friday night at Raymond Chandler Field.
In a game between two strong programs that know each other well, the little things can be decisive. Duxbury converted two North Attleboro turnovers into 10 points, including the decisive touchdown with four minutes remaining, to pull out a 17-14 victory and advance to the sectional final.
North coach Don Johnson said, “When you get into these games against good teams, all it takes is a couple mistakes to swing it. They’re just too good to make those kind of mistakes against.”
The Dragons opened the game by spreading North out with multiple receivers and finding seams in the middle of the line for senior quarterback John Roberts (17 carries, 81 yards) and junior tailback Tim Landolfi (13 carries, 59 yards).
“Our guys were back on their heels a little bit because we were so concerned about the pass,” Johnson explained. “They throw the deep ball so well, so they kept picking us apart with some hitches in there. They get you in your nickel defense and then they can run the ball up inside on you.”
Duxbury moved the ball to the North 35, but on fourth down and inches Roberts’ pass to Will Prouty got caught in the wind and was knocked down by Ryan Gaumond.
North took advantage of the wind on its second play from scrimmage with senior Nick Raneri hitting Andy DeMattio on a wheel route down the North sideline for 38 yards. Raneri, who was also active at the start of the game in his middle linebacker position, then burst through the middle for 16 yards to the Duxbury nine-yard-line.
Three plays later, Brendan McHugh bullied his way in from five yards out for a 7-0 lead.
The lead was short-lived. Duxbury answered with a 11-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game early in the second quarter. Roberts (10-20, 126 yards) was 3-for-4 passing on the drive and also carried it four times, including the six-yard touchdown run.
North’s offense was dealt a blow at the end of the first when Raneri was forced to the sideline with a shoulder injury he sustained while making a tackle. Sophomore Matt Penta jumped in at quarterback, and got off to a good start with 26 yards rushing on his first two plays. The Rocketeers were forced to punt and got the ball back on a fumble recovery by Omar Jasseh but were forced to punt again.
Duxbury’s offense was also struggling and was forced into a three-and-out on a good play by Trevor Hewett and Ryan Clemente, who closed up the middle on a third down draw. The ensuing punt carried in the wind and Jared Penta was unable to pull it in. Duxbury recovered at the North 25.
The Dragons had to settle for a 26-yard Brett Souza field goal but went into halftime leading 10-7.
Raneri tried to come back in the second half and he split snaps with Matt Penta, but the North offense struggled to get any momentum. The defense came out of halftime determined to clog the middle of the line and put pressure on Roberts. Twice North forced a turnover on downs inside its own territory and Clemente was staring to assert himself at the line of scrimmage along with John Kummer.
“I think we did enough on defense to keep us in the game,” Johnson said. “Getting Nick banged up there, we kind of stalled on offense in the second half. We gave them the ball a few too many times because we just couldn’t move it on offense.”
When asked what the Dragons did to limit North’s production, Johnson replied, “They got everyone within five yards [of the line of scrimmage] and, you know, we’re limited in the passing game, so they can gang up on the run and outnumber you at the point of attack.”
With 7:34 left in the game, North took over at its own 38. Penta (6-15, 74 yards) tried to look downfield, but his pass was intercepted by Seamus Johnston. The Dragons made the turnover count thanks to a remarkable catch in the front corner of the end zone by Prouty, who somehow managed to snag possession while on his back after Gaumond got a piece of the throw.
The North bench was incensed because the Rocketeers believed Prouty had pushed off to deny Gaumond an interception.
Trailing by 10 points with 4:19 to play, North put together its best offensive series of the second half. Penta found Jasseh for 25 yards over the middle to the Duxbury 41. On third down and 10, Penta threw the ball away and was gifted 15 yards when Quinn Murphy hit him late. A 16-yard swing pass to McHugh and nine-yard keeper got the ball to the Duxbury 20.
A short pass got a first down but then a pass was dropped in the end zone, Prouty made a diving play to deny Jasseh a touchdown, and Penta was sacked back to the 26. Facing fourth and 18, the sophomore dropped back and threw a strike to Ethan Friberginside the five and junior dove to the pylon for the score.
“Penta is a promising sophomore,” Johnson said. “He’s got playmaker ability and he’s a tough kid. I thought he did a great job in the circumstances to get in there and give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Tyler DeMattio made it 2-for-2 on extra point attempts to get North back within three, but his onside kick attempt was smothered by Duxbury to seal the win.
North Attleboro (6-3) heads into the non-playoff round next week.