BELLINGHAM, Mass. – Foxboro senior kicker Sam Carpenter couldn’t have put his kickoff any closer to the goal line without it being a touchback.
Following a 67-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Mike Marcucella to classmate Nolan Gordon that brought the Warriors within 14-12 with 5:29 to play in the game, Carpenter booted one that Grafton’s Liam Donagher originally let bounce. Instead of crossing the goal line, the ball stopped bouncing just before the goal line with the Warriors kickoff team barreling down the field.
Donagher was forced to pick it up and return it, and with a handful of Foxboro players chomping at the bit to make a big stop deep in Grafton territory, he was able to get out to the left sideline, got around one final block and then raced all the way for a 99-yard touchdown to restore a two-score lead.
Grafton’s defense forced a turnover on downs on the Warriors’ ensuing drive and had an interception to close out Foxboro’s last chance to secure a 21-12 win to advance to the Division 4 state championship game.
“That just took all of the wind out of our sails and any of the momentum we had built up to at that point,” said Foxboro head coach Jack Martinelli. “Sam kicked the ball perfectly, they were way up and we just didn’t make the play.
“You gotta make plays. Some days you make them, and some days you don’t.”
Foxboro fought back after going down a pair of touchdowns early. The Gators scored on their opening drive when quarterback Casey Jordan linked up with Donagher for an 11-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. The touchdown came two plays after a 34-yard connection between the two.
The Warriors’ second drive of the game came to a halt on an interception from Ryanne Chibani, who returned it into Foxboro territory. Three plays later, Jordan dropped a 26-yard touchdown pass just over the defensive back into Donagher’s arms right inside the pylon to make it 14-0 with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Foxboro’s defense didn’t surrender another score the rest of the game, and the Warriors went to work clawing their way back into it.
A booming punt from Carpenter pinned Grafton at their 2-yard line, and the defense forced a three-and-out. An 11-yard pass from Marcucella to Lincoln Moore jump-started the drive. Grafton thought they had an interception but a roughing the passer call kept the drive alive, but not much longer as Carpenter booted a 39-yard field goal to get Foxboro on the board with 39 seconds left in the half.
Foxboro’s defense came up with a big play on the opening drive of the second half. Grafton marched to the Warriors’ 21-yard line but a throw to the end zone was read perfectly by Kaden Hassett and he came down with the interception for the touchback.
The Warriors capitalized on the momentum as Marcucella hit Gordon for an 18-yard completion to move the sticks on third down. Marcucella sandwiched a pair of passes to Tony Sulham around a 15-yard scamper from Ben Angelini, and the Warriors were quickly in the red zone.
Marcucella got inside the five on an 8-yard keeper but the drive stalled there and Carpenter came out to drill a 24-yard field goal to make it a one-score game, 14-6, with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
Foxboro’s defense bent on the ensuing Grafton drive but didn’t break. Jordan scrambled for 26 yards on a key third down play but later in the drive, the Warriors stuffed a 4th and short sneak attempt to get the ball back.
“I thought we took the run away from them but give them credit, they took what they could do better than what I’ve seen them do, and that’s throw the football,” Martinelli said. “They’ve relied on the run for most of the season and we were able to keep that in check but we weren’t able to stop the deep quick scores in the first half. [Grafton] is a good team but I’m proud of my kids too. Nobody ever expected us to be here but when you get here, you wish you could win it.
“We thought we could do a pretty good job against the run but  hit  a couple of times and those were the early scores. We never really rebounded all the way back, close, but not all of the way.”
After some short yardage carries and completions, Marcucella hit Gordon down the left sideline, just out of the reach of the defensive back, and Gordon raced his way to a 67-yard touchdown. Foxboro’s two-point attempt came up a yard short of the goal line.
Although Foxboro came up short in its quest to reach Gillette Stadium, it was a terrific run from a squad that reached the state semifinals last year but graduated a lot of talent, including one of the best running backs in program history. Martinelli credited his senior class for helping this team – which lost the first three games of the season – for making this run.
“They are the glue that kept everything together,” Martinelli said. “We don’t have a whole lot of them but the ones we had kept the young kids going, kept themselves going. At 0-3, they never hung their heads and they just kept working.”
Foxboro football (6-5) will host rival Mansfield on Thanksgiving Day with the Davenport division title on the line.