The Rocketeers had a rare sub-.500 season in the Fall of 2019 but with the majority of its roster back, including eight starters on each side of the ball, the Big Red was ready to get back on track as one of the most successful programs in the state.
North Attleboro needed less than a minute to do so.
The Rocketeers scored just three plays into the new season and then really hit their stride on offense in the middle of the game, scoring on four straight possessions between the second and third quarters, to run away with a 41-13 win over host Canton.
After a drop on the first play, North senior Jared Penta (three carries, 65 yards) ripped off a 20-yard run and on the next play, junior quarterback Tyler DeMattio (8/12, 138 yards, touchdown, nine carries, 73 yards, three touchdowns) kept it himself and weaved his way through the defense for a 45-yard score and a 7-0 lead just 53 seconds into the game.
The combination of penalties, self-inflicted mistakes, and Canton’s defense stifled the Rocketeers over their next three drives, including two fourth down stops and one punt, which was set up by a sack from Canton senior Matt Connolly. North even got inside the 10-yard line on their third drive but a botched snap on a field goal attempt ended with an incomplete pass.
But while North’s offense worked out the early season jitters, the Rocketeers’ defense was smothering from the start against a Canton offense that featured new faces in almost every position. Canton went three-and-out on its first five possessions and the sixth came to an end just two plays in for the halftime whistle.
“We looked like a team that hadn’t played in 15 months…some stupid penalties early, procedure stuff, a bad snap on the field goal attempt…it was a lot of stuff that you get out of your system if you play a second scrimmage, which we normally do,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “Once we got into a groove though…we still have a lot of work to do but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”
Even though North’s fifth drive didn’t start in an ideal manner due to a false start and a two-yard loss on first down, the Rocketeers finally clicked into gear. DeMattio kept it himself for a 32 yard gain the move the chains and then hit Matt Penta (three catches, 74 yards, touchdown) for another first to move into the red zone.
Two plays later, DeMattio kept it himself up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 4:37 left in the second quarter.
“North Attleboro has a strong tradition, they are a great program, they have good coaches and good players over there, that’s a solid team for sure,” said first-year Canton head coach Anthony Fallon. “We’re working hard over here, we graduated a big senior class last year, and we’re getting better.”
Canton’s ensuing drive came to an end after a sack from North’s Jared Vacher. The Rocketeers needed two plays to tack on another score by halftime with DeMattio hooking up with Penta down the middle for a 47 yard gain. And then DeMattio kept it to the left and won the race to the pylon to make it 21-0 with 1:07 left in the first half.
A pair of sacks sent Canton backward on its first drive of the second half and North started with good field position after the punt. Helped along by a 15-yard penalty on the defense, DeMattio finished the drive by hitting Penta in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 28-0 with 7:43 left in the third.
“I thought our defense was pretty good because I was worried about it with them having new players, a new coaching staff,” Johnson said. “We basically had half of a scrimmage to go off of and they played their starters for about 15 plays so there was definitely that fear of the unknown but I think the experience in our secondary and our linebackers paid off today.”
The Bulldogs put together their best drive of the game on the ensuing drive, Anthony Botelho (12/23, 160 yards) hitting Vincent O’Brienn to convert a third down, and then connecting with Cam Sanchez down the middle for 41 yards. Carson Campbell had a big lead block on a fourth-down run that allowed Sanchez to get the first down, and two plays later, Botelho scrambled into the end zone. Will Keefe’s extra point made it 28-7 with 2:19 left in the third.
North needed less than a minute to respond as Jacob Silva (six carries, 104 yards) broke free for 11 yards, DeMattio linked up with Jared Penta for 39 yards down the right sideline, and then Silva scampered into space for a 21-yard touchdown.
“[Tyler’s] a hard-nosed tough kid who has had to learn how to play the position,” Johnson said. “If it was up to him, I think he would run the ball every single down and just lower his shoulder and run through people. He’s had to learn how to play quarterback, learn to read coverages, learn when to throw it and when to dump it, and all that stuff. And he’s just getting better every year with it.”
Sanchez capped a 10 play, 77-yard drive for Canton with a touchdown from one-yard out but North blocked the point after. On the ensuing kickoff, North junior Danny Curran took the kickoff the distance to get the touchdown right back for the Rocketeers.
North Attleboro (1-0) is back on the road again next week when it takes on Sharon, who will host the game at Mansfield High. Canton (0-1) hits the road to Easton to take on Oliver Ames.