By Ryan Lanigan, Editor-in-Chief
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Ordinarily one single punt doesn’t get too much attention, let alone be the play of the game.
But Mansfield’s 9-8 win over Attleboro at Tozier-Cassidy was no ordinary game.
“This was a hard one to describe,” Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said.
Facing 4th and less than a yard at their own 43 with a one point lead and 1:12 left in the game, Redding had a choice to make.
With the way his defense had been playing, Attleboro’s big goal line defense on the other side of the ball, and full trust in his long snapper and punter…Redding elected to punt.
The decision worked out perfectly for the Hornets. Senior Connor Finerty’s snap was on the money and sophomore Hunter Ferreira booted a 50 yard punt. The kick eluded Attleboro’s return man and a kind bounce pushed the ball all the way to the Bombardiers’ 8 yard line.
Attleboro was forced to go 92 yards in one minute without any timeouts but the Hornets defense didn’t allow anything deep and the Bombardiers’ last second Hail Mary fell incomplete.
“The punt may have been the play of the game,” Redding said. “We really did not want to punt. You worry about the snap, them blocking it but then on the other side if you don’t get it, and [Attleboro] is big up front, you give them the ball on your own 43 with plenty of time. It was one of the plays of the night, the punt sailing, getting the bounce and now they have a 90 yard field. I think a lot of people were wondering if I should go for it but thank God we got the punt in and got yardage out of it.”
With Mansfield’s defense having allowed just one touchdown so far in the game, Redding was confident in his defense.
“We felt pretty good,” Redding said about his defense. “We had bent a little and they hit some short passes but they hadn’t got their run game going. They hadn’t gotten anything downfield and we have a pretty experienced secondary. Mark DeGirolamo, our defense coordinator, did a good job of mixing zone and man and blitzing. So we felt like it was better to give them a 70 yard field than a 40 yard field. We hadn’t run the ball that well and they went with their goal line defense, it looked even tougher to get that yard up inside. Fortunately the punt paid off.”
As good as Ferreira’s punt was at the end of the fourth quarter, the sophomore hauled in five catches for 127 yards, including a pair of big catches on each of Mansfield’s scoring drives.
“Unbelievable catches in traffic,” Redding said.
The first came on Mansfield’s second possession of the game. After Attleboro had an interception on the first series, Mansfield’s defense responded by getting the ball back when Attleboro could only get one yard on four plays.
The Hornets tried a little trickery on first down as junior Brian Lynch took the handoff but instead of heading up field, set his feet and launched a pass up field. The pass was a little under thrown and looked like Attleboro was going to come away with its second interception in as many series but Ferreira was able to leap and snag the ball away for a 29 yard catch.
Three runs got the Hornets inside the Attleboro 10-yard line but the Bombardiers defense came up with a big stop on third down. Diogo DeSousa drilled a 21-yard field goal with 4:34 left in the first quarter.
Attleboro’s offense didn’t take long to answer back. Midway through the drive and facing a 4th and 1 from Mansfield’ 34, Attleboro coach Mike Strachan went for it and this time quarterback Tyler McGovern pushed through the pile on the sneak for the first down. Two plays later, McGovern handed off to senior Brendan Nunes, who sprinted to the left side and then used a sweet cut back and hit an open lane for a 33 yard touchdown.
Instead of a traditional extra point, Attleboro lined up with their offensive line set up on the far right. With Mansfield trying to figure out the play, Cam Furtado took the snap and outraced defenders to the left for the two-point conversion to make it 8-3 with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
Attleboro got possession back on the ensuing kickoff and Elijah Lewis’ chip shot down the near sideline was recovered by Furtado. But a penalty and a pair of negative plays, the latter an 11 yard sack from Tyrone Pascual, set Attleboro up for 3rd and 32.
The Hornets had a charge late in the first half, moving the ball all the way to the Attleboro 20-yard line but an interception on a lob pass into the end zone brought the first half to a close.
The Bombardiers moved the ball close to the Mansfield red zone to open the second half but a pair of pass break ups by the Hornets’ secondary put a stop to it. On first down, McGovern’s pass was broken up by Connor Driscoll in the end zone. On 3rd and 7, Joe Bukuras got his hand in the way of another pass. A holding call made it 4th and 17 and Mansfield was able to come up with the stop.
The stop was key as Mansfield took their first possession of the second half all the way to the end zone for their lone touchdown of the game. A 16 yard rush from Nick Graham got things going.
Ferreira came up big once again for Mansfield. On 3rd and 11, Mansfield quarterback Anthony DeGirolamo eluded a would be tackler and stepped up into the pocket to fire 17 yard pass to Ferreira to keep the drive alive. Then on the next play, DeGirolamo floated one up to the sophomore. It looked as though Attleboro’s defense had position on the play but Ferreira seemingly climbed an invisible ladder and ripped the ball away for a 39 yard completion.
“I think Anthony really stepped up tonight, he made some big passes,” Redding said. “A couple of big third down conversions. I think on the field goal drive he hit one, and on the touchdown drive he hits one. If he doesn’t hit those, we may get shutout. So I think he took a big step forward in a game where we needed to hit some passes.”
Two plays later, Lynch punched it in for a two yard score. Mansfield’s two-point rush came up short to make it 9-8 with 2:51 left in the third.
Both teams trade punts before Attleboro got inside Mansfield’s 30 yard line on the next drive. Facing 4th and 18th, Strachan went for a field goal but the 45 yard attempt was short.
Mansfield punted it back and Attleboro once again made it into Hornet territory but four straight incompletions turns the ball over on downs. Mansfield’s next drive ended with Ferreira’s perfect punt.
“These are the games we have to build off of,” Strachan said. “Mansfield’s a very good program. They did a good job and I just thought we missed some opportunities out there. We’ll look at the film and look at what we left out there. We just have to build off of this.”
DeGirolamo finished 6/13 for 122 yards, Ferreira had five catches for 127 yards and Nick Graham had five carries for 45 yards and one catch for 18 yards. Attleboro’s McGovern was 17/35 for 197 yards, Brendan Nunes had 44 yards on 12 carries and Alex Silva had a game-high 10 catches for 129 yards.
With the win, Mansfield improves to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in Hockomock League Kelley-Rex Division play. Attleboro drops to 1-2 and 0-1 in the Kelley-Rex.
“This is a great win on the road,” Reading said. “I think [Attleboro] is a very good football team and they’re going to make a lot of noise. Just finding a way to win tonight was good for a young team that’s still in the process of maturing. This was a good character game, wasn’t a great execution game but a character win.”
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
Ryan Lanigan is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of HockomockSports.com. You can contact him at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and follow him on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.
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