But #5 Marshfield had other plans, covering 63 yards in 32 seconds and scoring with no time left on the clock to cut the deficit in half. On top of that, the Rams received the opening kick and needed just four plays – plus a face mask penalty – to move to the Mansfield 32-yard line.
But all of Marshfield’s momentum was squashed when sophomore linebacker Nick Marciano sniffed out a quick pass from Rams’ quarterback Jackson Phinney and intercepted the pass, running it back 71 yards for a touchdown to give Mansfield a 20-7 lead with 9:34 left in the third quarter.
Mansfield never looked back after that, running away with a 34-14 win to snap a three-year losing skid to the Rams in the postseason.
“It’s been a tough run against those guys, sooner or later we had to get them,” said Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “This was much closer than the score indicated. Obviously the pick six was a huge turnaround. They’re driving and I think at that point, to tie the thing up. That was a big play in the game.
“I thought we played great in the first half, but then they get the two-minute drill at the end of the half, and it just felt like the momentum shifted, a little bit of air came out of our sails. The pick six kind of got it back in our favor.”
The Hornets’ offense got off to a great start, needing just six plays to cover 69 yards, punctuated by a touchdown just over three minutes into the game. On third down, junior quarterback Damani Scott (7/16, 105 yards, touchdown) hit Khristian Conner on the right sideline and the junior used a nice spin to get free and raced for a 56 yard gain.
Three plays later, Scott rolled to his left and hit Hunter Ferreira in the end zone for a six-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 7:44 left in the first quarter.
“We were excited to see we had [Marshfield] again, we love the competition,” Ferreira said. Ferreira is one of the few three-year starters for the Hornets who has been on the wrong side of the Marshfield rivalry. “They run the ball very well, like King Philip does so it’s a good game to get prepared. It’s like a monkey off our backs to beat them, to stop the streak. Now we have a chance to stop the KP streak.
“It’s so huge to have all these guys step up. Vinnie [Holmes] has been great all season, he’s a missile out there. He plays like a senior out there. And Marciano stepped up big tonight for us He came in to my spot when I moved to Joe’s spot and that was an unreal play tonight.”
Mansfield’s defense was on point from the get-go. The Hornets allowed just two yards on Marshfield’s opening drive (three and out). The Rams ran an incredible 18 plays on their next series, converting three fourth downs before going for it on fourth and goal from the eight. But Mansfield sophomore Vinnie Holmes came flying in with pressure on Phinney, forcing an incompletion plus an intentional grounding call to get the ball back on downs.
The Rams had to punt after five plays resulted in just 23 yards, but Mansfield’s second, third and fourth drives on offense resulted in a punt, turnover on downs, and a punt as well.
Marshfield went backward on its next drive as Holmes stuffed Jack McNeil (eight carries, 49 yards) for a two-yard loss. Then Chris Graham and Ernany Pires combined for a six-yard sack on second down. On the Rams’ ensuing punt, Mansfield junior Philip Dinov came flying in and blocked the punt, tackling the Marshfield punter as well after he picked up the loose ball.
Mansfield took over at the Marshfield 23-yard line. After Holmes converted a 3rd and 10 with a 21-yard burst up the middle, he took a two-yard rush in for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with just 0:37 left to play in the first half.
“We talked at halftime about how we let it get away against King Philip, we can’t let it happen again,” Redding said. “We had to step up and play some defense. It takes a sophomore making a pick six in the biggest game of the year, but that was the play of the game.
“Offensively we did just enough to keep them at arm’s length. They are tough, they have great athletes all over like McNeil and Phinney. They did a great job containing their backs, not giving them the big play.”
The Hornets defense continued its stellar play in the second half. Marshfield’s next three drives in the third quarter totaled just 16 yards, with a pair of punts and a turnover on downs.
“We played great run [defense] all year and this was a big challenge because they have three good backs and the QB can run,” Redding added. “But we’ve been great defensively, [Chris] Capponi and Holmes at linebacker are great and Phil and Hunter at outside backer – we didn’t get Hunter the ball a lot but he made some plays on defense.”
Holmes put the Hornets up comfortably with a toss to the right for a 13-yard score with 9:18 left in the game, and Michael DeBolt iced the game with a six-yard rush up the middle with 3:42 to play.
Holmes finished as the Hornets’ leading rusher, going for 77 yards on 11 carries. Danny DeGirolamo also had a nice night on both sides of the ball, rushing for 69 yards on 11 carries while having a pair of key pass breakups.
“He went from having a role to being the go-to guy [tonight],” Redding said of Holmes. “Give him the ball, he’s going to get yards. He breaks tackles, he stays low…he’s not your typical sophomore and I’m glad we got him around for a few years, he stepped up and played great tonight. Chris [Copponi] was a great lead blocker for him.
“They did a good job taking Hunter out of the game. Damani made some throws when he had to. It was a battle, we had to work for everything we could. But defense played great and we did enough offensively to get points on the board. We’ll take it – Marshfield is a great program and it’s been a battle, and it’s good to finally get them. Now its back to a league rival here in the semifinals, that should be a good one.”
Marshfield added a late passing touchdown with Mansfield’s second unit in on defense.
Mansfield football (7-1 overall, 4-1 Hockomock) advances to the D2 South Semifinal and will face off with a familiar foe in King Philip. The Warriors scored 28 unanswered points in the first meeting, erasing a 10-point deficit to earn the win.
“They’ve beaten us the last three or four years. We thought we played pretty well for three quarters but the fourth quarter, they just wore us down, field position killed us, they made some plays. Now it’s our chance to turn it around and make some plays. I wish it was in the finals but we’ll take it in the semis and hopefully make it happen.
“I just feel like this team has something special, just something about them. When we lost Joe, they just have all stepped up and they find ways to compete and win. So we have to do it one more week and try and survive and move on.”
The Hornets and Warriors are set to kickoff on Friday, November 3rd at 7:00 at Macktaz Field on the campus of King Philip.
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