NORTH EASTON, Mass. – It’s been a week to remember for North Attleboro senior quarterback Chad Peterson.
Just days after giving a verbal commitment to play college football at Amherst College, Peterson scored three touchdowns to lead the Rocketeers to a 35-21 win over Stoughton at W.B. Mason Stadium on the campus of Stonehill College.
The win clinches at least a share of the 2017 Hockomock League Davenport title, the third straight league title for the program and Peterson, a three-year starter. The Rocketeers can clinch the title outright with a win against Canton next week. If Canton wins, North can still win the title outright if Stoughton beats Milford.
“He’s a special player,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “I think it’s safe to say we might not have won those three championships if Chad Peterson wasn’t our quarterback. He’s a difference maker.”
With a chance to three-peat on the line, Peterson and the North Attleboro offense put together one of its best performances of the season, scoring 35 points on a defense that had previously allowed just 41 points total through the first five games.
“I thought we had a great week of practice,” Peterson said. “We knew what this game meant, we knew it’d be a physical game. We came out and ran the ball and turned out well for us.”
Big Red’s offense scored on two of its first three drives but a late touchdown from Stoughton in the second quarter kept the teams level at halftime.
But in the second half, after its first drive ended in a punt, Peterson led the offense on three consecutive scoring drives to put the Rocketeers ahead for good.
“I think [our offense] was probably the difference in the game,” Johnson said. “Our offense, particularly up front, taking over the game.”
“It says a lot about the coaching staff and how they approach each season,” Peterson about the three straight league titles. “We graduate guys each year, I’m playing with different players each year but each year guys step up and we just have a championship culture.”
Despite both defensive units being the top two stingiest in the league, both offenses came out strong. A big return from Stoughton sophomore Ajahn Rue set the Black Knights up with good field position. Eight plays later, senior Alex Sjoquist took the toss to the left side and in for a two-yard score and a 7-0 lead.
North’s offense had an immediate response, driving 66 yards on eight plays to tie the score. The Rocketeers didn’t face a third down all drive and junior Nick Raneri (16 carries, 107 yards) punched it in from six yards out to knot it 7-7 with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
The defensive units settled in as Stoughton went three and out and punted, but the Black Knights’ defense forced the same from North.
North’s defense stuffed Sjoquist on third and shot scenario to get the ball back and its offense took the field, driving 63 yards for a score. Stoughton’s defense nearly shut the drive down early but on third and 10, Peterson (7/12, 88 yards) hit Mario Bresko with a beautiful 47-yard long ball to move the chains.
Four plays later, Peterson kept it himself and powered up the middle for a four-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
Stoughton nearly had an immediate response when junior Evan Gibb (4/5, 83 yards) hit Ruben Gonzalez for 42 yards, and two plays later again for 16 yards. The Black Knights got inside the 10-yard line but on fourth down, the Rocketeers sent a blitz and junior Ryan Clemente came up with the big hit and get the ball back.
“I thought he did a great job in his pass rush,” Johnson said of Clemente. “I thought the whole defensive front did a good job in the pass rush, I think that made a difference in the game. And Clemente and some other guys were getting it done on offense too.”
North’s offense stalled, giving Stoughton the ball back with just 25 seconds left in the first half. After a holding call pushed the Black Knights back, they elected to run. Senior Justin Ly took off to the right side, cut back through a gap in the defense and sprinted his way for a 65-yard touchdown just before half, tying the game 14-14.
Big Red moved into Stoughton territory to start the second half but punted, making Stoughton start at their own 20-yard line. Not only did Clemente’s sack at the end of the first half stop Stoughton’s scoring threat, it also knocked Gibb from the game.
Stoughton senior Johnny Medina (8/18, 95 yards, touchdown) took over under center and hit Rue for 11-yards and a first down. But two plays later, Medina was hit as he threw, causing the ball to flutter in the air and Bresko came down with the interception.
“It really didn’t alter our game plan because I think [Medina] throws the ball pretty well too,” Johnson said of the quarterback change. “I was actually watching him in pregame and thinking he was just as good. So when he came in it didn’t really change our game plan, I think our kids just did a nice job of getting to the quarterback.”
North was quick to turn the interception into points. Peterson converted a third down with a pass to Bresko over the middle and five plays later, Peterson kept it himself for a one-yard score and a 21-14 lead with 0:29 left in the third quarter.
Big Red’s defense brought the pressure again, forcing a quick three and out. Starting with a 27-yard scamper from Brendan McHugh (nine carries, 70 yards), North went 69 yards on eight plays to extend its lead to two scores. Nathan Pearce capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown on a jet sweep.
“They just pushed us around up front in the second half,” said Stoughton head coach Greg Burke. “We had to stop them and we didn’t. They didn’t do anything they hadn’t done before. Their big guy, the right tackle [Clemente] they went behind him each time.
“It’s high school, you get down by two scores it can be tough for the kids. Losing Gibb hurt tremendously, but that’s high school. You’re only as good as your next player.”
Stoughton moved the chains once on its next drive, but three straight incompletions resulted in a turnover on downs, and great field position for North. The Rocketeers took just five plays to drive the 33 yards, with Peterson punching it in from two yards out for a 35-14 lead.
Peterson finished with 49 yards on 11 carries, the second most carries by a Rocketeer.
“Chad’s been a little banged up the last couple of weeks so we haven’t been able to do that much with him,” Johnson said. “But when you’re successful running the edge like we were with Raneri and McHugh, defense loosens up and starts to widen and that opens things up for the quarterback running.”
The Black Knights added a score with under a minute to play when Medina hit a wide open Ly up the middle for a 51-yard touchdown.
North Attleboro football (5-1 overall, 4-0 Davenport) has a chance to clinch the Davenport title outright when it entertains Canton at Community Field on Friday night. North Attleboro will likely clinch a home playoff game with a win over the Bulldogs.
“We don’t talk about the playoffs until today, we’ll start talking about it,” Johnson said. “We’ve got our share of the championship, that’s number one. Now we talk about the chance to win the outright championship and here’s what it means for the playoffs. We want to get that home game.”
Stoughton (4-2, 2-2) will try to bounce back when it hits the road to take on the Scarlet Hawks.
“Next week is a big week for both of us for position the playoff,” Burke said. “But we have to play a lot better than we played in the second half today.”