You can add Duxbury to both lists.
The top-seeded red hot Rocketeers cruised to a D3 Sectional title, routing the second-seeded Dragons, 35-0, under the lights at Community Field.
It was the third straight year the programs met in the postseason, with Duxbury prevailing in the previous two contests including last year’s sectional final.
“We had a better feel for them this year I think, and the kids worked hard to get here,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “This senior class, they’ve lived through it. They’ve lost to [Duxbury] the last two years, they put an end to our season. So our guys were determined to have a different ending this year.”
North Attleboro advances to the D3 State Semifinal and will play the D3 North sectional champion, which will be decided on Saturday afternoon between Lynn English and Tewksbury.
Big Red wasted little time imposing its will on the offensive side of the ball, taking the opening kickoff and marching 55 yards on 12 plays — all rushing plays — to take an early lead. Brendan McHugh (10 carries, 47 yards, two touchdowns) took his fifth carry of the drive in from three yards out and Geoff Wilson’s extra point put North up 7-0 with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
“I think the offense did a great job,” Johnson said. “We’ve thrown the ball a lot this year, Chad Peterson is a great quarterback. But we felt like we could move the ball against them [on the ground] and to beat them we felt like we had to have good balance. I think establishing that run game early made the difference.”
Duxbury’s offense — which averaged 30 points per game coming into the contest — looked like it was primed to respond, possibly setting up a shootout between the two sides. But after moving into North territory, the Dragons saw what could have been a touchdown dropped over the middle, and then a fourth down passing attempt ruled incomplete on the sidelines.
After focusing on the run on its first drive, North shifted to its pass game as Chad Peterson (6-for-7, 98 yards, touchdown) hit Mario Bresko deep for a 46-yard gain on the second play of the drive. Two plays later, Peterson hit Jonathan James in the flat and the junior charged his way in for an 11-yard score and a 14-0 lead with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
“I thought we came out on offense and executed well, our defense played great too,” Peterson said. “I thought we executed in all facets of the game tonight.”
Once again, Duxbury’s offense moved the ball, this time with a 53-yard drive to get into the red zone. But on the 15th play of the drive, Dragons quarterback John Roberts attempted to throw into the end zone, but Bresko stepped in front of the receiver for the interception and touchback.
Between lengthy drives, North’s third drive of the game stalled in enemy territory and had to punt just as time expired in the first half.
North’s defense had one of its biggest stops of the game to open the second half, forcing the Dragons to go three and out and get the ball back.
The offense didn’t skip a beat though, rattling off its second-longest drive of the game to begin the second half. Peterson completed passes to Bresko and Devin Slaney on the drive and converted a third down with his legs. McHugh converted a fourth and short down, and three plays later, got into the end zone on a second effort to make it 21-0.
“That’s all we talked about at halftime,” Johnson said, “We knew we had to kick to them so we needed our kickoff team to do a good job and then we needed our defense to get the ball back in the hands of our offense, and they did it.”
“We had excellent field position all night, the kickoff team did a good job pinning them deep,” Peterson said. “When you know you have a defense like ours, it takes a lot of pressure off of the offense.”
As if that sequence – a quick three and out from Duxbury and lengthy touchdown drive from North – didn’t put North in complete control, the next sequence did.
On the first play of Duxbury’s ensuing drive, Roberts dropped back to pass in shotgun and fired a quick pass to his left, but North Attleboro senior linebacker Zach DeMattio stepped right in front and galloped his way for an 18-yard interception return.
“Coach Johnson has been talking all week about how us linebackers have been struggling against the past the last couple of weeks so we really had to insert ourselves into the pass coverage,” DeMattio said. “We knew that play was coming so I just turned open and he threw it and I took it.
“We’ve had the last two years in our memories, them beating us at our place two years ago, and then beating as at their place last year. We had our game plan coming in, we knew what we had to do and we just executed on both sides of the ball.”
Duxbury picked a first down on its next drive, but then went four straight plays without positive yardage and turned it over on downs.
“When you get to this point, you better be good on both sides of the ball,” Johnson said. “I was happy to see our defense step up there a couple of times.”
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Nick Raneri took over at quarterback, used an option play and raced his way up the middle for an 18-yard touchdown and a 35-0 lead.
Duxbury once again turned it over on downs and North Attleboro’s reserves, led by Luke Labonte (five carries, 33 yards), ran the rest of the clock off.
“I’m happy for them,” Johnson said. “We’ve had so many teams over the years that have been so close. Sometimes its just a matter of matchups. You run up against a really good team, it might not work out for you that year. So I’m really happy for these kids.”
North Attleboro football (9-1) will find out its opponent for the D3 State Semifinal on Saturday. Lynn English and Tewksbury kickoff at 2:00PM.
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