NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Even though it’s just Week 3 of the 2016 season and the first divisional matchups of the year, North Attleboro coach Don Johnson didn’t shy away from the importance of Friday night’s matchup with Stoughton.
The Rocketeers and the Black Knights were the two favorites for the title coming into the season, and even though it was just the first week of league games, Johnson told his players to treat it like a championship game.
Johnson’s players answered the call, jumping out to a 21-0 lead before halftime and holding off a late Stoughton charge to pick up a key 34-19 win in the first Davenport game of the year.
“You know what it’s like, you only have five league games so every game [counts], if you lose one you could be out of the hunt in our league,” Johnson said. “We really had to approach it like it had championship implications and I was happy to see the kids step up in that situation.”
Senior Kyle McCarthy emerged as the star on the night, making plays as a wide receiver, running back and even as the back up quarterback. McCarthy accounted for over 150 yards of offense, rushing for a team-high 134 yards on the ground on 16 carries while hauling five catches for 39 yards.
“Our coach told us this was a championship game and we had to approach it as a championship game,” McCarthy said. “We came out and played well so it was fun for us.”
“He’s just a playmaker for us,” Johnson said of McCarthy. “He’s on defense out there, he’s doing everything out there. He can play quarterback, he runs the ball hard. He’s kind of our jack of all trades, the heart of the team.”
The Rocketeers wasted little time getting on the board, taking the opening drive 71 yards on 10 plays, converting on third down three times – a Bobby Mylod 14 yard catch, a 21 yard run from McCarthy and a 16 yard catch from Nick Rajotte. – before junior quarterback Chad Peterson hooked up with senior Hacmoni Cuevas for a 17 yard touchdown to go up 7-0 with 6:59 left in the first.
Stoughton was forced to punt on its first drive but both teams turned it over on downs on their respective second drives. It took North just five plays to span 65 yards on its third drive with McCarthy rattling off 14 yards, Peterson hitting Rajotte for 15 yards, McCarthy scampering for 16 more yards and two plays later, Peterson hitting Cuevas over the middle in the end zone for an 18 yard strike, putting the Rocketeers up 13-0 with 5:55 left in the second quarter.
North’s offense wasn’t done, getting the ball back after forcing a three and out from the Black Knights. This time, North used seven plays to go 68 yards, highlighted a 26 yard pass from Peterson to Mylod to Stoughton’s 25, with a penalty tacked on after to bring the ball to the 12 and a half yard line. Three plays later, Rajotte darted up the middle for a 5 yard touchdown and Peterson hit Mylod in the flat for the two point conversion to make it 21-0.
“We thought it was really important for us to get our offense moving and control the ball a little bit and keep it out of their hands,” Johnson said.
The Black Knights got some momentum back, needing just 1:19 on their next drive to get into the end zone. Sophomore Evan Gibb took over at quarterback on the drive and made an immediate impact.
After a 16 yard scramble on second down, Gibb hit Izon Swain-Price on the right sideline and the senior broke a tackle and raced into the end zone, bringing the Knights within two scores at 21-6.
Stoughton punted to open the second half but forced a turnover on downs from North to get the ball back. On the second play of the drive, Gibb broke free of the pocket and raced down the sideline for a 42 yard gain. Five plays later, including two runs from Justin Ly and a completion to Ryan Sullivan, Gibb somehow broke free of a group of players to race in for a 13 yard touchdown, bringing Stoughton within striking distance at 21-12 with 2:08 left in the third.
“We hadn’t seen [the quarterback change] from them,” Johnson said. “But our primary concern stopping their run game which I think they did. We really weren’t prepared for what they would do after that, they hadn’t played [Gibb] very much and we thought [Dave Cellucci] threw the ball pretty well too. We knew they had a spread pass package and when Gibb went in, he was much quicker and they moved it and hurt us.”
North Attleboro had an answer yet again, using McCarthy at QB on the first two plays to move the sticks. Jack Connelly was able to sack Peterson on a broken play, setting up 3rd and 12 to start the fourth quarter but Peterson converted, hitting David Engler downfield for a 35 yard gain. A penalty brought North halfway to the goal, and Ryan Sullivan burst up the middle for a 4 yard touchdown, putting North up 27-12.
“Chad was a little shaken up from last week against Feehan. The coaches instituted a package for me to run the ball so Chad wouldn’t have to,” McCarthy said, who said this was by the most snaps he’s taken at quarterback in a game this season. “Chad had such a good season last year so I moved to running back but the coaches created a package with me at QB where I basically run the ball inside, or take some handoffs.”
Stoughton wasn’t done yet though as Gibb worked some magic once again. On third and 10, Gibb escaped some pressure, rolled out to his right and fired to an open Swain-Price for a 55 yard gain. After three plays netted just eight yards, Stoughton was forced to go for it on 4th and 2 from the seven yard line. Gibb rolled to his left this time, hitting Swain-Price in the flat and he raced in for a 7 yard touchdown, making it 27-19.
The Black Knights defense even forced North Attleboro into a punt as the clock ticked under five minutes, but the Rocketeers’ defense did its job, forcing a three and out. From there, North was able to move the chains – and drain the clock. Mylod converted the first third down with a four yard run, and then three plays later, rushed for six yards on fourth down to move the sticks. On the next play, McCarthy darted up the middle for a 22 yard touchdown with 1:24 left, icing the game for North.
“The offensive line got a great push up front. I was just trying to hold onto the ball,” McCarthy said. “On that touchdown, I think I was so small I got lost in the defense and I found a lane and just went through it to find the end zone.”
North Attleboro finished with a 391-297 advantage in yards, including a well balanced attack with 199 passing yards and 192 rushing yards. The Rocketeers were able to hold Stoughton’s rush game in check with the Black Knights’ running backs getting just 20 yards total (Gibb rushed for 84 from the QB spot). North also went 7-12 on third down and 2-4 on fourth down.
“That was the difference today between this game and the King Philip game, we were awful on third down conversions against King Philip,” Johnson said. “I knew it would take us a while to develop, and we still have a while to go, but we’ve gotten better every week so that’s all you can ask for at this point.
“I think this kind of game can give you that boost to give you that confidence and get on a little roll here.”
North Attleboro football (2-1, 1-0) will host Milford (2-1, 1-0) for their final league game at Community Field next Friday at 7:00. Stoughton (1-2, 0-1) will try to bounce back as they hit the road for the third time in four games with a trip to Sharon High on Saturday, October 1st.