The Rocketeers delivered in a big way.
Big Red scored on both of its first two drives, combining to run 19 plays in the first quarter compared to just four for the hosts, and seized a 13-0 advantage after 11 minutes of play.
North’s strong start paved the way for a 27-6 win over the Scarlet Hawks.
“That was the plan going in because [Milford] runs that double-wing offense,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “They can take control of the football and clock and really put you behind the eight ball. So we really thought it was important to get ahead and make [Milford] play from behind.
“It was really good to see, I felt good after seeing our offense bring the ball down the field like that.”
After Milford deferred, North Attleboro marched 68 yards on 11 plays on the game’s opening drive. A 23-year gain from Brendan McHugh (13 carries, 79 yards, two touchdowns) and 10-yard rush on fourth down from Nick Raneri (12 carries, 91 yards) helped Big Red move into the red zone.
McHugh took a sweep to the left and walked his way in for a two-yard touchdown. North’s attempt at a two-point conversion was caught but out of bounds.
Big Red’s defense was ready to go to start the game, allowing Milford’s offense to gain just two yards on its first three plays and forced a punt.
Nathan Pearce (63 total yards) started the next drive with a quick 15-yard first down run and two plays later Raneri rumbled his way for 30 yards. Facing a 3rd and 10 from the Milford 22-yard line, senior quarterback Chad Peterson (7/15, 96 yards, rush touchdown) hit junior Ryan Gaumond for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
Three plays later, Peterson kept it himself and took off to the right, sprinting inside the pylon for a four-yard touchdown. Geoff Wilson’s extra point made it 13-0 with 34 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Milford’s offense couldn’t move the ball forward on its next drive and had to punt, but the Scarlet Hawks’ defense came up with a big stop. Patrick Brogioli forced a six-yard loss on a second down play, and after a hold on third down, the Rocketeers were forced to punt.
But once again, North’s defense held Milford to negative yards and the Hawks had to punt.
Peterson connected with Pearce for 25-yards to help the drive get started and then kept it on a QB option, galloping all the way to the one-yard line with a 43-yard rush. McHugh plunged up the middle for the touchdown on the next play and a 20-0 lead with 4:11 left in the first half.
“I think we might have gotten over the hump tonight, I really do,” Johnson said. “Especially the way we performed offensively in the beginning of the game. I think we left some opportunities out there, a couple of guys that were open that didn’t get the ball. But I think we’re pretty close to where we need to be on offense, but there’s still room for improvement on both sides.”
Milford elected to switch its offense, moving from the double-wing to its spread formation, bringing in sophomore quarterback Colby Pires (7/19, 84 yards).
Although the Hawks’ drive stalled before the half, Pires completed a pass to junior Shapel Feaster (five catches, 65 yards) for the team’s first first down.
The home side seemed to feed off the bit of momentum it gained before the halftime break and used it to open the second half with a touchdown. Ryan O’Toole opened the half with a 13-yard run and a first down.
Two plays later, Pires floated one into the end zone and Joyce was able to leap up and make the catch for a 14-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 20-6.
“We made an adjustment to get out of our war set and go spread and I think that worked a little bit for us,” said MHS head coach Anthony Vizakis. “We have to do better and learn from this and regroup from this.
“It was good experience for our sophomore quarterback who I thought stood in there and played very well. When we watch the film tomorrow, we’ll get better from this. It’s there in spurts and the kids battled. We had a couple of negative plays that really hurt us but I think those are correctable.”
Milford’s defense delivered on North’s first drive of the second half, forcing the Rocketeers to punt after gaining two first downs on its first two plays.
Pires hit Feaster for a first down to begin the drive, but North Attleboro’s Zach DeMattio come up with a 12-yard sack on first down, and a host of Rocketeers forced an 11-yard loss on Milford’s next run. Milford had to punt two plays later.
“The same thing happened last week,” Johnson said. “Sharon had the long kickoff return and the defense came out and held them to a field goal, and we blocked that field goal. I think the defense is maturing pretty well and coming up with some big stops.
“We hadn’t seen them in that spread formation very much on film. We really didn’t have a scouting report to go on for that offense. We just wanted to get some pressure on him as best he can. But he’s a good athlete and made some plays.”
North put an exclamation point on the game with its next drive. Taking the rest of the time in the third quarter, and over a minute of the fourth quarter, Big Red marched 68 yards on 10 plays and scored its fourth touchdown.
Peterson hit McHugh for 15-yards and a first down, Raneri had a two-yard run for a first down and then Peterson hit a wide-open Nolan Buckley up the middle for a 20-yard score and a 27-6 lead with 9:59 to play.
North Attleboro (3-1 overall, 2-0 Hockomock) will have its first big test of division play when it hosts Foxboro in a battle of Davenport unbeatens. Milford (1-3, 1-1) will travel to Sharon on Saturday for a 3:30 kickoff.
“The schedule has worked in our favor so far,” Johnson said. “We really challenged ourselves with our scrimmage schedule, then opened up with King Philip. It’s worked out pretty good because we’ve been a team that’s slow to develop. And I think we have developed and gotten better every week. Now the question is ‘are we good enough now to beat a good Foxboro team?’”