Offensive Explosion Sends North to the Final Four

North Attleboro football
Tyler Bannon celebrates one of his three touchdowns during North Attleboro’s 62-28 rout of Milton in the D3 quarterfinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Heading into halftime of Saturday night’s Div. 3 quarterfinal at Community Field, the only things slowing down the North Attleboro offense was an hour-long delay for thunderstorms and a tornado warning. North scored on six of its seven possessions in the first half and got a touchdown on special teams as well.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

But, despite having already put up 49 points, North came out of the locker room not yet feeing comfortable. A pair of turnovers had given Milton, and it’s high-powered offense, a little bit of momentum. So, the Rocketeers did what they have done to so many opponents over the years and put together a long, clock-chewing drive on the first possession of the third quarter and sealed the win.

It was an offensive explosion for North, as both Tyler Bannon and Tyler DeMattio racked up three touchdowns apiece and freshman Chase Frisoli tossed the first two postseason touchdowns of his career, both to Gavin Wells. North rolled into the final four with a 62-28 rout of No. 6 seed Milton.

“We just didn’t feel comfortable with those guys,” said North coach Don Johnnson. “No lead felt comfortable. I’ve never been in a game where you get to 40 or 50 points and you still don’t feel like you’ve put the game away.”

The Wildcats have a lot of weapons on offense, so it was going to be important for the Rocketeers to get off to a good start and play from in front. North did just that. Jared Vacher sacked Owen McHugh to force a punt on the first possession. Greg Berthiaume blocked the kick, giving the hosts the ball at the Milton 23.

DeMattio (22 carries, 152 yards) got the first carry for 13 yards and Bannon (16 carries, 214 yards) punched it in from 10 to grab the lead. As soon as Bannon hit the goal line, the sky lit up and the forecasted thunderstorm descended on Community Field, forcing the game to be delayed the crowd to scatter to the safety of its cars.

An hour later, DeMattio kicked the extra point to make it 7-0. On Milton’s first play of the ensuing drive, Vacher came up big again, reading the screen pass and picking it off at the 34. Two plays later, Bannon ran straight through the Milton defense for a 33-yard score. It was 14-0 after 3-1/2 minutes.

Another Milton punt led to the next score, as Nathan Shultz fielded it at his own 35, despite being under pressure, cut out to the North sideline and was gone. The 65-yard return made it 21-0, a lead that lasted all of 24 seconds. Milton showed its quick-strike potential when Jack Finnegan returned the kick 50 yards to the North 37 and McHugh hit Michael Fulton down the middle for a score. The extra point was missed but it was 21-6.

North was unperturbed. On its next drive, Frisoli (4-of-7, 95 yards) deceived the defense with a perfect play action and fired a strike to Wells, who was running free down the seam for a 57-yard touchdown. Milton drove to the North 34, but turned it over on downs. North went 66 yards on seven plays, including a 32-yard run by DeMattio who capped it with a five-yard TD.

The defense forced a three-and-out and, with the help of a penalty on the punt, gave the ball back to the offense at the Milton 41. Frisoli hit Jack Munley for 18 yards down to the 11 and DeMattio did the rest, punching it in from two yards.

Johnson explained, “We thought we might be able to move the ball on them. Just having that tandem of the two Tylers, that’s been a real key. To be this deep in the tournament, you have to be lucky and stay healthy, so we’ve been able to minimize the number of hits that those guys have taken.”

Milton gave itself a chance by scoring three times in just 3-1/2 minutes. Chase Vaughan took over under center and he hit Fulton for a 43-yard score. The ensuing kickoff was muffed and Milton recovered at the 19. Vaughan then found Dillon Mackenzie for a 14-yard touchdown. The conversion went off the helmet of the North corner and was caught. After forcing another North fumble, Milton got the ball back at the 35 and needed just four plays to get in the end zone again, cutting the lead to 42-28.

There was still 1:00 to play in a first half that had stretched, including the weather break, to more than 2-1/2 hours. That was plenty of time for North to tack on another score. Bannon got it started with a 45-yard carry to the Milton 20. On fourth down from the 15, Frisoli threw a dart to Wells, who pulled in the pass in the back corner of the end zone.

North still felt that there was work to do starting the third quarter and the two Tylers went right back to work, alternating carries and moving the chains. North used 14 plays to go 68 yards and ate more than seven minutes off the clock to put the game away.

“It was kind of a bad feeling at half, letting up 20-something points in five minutes, so we just wanted to stay together, stay as one in the locker room,” Bannon said. When asked about the importance of the third quarter drive, he replied, “Huge, momentum shifted right to our side, so after that it was game over.”

The key play was a fourth and one at the Milton 32, which DeMattio picked up by the length of a football, although the Wildcats coaches and fans were upset with the spot. Bannon got his third score of the night, from five yards, to make it 55-28.

Milton had one more drive in it, converting on fourth and eight and getting all the way inside the five. The North pass rush made it difficult for Vaughan to stand in and find an open receiver and the Wildcats turned it over on downs at the North seven. On the next play, Bannon busted through the line and raced 51 yards into Milton territory. DeMattio got his third TD of the game, and eighth in two playoff games, with a 25-yard run.

“It’s very important,” Bannon said about being able to trade off carries with his classmate. “We can stay healthy, stay fresh, and call ourselves the best running back duo in the league. It’s important for us.”

North Attleboro (6-3), the No. 3 seed, will face the No. 2 seed Billerica, which edged Hanover in the quarterfinal, for the right to go to Gillette Stadium. The date, time, and location of the game are to be determined.

“We don’t know a whole lot,” Johnson said when asked about Billerica. “We got a chance to go up and watch them last night. They look like a proud program with a tradition of winning and tough kids. When you get to this point you need that ingredient, they got the most important ingredients.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

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