NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – After a slow start to the game, North Attleboro put the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Chad Peterson and the Amherst College-commit came through with four touchdowns, two through the air in the first half and two more on the ground in the second, to lead the Rocketeers to a 28-14 first round win against Walpole.
North was able to survive and advance, despite the defense allowing more than 200 passing yards against Walpole’s spread formation, including 163 receiving yards (on 11 receptions) by wideout Chase Conrad.
“We knew they could throw the ball, so defensively we wanted to put pressure on the quarterback, which I thought we did a decent job of earlier but then they did a good job picking the pressure and we didn’t do a particularly good job covering the guys behind it,” said North Attleboro coach Don Johnson. “So, that kept them in the game.”
The North defense showed its ability to get pressure straight up the middle on the first Walpole series when Ryan Clemente dislodged the ball from Rebels running back Drew Van klock, hitting him just as he received the ball.
North returned the favor with a fumble five plays later but again the defense kept the pressure up on Walpole senior quarterback Brett Lavanchy (17-32, 223 yards). Geoff Wilson, Sam Bullock, and Zach DeMattio all forced Lavanchy into rushed throws and Wilson’s sack led to a Rebels punt.
North took over on its own 15-yard-line and proceeded to put together a 12-play, 85-yard drive to open the scoring. Nathan Pearce (11 carries, 96 yards) got the drive going with a 28-yard jet sweep to the far sideline and North kept advancing into the red zone until Peterson was sacked to force a third and 18. Peterson hit Pearce on an eight-yard screen and, on fourth and 10, found Ryan Gaumond on the near sideline for 16 and a first down.
Two plays later, Peterson bought time and found Nolan Buckley open in the back of the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown.
Walpole responded quickly. Conrad returned the kick to the Walpole 45 and it took the Rebels only six plays to get on the board. DeMattio and Adam Eberle combined on a sack to force third and 13 from the North 47, but Walpole caught the Rocketeers in an all-out blitz. Lavanchy’s screen pass found Conrad in space and he took it the distance.
A missed extra point kept North in the lead, but the Rocketeers failed to take advantage on the next drive, turning it over on downs at the Walpole 16.
“Walpole played tough,” said Johnson. “I thought they did a great job on defense and worked hard to make us earn it.”
He added, “We thought we’d be able to move the ball on the ground, but I thought they played really well on defense in the first half. They did some different things that we hadn’t seen on the film. They jumped into a 50 double eagle look there and we hadn’t seen them do that all year long.”
Jonathan James and Bullock combined on a sack to end Walpole’s drive and get the ball back for North with just 51 seconds remaining in the half. The Rocketeers took over at the 50 and Peterson proceeded to march the hosts down field, needing just five plays to add a big score before the break. All three completions on the drive went to Devin Slaney, including the 26-yard touchdown.
The Rocketeers got the ball back to start the third quarter and promptly extended the lead. Pearce broke a 31-yard run to get the ball into Walpole territory. Peterson would take it the final 16 yards on a pair of carries to make it 21-6.
“I thought that was key, coming out get that first drive and score in the second half,” said Johnson. “I thought that was a big momentum swing there.”
He continued, “I never felt like we were out of control, but I just never felt like we could finish things. It just took a while for us tonight.”
Walpole’s ability to move the ball through the air meant that the game was far from over and the Rebels immediately responded to cut the lead back to one score. Conrad had another big return to get the ball near midfield. A 26-yard catch moved the drive inside the North 30 and then it was finished with a 16-yard catch in the back corner. Lavanchy and Conrad connected on the conversion as well.
“At halftime, they definitely went in there to pick up the middle blitz,” said DeMattio, “so we tried coming off the edge to try and stop the sprint out.”
After a North punt, the Rebels were on the move again, getting the ball inside the Rocketeers’ 10. Lavanchy was forced to throw a pass away on first and goal then was stuffed for a four-yard loss on a keeper by Jason McNeany and Marc Burns. On third and goal, Clemente got loose in the backfield for North’s fifth sack of the game. With Gaumond in coverage, the fourth down pass went out the back of the end zone.
North took over on its own 17. The Rocketeers put together a 13-play, 83-yard drive that put the game away. While the bulk of the drive consisted of runs by Peterson (13 carries, 88 yards), Pearce, and Nick Raneri (13 carries, 54 yards), there were also two big completions from Peterson to Gaumond on the far sideline. Peterson capped the possession with a seven-yard keeper to seal the win.
“It was a tough first game, but it was fun,” said DeMattio. “You can definitely see a lot more people coming out, bigger crowds, lot more intense.”
When asked about the prospect of hosting league rival Stoughton next week, DeMattio added, “They’re definitely a run-heavy team, so it will be good for them to come back to Community Field and get a good game for everyone.”
Johnson said of what was at the time only a potential rematch with Stoughton, “I don’t like playing anybody a second time. They get to know all your secrets.”