RANDOLPH, Mass. – There might be a lot of new faces on the field dawning Stoughton’s black and orange – and at times it certainly showed. But when it mattered most, those new faces made vintage Stoughton plays to help the Black Knights open the season with a 28-14 win over Franklin.
Playing at Randolph High School because of the construction of the new Stoughton High building, as well as a delay in construction in Franklin’s track, the Black Knights looked completely different from last year’s squad.
But a goal line stand in the third quarter that resulted in a blocked field goal, and a clock blending scoring drive in the fourth quarter to ice the game looked like true Stoughton football.
“We just did a hell of a job just to stop them a couple of times,” said Stoughton head coach Greg Burke, now in his 25th season. “We had some screw ups but there wasn’t a lack of effort. And that’s how it usually is with new kids and I’ll take it for the opening game. We had a couple big plays.”
A much improved Franklin squad came out on its first series and made a splash, going 59 yards on 12 plays to take the lead. Facing a fourth and three in the red zone, the Panthers went for and it and were rewarded. Senior quarterback Jake Noviello (15/31, 169 yards,) rifled a pass to junior Sean Leonard on a quick slant for an 8-yard touchdown. Matt Zucco’s extra point made it 7-0 just under five minutes into the game.
Stoughton’s new look offense didn’t have any trouble coming up with a response on its first drive of the season. Ruben Gonzalez (133 all purpose yards) ripped off a 45-yard run on the Black Knights’ first play from scrimmage. On third and goal, junior Evan Gibb (9/15, 154 yards, 4 total touchdowns) fired a bullet over the middle to sophomore Ajahn Rue for a 15-yard touchdown. Josh Cocchi’s extra point tied the game with 1:11 left in the first quarter.
The Black Knights defense came up with a red zone on Franklin’s ensuing drive, forcing an incomplete to end the Panthers’ nine-play drive. After Stoughton punted, its defense once again came up with a red zone stop. Once Franklin reached the Stoughton 18-yard line, the Black Knights forced another stop.
With time ticking away in the second quarter, Stoughton senior Alex Sjoquist (nine carries, 75 yards), ripped off a 28 yard carry to get the drive going. Gibb connected with Gonzalez and Colin Sanda on back-to-back third downs to keep the drive alive. And then on first down, Gibb took a shot to the end zone where Gonzalez was able to leap up between a pair of defenders and haul in a 35-yard touchdown to go up 14-7 with 0:37 left in the first half.
Stoughton wasn’t done in the first half though, forcing a quick three and out with just three seconds left. The Black Knights took another shot at the end zone, with Rue leaping over a defender and hauling in the pass but landed at the two-yard line.
“[Gibb] did a great job,” Burke said. “He had a couple of nice runs himself, which is going to be part of the offense. He’s a tough kid. He made some great throws. I don’t think he got sacked which is good. It’s good to have him back, and [Justin] Ly and [Alex] Sjoquist and Ruben [Gonzalez] and [Jason] Joseph. You can see the guys who have played before, they are just a step ahead.
Franklin’s defense forced Stoughton to punt to start the second half and the offense quickly made its way back into the red zone. A sack from Malachi Hightower-Green preceded a pair of incompletions. Franklin went for it on fourth down and it resulted in a pass interference, giving the Panthers the ball at the two-yard line and a new set of downs.
But Stoughton’s defense looked like its vintage self. Franklin was dropped for a one-yard loss on first down, a two-yard loss on second down and an incompletion on third down. The Panthers’ 22-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Stoughton’s Jason Joseph, keeping the Black Knights up 14-7.
“It was an incredible series for us. And then we get the block,” Burke said. “That’s hard to do. We toughened up there. We still have some problems, and we have to get more guys playing. But every week we’ll get better, this will be our worst game of the year I guarantee that. It was a good way to start, that’s a division 1 team which is good for us.
Stoughton used that momentum to add onto its lead. The offense marched 82 yards on just eight plays to extend its lead. Highlighted by a 30-yard gain from Alex Iverson (six carries, 60 yards), the Black Knights moved into Franklin territory. On third and 15, Gibb hit Gonzalez on a bubble screen and the senior turned on the jets, racing for a 35-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead with just 0:19 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers didn’t quit though, responding with a nine-play, 54-yard drive to get within one score. Noviello hit Jack Nally (8 catches, 88 yards) to convert the first third down Franklin faced. Franklin found itself facing another fourth down in the red zone, and this time they went to its bag of tricks to execute. Senior wide receiver Evan Wendell took the toss in the backfield but instead of a run, he lofted a pass to a wide open Nally in the end zone for a 13-yard score.
But in vintage Stoughton fashion, the Black Knights went back to the ground game to bleed the block and restore its two score lead. It took 10 plays to cover 67 yards, capped with a 1 yard sneak from Gibb to make it 28-14. The drive took 5:39 off the clock in the fourth quarter.
“When it comes down to it at the end, you have to be able to run the ball,” Burke said. Stoughton finished with 227 rushing yards. “[Noviello] is probably the best thrower we’ll see all year. He was tough, [Leonard] was tough, [Ryan Driscoll] was tough. Those were some tough guys.”
Franklin’s last push reached the red zone again but Stoughton’s Justin Ly came up with a pass breakup to end the drive.
“The scoreboard is the scoreboard, you are what your record is but however this game turned out, I know that we’re tremendously better than we were a year ago,” said FHS coach Eian Bain “We brought a lot back but there’s a special buy in with these kids. Not that last year didn’t, but we’ve had this group for two years and they’ve just kept moving forward every day. They are a competitive group. This game could have easily gone a different way, we have a lot to learn.
“Our kids are getting that sense that they can play with anybody. If we just clean up some things, you know. It’s hard to simulate a Stoughton team in practice. Their team speed was overall better than ours and they made some great adjustments in the red zone.”