ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The North Attleboro players looked around for Hilda, the trophy awarded to the winner of this Thanksgiving rivalry, but the trophy was nowhere to be found. So, instead, the Rocketeers lifted freshman kicker and quarterback Tyler DeMattio to celebrate another win in the long-running series with Attleboro.
It was fitting that DeMattio’s teammates would lift him up after the game, since he stepped up in the second half and propelled North to the victory.
In his first snaps as varsity quarterback, DeMattio scored three touchdowns and accounted for all of North’s points on Thursday morning at a bitterly cold Tozier-Cassidy Field, sparking North to a come from behind 20-7 win over the Bombardiers.
“Tyler is a talented player, who has had a great year as a freshman and we’ve been watching him all along and felt like he was the next best available quarterback, so got him ready,” said North coach Don Johnson about DeMattio stepping in for the second half. He joked that DeMattio was North’s “secret weapon” and agreed that he was the “spark” that the Rocketeers needed.
Attleboro came close to adding to its 7-0 halftime lead on its first possession of the second half. Justin Cote (24 carries, 114 yards) and Jason Weir (14 carries, 95 yards) continued to find seams in the North defense and moved the ball down to the Rocketeers eight, using up almost the entire third quarter in the process.
DeMattio took over from sophomore quarterback Matt Penta (nine carries, 43 yards), who replaced Nick Raneri as the starter following Raneri’s shoulder injury against Duxbury. After a pair of keepers, the freshman dropped back and heaved a ball down field. It avoided a group of Attleboro defenders and fell into the hands of Ryan Gaumond, who raced the rest of the way to the end zone for an 85-yard score that tied the game with just 59 seconds left in the third.
“That was the momentum changer no question,” said Johnson. “That was a pop-up thrown by the freshman but that’s pretty good that your first varsity pass is a touchdown on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter what it looks like.”
Attleboro coach Mike Strachan said, “The catch that Gaumond made in the wind, I think that turned the game for us. It really did and DeMattio gave them a spark.”
Attleboro’s next possession ended with a turnover. Brendan McHugh (nine carries, 38 yards) took advantage of a slip by Michael Strachan and picked off Weir’s pass to get the ball back at the Attleboro 30. Three keepers later and DeMattio slipped through the middle of the Bombardiers defense for a seven-yard score and the lead.
The game had turned around for the visitors in just three minutes.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” Strachan said, “we just got away from a few things, fundamentally, in the second half and I think DeMattio did a good job.”
The Bombardiers had a chance to tie the game. After a Strachan carry, Attleboro was as close as the North four-yard-line, but Duane Bryant got into the backfield and stuffed Cote for a six-yard loss on third down. On fourth and nine, Cote’s pass to Ethan Cameron was tipped aside by Bryan Engler.
“A couple turnovers down inside and we just can’t do that,” said Strachan. “I said turnovers would play a big part in this and ended up being a huge part of it in the end.”
North still needed a first down to seal the win. The Rocketeers got that and a lot more, as DeMattio broke through the middle and raced 90 yards for his third touchdown of the game and the cue for the Attleboro crowd to head to its cars.
“They were running Weir on the quarterback follows, so we had trouble with that, and Cote was doing a great job bouncing the powers outside and we weren’t getting good force,” said Johnson about the change North made defensively in the second half. It was mentioned that the defensive line, led by Kummer and Davenport division MVP Ryan Clemente, dominated after the break and Johnson responded, “They did, but I thought the secondary did a good job coming up and making plays in the run game.”
Attleboro was on its heels at the start of the game, as North drove into the wind all the way to the Bombardiers 10. On first and goal, the Rocketeers fumbled the hand-off and Raneri dove on the ball for a loss of two. Penta was stopped by a host of Bombardiers on second down, including Nick Evans, and gained only one. Isaac Guidel pressured Penta into an incomplete pass on third down and then the fourth down pass to McHugh was inches out of the back of the end zone.
“It was disappointing, I think it would’ve changed the complexion of the game,” said Johnson of the first drive. “But, give Attleboro credit, they played good defense and stopped us.”
The Bombardiers flipped the momentum by driving down field and taking the lead. Cote gained 18 yards on a third-down toss to the left and Weir broke free for 44 yards on a pair of keepers to get inside the North five. Cote punched it in from two yards out to make it 7-0.
The teams traded turnovers for the remainder of the half. Desmond Woodson recovered a fumble, but Attleboro went three-and-out to give it back. Then Cameron picked off a Penta pass, only for Engler to intercept a Weir pass inside the 10. Weir got the ball back with a fumble recovery just before halftime to keep the Bombardiers in the lead at the break.