NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The weather was a little warmer and the crowd was a little smaller, but when North Attleboro (6-0) squared off with Attleboro (1-5) on Saturday morning at Community Field the usual emotions of the Thanksgiving Day rivalry were still there.
North capped off an undefeated season and avenged a loss from Thanksgiving 2019, rallying from an early deficit to win 28-7 in the “Century Game” (marking the 100th “holiday” meeting between the programs). Seniors Matt Pentaand Jacob Silva scored two touchdowns apiece for the Rocketeers.
As his team celebrated in the background with “Hilda”, North Attleboro coach Don Johnson explained what the victory, and the chance to play the game at all, meant to his team.
“I think it gives our seniors a sense of completion,” he said. “I think up to this point our seniors have felt a little bit robbed of the usual senior experience and adding this game and the significance of it completes it for them and they can walk away quite satisfied.”
The dynamics of the game changed on Thursday night when, according to Johnson, North’s starting quarterback Tyler DeMattio had a cast put on a wrist injury he suffered in the Davenport title decider against Foxboro. North turned to Penta and fellow senior Dylan Eberle and inevitably the Rocketeers looked a little out of rhythm offensively in the first quarter.
Attleboro took advantage. The Bombardiers stopped North on its first possession and a short punt gave them the ball at the North 34. Attleboro was also on its backup quarterback, as sophomore Aiden Hochwarter started for the second week in a row, but the Bombardiers turned to its power running game.
North went three-and-out on its next possession but Nathan Shultz recovered a muffed punt to give the Rocketeers a second chance. Again, Attleboro’s defense held. Ryan Betts and Kaiden Murray both made nice plays to break up passes and turn North over on downs.
The game changed early in the second quarter. After Attleboro went three-and-out, North blocked a Colby Briggs punt and took over at the Bombardiers 13. It was the momentum and field position shift that the North offense needed.
“It just changed the feel of the game,” Attleboro coach Mike Strachan explained. “It was a big play for them and they were able to capitalize and they have a bunch of good kids over there. We’ll learn from this.”
Two plays later, Penta saw a hole and burst up the middle on an 8-yard keeper to tie the game.
Attleboro’s issues on offense have been a familiar theme this season. The Bombardiers have only scored touchdowns in two of their six games and they recorded only four first downs on Saturday.
“They have a good football team,” Strachan said. “I thought we did a good job in the first half, but we had a couple mishaps on special teams that turned the momentum a bit and we just weren’t able to regain it.”
After a tough start, the North offense started to click into gear. On the first play of its next drive, Eberle hit Silva right in front of the North bench and the running back broke a couple of tackles, stayed inbounds and broke free for a 46-yard score, putting North ahead for good.
The Rocketeers had a chance to break the game open before halftime. A short punt gave them the ball at the Attleboro 26 and they marched down inside the 10. With time running out, Attleboro’s defense was able to stop three plays from inside its own three to keep it a one-score game.
That only lasted until North’s first drive of the second half. The Rocketeers went 60 yards on 12 plays, eating the clock and grinding out a touchdown drive that gave them a little cushion. Penta ( 13 carries, 113 yards) was making big plays with his legs and DeMattio (13 carries, 48 yards), cast and all, was able to give North a change of pace. Silva capped the drive with a one-yard plunge.
Johnson said, “In our three biggest games, Stoughton, Foxboro, and Attleboro, we failed to get that third touchdown at an opportune time that would’ve made you relax and maybe put the game away. That’s all we talked about [at halftime], not how we screwed up at the end of the first half but what are we going to do in the first drive.”
Attleboro was looking for a spark and thought it might have one in the fourth quarter when Freddy Wheaton recovered a Penta fumble to stop North’s drive with 6:14 to play. The Bombardiers got one first down, but North’s defense was flying, particularly Tyler Bannon and Greg Berthiaume, who snuffed out a screen to force a punt.
Penta left no doubt about the winner when he took off on yet another keeper, broke it to the outside, stayed on his feet, and found the end zone from 39 yards out, making it 28-7 with only 1:16 to play.
“Our special teams were good and our defense was good and I think that was enough to give our offense the field position we needed,” said Johnson. “The plays that Penta was running, he’s good at, and the things Eberle was doing, he’s pretty good at, so it worked out okay…two seniors who stepped up.”
When asked what it meant for his team, result aside, to finish up this unusual season with a game against North, Strachan replied, “At the end of the day, to be out here, with what these kids have been through this year, it’s unbelievable. That’s what it’s about. For the communities to come together at Community Field, this is what it’s about.”