CANTON, Mass. – The chance to put last season in the rearview mirror couldn’t come soon enough for the North Attleboro football team.
The Rocketeers had a rare sub-.500 season in the Fall of 2019 but with the majority of its roster back, including eight starters on each side of the ball, the Big Red was ready to get back on track as one of the most successful programs in the state.
North Attleboro needed less than a minute to do so.
The Rocketeers scored just three plays into the new season and then really hit their stride on offense in the middle of the game, scoring on four straight possessions between the second and third quarters, to run away with a 41-13 win over host Canton.
After a drop on the first play, North senior Jared Penta (three carries, 65 yards) ripped off a 20-yard run and on the next play, junior quarterback Tyler DeMattio (8/12, 138 yards, touchdown, nine carries, 73 yards, three touchdowns) kept it himself and weaved his way through the defense for a 45-yard score and a 7-0 lead just 53 seconds into the game.
The combination of penalties, self-inflicted mistakes, and Canton’s defense stifled the Rocketeers over their next three drives, including two fourth down stops and one punt, which was set up by a sack from Canton senior Matt Connolly. North even got inside the 10-yard line on their third drive but a botched snap on a field goal attempt ended with an incomplete pass.
North Attleboro football
But while North’s offense worked out the early season jitters, the Rocketeers’ defense was smothering from the start against a Canton offense that featured new faces in almost every position. Canton went three-and-out on its first five possessions and the sixth came to an end just two plays in for the halftime whistle.
“We looked like a team that hadn’t played in 15 months…some stupid penalties early, procedure stuff, a bad snap on the field goal attempt…it was a lot of stuff that you get out of your system if you play a second scrimmage, which we normally do,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “Once we got into a groove though…we still have a lot of work to do but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”
Even though North’s fifth drive didn’t start in an ideal manner due to a false start and a two-yard loss on first down, the Rocketeers finally clicked into gear. DeMattio kept it himself for a 32 yard gain the move the chains and then hit Matt Penta (three catches, 74 yards, touchdown) for another first to move into the red zone.
Two plays later, DeMattio kept it himself up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 4:37 left in the second quarter.
“North Attleboro has a strong tradition, they are a great program, they have good coaches and good players over there, that’s a solid team for sure,” said first-year Canton head coach Anthony Fallon. “We’re working hard over here, we graduated a big senior class last year, and we’re getting better.”
Canton’s ensuing drive came to an end after a sack from North’s Jared Vacher. The Rocketeers needed two plays to tack on another score by halftime with DeMattio hooking up with Penta down the middle for a 47 yard gain. And then DeMattio kept it to the left and won the race to the pylon to make it 21-0 with 1:07 left in the first half.
A pair of sacks sent Canton backward on its first drive of the second half and North started with good field position after the punt. Helped along by a 15-yard penalty on the defense, DeMattio finished the drive by hitting Penta in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 28-0 with 7:43 left in the third.
North Attleboro football
“I thought our defense was pretty good because I was worried about it with them having new players, a new coaching staff,” Johnson said. “We basically had half of a scrimmage to go off of and they played their starters for about 15 plays so there was definitely that fear of the unknown but I think the experience in our secondary and our linebackers paid off today.”
The Bulldogs put together their best drive of the game on the ensuing drive, Anthony Botelho (12/23, 160 yards) hitting Vincent O’Brienn to convert a third down, and then connecting with Cam Sanchez down the middle for 41 yards. Carson Campbell had a big lead block on a fourth-down run that allowed Sanchez to get the first down, and two plays later, Botelho scrambled into the end zone. Will Keefe’s extra point made it 28-7 with 2:19 left in the third.
North needed less than a minute to respond as Jacob Silva (six carries, 104 yards) broke free for 11 yards, DeMattio linked up with Jared Penta for 39 yards down the right sideline, and then Silva scampered into space for a 21-yard touchdown.
“[Tyler’s] a hard-nosed tough kid who has had to learn how to play the position,” Johnson said. “If it was up to him, I think he would run the ball every single down and just lower his shoulder and run through people. He’s had to learn how to play quarterback, learn to read coverages, learn when to throw it and when to dump it, and all that stuff. And he’s just getting better every year with it.”
Sanchez capped a 10 play, 77-yard drive for Canton with a touchdown from one-yard out but North blocked the point after. On the ensuing kickoff, North junior Danny Curran took the kickoff the distance to get the touchdown right back for the Rocketeers.
North Attleboro (1-0) is back on the road again next week when it takes on Sharon, who will host the game at Mansfield High. Canton (0-1) hits the road to Easton to take on Oliver Ames.
It’s a new era in Canton as Anthony Fallon takes over for longtime head coach Dave Bohane, who stepped down from his second stint in charge of the Bulldogs at the end of last season.
While it’s a new era, all of the players and coaches are hoping that the success from the past two seasons continues going forward. If that success is going to continue, it’s going to be by a host of new faces. The Bulldogs graduated a historic class that won back-to-back Davenport division titles and reached the D5 South Sectional final in 2019. While competing for the Davenport division title this year, Canton will lean heavily on its few returners while new players take advantage of the new opportunities.
Senior Matt Connolly is a force on both sides of the ball, protecting the quarterback on the offensive line and leading the way for the ground game with his blocking. And defensively, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound senior who is committed to play at Assumption College, is an absolute handful and requires a lot of attention. Cam Sanchez is another experienced player back for the Bulldogs and will be involved in the running game offensively and apart of the secondary defensively. Carson Campbell started all 11 games for Canton last year at right tackle and will add defensive line duties this season. Jack Albert should see an expanded role on both sides of the ball and will be one of the main targets in the receiving game.
“Our team has great speed in our secondary, we are big and strong upfront and our linebackers are tough and fast,” Fallon said. “We have a solid mix on our varsity of juniors and seniors. I am also excited with our numbers on the sub-varsity level with 30-plus players. With a tough-minded defense and a fast offense, I know we will compete in every game.”
There is a lot of optimism in Foxboro for the Fall II season, and with a strong group of returning starters in different spots all over the field, there is good reason for it.
The Warriors seem to be in the mix for the Davenport division title each season, coming in third in 2019 and 2017. With talent back in key spots, Foxboro could be a serious contender for their first crown since 2015. The offense starts with the line and Foxboro has some experience and size to work with. Senior Sean Ferguson is a towering presence at 6’5, 315-pounds and anchors the line from the center position and he will be joined by junior Dylan Kerrigan (6’0, 205) at tackle. Senior Cam Prescott will start under center and will have a bevy of options to work with including playmaker Luis Sulham and junior Rashaad Way. Look for Chris McNamara to pick up where he left off carrying the ball.
Foxboro has an equal amount of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball with the strength of the team coming from the linebackers and the secondary. Seniors Mike Norvish and James Stamatos return with plenty of varsity experience under their belts and will anchor the linebacker position while senior James Kraus will start at safety and will be accompanied in the secondary by Way and Tom Sharkey, both juniors. One player to keep an eye out for is senior Jon Moses, a 6’4 defensive end that really improved over the course of last season and could be a handful for opposing offenses to deal with.
“The heart and soul of team this year is the senior leadership and experience along with a strong and talented junior class,” said Foxboro head coach Jack Martinelli.
North Attleboro was ravished by injuries during the 2019 season and the result was the program’s first sub-.500 season in 27 years. It speaks volumes to how consistent the Rocketeers are year in and year out that it had been that long but the Big Red are ready to turn the page and begin a new streak.
The Rocketeers are getting a lot of players back that missed time last year and also have a bunch of players back that were thrown into the fire last year and now have varsity experience. With that combination, North Attleboro is hoping the end result is the Davenport division title. Junior Tyler DeMattio is back under center for his second year as the starter after making a big splash on Thanksgiving his freshman season. DeMattio can get it done with both his arm and his legs (and his foot in the kicking game). He has a lot of weapons at his disposal this year with Jared Penta and Alex McCoy in the slots, Coby Feid and Matt Penta at split end, and 6-foot-5 Endicott-commit Robbie Donovan at tight end. Jacob Silva returns at tailback and will be complemented by senior Tommy Whalen while sophomores Nathan Shultz and Greg Berthiaume could be in the mix as well. Harry Bullock will anchor the offensive line alongside classmates Danny Hayes and Justin Vecchiarelli and juniors Jared Vacher and Keysun Wise.
On top of the eight returning starters on offense, the Rocketeers boast eight returners on the defensive side of the ball as well. North Attleboro has a lot of depth at the linebacker position with Silva, a team captain, being a key part of the group. He’ll be joined by Berthiaume, Vecchiarelli, Whalen, senior Dylan Eberle, and junior Tyler Bannon. Jared and Matt Penta are both very experienced safeties while McCoy and Feid return at corner, so the secondary will certainly be a strength for the Big Red. The Rocketeers don’t have the biggest defensive line but the likes of Donovan, Vacher, and Bullock provide speed from the edge.
“The extended off season has provided extra time for tremendous growth in the weight room,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “The depth at the skill positions on both sides of the ball will be the strength of this team. The key will be how quickly and effectively we can put together our offensive and defensive lines.”
Oliver Ames is back in the Davenport division and is looking to make a splash in its first season back.
The Tigers had a lot of success when the league first split into two divisions, winning the Davenport title in 2011 and 2013 before making the jump up to the Kelley-Rex. With a strong group of players back, OA is looking to take the next step forward during the Fall II 2020 season. Senior captain Gavin Morrison is a two-way lineman and will anchor the offensive group from the center spot. He’ll be joined by senior Dante Cocivera and Max Tower, both returning players from last season. Junior Collin Williamson burst onto the scene last year and should see an expanded role in the backfield during this abbreviated season while sophomore Chad Silva should be in the mix as well.
Speed will be a strength on the defensive side of the ball for the Tigers, who boast a lot of the same faces on the defensive line as their offensive line. Tower anchors the linebackers and will be one to keep an eye on, using his speed and strength to make plays, and he’ll be joined by the sophomore Silva. Senior captain Jaden Ricci is one of the best defensive players on the team, a fast, physical player with a nose for the ball that will start at corner. He’ll be joined by senior Jaden Krowski in the secondary.
2020 (Fall II) Davenport Division Preview
“We are excited about where our program is heading and are really ecstatic and thankful to get an opportunity to play this season,” said head coach Ed DeWitt.
Sharon had a very young squad a season ago and went through plenty of growing pains. The Eagles are hoping to turn some of that experience into success on the field this season.
Not only do the Eagles have their quarterback and top receivers back, but they are also getting a big boost with a return from injury. Senior Kiran Chandrasekaran returns under center and has weapons in PJ McManus, Owen Conway, and Conor McLaughlin in the passing game. Nico Marrero, who showed flashes of great play as a sophomore, had to miss all of last year due to injury but is back this year and will be a key two-way player for the Eagles. Marrero is a powerful runner that will look to find space created by an improved offensive line. The Eagles’ offensive line is anchored by senior center Shea Letendre while junior Jack Murphy and sophomores Miles Clay and Daniel Davis help round out Sharon’s line.
Defensive the Eagles are always a competitive group, the challenge will be doing so for four quarters against some top offenses in the Davenport. Ike Ogbonnanze, who is also a big receiving target on offense, will start at linebacker alongside Marrero and Letendre, giving the Eagles a very experienced group in the heart of the defense. McManus and Conway will play on both sides of the ball, starting in the secondary defensively.
“Our kids know our numbers are not strong but they have a great attitude and are playing like their backs are against the wall,” said Sharon head coach Dave Morse.
Stoughton head coach Greg Burke always leans heavily on his senior class and he has a real talented group this year.
The Black Knights have a handful of very talented and experienced seniors that have played a lot of snaps over the past two seasons and that has Stoughton primed for a run a the Davenport division title. Senior John Burke is back under center at quarterback for the Knights and it’s likely we’ll see Brady Conlin take some snaps similar to how Burke split with Clayton Rahaman last season. Both quarterbacks will have plenty of options to work with, especially on the ground. The Knights have a “home run” type offense with any given handoff capable to break off a big run. Senior brothers Christopher and Christian Ais recently committed to the University of New Haven and both bring speed and power when running the ball. Christian Georges is another workhorse out of the backfield while juniors Anthony Girolamo and Jonah Ly could see some carries as well. What makes Stoughton’s run game so dangerous is all of the backs do a great job of blocking when they don’t get carries. Jake Queeney will be the main target in the passing game for the Knights. Sproul Derolus is one of the few returners on the offensive line so Stoughton will need some players to step up there.
Defense is always a staple for the Knights and that looks to be the case again this year. A lot of the same faces that make plays on the offensive side will be the ones making plays on the defensive side. Georges is an absolute monster coming off the edge and uses his speed and strength to cause havoc in the backfield. Christopher Ais will be joined by Ly and Girolamo at linebacker while Christian Ais, Queeney, and Burke are all returners in the secondary for the Knights.
“Hopefully without a ton of injuries we can have a good year,” Burke said. “We have some experience and the kids have worked hard in the clubs for weight training. We need the juniors to step up and contribute fast while still learning varsity speed. The league is always tough and hopefully, we can survive tough crossover games.”
A pair of longtime assistant football coaches will get their first chance at head jobs this fall, as Canton promoted offensive coordinator Anthony Fallon and Milford hired former offensive coordinator Dale Olsen to fill their respective head coaching vacancies.
Fallon called the offense for the Div. 5 South finalist Bulldogs last season under head coach Dave Bohane, who stepped down in January after his 14th season in charge (over two stints, from 1994-98 and 2011-19). Fallon is a Canton grad and a member of the 1987 Super Bowl-winning team. His first coaching job was as an assistant at Canton and he has also spent time with the Bellingham and Millis programs.
“I was with Dave through the whole process of him stepping down,” Fallon explained, adding that he spoke with other members of the staff, many of whom have been with the Bulldogs for years, before applying for the position. That continuity within the program is important to Fallon.
He said, “Dave and I kind of cut our teeth together when we first started, so there’s not going to be a whole lot difference in me putting my own stamp on this. I just want to carry on the traditions that have been established with maybe some new twists.”
While this will be his first stint as head coach, Fallon is counting on his experience to make the transition easier for himself and for the players. Fallon said, “I’ve coached with six or seven different head coaches and four of them were first-year guys, so I’ve seen what can go wrong in the first year. I know some of the pitfalls that can happen.”
“Knowing the kids, knowing the culture, and knowing the coaching staff,” he added, “that will give the kids some comfort, knowing what the expectations are already with just a few changes.”
Canton is coming off back-to-back Davenport division titles and back-to-back trips to the D5 South final, but will graduate a large, talented senior class and will have numerous spots to fill this fall.
“You can never replace a talented class like that,” said Fallon, “but we’ll have talented kids come through. If we keep building off the tradition of hard-nosed football and working hard, we’ll be fine and we’ll do well.”
Olsen has also spent two decades on the sidelines as an assistant coach, including four years with Fallon at Millis, where the Mohawks brought home a state championship. He spent the 2018 season at Milford as the offensive coordinator but stepped aside last season to spend time with his young son and to help former Millis and Milford standout Kevin Pyne prepare for playing offensive line at Boston College.
He is taking over for Anthony Vizakis, who stepped down after three years in charge. Olsen was on Vizakis’ staff two seasons ago. When he saw that the Milford job was open, Olsen spoke with his family, including his twin brother Dana, who he coached under at Millis.
“I knew I was going to get back into the game but I didn’t think it was going to be that quick,” he admitted. ”The opportunity arose and I sat down to talk with my wife and she said I should go for it, talked to my brother and from there it just happened.”
Like Fallon at Canton, Olsen is counting on his familiarity with the program and the players to hit the ground running. “I’d say 70 percent of the team knows my brother and I,” Olsen said. “So I think it will be a pretty smooth transition that way. They’ve been kind of running the offense that I ran there two years ago, so I don’t think we’ll skip a beat offensively.”
Milford has made the playoffs in four of the last six seasons, but has only advanced out of the first round of the postseason once and has never finished better than 3-2 in league play. It is a program with a history of success though and Olsen is looking forward to the challenge of “waking a sleeping giant.” One of the reasons for his confidence is the talented senior class that he has coming back in the fall.
“I’m super excited,” Olsen said. “Milford has had great football for a long, long time. There’s a big senior class there. They were junior-heavy last year and I think we lose three kids on offense, three kids on defense.”
The Hawks will face the difficult task of moving into the Kelley-Rex division next season and squaring off with teams in higher divisions.
We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge. Milford is a Div. 3 school and six out of our seven opponents are D1 or D2. I look forward to it. There’s a special group of seniors next year, so I think we can more than hold our own.”
Fallon and Olsen are not only longtime assistants getting their first shot at running a program, but also longtime friends and both are proud to share the experience of being a first-time head coach in the same season.
“It’s kind of unique,” said Fallon about Olsen also getting a head coaching postion. “He’s been doing it a very long time and he’s a great friend and a great coach. He’ll do good things in Milford.”
Olsen added, “It’s well-deserved on his part. He’s done a lot for kids and he’s a great coach. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time and the only sad thing is that we won’t be able to play each other next year because we’re moving up.”