MANSFIELD, Mass. – All the build-up to Friday night’s Kelley-Rex division title showdown at Alumni Field presumed that Mansfield and Attleboro were going to slug it out in a defensive battle with points difficult to come by. It turned out to be the exact opposite.
Senior Khristian Conner scored with 32 seconds remaining in the game to give Mansfield the edge over the Bombardiers 42-35 and clinch the Hornets at least a share of the league title. It is Mansfield’s first division championship since 2013.
“It means everything,” said Conner about getting back on top in the league. “We worked hard over the summer for it. We just kept with it, didn’t let anything stop us and we just got the win. It feels amazing. It feels awesome.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding added, “This was an unbelievable high school football game. They came to play, they answered every time we had the momentum. Thank god we answered when they did.” Redding joked, “So many plays on both sides…it will be a fun one to watch; it was a tough one to coach.”
Attleboro took its only lead of the game with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. Justin Cote (seven carries, 50 yards), who had also caught a 20-yard pass on the go-ahead drive, raced up the middle for a 12-yard score that tied the game at 34-34. Two false starts pushed the extra point attempt back 10 yards but sophomore Colby Briggs was unfazed and split the uprights to put the visitors in front.
The Bombardiers had forced Mansfield to punt just twice on the night, but after Nick Evans sacked Hornets quarterback Aidan Sacco for no gain the hosts faced fourth and 10 from their own 26. Sacco (5-of-8, 111 yards) bought time and hit Cincere Gill for 28 yards over the middle. The sophomore, who rushed for three touchdowns on the night, was covered but managed to pull in the pass to keep the game alive.
Sacco (nine carries, 79 yards) rushed for nine yards and then broke free on a keeper to the left sideline for 26 yards and got out of bounds at the Attleboro 11. On the next play, Conner completed the comeback by finding a seam right up the gut for the score.
“They’re a really good team – good defensive team, good on offense – and they have great players but we just had to fight through it to be the better team,” Conner said.
Attleboro’s offense had found ways to come back all game long, but with only 32 seconds, there just wasn’t enough time to get up the field and a pass to Cote for four yards on fourth and 10 ended the game.
“Our offense played really, really well,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “Weir played awesome, it was just back-and-forth. We could definitely win the game, we just didn’t give him enough time at the end.”
Both offenses were able to move the ball from the opening kick-off. Mansfield took its opening possession 56 yards on seven plays to get a quick lead. Gill finished off the drive with a seven-yard sweep.
The Bombardiers returned the favor with a 12-play, 75-yard drive on its first possession. Attleboro surprised the Hornets by going to the air with greater frequency than usual and junior Jason Weir (18-29, 251 yards) had a big night, hitting nine different receivers. After catching a halfback pass from Ethan Cameron (five catches, 69 yards), Weir capped the drive with a three-yard toss to Jacob Weatherford.
Mansfield got the lead back late in the second quarter when Sacco threw a 26-yard strike to Conner, who had gotten wide open in the front corner of the end zone. Attleboro answered right back, as Weir connected with sophomore Justin Daniels to make it 14-14 with 2:28 left in the half.
That was plenty of time for Mansfield to add another touchdown. Sacco got the Hornets to the Attleboro 31 and then Gill broke free for his second score of the night. He cut back on a sweep, finding a hole in the middle of the line and exploding through it.
“He’s special and I think we have a very good running back,” Redding said of Gill. “Vinnie [Holmes] had some decent runs, but they were bottling us up inside and Khristian ran hard, Cincere ran hard, Aidan had some nice runs and throws and just doing enough to overcome some injuries.”
Even with just a minute on the clock, Attleboro was able to get the ball into the red zone again and had a touchdown called back when the officials ruled Weir had cross the line of scrimmage before he threw. Makhi Baskin picked off the final throw of the half. Coming out of the break, the Bombardiers got the ball again, but on the first play Weir was stripped of the ball and Holmes recovered for the Hornets at the Attleboro 23.
Mansfield took advantage of the short field and Sacco got on the board with an 11-yard keeper to make it 28-14. It felt like the Hornets were about to break the game wide open. Instead, Attleboro came right back down field and cut the lead to one score. A 13-play, 75 yard drive ended on a one-yard sneak by Weir to make it 28-21.
The track meet continued on Mansfield’s next possession. Sacco hit Conner for a 26-yard completion to get into Attleboro territory. Four plays later, on fourth and two from the 21, Gill took another sweep around the end and broke free, adding his third touchdown of the night. Attleboro would give itself a lifeline by blocking Michael DeBolt’s extra point attempt, but it was a 13-point Mansfield lead.
Attleboro made it a quick response. Weir got the ball out to the sideline to Kevin Velazquez-Rivera, who then turned up field and showed off his speed for a 45-yard touchdown. Evans made a huge stop on third and five, stuffing Sacco for a four-yard loss and forcing a rare Mansfield punt.
The Bombardiers came right back, with Weir connecting with Cameron on a fourth down pass to the near sideline that kept the drive going. After a 20-yard completion to Cote, the senior running back took it himself, going straight up the middle for the 12-yard TD. Briggs held his nerve to put Attleboro in front and on the verge of arguably the program’s biggest win since its move to the Hock.
But, Mansfield showed that it has some grit as well. The Hornets found a way to pull out the victory and will go into the final week of the regular season with a chance to clinch the title outright.
“These games just always seem to go back-and-forth,” Strachan said. “We’ve just got to bounce back against Franklin and play well. I thought we did a good job; they’ve got athletes everywhere, you’ve got to defend everything.”
Redding noted that the Hornets lost a pair of seniors, Chris Copponi and Daenin Walker, to injuries. He said, “We’ve had adversity every week but still find a way to beat an awfully good football team.”
Mansfield (5-1, 4-0) will travel to Oliver Ames next week to try and close out a perfect league campaign and potentially take the top spot in Div. 2 South. Attleboro (4-2, 2-2) will try to bounce back and possibly secure a first round home game in the Div. 1 South tournament with a trip to Franklin.
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – It may have only been the second week of the season and both teams had yet to even play a handful of games this fall, but the intensity of the play on the pitch Wednesday night was reminiscent of a playoff game or at least when these teams meet with the Blue-Red Cup on the line.
It was tight, it was physical, and in the end it was tied. Briley Harnois scored with 15 minutes left in the game to cancel out Kayla Pasquel’s first half strike and earn Attleboro a point in a 1-1 draw with North Attleboro on the Beaupre Field turf.
“We’ve been a slow starting team and I challenged them today to really start right off the opening whistle,” said Attleboro coach Steve Santos. “They worked hard. We knew it was going to be a physical game. They have a lot of speed up top and on the wings and we knew we had to slow them down.”
The Rocketeers created enough chances over the course of the game that on another day, with more composed finishing, they could have pulled out the victory. But, for all the chances created by the hosts, the two goalies finished with the same amount of saves because North struggled to put the ball on frame.
North Attleboro coach Bill Wallace said, “We had some chances. A lot of shots we were leaning back on and they were going high, but this is a completely different team than last year and these kids are working real hard. It’s been a crazy preseason, crazy start to the season, and we’re starting to find ourselves.”
Ashlyn Gaulin was the primary focus of the Attleboro defense, with several players taking turns to man-mark the senior forward (who has accounted for six points in a game twice already this season), but she was still able to work scoring opportunities.
Just seven minutes in, Gaulin’s nifty footwork opened up the Attleboro defense but her shot from the right side of the box was right at Bombardiers goalie Tayla Drape. Seven minutes later, Gaulin flicked a pass through the defense to Pasquel, who then gave it right back but the shot went over the bar.
North found its breakthrough in the 23rd minute. Again it was Gaulin who opened up the Attleboro back line, showing off her skill to get space on the left side and then deftly chipping a cross to the back post. Pasquel beat her defender to the ball and bundled it over the line for a 1-0 advantage.
While Attleboro was not getting as many shots on goal, the Bombardiers were giving North’s defense something to worry about on the break with the speed of Harnois and fellow sophomore Isabella Salviati keeping the Rocketeers on their toes. Senior defenders Sam Hawkins and Bishop Feehan transfer Olivia Bishop both had to cut out chances.
After Julia Reyes had a shot from the right wing that went into the side netting, Attleboro got its first shot on target in the 35th minute. A Harnois free kick from 25 yards was saved under the bar by a leaping Emma Noreck.
Just a minute later, Emma Gaulin sent in an angled free kick from nearly midfield that found the head of Haley Ferrin, but the header was right at Drape. North had one more chance before halftime, as Emma Gaulin played the ball through to Lydia Santos, who picked out Ashlyn Gaulin, who then fed Pasquel, but again the final shot was too high and off target.
The Rocketeers continued to get shots off early in the second half. Pasquel teed up Alex Moulson racing in from the left side but she could not keep the shot down under pressure from Ashley Lauzier and Gaulin and Pasquel combined again for a chance only to have the shot smack off the football goalposts.
“I rotated a few defenders on Ashlyn to keep her man-marked,” Santos explained, “and in the second half we had to push a few more up and create more chances, put pressure on their backs. They had some chances early that I’m sure they wish they had back.”
As long as the game stayed 1-0, Attleboro felt like it had a shot. In the 55th minute, Jessica Gates got free on the right and her cross went all the way across the box to Reyes, who had her shot blocked. The rebound bounced to Salviati but again the shot found the leg of a North defender. Three minutes later, Gates had a long free kick that Noreck was able to catch.
In the 65th minute, the Bombardiers found an equalizer. Salviati ran onto a bouncing ball down the right side and played a clever, one-touch pass in behind the North defense that Harnois was able to run onto. With Noreck racing off her line to cut down the angle, Harnois made no mistake with a rasping finish into the far corner.
“It was a good finish,” Santos said. “I thought she had one more chance when she came down here and she just mis-struck it. When you show up at North Attleboro, you know it’s going to be a battle.”
After the goal, Attleboro had momentum and nearly took the lead but Reyes’ cross was just in front of Salviati on the edge of the six-yard-box. North had one last chance in the final six minutes, but Gaulin saw her line drive free kick held by Drape.
“We’re beginning to be a little more offensive,” said Santos. “We have some girls who are feisty and they’re willing to be scrappy. The girls are starting to believe in themselves and that’s what you need to compete in the Hock.”
Wallace added, “This was a good motivational game for them because the intensity was there. We hadn’t faced this kind of intensity yet this year. At this point in the season, we’ll take the point and move on, but hopefully we’ll finish those chances.”
Attleboro (1-2-1) will try to build on the draw when it hosts defending league champ King Philip on Monday. North Attleboro (2-0-2), which moved into a one-point lead in the Davenport, will host Taunton on Saturday morning.
ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Attleboro head coach Peter Pereira knew he needed junior outside back Josh Smith to have a strong game defensively.
Not only did Smith deliver, he gave a little extra.
Smith scored his first career goal in the 71st minute to break open a scoreless game to help the Bombardiers take a 2-0 decision over Canton in their season opener.
“More importantly than the goal, he defended their best player,” Pereira said. “We were trying to find someone to finish, we tried subbing too. It was good for Josh to get it. He’s a solid player, he’s not a flashy player but he’s very smart.”
For the majority of the game, Smith was tasked with dealing with a Bulldogs’ offense that scored four goals in their season opener just days earlier against Marshfield. But he was able to give Attleboro the lead just inside the final 10 minutes.
After a free kick was partially cleared by the Bulldogs’ defense, junior Michael Russo delivers a service back into the area. Sophomore Joey Soucy ran onto it and fired a one-time shot from in close. Canton keeper Alejandro Correal made a terrific first save but the rebound popped loose and Smith was there to tap it in for a 1-0 lead.
“It was a good win, the kids are excited,” Pereira said. Attleboro was the last of the 12 Hockomock teams to kickoff its 2018 campaign. “They’ve been ready to go, everyone else has been playing. They were nervous in the first half but then we settled down and it was a totally different team out there for us in the second half.”
The game was loaded was chances for both sides but it wasn’t until Smith’s goal in the final 10 minutes either side broke through.
With Canton down a goal and pushing for an equalizer, Attleboro senior Will Halben gained possession just over half after a turnover. He went at the defense with pace, getting by his mark and rifling a shot into the far corner to make it 2-0 in the 77th minute.
“Towards the end of the game, when you’re up by a goal, he can be deadly,” Pereira said of Halben, who has been the Bombardiers’ leading scorer for the past two years. “He had a couple of chances earlier too and he’ll get a couple of those each game, but it was nice to have him finish.”
The Bulldogs had the better of play for the first 40 minutes but couldn’t find the back of the net. Griffin Roach had a header off Paul Corcoran’s throw-in saved by Attleboro keeper Andre Menard in the opening 15 minutes.
The best chance came off the foot of TJ McCabe. After winning possession near midfield, the sophomore beat off two defenders to gain some space before ripping a hard shot from 25 yards out that just sailed over the crossbar.
“You can’t play 40 minutes of the first half where you’re really on your front foot dominating and not score a goal and think you’re going to win a game, you can’t do that in the Hockomock League,” said Canton head coach Danny Erickson, now in his 26th season at the helm of the Bulldogs.
“Attleboro is too good a team for that. I thought we played great soccer today, pretty much start to finish. I thought the second half was even, we both had some chances. I thought we dominated the first half but Attleboro was clean with a couple finishes in the end and that was the difference. But that was a great Hockomock League game. We could have come out on top but Attleboro deserved it today.”
The first half hour of the second half was full of goal scoring chances, including two from Canton inside the first 15 minutes. Corcoran linked up with McCabe, who found Cruz but his chance was turned aside. Two minutes later, Roach once again got his head on a throw by Corcoran but it went just over the bar.
The Bombardiers next best chance came 10 minutes later when Eli Araujo played Halben into space behind the defense and the senior got past Correal but was forced wide enough by the keeper where his tough angle shot went high.
“The first half, they had the play and then in the second half I thought we outplayed them a little bit,” Pereira said. “They are a good team, they play physical, they play quick, they have size. That was a good game. You knew whoever got the first goal was going to get the win. We ended up with two nice ones.”
Attleboro boys soccer (1-0 Hockomock, 1-0 overall) faces another stiff challenge on Wednesday when it welcomes Mansfield (2-0) to Tozier-Cassidy Field. Canton (0-1, 1-1) will try to bounce back when it hits the road to take on Foxboro on the same day.