NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Attleboro scored twice in its first five plays from scrimmage but with less than a minute remaining on the clock North Attleboro (4-7) was driving with a chance to steal the 99th annual Thanksgiving Day meeting between the two neighboring rivals on the soaked grass at Community Field.
Rocketeers backup quarterback Casey Poirier, who took over from sophomore Tyler DeMattio (17 carries, 83 yards) in the fourth quarter, engineered a 15-play drive from his own 20 all the way down to the Attleboro five-yard-line.
Fellow quarterback Jason Weir pushed North back when he grabbed hold of Poirier and swung him down for a nine-yard sack back to the 14 and on third and goal junior linebacker Michael Strachan came through with a game-ending interception in the end zone, sealing a dramatic 13-7 victory for the Bombardiers.
“I think we prepared really hard for this game and I think it just goes to show, this rivalry, what it means,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan after his third win in this holiday series. “[North] played great, they’re always prepared, but this is what it’s all about.”
While Attleboro (6-5) made the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in D1 South, neither team had big postseason plans this year, so both had weeks to prepare for Thursday’s game and it took on added importance, as Weir, who won the Balfour Trophy for Offensive MVP, succinctly explained.
“It means so much,” he said. “This is our Super Bowl. It’s phenomenal.”
North was able to move the ball on its opening drives, but couldn’t finish. The Rocketeers got to the Attleboro 39 on its opening possession but a bad snap on fourth and one ended the drive, while the second possession reached the Attleboro 35 but another turnover on downs meant no points.
Attleboro had none of those problems at the start of the game. The Bombardiers went 52 yards in three plays on the their first possession and then 65 yards on two plays on their second to build a solid lead.
On the first play from scrimmage, Weir (7-of-10, 104 yards) hit Ethan Cameron (five catches, 88 yards) in stride for a 43-yard completion to the North five. Two plays later, Strachan burst through the left side for a five-yard score. After completing a 13-yard pass to Cameron to start the second drive, Weir took it himself, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage and breaking free for a 52-yard touchdown to make it 13-0.
“That was the whole game plan, come out and throw the first punch,” said Weir. “That works against any high school team, they’re going to back down right away and that’s what we did today. Our line stepped up huge today.”
Coach Strachan said of Weir, “I think we finally put him in a situation where he could make some plays for us, make him comfortable, roll him out a little bit more, and that was good.”
The visiting Bombardiers felt like they might break the game wide open and put things away, but the North defense started to stiffen, with Tom O’Neil, Ethan Friberg, and Jacob Silva all making plays that kept Attleboro from gaining more traction offensively.
Also, the North offense finally found a way to complete a drive. The Rocketeers marched 77 yards on 11 plays to cut into the lead. DeMattio led the way, with help from Tommy Whalen and a 27-yard run up the gut by Silva. Attleboro forced fourth an 10 after pressure by Trainor Sherck and a breakup by Adam Pearlstein, but then Demattio scrambled for 12 yards to keep the possession alive.
DeMattio added 16 more on a quarterback draw to get to the Attleboro four and two plays later Jared Penta took a jet sweep over the left side for a three-yard score to make it 13-7 with a minute left before the break.
“We gave up two touchdowns in the first five plays of the game and that’s been the story of our season,” said North coach Don Johnson. “We give up too many easy ones like that and all of a sudden we have to dig out of a hole.
Johnson was asked if he changed anything defensively after Attleboro’s two quick strikes and he answered, “We played a little bit of a different front, but I don’t think that was the difference. I think we just started playing a little bit better.”
The third quarter was largely a stalemate. Weir had a sack to effectively end North’s first possession of the half and Attleboro just missed out on extending the lead when Cameron was ruled to be out of bounds on a catch in the end zone on fourth and 11.
After just missing out on the touchdown, Attleboro had a chance to break the game open two plays later. Justin Daniels tipped a DeMattio pass that was picked off by Pearlstein, setting the visitors up at the North 20. The Bombardiers managed six yards on three plays and a low snap led to a missed 31-yard field goal by Colby Briggs with 9:43 to play.
Attleboro wouldn’t see the ball again for more than nine minutes.
Starting at its own 20, North took over going into the wind and put together a drive that gave it a shot at the win. Defensive MVP Isaac Gudiel stuffed Silva (nine carries, 53 yards) for a two-yard loss to force a third and 10, but then a pass interference call gave the Rocketeers a much-needed first down.
Poirier picked out Ethan Friberg for 10 yards to the 33. After a penalty backed North up five yards, Silva gained 13 on a draw. Gudiel stuffed Silva for a loss to bring up third and 11, but Poirier again had the answer with a 12-yard pass to Whalen for another first down to the nine.
Coming out of a timeout with 1:14 to play, North drew an illegal substitution penalty that backed it up to the 14, but Penta gained nine on first and goal to get the Rocketeers up to the five. Weir came flying through on second down, dropping Poirier for a nine-yard loss and forcing North into its final timeout with 27 seconds on the clock.
On third and goal, Strachan made amends for allowing an earlier completion by jumping the route and picking off a pass two yards deep in the end zone to end the game and bring Hilda back to Attleboro.
“I was on him because he missed the play before,” joked Coach Strachan about his son’s game-clinching play, “so they ran the same route and he undercut it and it was good.”
When asked about how much winning on Thanksgiving means, Strachan added, “It’s huge. We battled injuries just like everyone else has, but this was a big game for the program. Like I said to the kids, these games mean something and these kids responded.”
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin has made a name for itself this season with a high-powered offense that is capable of a big play at any time, but in Friday’s Div. 1 South quarterfinal at Pisini Stadium the Panthers showed that there is another side to their game as well.
The Franklin defense only allowed Attleboro to cross midfield once all night, allowing the Panthers to grind out a 14-0 victory on a pair of second half touchdowns and book a second straight appearance in the sectional semifinal.
“What I told the kids at halftime is this is going to be a character test,” said Franklin coach Eian Bain. “We’re going to define out character right here and you have to win these types of games this time of year.”
He added, “We needed to call a better game and get our guys in better positions, but I think once we went into the half we felt more comfortable with what they were in so we felt better about the calls we were making and had a better idea of how to attack them.”
The Panthers got the ball to start the second half and they put in their best drive of the game to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Franklin marched 66 yards on 13 plays, showing off a balance between the ground game with Owen Palmieri (14 carries, 65 yards) and its typically potent passing game.
It was a methodical drive. Until the Panthers got inside the red zone, no play went for more than 11 yards and they converted four third downs. Thomas Gasbarro (20-of-31, 187 yards) hit four different receivers on the possession, including Palmieri, who finished with more than 100 yards of total offense, Jake Davis (eight catches, 82 yards), and Jack Nally.
It was Nally (five catches, 48 yards) who made the big play, grabbing a pass on the near sideline and shaking the grasp of an Attleboro tackler to get into the end zone from 16 yards out.
“I think we were really good on third down in the second half and in the first half a couple times we got bogged down on the other end of the field,” Bain explained. “Part of that was trying to get us in better third down situations so it wasn’t third and eight all game and maybe more third and fours and fives.”
Attleboro quarterback Jason Weir was injured while playing defensive back on that drive, possibly after nearly sacking Gasbarro on the play preceding the touchdown, and sophomore Blake Garzaro stepped in to replace him.
Garzaro was one of several underclassmen that got significant playing time due to injuries. With regular starters like Michael Strachan, Isaac Gudiel, and Justin Daniels out, Kaiden Murray (13 carries, 59 yards), Adam Pearlstein, Freddy Wheaton, and Alvin Harrison all had the chance to take on bigger roles and Attleboro coach Mike Strachan was pleased with what he saw from the younger guys.
“I can’t be prouder,” he said. “We had five sophomores out there and went toe-to-toe for three quarters and a little more tonight. I thought we played physical, we didn’t quit, and they’ve got athletes everywhere but I thought we contained them. It’s something to build off for our young kids for sure.”
Franklin moved the ball well on its second possession of the half as well, but Gasbarro was sacked at the Attleboro 24 to end the third quarter and Qualeem Charles put pressure on the quarterback to force an incompletion on third down. Kicker Parker Cheuvront, who had missed from 27 yards in the first quarter, had his kick blocked and it remained a one-score game.
Again it was the Panthers defense that came through to get the ball right back. Austin Jordan sacked Garzaro for a 10-yard loss and on third down they were able top wrap Murray up on a 14-yard gain that came up four yards short of the marker.
“We knew if we have points, the way our defense has been playing we could do a lot of great things,” Bain said. “We just needed to get over the hump and get on the board. It also put more pressure on them because they were happy to grind the tempo down. “
Starting at midfield, Franklin put together a drive to seal the victory. Palmieri and Gasbarro each rushed for five yards for a first down and then Nally followed with back-to-back six yard sweeps for another. A seven-yard draw to Nally with 10 yards tacked on because of a personal foul got the Panthers to the Attleboro 11.
Charles came through with a big stop on Palmieri for a four-yard loss. Two penalties and a loss of yards on a Gasbarro scramble pushed Franklin back to the 17 for fourth and 16. Gasbarro tried to get to the marker with his legs and appeared to have the first down only for a holding call to bring the play back to the 23.
Again Franklin went for it and this time found the end zone. Gasbarro picked out Davis at the two-yard-line and the senior receiver twisted and stretched his way to pay dirt.
Davis then wrapped up the win with two minutes remaining when he made an acrobatic, juggling interception.
“We didn’t know what they were going to come out in because they could’ve gone a lot of different ways today,” Bain said of the Bombardiers. “I thought they had a great game plan on both sides of the ball and really gave us a hard time tonight.”
Franklin (6-2) advances to the sectional semifinal for the second straight season and will host Brockton in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal that the Panthers won. Attleboro (3-5) will wait for the identity of its next opponent.
NORWOOD, Mass. – For the first time in her four-year varsity career, Attleboro senior Anna Beck was experiencing the playoffs. The Bryant University-commit and recently named Hockomock League MVP made sure to extend that experience, and Attleboro’s season, for at least a couple more days.
Beck scored a pair of goals leading the Bombardiers back from a goal down to secure a 2-1 win in the opening round of the playoffs at Norwood on Wednesday afternoon. It is the first postseason win for the program since 2015.
“On thing about this team is I really have confidence in them as a comeback team,” said Attleboro coach Lindsay Antunes. “They’re really able to overcome. They dig deep, come back and not settle.”
Norwood jumped out to a lead midway through the first half, but Beck brought Attleboro back level, finishing off a sequence from a corner with a backhand shot through traffic. The Bombardiers had a number of chances to try and grab a lead but it stayed tied into the final two minutes when Beck was given space on the edge of the circle and her blast took an audible tip off a Norwood stick and snuck inside the post.
“That was just so relieving because it was such a close game and I really thought it was going to get into overtime, but when that went in it was like, oh my god!” Beck explained after the game.
“It feels great,” she added. “First time making the playoffs and win the first game, so it’s really exciting.”
The final 90 seconds of the game felt a lot longer, as the Bombardiers held on against a final Norwood flurry. Beck said, “I just wanted to get the ball and hold onto it and not give it to the other team. We got it and…we did it.”
Despite that opportunity, the Mustangs looked more comfortable in the opening sequence and were able to grab the lead. Maggie Curran found space in front of goal and had three tries before finally getting one past an Attleboro stick and into the net. It was almost doubled on another great move up the field but Curran sent it just wide.
“I think there were a few nerves for our girls,” Antunes said. “Norwood being a team that we don’t normally see and don’t know much about was a little unsettling, but Anna really fired everybody up today.”
Beck helped turn the tide. She broke free down the right side for the first time and then smacked a pass down the sideline to Ellis, who in turn sent it across to Emily Rosen. The initial shot was blocked but won Attleboro a corner. The Bombardiers nearly scored but a shot was blocked with a leg on the goal line. The resulting corner found its way to Beck, who went to her left and picked out the far corner.
She said, “It really helped boost up our team. We’ve struggled in the past coming back from a deficit but we’ve gotten better at that and just getting that one goal and tying it gave us a little motivation, that extra little bit to keep going.”
The Bombardiers almost grabbed the lead with five minutes to go before the break but Hannah Webster had her shot kicked aside by Norwood goalie Talia Fruci. In the final seconds, it was Norwood’s turn to come close as Molly Mannering crossed it to Allie McDonough right in front only to have goalie Ava Haggerty come through with a clutch save.
Three minutes after the break, the Mustangs nearly broke free again but McDonough was stopped in front of goal by Kiera Murray, who was the last line of defense.
Attleboro had its chances in front. Beck forced a kick save on a shot from distance and then Ellis was denied from close-range on the rebound. Beck then fed Ellis in front only for Fruci to make another stop and Sarah McMahonswung the rebound narrowly wide.
Amanda Burns had a pair of chances with 15 minutes to play. Her chipped shot was blocked aside and then her rebound effort was kicked wide as well. Five minutes later Compton set up Ellis again in front only for Fruci to make another big stop to keep the game tied.
Haggerty made her fourth stop of the game to keep McDonough out on a quick break, but it was mostly Attleboro with the pressure and it finally paid off with about 90 seconds remaining in the game. Beck was given time to wind up and fire a shot into a crowd in front. The ball took an important touch in the crease before nestling into the corner.
“As a collective group, this team may be a little young, but they all want it so badly and they’ve all worked so hard all off-season,” said Antunes. “They’ve come so far even since August. It’s night and day.”
She added, “They’re such hard workers right up to the last second obviously, to the last 1:40. They’re smart and work so hard and work together.”
Attleboro (9-7-3) will travel to Flahive Field to take on No. 4 seed Westwood on Saturday afternoon.
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Attleboro (7-9-2) arrived at Pisini Stadium on Monday night needing a win in its season finale to clinch a postseason berth for the first time under head coach Steve Santos and first time since the Bombardiers joined the Hockomock League. Unfortunately for the visitors, they were facing a team that has made its mark this season by frustrating opposing attacks.
Franklin locked down defensively once again, recording its 11th shutout in its last 12 games (only league champion King Philip has managed to score against the Panthers in the last five weeks) and dashing Attleboro’s playoff hopes with a 2-0 victory.
The Panthers have allowed only eight goals all season, which is second best in the league, but six of those goals came in the opening five games. A lineup change, moving senior Anna Balkus to left back from her attacking midfield role, solidified that side of the field and allowed classmate Sabrina Addi to dominate in the middle. Freshman Norah Anderson and senior Sam Powderly have grown into their center and right back roles.
“We moved her to the back and she just took over and that allowed Sabrina not to have everything on her shoulders,” said Franklin coach Tom Geysen. “Being able to move Anna around and now put Sammy on the side where she feels more comfortable, on the right side because she’s right-footed, makes things a little easier. And Norah has come a long way, for a freshman she’s played very well.”
Addi did more than just limit the Bombardiers to shots from distance, she also showed off her own long-range prowess. She found the back of the net twice on free kicks from 30-plus yards, supplying the Panthers with all the scoring they would need for the night.
“She’s been doing it all season,” Geysen said of Addi’s ability on set pieces. He added, “We don’t score a lot of goals (28 in 17 games) and that’s one of the problems we have, so if we don’t play good defense then we’re in trouble.”
It was a frustrating night for Attleboro coach Steve Santos, who watched the Bombardiers claw their way into contention with a hard-fought win against North Attleboro on Sunday afternoon in the annual Blue-Red Cup match. A day later and a little banged up, especially after junior forward Isabella Salviati was forced to the bench with a rib injury, the Bombardiers couldn’t find a way past the Franklin back line.
“We played yesterday in the rain,” said Attleboro coach Steve Santos. “Everyone was coming in here a little ragged and that’s not the way you want to go into a playoff game. We battled hard. I’m proud of the team, they don’t quit. They give us everything they got left in the tank.”
Neither team was able to create many clear-cut chances through the first half. Sydney St. Marie had the first good look for the Panthers when she was played into the right channel, but Emily Antonik was able to put pressure on her and make it a comfortable save for Ashley Macia.
Franklin nearly grabbed the lead midway through the half when Carly Alston’s corner was met by Erin Quaile, but the junior midfielder’s header smack the bar and stayed out. Macia was able to scramble and cover the rebound.
Attleboro had a couple of chances late in the half, but both were shots from well outside the area. Jessica Gatesstepped past a couple of Franklin defenders to open up space, but her shot was held by Atwood. A minute later, Briley Harnois got shooting space from 20 yards and sent a shot narrowly wide of the post.
“Their defense is so stingy, so difficult,” said Santos. “No. 4 (Addi) is a rock back there. She’s hard to get through. She’s strong on the ball, she goes into tackles strong. They didn’t give us much. We knew it was going to be a close one, we knew it was going to be a battle, and we were hoping that we’d get the bounce we needed.”
The hosts came storming out of the break determined to grab the lead and not allow the Bombardiers to get the advantage that they were desperately seeking. Quaile played in Alston between the center backs but she shot early and hit it straight at the keeper. Chloe Barca whipped in a cross from the right a few minutes later that St. Marie hit first-time but again Macia was in the right position to hold on.
“Those two kids up front,” Geysen said of Harnois and Salviati, “if you make a mistake they can hurt you and that’s what I told the girls at halftime. I said that they need to stop dropping, one of you take the person who’s there and the other will be the second defender. You can’t keep dropping and giving them more space.”
Ten minutes after the break, Addi broke the deadlock with an unstoppable rocket from nearly 40 yards out. Her shot smacked the underside of the bar on its way through. Fourteen minutes after that and from the other side of the field, she went for goal from more than 30 yards and was able to slip it just past the outstretched arms of the keeper to make it 2-0.
That goal put Attleboro in the unenviable position of having to score three goals in just 16 minutes against a team that had allowed only two goals in a month and hadn’t allowed three goals in a game once this season.
The best chance for the Bombardiers came nine minutes from full time when Harnois curled a ball into the box from the near midfield. The clearance was indecisive and fell to the feet of Emily Dunlea, who drew a save out of Atwood.
Santos explained, “Today was our tournament test. It’s tough. We wanted more for this team and we’ll always look back at a couple of those games that we wish we had back, but to be playing and fighting at this time of the year, we’re playing great soccer.”
Franklin (12-4-1) will find out its tournament opponent when the draw comes out on Friday.