CANTON, Mass. – Stoughton senior Jeff Grier was mostly a spectator during last year’s Thanksgiving game against rival Canton, a game the Bulldogs ran away with.
After not getting a carry on the holiday as a junior, Grier wanted to make the most of his opportunity this time around.
The senior delivered, and in a big way. Grier had 15 carries for 211 yards and scored three touchdowns to pace the Black Knights to a 28-7 win over the Bulldogs in the 93rd annual meeting on Thanksgiving.
“This felt great,” Grier said. “I didn’t play last year so this is my first real Thanksgiving game. Senior year, my last game, I just went out there and did my best, did what I could to help the team. Coming into today, we really wanted to bring [the trophy] back home and that’s what we did.”
Grier entered his final season as the top home run threat type running back in the Hockomock, capable of breaking off a big play on any carry. But injuries hampered his season, and Stoughton head coach Greg Burke said Thursday morning was the first time his starting running back was fully healthy all season.
“We played hard today, Grier got going – this is the first week he’s been healthy, and he’s a great kid,” Burke said. “The line played well, we don’t have the biggest line but they are tough, we have some tough kids.
“The kids wanted that trophy back so bad after we lost it last year.”
The teams were tied 7-7 at halftime before Grier went off in the second half with three unanswered scores to lead the way.
It took the Stoughton offense very little time to take its first lead of the game. After receiving the kick off to begin the second half, the Black Knights needed just two plays. On 2nd and 13, Grier came across the formation on a counter, found a small hole, burst through it and raced his way to a 66-yard touchdown. Josh Cocchi made all four of his extra points on the day, this one putting Stoughton up 14-7 with 10:02 left in the third quarter.
Canton’s offense took the field and looked primed to respond with a strong drive of their own. Highlighted by a 20-yard run from Kyle Fitzgerald (10 carries, 49 yards), the Bulldogs moved to the Stoughton 25-yard line.
But Stoughton’s defense clamped down, holding Canton to a short gain on first down, getting an incomplete pass on second down, and Savion Scott coming up with a big sack on third down. The Black Knights forced a turnover on downs with an incomplete pass on fourth.
The Black Knights offense went back to work, using a strong ground game to move up the field. Christian Ais (65 all purpose yards) had a 19 yard run and Alex Iverson followed with 15 more yards to get to the Canton 33-yard line.
On second down, sophomore quarterback John Burke (3-for-3, 68 yards) connected with Christopher Ais for 16 yards. On the next play, Grier fought his way through a tackle and found the end zone on an 18-yard carry. Stoughton led 21-7 with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve played hard the last couple of weeks, we’ve just turned the ball over too many times,” Burke said. “We’ve played some tough teams this year, we’ve been up and down. I’m just happy for these guys that we finished strong today, it’s really rewarding for all they’ve been through this year.
“That’s a good Canton team, I don’t want to see them next year but I know we will. I love Dave [Bohane] and all of his guys, they are great coaches. It’s just phenomenal for the town of Stoughton and all of they’ve gone through.”
Stoughton’s defense forced a three and out but Canton’s defense answered with the same, with Brendan Albert coming up with a big nine-yard tackle for loss on third down to force a Stoughton punt.
The Black Knights’ defense didn’t allow Canton’s offense to get going at all, with Evan Jackman and Jacob Brisson combining to stop a runner for no gain on second down, and Christian Georges batting down a third-down pass at the line of scrimmage to force a punt.
Stoughton’s next offensive possession was short lived as Albert came from behind to knock the ball free and the Bulldogs recovered. But on the first play of the ensuing drive, Canton junior quarterback Johnny Hagan was picked off on a deep pass by Stoughton junior Anthony Pizzano with 6:00 left in the game.
“We kept those guys in check, they’ve been running all over people,” Burke said. “We did well today [on defense]. We kept it simple, used our simplest defense. We had to make sure that [Hagan] doesn’t kill you. We had a couple of spies on him every play, you have to. He’s a guy where nothing is happening on a play and all of a sudden he’s in the end zone.
Facing a 3rd and 14 at its own 28, Stoughton elected to keep the ball on the ground to kill more clock but Grier was able to turn the corner and get up field and no one was able to catch him as he sprinted for a 72-yard score and a 28-7 lead with 4:34 to play.
Canton scored the first touchdown of the day. After punting on the opening drive, the Bulldogs got the ball back after stopping Stoughton’s offense and fake punt attempt. Canton took advantage of the short field and on fourth down, Hagan hit Fitzgerald for a 30-yard touchdown. Owen Lehane’s extra point made it 7-0 with 9:20 left in the first quarter.
Stoughton tied the game late in the first half. After stalling on its first two drives, the Black Knights went to the air to get things going offensively. Burke hit Christian Ais out of the backfield for a 48-yard pass, down to the 1-yard line. From there, Burke pushed it in himself and tied the game 7-7 with 1:45 left in the second quarter.
“I’m just really happy for the kids,” Burke said. “They sucked it up and it was a great way to finish the year.”
Stoughton football finishes the season 4-7 while Canton closes out 2018 with an 8-3 record.
CANTON, Mass. – At the final whistle, there wasn’t the type of celebration you would expect from a team that just played its first playoff game in decades, not to mention its first ever playoff game in front of its home fans. There was a quiet, subdued feeling as the Canton players surrounded their coaches to talk about a 27-13 win against no. 5 seed Hanover on Friday night at WWII Veterans Memorial Field.
“I think it was a learning experience,” said Canton coach Dave Bohane. “They are very excited about next week and believe me they are very happy but what you’re seeing there is more relief that the penalties and turnovers didn’t cost them.”
Junior running back Kyle Fitzgerald remarked, “Obviously, it was awesome. We came out here looking to win and we were confident. We had to overcome adversity, we had a whole lot of penalties and stuff, but we got it done. It feels good.”
While penalties slowed the game down, and cut short a couple of potential scoring drives for the hosts, Canton showed its resiliency in the second half. Hanover, which had struggled to sustain anything on offense, twice scored on big plays to cut the lead down to just a touchdown, but both times the Bulldogs answered with long possessions to extend the lead.
“It’s been the same thing all year, since the first game against D-R (Dighton-Rehoboth) when we were down at halftime, we came back,” Fitzgerald explained. “I know my team will come back after any adversity.”
Canton doesn’t have a lot of experience with the football playoffs, but the Bulldogs came out flying in the first quarter to jump in front by a couple scores.
After stuffing the Indians on the opening kickoff, the Canton defense forced a three-and-out and took over at its own 48. The offense went right to work with junior quarterback Johnny Hagan showing off his ability to make plays with his feet (15 carries, 87 yards) and his arm (7-of-17, 80 yards). He hit Gersom Rivera for a 23-yard completion on third down to get inside the five and then two plays later Brendan Albert punched it in from two yards out.
The Bulldogs were trying to send a message and they forced another three-and-out from the Hanover offense. On fourth down, punter Jack Delahunt rolled out to the far sideline and tried to make it to the sticks only to be cut down a yard short. Canton got the ball at the Indians 24.
Bohane said, “They wanted a finesse game and we wanted a power game and I thought we needed at the very beginning of the game we needed play on our terms. I thought for the most part we did, maybe to the point that we were a little over-aggressive and dealt with a lot of penalties.”
Hagan got 16 yards on second and 17 and then Rivera gained nine over a pair of carries. Fitzgerald (19 carries, 143 yards) took it from there, finding a seam from five yards out for a 14-0 lead at the end of the first 11 minutes.
“It kind of got the jitters out of our stomachs and gave us some breathing room,” said Fitzgerald about the quick start. “Obviously, they came back so if we didn’t have that lead early on then it could’ve been a different game.”
The game really could have been over by halftime. The defense continued to put pressure on Hanover quarterback Andrew Carroll, including a big pass rush from junior Jack Connolly and then a sack from Albert to get the ball back.
Canton marched right back into Hanover territory, with Hagan converting a fourth down play with a four-yard keeper. Fitzgerald then had the highlight of the night on a sweep to the left for 32 yards in which he hurdled a Hanover defensive back before being brought down at the Indians six. On the next play, the Bulldogs fumbled a handoff and lost possession.
After another defensive stand, the Bulldogs offense went on the move again. Fitzgerald had another big gain, this time for 35 yards, and Canton got as far as the Hanover 15 but then a holding call and a sack forced them back. A last-second pass to Rivera was tipped away and it was 14-0 at the break.
“I was very concerned that we didn’t put it away in the first half,” Bohane admitted. “We don’t commit a lot of turnovers but that was a turnover at the wrong time and it gave them a chance and we were fighting for the game into the fourth quarter.”
On its first possession of the second half, Hanover stunned the Canton crowd (and sideline) by finally finding a big play on offense. Despite Albert getting into the backfield and hitting Carroll as he threw, the Indians signal caller was able to get the ball downfield to Drew Berard, who beat his coverage for a 60-yard score.
The Bulldogs answered with a 17-play, 70-yard drive to regain the two-score advantage and eat up the final 8:44 of the third quarter. Hagan found Ryan Lentol on an eight-yard completion to convert a big third down and then Fitzgerald on a comeback route for nine yards on a fourth and eight. On third down, Hagan then connected with Jace Emma for a 13-yard score and a 20-7 lead.
“There were times that we didn’t move the chains when we needed it, like North Attleboro in the third quarter when we needed a big drive,” Bohane said, “So here we are a week later and we needed it and we got it. We had to make some adjustments but it was enough to win.”
Hanover came right back with a even more shocking play. On fourth and one, the Bulldogs had Evan Ritchie caught in the backfield, but he slipped out of the grasp of a would-be tackler and bolted up the Hanover sideline for a 66-yard score.
Rather than getting down, Canton just went back to work on offense, grinding out a 12-play, 72-yard, six-minute drive that sealed the win. Hagan gained 29 yards on a pair of keepers and had an 18-yard pass to Fitzgerald to get to the Hanover 20. After Fitzgerald got the Bulldogs got the ball to the two, Hagan was denied on a pair of sneaks, so the Bulldogs went back to Fitzgerald for the one-yard score to seal the win with three minutes to play.
Next Friday, Canton (7-1) will travel to Falmouth to face the top seeded Clippers. Fitzgerald was already looking forward to the trip. He said, “Foxboro almost did it tonight. (The Warriors lost 22-14 to Falmouth.) We know we can play with these guys. We were four points away from a potential one-seed, so we’re confident.”
Football – Playoffs D1 South
#4 Franklin, 26 vs. #5 Brockton, 3 – Final 1st Quarter: (B) Carlens Jean 27-yard field goal; (F) Nick Gordon 32-yard pass to Jack Nally, Parker Chevrant XP good.
2nd Quarter: (F) P. Chevrant 23-yard field goal; (F) N. Gordon 10-yard pass to Sean Leonard, P. Chevrant XP good; (F) Safety.
3rd Quarter: No scoring.
4th Quarter: (F) N. Gordon 1-yard rush, P. Chevrant XP good.
#6 Attleboro, 19 @ #3 Catholic Memorial, 42 – Final 1st Quarter: (CM) Barrett Pratt 16-yard pass to Hunter Tully, Thomas Leonard XP good; (CM) Darius Leclair 2-yard rush, XP blocked.
2nd Quarter: (CM) B. Pratt 30-yard pass to Brian Stubbs, Owen McGowen 2pt rush; (CM) Zach Mitchel 53-yard rush, Matt Sokol XP good.
3rd Quarter: (CM) B. Pratt 21-yard rush, M. Sokol XP good; (A) Jason Weir 1-yard rush, Colby Briggs XP good.
4th Quarter: (CM) B. Pratt 20-yard pass to B. Stubbs, M. Sokol XP good; (A) Justin Cote 94-yard kickoff return, XP failed; (A) Kevin Velazquez 44-yard fumble recovery, XP failed.
#1 Mansfield, 21 vs. #8 Bridgewater-Raynham, 7 – Final 1st Quarter: (M) Aidan Sacco 38-yard pass to Makhi Baskin, XP failed.
2nd Quarter: No scoring.
3rd Quarter: (BR) Anthony Morrison 56-yard rush, XP good.
4th Quarter: (M) Vinnie Holmes 12-yard rush, A. Sacco 2pt rush good; (M) Michael DeBolt 8-yard rush, M. DeBolt XP good.
#3 King Philip, 21 vs. #6 Braintree, 7 – Final 1st Quarter: (KP) Ryan Halliday 4-yard rush, Cole Baker XP good.
2nd Quarter: (B) Michael Tellier 1-yard rush, XP good; (KP) R. Halliday 1-yard rush, C. Baker XP good; (KP) Robbie Jarest 38-yard pass to David Morganelli, C. Baker XP good.
3rd Quarter: No scoring.
4th Quarter: No scoring.
#4 North Attleboro, 21 vs. #5 Whitman-Hanson, 13 – Final 1st Quarter: (NA) Brendan McHugh 18-yard rush, Tyler DeMattio XP good.
2nd Quarter: (WH) Rian Schwede 5-yard pass to Nate Beath, Jake O’Brien XP good; (NA) Nick Raneri 2-yard rush, T. DeMattio XP good; (WH) Ethan Phelps 7-yard rush, XP blocked.
3rd Quarter: No scoring.
4th Quarter: (NA) B. McHugh 5-yard rush, T. DeMattio XP good.
#8 Stoughton, 14 @ #1 Duxbury, 35 – Final 1st Quarter: (D) John Roberts 11-yard pass to Will Prouty, XP good.
2nd Quarter: (D) J. Roberts 15-yard pass to W. Prouty, XP good.
3rd Quarter: No scoring.
4th Quarter: (D) Tim Landolfi 12-yard rush, XP good; (S) Jeff Grier 18-yard rush, Jeff Cocchi XP good; (D) Jack Jacobson 42-yard rush, XP good; (S) John Burke 64-yard pass to Christian Ais, J. Cocchi XP good; (D) J. Roberts 15-yard pass to Ryan Prudente, XP good.
#4 Canton, 27 vs. #5 Hanover, 13 – Final 1st Quarter: (C) Brendan Albert 2-yard rush, Owen Lehane XP good; (C) Kyle Fitzgerald 5-yard rush, O. Lehane XP good.
2nd Quarter: No scoring.
3rd Quarter: (H) Andrew Carroll 60-yard pass to Drew Berard, Robbie Barrett XP good.
4th Quarter: (C) Johnny Hagan 13-yard pass to Jace Emma, XP missed; (H) Ethan Ritchie 66-yard rush, XP missed; (C) K. Fitzgerald 1-yard rush, O. Lehane XP good.
#8 Foxboro, 14 @ #1 Falmouth, 22 – Final 1st Quarter: (Fal) Jake Murphy 10-yard rush, J. Murphy 2pt rush; (Fox) Mike Luong 2-yard rush, Liam Foley 2pt pass to Brian Derba.
2nd Quarter: (Fal) J. Murphy 5-yard rush, Kyle Connolly 2pt rush; (Fox) L. Foley 15-yard pass to Shayne Kerrigan, 2pt pass failed.
3rd Quarter: No scoring.
4th Quarter: (Fal) J. Connolly 9-yard rush, 2pt failed.
Football – Non-Playoffs
Milford, 42 vs. Dartmouth, 6 – Final
Oliver Ames, 16 @ Medfield, 34 – Final 1st Quarter: (M) James Wilder 80-yard kick off return, Cameron Lund XP good; (M) Colby Gonser 3-yard rush, C. Lund XP good.
2nd Quarter: (M) Jimmy Cosolito 10-yard pass to Luke Slavick, C. Lund XP good.
3rd Quarter: (OA) Nathan Cabral 5-yard rush, Jake Erlich 2pt rush; (M) C. Gonser 5-yard rush, XP failed.
4th Quarter: (OA) N. Cabral 3-yard rush, Cam Perron 2pt pass to Ethan Eckstrom; (M) Luke Eilberto 3-yard rush, C. Lund XP good.
Sharon, 6 vs. Brookline, 24 – Final
Taunton, 47 vs. Weymouth, 20 – Final
Mansfield, 0 vs. Brockton, 1 – Final
Milford, 2 vs. Hopedale, 0 – Final – Milford scored once in each half to pick up a win at home over non-league rival Hopedale. Jordan Borges picked up where he left off from his game-winner against Canton, putting the Hawks up 1-0 in the first half on an assist from Leo Coelho. In the second half, junior Walisson de Oliveira doubled the lead on an assist from Joao Vitor Neiva. Lucas Caetano had a strong game defensively and Cam Doherty recorded the shutout in net.
North Attleboro, 3 @ Attleboro, 0 – Final – North Attleboro won the Blue-Red Cup behind two goals and an assist from Ashlyn Gaulin. Alex Moulson was also on the board for the Rocketeers, who got a team-record 10th shutout from goalie Emma Noreck. Morgan Silver, Bri Westcott, Sam Hawkins, Lydia Hershey, Liz Smahi and Olivia Bishop all had strong games defensively in front of Noreck.
Stoughton, 0 @ Sharon, 1 – Final – Sharon scored with 11 minutes to play to earn a win over Stoughton. The Black Knights thought they had the equalizer in the final minute but the goal was waved off for offside. Stoughton coach Tara Daniels said Nicole Weir had an outstanding game defensively for the Black Knights.
Mansfield, 1 @ Foxboro, 5 – Final
Milford @ Bellingham, 3:30
Stoughton, 1 @ North Attleboro, 3 – Final – Grace Cole, Jessica Stratham, and Hannah Alarie each scored once as North Attleboro earned a win at home over visiting Stoughton. Alanna McCormick scored for the Black Knights.
King Philip, 5 @ Algonquin, 0 – Final – King Philip built a 2-0 lead by halftime and finished strong with three goals in the second half. Meghan MacDonald (from Dana Truini) opened the scoring just over a minute into the game and then set up Abby Nixon five minutes later to go up 2-0. In the second half, Nicole Connor and Alli Meehan set each other up three minutes apart to increase the lead to 4-0. Claire Lawlor capped the scoring with 10 minutes to play on a feed from MacDonald.
Attleboro, 0 @ North Attleboro, 3 – Final
Canton, 3 vs. Quincy, 1 – Final – Canton fended off a comeback attempt from the Presidents of Quincy High, earning a 3-1 win at home (25-18, 25-18, 24-26, 25-18). Erin Devine had nine kills and six blocks to pace the Bulldogs at the net while Taylor Harris and Liz Bickett combined for 18 kills. Megan McDonough was amazing on defense with 22 digs and Nicole Brown continued her strong season with 25 assists and 10 digs.
King Philip, 0 @ North Quincy, 3 – Final – King Philip went on the road and suffered a 3-0 setback (21-25, 22-25, 13-25). For the Warriors, Catherine Waldeck had 11 kills and two blocks and Lily Carlow finished with five digs.
Oliver Ames, 1 @ Brockton, 3 – Final – Oliver Ames won the second set to knot the score at 1-1 but Brockton prevailed in the next two sets to get the win (17-25, 25-12, 12-25, 12-25). Jordan Bosse paced OA with 12 digs, eight kills, and a pair of aces. Sadie Homer added 37 digs, Allie Kemp finished with 22 assists, and Jackie Raymond chipped in with six blocks.
Sharon, 3 vs. Dedham, 0 – Final
Stoughton, 3 @ Cardinal Spellman, 0 – Final – Stoughton wrapped up the regular season with a sweep of Spellman. Molly Turner and Delaney Nagel combined for 23 kills and Amaya Morris (six blocks) and Mia Bennett (22 digs) provided strong defense for the Black Knights. Hanna Holden had 10 assists in the win.
CANTON, Mass. – The North Attleboro football team has waited all season for its defense to come up with a game-changing play.
In the final regular season game, with their backs against the wall and a chance to share the Davenport division on the line, the defense finally delivered.
With just over a minute to go, Canton found itself inside the red zone down by four. On second and eight from the 18, the Bulldogs went for the go-ahead score. Junior quarterback Johnny Hagan was forced to throw under pressure, and junior Gersom Rivera waited in the end zone with open arms, but North Attleboro senior Omar Jasseh made a terrific leaping interception to rob Canton of a touchdown, securing a 14-10 win for the Rocketeers.
“We’ve been all waiting all year [for that],” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “We really haven’t gotten a big play on defense all year. We’ve been hanging in and hanging in, and relying on our offense to chew up the clock. Tonight we needed our defense to step up and we finally got that big play.
“I was thinking it should have happened on three different plays, it felt like we could have picked it off. I think our kids were playing a little tentative and didn’t want to get burned deep when they probably could have made a play on the ball.”
Canton started its drive at the own 48 with 3:28 left in the game. After an incompletion and a three-yard rush, the Bulldogs quickly faced a third and seven scenario.
Hagan hit Ryan Lentol on a hitch route for eight yards to move the sticks, Rivera (seven carries, 35 yards) picked up six yards on the ground, and two plays later Hagan linked up with Jace Emma for 15-yards to get to the North 20-yard line. Two plays later, Jasseh made the play in the end zone to deny the Bulldogs the Davenport title outright.
“Credit to North, the pass rush started to get to us a bit,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “Johnny is a competitor, he tried to win the game, and he took a shot. North has good coaches, and they brought some kids, and I think they made Johnny get rid of the ball differently than he normally would. But I’m proud of my guys, they battled right to the wire as usual.
“We’ve come a long way. To be in a game of this magnitude, and still have some meaningful games to look forward to, that’s good for the program. I think we have a little rivalry with North Attleboro now. To win the Hockomock League is an accomplishment, and this was a pretty good game tonight. So I think this puts us in a good position heading into the playoffs.”
It was an exciting end to a second half that was dominated by both defenses. Before its final drive of the game, Canton’s first three chances of the second half all resulted in punts. The Bulldogs moved the ball 37 yards on their second drive, advancing into North territory but back-to-back negative plays forced a punt.
North Attleboro’s offense didn’t fare much better, but it was enough. The Rocketeers had a little success on their first drive of the second half, but a sack from Brendan Albert put North in a hole, and Canton forced a turnover on downs at midfield.
After getting the ball back, the Rocketeers hit the home run play they were looking for, but only after converting a fourth down. On 3rd and 16th, the Rocketeers spread things out but went with a QB draw and Nick Raneri (15 carries, 74 yards) sprinted up the middle for 15 yards. At their own 44, North went for it, and Raneri pounded his way for two yards and a first down.
On the next play, senior Brendan McHugh (12 carries, 106 yards) came across from the right side for a sweep but instead of going all the way across, the senior cut back up a gap on the right side and sprinted for a 54-yard touchdown to put North Attleboro up 14-10 with 54 seconds to go in the third quarter.
It was the only scoring play of the second half.
“We decided to try and spread them out a bit with our formation,” Johnson said of changes in the second half. “We were running a lot of double tight early, and we had success on the first drive of the game, but they have a hell of a defense and shut us down. At halftime, we thought we could loosen them up with the formation, and I think that helped free up McHugh a little.”
The Rocketeers had an ideal start to the contest. Canton’s first drive picked up 33 yards but stalled and was forced to punt. North’s offense went right to work, starting at its own 10-yard line.
North needed just five plays to go almost the entire length of the field. Raneri ran for 10 yards, McHugh went off for 14 yards, Raneri scrambled to find Ryan Gaumond for 42 yards and then went back to the ground for 20 more yards himself.
On first and goal, Raneri kept it himself and went in from four yards out for a 7-0 lead with 5:55 to go in the first.
“McHugh really has it all, he’s fast and he probably doesn’t get enough credit for his toughness,” Bohane said. “He runs hard and he’s a hard kid to bring down, especially with his speed. One of our coaches said he’s the best back in the league and at times he certainly looked like it. He’s good and Raneri is a handful, and they made some really nice play calls with him at the right time.”
The Bulldogs finally got things going offensively right at the end of the first quarter. Hagan ran for seven yards and hit Emma for a third down conversion. On the final play of the opening quarter, Hagan hit Kyle Fitzgerald (96 all purpose yards) up the seam for a 39-yard pass.
On the first play of the second quarter, Hagan pitched it to Rivera on the right side and the junior scampered in to make it 7-7.
Canton’s defense got a stop to get the ball back and used eight plays to move into North territory, gaining 43 yards. But a holding play hurt the drive and the Bulldogs settled for a 34-yard field goal from junior Owen Lehane, taking a 10-7 lead into halftime.
The win gives North Attleboro a share of the 2018 Davenport division title, marking the fourth straight year that the Rocketeers have won a league title. It’s the first time in program history that North has won four straight.
“It was big for us to still have a chance at the title,” Johnson said after losing to Stoughton last week. “This is our fourth consecutive title for us, no North Attleboro team has ever won four in a row. The loss last week was also our first loss in the league since 2014, so the kids were feeling down about that too. But they still had an opportunity in front of them to do what no other senior group has done, so that was a real motivator.
“[Canton] is a hell of a football team. We’re sharing the title with them, and they deserve that share of it. They have a great football team over there, and the scary thing is they are all juniors, but I’ll worry about that next year.”
“As high as we were for this game, we can kind of breath a little bit and focus on the playoffs,” Bohane said. “We’re really excited to be in the playoffs and I honestly can’t wait to find out who we’re playing and get to work. We wanted to win this game badly but we wanted to play competitive and come out healthy. And I think we’re in a good position moving forward.”
North Attleboro football (4-1 Hockomock, 5-2 overall) likely earns a home game in the D3 South playoffs with the victory, though final seeds aren’t announced until late in the weekend. The Rocketeers will also likely return to Community Field for the first round playoff game. Canton (4-1, 6-1) will also likely host a game in Division 5 South.
CANTON, Mass. – For three and a half quarters, the Canton defense was having its way against the Stoughton offense.
The Bulldogs forced the Black Knights to punt on each of their first seven drives, holding the visitors to negative yards on three of those drives. Stoughton had just one first down early on in the fourth quarter.
But with just under six minutes to go, Stoughton’s offense finally clicked. The Knights cut a 14-point deficit in half with 5:34 to go, and got the ball back down just one score with 1:56 to play.
A big pass play set the Black Knights up in striking distance, but the Bulldogs defense, as it had for the majority of the game, came up with a stop with under 30 seconds to play.
On fourth down, Canton junior Robbie Gallery tracked down Stoughton quarterback John Burke for a sack, preserving a 14-7 win for the Bulldogs.
“I didn’t feel comfortable until Robbie made that play at the end,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “It reminded me of that 2014 game when [Stoughton] drove down the field and won it at the end. Robbie made the play, and he played great. This year, it seems like another kid steps up each game and it was Robbie’s week.”
Canton’s defense did a nice job bottling up Stoughton’s rushing attack. The furthest the Black Knights for prior to its final two drives was 10 yards over midfield — its lone time into Canton territory through three quarters.
A sack from Owen Lehane on first down forced Stoughton starting quarterback George Currier to the sideline. Burke, a sophomore, took over under center and the Knights had one of their biggest plays of the night — a 22-yard reverse from Ajahn Rue — to spark the offense.
After Rue’s run, sophomore Christopher Ais took a sweep and went for 19 yards to get into the red zone. After Canton’s defense stuffed a rush attempt, Burke floated one to the near pylon on the right side and senior Alex Iverson did a nice job fighting through contact and getting a foot down to get the Knights on the board, down 14-7.
Canton’s offense did its best to run time off the block with quarterback Johnny Hagan (5/9, 44 yards; 21 carries 121 yards) converting a third down with his legs. But a sack on the next play from Stoughton’s Jerry Brisson put the Dogs in a long distance scenario. Canton gained eight yards on the next to plays but had to punt with two minutes to go.
Stoughton’s final drive got off to a rocky start when Canton senior Ben Seaman (two sacks) came on a blitz from the blind side, taking Burke down for a loss of 7 yards.
But the Black Knights made things interesting on the next play as Burke lofted one down the left sideline and Rue used his speed to get under it for a 45-yard catch, down to the Canton 30-yard line with 1:09 to play.
But that’s when Canton’s defense came through again. A pass and catch from Burke to Ais was stopped at the line of scrimmage on first down, Burke was forced to throw it away on second down, and a pass over the middle was short on third down.
On fourth down, Burke was able to buy some time by getting out of the pocket but Gallery came flying in to make the tackle.
It was an impressive showing for the Bulldogs defense, which allowed a total of 122 yards while holding the Knights to 0-for-8 on third down. And they did almost all of it without junior linebacker James Murphy, who Bohane called the quarterback of the defense.
“Defense was the story for us,” Bohane said. “Murphy is our linchpin on defense so for our kids to play the bulk of the game without him, they were impressive. All the other key guys really stepped up like Brian Campagna, Brendan Albert, Ben Seaman, and of course Robbie Gallery, who kind of filled into Murphy’s shoes. I’m proud of them to keep plugging away, they are a resilient group.”
Stoughton’s defense also had a strong showing, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on six times and holding off another drive as the first half came to a close.
However, Canton’s offense was able to find the end zone twice — both on eight play, 65-yard drives.
After punting on its first drives, the Dogs moved the sticks when Hagan connected with Jace Emma for 11 yards. Hagan followed that with a 20-yard scramble on a broken play, and Gersom Rivera had runs of 10 and 23-yards, the latter converting a third down and getting the Dogs down to the 1-yard line.
Hagan took it in from there, following his line in for a 1-yard sneak and a 7-0 lead with 7:23 left in the first quarter.
Stoughton’s best drive of the opening half went for 41 yards, all on a run from Iverson. But an incomplete pass and two runs that netted no yards stopped the Black Knights from advancing.
Canton’s defense picked up where it left off, forcing Stoughton backward on its opening drive of the second half. After a three-and-out, Canton took over at its own 35-yard line and orchestrated what turned out to be the winning drive.
Hagan moved the sticks with a run of his own, connected with Ryan Lentol on second down, got a first down on a Stoughton penalty, and then finished the drive with three straight runs from different players: Rivera for 8, Hagan for 12, and Kyle Fitzgerald with a 9-yard touchdown run.
“We’ve been able to shift gears on offense,” Bohane said. “Some teams have been able to take away something we’ve been doing, and no one is better at that than [Stoughton] Coach [Greg] Burke. He’s going to take away what you do well. It was a game of just constantly finding a way.”
Canton football (5-0 overall, 3-0 Hockomock) is back in action on Friday when it hosts Sharon. Stoughton (2-3, 1-2) hits the road to take on North Attleboro at Beaupre Field.
FOXBORO, Mass. – After losing on a last second field goal and twice in overtime over the last three years, Canton was finally able to end its nearly three-decade-long jinx against Davenport division rival Foxboro and the Bulldogs did it in dominating fashion.
Junior quarterback Johnny Hagan accounted for 285 yards of offense and three touchdowns and Canton pulled away with a pair of fourth quarter scores to record a 43-20 victory over the Warriors on Friday night at Jack Martinelli Field. It was Canton’s first win against Foxboro since 1990 and ended a 25-game losing streak in the series.
Canton also improved to 4-0 on the season, despite not yet having play a home game this fall.
Hagan was a menace throughout the game, tossing a pair of touchdown passes in the first half and rushing for 175 yards on 15 carries. Martinelli admitted that his defense had no answer for Canton’s signal caller.
“We had no answers for stopping No. 5 (Hagan) either on the ground or through the air,” Foxboro coach Jack Martinelli said. “We couldn’t stop him. He’s a good player.”
“He’s just a special player,” added Canton coach Dave Bohane about Hagan. “Sometimes he’s so amped up that he calls the wrong formation and then he throws a touchdown. His receiver was on the wrong side of the formation, I’m thinking about calling timeout, instead he runs around a little, throws it, and it’s a touchdown.”
“I thought we had an advantage on the perimeter and some of the skill spots, but I think their line, a lot of them, were back from last year,” Bohane remarked. “I thought maybe getting outside and getting away from those guys, but our line played well. They’ve really worked hard.”
The Bulldogs jumped in front on their first possession. On third and eight, Hagan looked deep down the sideline to Jace Emma. The junior wideout leapt above the Foxboro defensive back and ripped the ball away. He then turned and sped upfield for a 75-yard touchdown that gave the visitors early momentum.
Foxboro answered right back just four plays later. Mike Luong (12 carries, 70 yards) broke a 30-yard run, bouncing out to the right and getting into space on the sideline. Two plays later, Liam Foley looked for Rob Fay in the front corner of the end zone and the senior pulled in a one-hand catch to tie the game.
This time it was Canton that responded. Hagan somehow got to the edge on another third and eight and raced 50 yards up the Foxboro sideline before being brought down at the Warriors 18. After another 12-yard Hagan keeper, Rivera punched it in from six yards out.
David Allen picked off a Foley pass to end Foxboro’s next drive and then returned it 40 yards down to the Warriors 33. Fitzgerald needed only one carry to get the Bulldogs a two-score lead, taking a pitch to the left and finding a seam to the end zone.
It looked like the game may get out of hand, but a special teams mistake by Canton, attempting to field a bouncing punt inside its own 20 only to fumble and have Zachary Jenkins recover, led to Foxboro having a short field. Keyshawn Sanders bullied his way through a bevy of tacklers for a 10-yard score that cut the lead to 21-14.
Canton had one last chance with the ball before halftime. After an intentional grounding call, the Bulldogs faced third and 18 from the Foxboro 36. Emma ran a go-route down the near sideline and Hagan dropped a perfect pass to him in stride for a score with only 36 seconds left until halftime.
Leading 27-14, the Bulldogs came out of the half with an impressive 15-play drive that ate up more than nine minutes off the clock. The Foxboro defense stiffened inside the red zone, but Owen Lehane booted a 27-yard field goal to make it 30-14.
The Warriors didn’t quit and answered with a 75-yard drive. Foley rolled out and threw a dart to Brian Derbafor 27 yards and then a couple plays later ran a perfectly-executed backside screen to Luong for another 24 yards down to the Canton eight. On third and goal, another screen to Luong turned into a touchdown, but the two-point conversion pass was batted down by Allen to keep the lead at two scores with 9:09 remaining.
“When we had to make big plays, we couldn’t, which has kind of been our M.O. all year,” Martinelli explained. “We hung in there, made it a game on the scoreboard…but they were in charge from start to finish.”
After the Bulldogs went three and out, the Canton defense made the play that essentially ended any hopes of a Foxboro comeback. Brendan Albert crushed Foley as he was throwing and Robbie Gallery was on hand to secure the interception. He returned the ball to the one-yard-line where Hagan was able to get six points with a sneak.
“At that moment, offensively, we were sputtering a little bit,” said Bohane. “Robbie Gallery’s pick was when we breathed and thought okay we’re going to beat these guys.” About Albert, Bohane added, “He’s one of the top defensive players in the league and the best thing is he’s playing like it every single week.”
Fitzgerald added a nine-yard touchdown inside the closing two minutes to make the score even more comfortable for the Bulldogs.
Martinelli admitted, “I think they wanted it maybe a little more than we did. We hung in there, but not enough. We couldn’t make enough good plays and they made all of them.”
Canton (4-0, 2-0) will finally head home next week when rival Stoughton pays a visit to WWII Veterans Memorial Field. Foxboro (1-3, 1-1) will try to bounce back at home against two-time defending division champ North Attleboro.
Outlook: After playing plenty of sophomores last season, the Bulldogs will be looking to boast a balanced, experienced team aiming to compete for the Davenport division title in 2018.
Canton brings back six starters on offense and seven starters back on the defensive side of the ball. The Dogs are one of the few teams with their starting quarterback returning as junior Johnny Hagan continues under center after a solid sophomore season. He showed the ability to pass and run with the ball, and he has almost all of his running back options back to work with. Gersom Rivera had a terrific sophomore year and will be counted on to be a big piece of the offense during 2018. Rivera’s athleticism and speed will be complemented by the hard nose running and blocking of junior Kyle Fitzgerald and senior Brendan Albert.
Junior Jack Connolly will anchor the offensive line and will be joined by senior Brian Campagna and junior Lucas Bryant at the center position. Ryan Lentol, who came on strong at the end of last year, picked up right where he left off and will be a top option at split end.
The strength of Canton’s defense is its linebacker group, which is full of experience and talent. Albert is back at one of the outside spots after earning Hock All Star last year while senior Ben Seaman is back on the other side. Junior James Murphy will fill in the middle after impressing last season and junior Robbie Gallery has impressed early on as the other inside option. Canton will also rely on a seasoned secondary with Fitzgerald and David Allen returning as starters. Ryan Colby should see time in the secondary and Owen Lehane is in the mix for the defensive line.
“We’re very excited for the season,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “The kids have put the work in, we think we can play with anyone in the league but its a very good league so you have to be on your ‘A’ game every night. Every team is well coached and competitive so any time you can win in the Hock, its a success. We have to take it game by game, do the best we can, and keep plugging.
Outlook: The Warriors are aiming to make it two straight years in the postseason and will use a mix of returning players and new faces to try and get it done.
Foxboro graduated 35 seniors last year so there are some spots that need to be filled, but the Warriors are off to a good start with Liam Foley back in the fold at quarterback. The senior saw time under center last season along with Devin Hassett. And Foley will be in good shape as the Warriors have a lot of experience on the offensive line. Senior Tom Cullen is back in the middle of the line as the center, senior Andrew Longa and sophomore Sean Ferguson take on the tackle positions, and senior Hunter Williams and junior Aidan Dow will fill out the interior of the line.
Mike Luong got touches as a junior out of the backfield last season and will be a main part of the offense this season. Pat Stapleton is a returning split end, classmate Rob Fay will step into the same role, and junior Shayne Kerrigan will a top target for Foley.
The Warriors have experience and good size up front on defense, led by returning starting tackles Shawn Teixeira (6’4, 260) and Bill McNeil (6’0, 265). Senior William Ogbebor and Anton George will be called upon to fill out the defensive line on the ends while Williams and Martin McElroy will be joined by Mike Sheehan at linebacker. Russell Neale is back as the place kicker after a strong junior season.
Outlook: After reaching the quarterfinals last season, the 2018 version of the Scarlet Hawks are aiming for a deeper run into the postseason. And not just that, the Hawks are looking to be serious contenders for the Davenport crown.
Milford has a strong core of returning players back, a group of eager new faces looking to make an impression, and big new piece on the line. Kevin Pyne (6’8, 280) transferred to his hometown high school and will anchor what looks to be a big, physical line. Pyne is rated as the top recruit for his class and holds D1 offers from over a dozen schools including Notre Dame and Michigan. Senior Josh Ligor returns as a starter on the line while sophomore Nick Yohn will also be a two-way lineman.
The Hawks bring back both their quarterbacks: senior Ryan Pearl handled the team’s ‘WAR’ package while junior Colby Pires stepped in when Milford spread it out. Junior Luke Rosa will step in as an option at halfback along with sophomore Dominic Schofield. Brendan White (WR/S) brings toughness to both sides of the ball for the Hawks.
Shapel Feaster is one of the most experienced defensive backs in the Hockomock League and should be an important piece of the 2018 Hawks’ defense. Junior CJ Cerella will step in to anchor the linebacking group. On special teams, Sean Lehane is one of the strongest kickers in the area and will try to give Milford a spark at wide receiver this season.
“The goal of the 2018 football season for the Milford Scarlet Hawks is simple: start fast, play physical, and be the toughest team on the field on Friday nights,” said Milford head coach Anthony Vizakis.
Outlook: The target on North Attleboro’s back continues to grow. Coming off their third straight league title, including two straight Davenport titles, the Rocketeers made it all the way to the D3 State Final before falling, 35-33, to St. John’s Shrewsbury.
Big Red is hopeful it can continue its string of success but knows it will be tested with a difficult schedule, including a non-league game with two-time defending state champion King Philip. The biggest challenge will be finding a replacement for three-year starter Chad Peterson, who graduated with a handful of program records and three Hock titles as the starter. Seniors Nick Raneri and Luke LaBonte are both in the mix, and both saw time last year throughout the season. Raneri started all 13 games at tailback but also filled in at QB at times.
Whoever ends up getting the nod at quarterback will have one of the best offensive linemen in the entire state with senior Ryan Clemente anchoring the protection unit. Clemente is joined by senior Jack Puccio as returning starters on the line while seniors Joe Larkin and John Nally, and juniors John Kummer, Ethan Friberg, Trevor Hewitt, Montrel Jackson, and Ethan Mottinger are all competing for time. The Rocketeers also have solid skill options back with senior Brendan McHugh (14 total touchdowns) back at the starting slot back. Omar Jasseh offers size and speed at split end while Ryan Gaumond’s quickness gives the Rocketeers another option down field.
North Attleboro returns six starters on the defensive end, including McHugh, Gaumond, and Jasseh in the secondary. Clemente will be a big piece of the defensive line while Raneri and captain Jonathan James, who will also see time at tight end, will lead the linebacker unit. Russell Dunlap, Puccio, Mike Carty, Friberg and Jackson are all in the mix for defensive end spots while Ryan Boyle, Tom O’Neill, Duane Bryant, and Owen Harding are competing for time at linebacker.
“We expect a very challenging schedule, opening with KP on our new turf field and then an improved Bishop Feehan team in Week 2,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “The Davenport division will be extremely competitive this year, with several teams able to beat anyone on any given night. We have a nice core, but if we are going to compete at a championship level, then we are going to need several new faces to mature very quickly. There’s a lot of work still to be done, and not a lot of time to do it.”
Outlook: For the first time in Sharon, there will be football on Friday nights.
With the installation of lights at the high school field, the Eagles will be hosting teams on Friday nights instead of Saturday afternoons. And the 2018 Eagles are hoping to put a show under those lights. Sharon brings back a handful of key returning starters on both sides of the ball, and with one more year experience under their belts, will be looking to compete in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons top to bottom in the Davenport.
Sharon averaged nearly 20 points per game in its six non-league games last year and is hoping to carry that over into Davenport play this season. Senior quarterback Jeremy Ruskin (six total touchdowns) is back under center to lead the offense and last year’s starting running back Aaron Strong (three touchdowns) also returns to give the Eagles a solid 1-2 punch on offense right away. Coleman Loftus’ size and strength will be a vital part of the line on both sides of the ball while Chris Gong and Alec Filipkowski return as Ruskin’s main two targets.
Not only goes Gong give Sharon options on offense because of his speed, he is one of the most dangerous kick returners in the state. He had an 80-yard punt return touchdown and a 99-yard kickoff return last season so opposing special team units will have to pay a lot of attention.
Despite the numbers, the Eagles had a strong defense last season. This season, Sharon boasts a lot of speed (on both sides of the ball) and is looking to use that to be more aggressive. Juniors Kiran Chandrasekaran will step in to be a big part of the secondary while classmate Nic Marrero will be relied on to anchor the linebackers.
“With a lot of returning starters and a sprinkle of new talent, I am expecting this team to take a huge step forward from last year’s inexperienced team,” said Sharon head coach Dave Morse.
Outlook: It feels like a fresh start for the Black Knights after graduating a bunch of players that had multiple seasons of experience under their belts.
But the focus remains the same for the Black Knights, who are aiming to be in contention for the Davenport title and make another appearance in the state tournament. Similar to previous seasons, Stoughton will have talent in the backfield and that will be the focal point of the offense. Jeff Grier is one of the fastest players in the league and will make defenses pay when there is space. Alex Iverson is a shifty option out of the backfield, Malachi Green-Hightower brings power to the run game, and sophomore Chris Ais could emerge as a playmaker for the Black Knights.
Junior George Currier and sophomore John Burke will battle it out for the starting quarterback position while Matt Piana, Ali Awad, and Evan Jackman have solidified spots on the offensive line. Frank Derbes will factor into the offense as a tight end and junior Ajahn Rue is back as a receiver.
Defensively, Iverson and Green-Hightower will be right in the heart of the lineup as linebackers while Grier will help as a member of the secondary. Cian Swierzewski has impressed throughout the offseason and the preseason and will be a key piece of the defense from the safety spot. Stoughton is looking for other names to step up and help anchor its hard nose defense.
Last fall was somewhat of a rebuilding season for the Bulldogs, who had a roster loaded with underclassmen, and this season the expectations will be much higher as Canton looks to make a push for the postseason. On defense, Albert will be expected to make the difference from his linebacker position, stuffing the run or showing off his athleticism to make plays outside the tackles and against the passing game. Albert’s leadership and reading of the game will be important, as Canton continues to be a relatively young team, and he will be expected to make plays all over the field, chasing down runners or getting into the backfield to harass opposing quarterbacks. Defense has been a priority under head coach Dave Bohane and Albert gives Canton another centerpiece to build around this season.
Mansfield senior Khristian Conner was one of the league’s top defensive backs last season and is one of the reasons the Hornets are expecting to have one of the best defenses in the league. Conner is one of the quickest players in the league so its not easy for receivers to get away from him. If they are able to get some space and make a catch, Conner is a solid tackler so its rare to see a big play happen his way. His experience will give him and advantage as he looks to build upon a strong junior campaign (31 tackles, four pass breakups, and one interception). Conner’s ability to stick with his man is going to allow the Hornets’ front seven to cause a lot of havoc in the backfield.
Despite having his 2017 season cut a couple of games short, Driscoll was one of the top defensive players for the Panthers and also one of the best cover guys in the league. He made 35 tackles, two for loss, last season, broke up four passes, and had one interception from his cornerback position. He also chipped in on offense, catching 23 passes, and his speed and athleticism will be important for Franklin’s defense this fall, as he regularly lines up against the opponents’ top threat in the passing game but also steps up against the running game. Franklin coach Eian Bain called him the team’s “most explosive athlete” at the end of last season and Driscoll will be counted on again to make plays, force turnovers, and help the Panthers stifle opponents to make another playoff push.
Attleboro senior Nick Evans uses the combination of size, strength, and speed to cause headaches for opposing offenses. Whether he’s lined up on the left or ride side, or has a hand on the ground not, Evans is a versatile hybrid of a defensive end/outside linebacker. Evans is very aggressive and if he gets a head of steam, can be a nuisance in the backfield, against both the pass and the run. His speed and strength allow him to get into the backfield to cause issues while his size and length factor in when disrupting the passing game at the line of scrimmage. Even if the play runs away from him, he can use his athleticism to to track the ball down and make a play.
Milford knows that it can always count on the infectious energy that Feaster brings to the field, whether he is making plays in the secondary or snagging passes on offense, but he is also one of the top ball-hawks (no pun intended) in the league. Feaster was Milford’s team leader in pass deflections last season and picked off three passes, while also being willing to step up into the running game to make tackles. Fast, with good hands and solid positioning, Feaster can close quickly on passes and makes plays even when it looks like he may be beat. He will typically be stationed over the opponent’s best receiver and his ability to lockdown on the outside allows Milford to be aggressive in other parts of the field even against some of the top passing attacks, such as North Attleboro or Duxbury.
Mansfield has long been one of the premier football programs in the area, so it is big news when a sophomore just gets a starting role in the linebacker corps…let alone set a new program record for tackles in a season and emerge as one of the top defensive players in the Hockomock League. That is exactly what Holmes did last fall, with 108 tackles for the season, including 18 tackles for a loss. His speed and strength made him tough to block at the line of scrimmage and he showed an impressive ability to read the play, find a seam, and make plays. He also added four sacks, a forced fumble, and broke up two passes and was named the HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year. As he showed during an impressive winter on the wrestling mat, Holmes is tenacious and he is a tough player to move off the spot he is trying to get to, which should only get tougher for opponents as he gets more experienced. With Holmes back in the middle, Mansfield should once again have one of the league’s top defensive units as the Hornets try to unseat King Philip at the top of the league standings.
Stoughton has developed a reputation for having a hard nosed defense and will be trying to fit that description during the 2018 season. Senior Alex Iverson is a throw back type of player that fits in nicely with head coach Greg Burke’s style. The Black Knights are in need of some names to step up after graduating a strong class. Iverson plays both inside and outside the box. The senior isn’t the most flashy but gets the job done using toughness and intensity. He isn’t the biggest player on the field but he’s the type of player that will be all over the field making plays. Whether it’s defending the pass, stuffing the run, or getting downhill to get at the quarterback, Iverson is in a position to make big plays for the Black Knights.
Despite playing more games than any team in the league last year (13), North Attleboro was tied for third in fewest points allowed, giving up only 173 total or a little more than 13 points per game. Senior linebacker Nick Raneri will be one of the players that the Rocketeers will be counting on to continue that defensive strength as they go after a fourth straight league title and a return to the Super Bowl. Raneri, who is also stepping in at quarterback this season, is an athletic linebacker, who can cover ground outside the tackles but also step in and make plays up the middle. Never one to shy away from contact, Raneri is a vocal leader for the North defense. He is also capable of following receivers out of the backfield and making plays in the passing game. Raneri could be the quarterback on both sides of the ball and will be looking to fill big shoes after the graduations of last year’s quarterback Chad Peterson and linebacker Zach DeMattio.
King Philip has been defined by its defensive performances under head coach Brian Lee and that has led to back-to-back Kelley-Rex division titles, a pair of Super Bowl crowns, and 25 straight wins. Webster was the lynchpin of the Warriors defense last season, stepping into the linebacking corps and making an instant (and title-winning) impact. His strip sack in the Super Bowl led to the game-winning field goal. Webster was a presence all over the field, making 46 tackles (16 for loss), six sacks, five pass breakups, and even two interceptions. He reads the game like a much more experienced player and a motor that does not stop, which allows him to make big plays at the end of the game when KP needs it most. Webster is in the mold of previous KP linebackers and his attitude on both sides of the ball gets the rest of his teammates going. With him back in the middle, KP remains the team to beat in the Kelley-Rex.
When you talk about kids who did it all on the field last year, Hunter Williams is certainly on that list. Williams was apart of the Warriors’ offensive line, linebacker group, and the kick off coverage unit. This year, it looks like Williams will be a vital part of the Foxboro front seven on defense. The combination of speed and strength is what makes him an effective guard on the offensive line and those same traits are what help him stand out at linebacker. He can get down hill and help stop the run, or as he showed last year, can drop off in coverage and make a play. Williams’ work in the offseason has him in position to possibly be one of the top linebackers in a league that is very deep at that position.
CANTON, Mass. – After a mid-April matchup against the Pembroke Titans, the Canton Bulldogs knew their Division 2 South playoff matchup on Tuesday was not going to be easy.
“We played Pembroke earlier in the season and beat them 8-6,” said Canton head coach Bill Bendell. “We had some guys missing but they were good and we knew they were going to get better and they have a great coach. We knew it was going to be a dogfight when we looked at the seeding, we were like ‘Ah man, this is not going to be easy,’ there were some other matchups we would’ve preferred.”
The result for the Bulldogs on Tuesday was eerily similar to the first go around, as they pulled out an 8-7 victory in a hard-fought matchup.
The scoring came fast for Canton, as senior captain Charlie O’Connor took the opening faceoff and scored himself to give the Bulldogs a lead just eight seconds into the game.
“I wanted to set the tone for our team, make sure we had the momentum going our way,” O’Connor said. “I did what I could, ran down, they didn’t play me on the fast break and just took it to the net, shot and it went in.”
That wasn’t O’Connor’s only big play of the afternoon. After a strong defensive play by Gabe Galeotos and a clear by Brendan Albert with under a minute to go in the first half, Canton used a timeout with 29 seconds left to try and draw something up.
After the original shot was turned away, the ball laid unattended in the crease where O’Connor was able to play clean-up crew, scooping it into the net with one second remaining.
“The play right before halftime, we drew a couple things up, if they do this we’ll do this and we executed perfectly but they played really good defense, so they took away what we were trying to run,” Bendell. “Then our captain Charlie O’Connor knocked that ball in with one second left and that’s the game, that’s the game winner if you look at it that way.”
“I just brought out my inner hockey instincts almost,” said O’Connor. “Coach always says play to the whistle if the ball is on the goal line then poke it in…I poked it in and luckily, I kept my feet outside of the crease.”
The last-second goal gave the Bulldogs a 4-2 lead heading to halftime, forcing Pembroke to have to adjust during the break, which is exactly what they did.
The adjustments started with faceoff specialist Aidan Geary, who won eight draws in the second half to help bring the Titans get back into the game.
“[Geary] was really good and they made some adjustments,” Bendell said. “[Charlie] won the first one and scored and set the tone, that was huge, but after that, they really tightened that up and made it a battle. It was tough to get possessions.”
With those extra possessions, the Pembroke offense wasted little time getting back into the game.
After Mike Shaw (two goals, one assist) gave Canton a 5-2 lead, Pembroke’s Ryan Mulhern (two goals) scored in a five on five situation to pull the Titans back within two.
Canton then seemed destined to pull away yet again after a strong save from goalie Jack Connolly and a two-man advantage. However, the two-man advantage didn’t affect the Titans as Patrick Mulhern (three goals, one assist) scored with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Titans then used their own man advantage with a Colin Newton goal and Michael Hendriksen added an even-strength goal just one minute later to cap a 4-0 run, which gave Pembroke their first lead of the game.
Canton then quickly answered when Kevin Albert (two goals, one assist) snuck one in just seconds after the faceoff to tie the game at 6-6 to end the third.
To start the fourth, Albert cashed in on another opportunity with 10 minutes remaining, only to have Patrick Mulhern tie the game just two minutes later. But with just over seven minutes remaining, a shot directed right to Albert who found Griffin Roach in front for what was the eventual game-winning goal.
“We’ve lost some one-goal games with these seniors so they’ve seen that,” Bendell said. “We were at D-Y a couple years ago and had them, then they beat us by a goal. We had Sandwich, it was tied late and they scored with under a minute left to beat us, so we survived and advanced just like they survived against us and advanced.”
Over the last seven minutes, the score remained 8-7 in large part due to Connolly in net. Connolly made four big saves in final minutes of regulation, including one with two seconds left that sealed the victory for the Bulldogs.
“He’s a beast, that was huge,” Bendell said. “The defense at the end of the game was clutch. You know the stick gets a little tight in those situations for some guys, but these guys thrive on that stuff. Jack doesn’t get discouraged, he might have a moment where he puts his head down for one brief moment but he’s still a sophomore, he’s a confident enough kid who plays varsity hockey, varsity football and varsity lacrosse so this is nothing new to him. He loves the spotlight and that was huge, that was clutch.”
Canton boys lacrosse (10-7) will now travel to face the No. 3 seed Sandwich on Thursday at 5:00 P.M.
“We just said to these guys, the first win of the playoffs is the hardest,” Bendell said. “We’ve done that trip before, it’s not an easy trip and they’re a good team. But now you’re playing house money, you got past the first round now we’re the lower seed technically so now the pressures on them to beat us and we’re a tough team, so we’ll see.”