The Warriors held a 21-0 lead and had just forced their second turnover of the game, this one an interception just before the goal line, to halt another North Attleboro drive. With under 10 minutes to go, Foxboro was well on its way to its first win over the Rocketeers since 2012.
But suddenly, the hosts had life. North Attleboro scored a pair of touchdowns in just 2:03, the latter coming with just under five minutes left in the game to make it a one-score game. And after another defensive stand, the Rocketeers had the ball back with three minutes left with a chance to tie or win the game.
In the end, Foxboro’s defense delivered — as it had done all game — by getting a fourth down stop with under a minute to go to secure a 21-14 win at Community Field.
“Not too many people beat North so we’ll take it any which way that we can,” said Foxboro head coach Jack Martinelli. “I thought we dominated, the first three quarters, but it doesn’t take much to throw off the applecart, whether it’s a penalty or a miscue. And North isn’t going to quit.”
It marks the 273rd career win for Martinelli, which moves him into a tie for eighth all-time in Massachusetts history according to the Boston Herald’s Danny Ventura.
Foxboro scored on its second drive of the game, again just before halftime, and once more midway through the third quarter. The Warriors’ defense held the Rocketeers to just over 100 yards of offense through the first three quarters, forcing the hosts to punt on three of their first four drives and getting fourth down stops on two others.
A Foxboro fumble recovered by North Attleboro’s Tommy Whalen set the Rocketeers up with terrific field position at the Warriors’ 38-yard line. But the momentum was short-lived when Elijah Lewis leaped to intercept a pass on the goal line just a minute into the fourth quarter.
Foxboro’s offense stalled and sent out the punting unit, but a high snap sent the ball into the end zone and a group of Rocketeers came crashing down onto punter Michael Devlin. North Attleboro’s Dan Hayes ended up with the loose ball and a touchdown, getting North on the board. Evan Vigorito hit the first of his two point after attempts to bring North within 21-7 with 6:48 to go.
This time, the momentum stuck with the Rocketeers, who forced a quick three-and-out. On the punt, Foxboro was whistled for catch interference and North Attleboro started with its best field position of the day at the Foxboro 31-yard line.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler DeMattio (6-for-11, 66 yards passing; 11 carries, 60 yards rushing) wasted little time, lofting a pass down field that senior Ethan Friberg went up to get above a pair of defenders for a 30-yard catch. On the next play, DeMattio scored from one-yard out and suddenly the Rocketeers were down just one score, 21-14, with 4:45 to play.
Foxboro’s Dylan Gordon fell on top of the onside kick attempt, and the Warriors killed 1:45 of clock before punting back to North Attleboro with 3:00 to go. DeMattio had a long run negated by an illegal shift call, and on fourth and four, a completion to Russell Dunlap nearly converted a first down. But after a measurement, the ball was an inch shy and Foxboro took over on downs to seal the win.
“It definitely felt like the momentum swung there but we had that eerily feeling all along that it was too little, too late,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson.
“I think [it’s a lesson learned]. We’ve known all along we’re a pretty immature football team, so this is the stuff that’s going to happen. We have a lot of guys still learning, a lot of juniors playing their first varsity action. We’re just a terribly inconsistent football team right now in every phase. We just have to keep working to get better and I think it will come in time.”
Foxboro took the lead in the first quarter on its second drive of the game. The Warriors went 77 yards on 11 plays that including a pair of first down passes from Shayne Kerrigan (14-for-24, 135 yards passing; nine carries, 85 yards rushing) to Luis Sulham (eight catches, 77 yards). On third and 10 inside the red zone, Kerrigan connected with senior Ryan Hughes for a 12-yard touchdown. Tyler James’ extra point made it 7-0 with 1:18 left in the first quarter.
The Warriors orchestrated an eight-play, 64-yard drive just before halftime to double their lead. Highlighted by a first down run from Bobby Yerardi (11 carries, 38 yards) and ridiculous catch from Lewis that went for 22 yards, the visitors advanced into the red zone. On third and 11, Kerrigan floated one to the corner of the end zone and senior Brian Derba came down with the catch for a 13-yard score and a 13-0 lead with just eight seconds to go in the first half.
“I think our offense came alive today,” Martinelli said. “Kids did what we felt they were capable of doing like Luis, Shayne, who had a great game, Ryan Hughes, Derba…they all made some great plays, some great catches. They did a great job. To me, that was the difference in the game that we were able to move the ball and get some points.”
North Attleboro opened the second half with a successful drive with sophomore Tyler Bannon moving the sticks on a 15-yard rush, and DeMattio taking off for 18 yards of his own. A run and late hit call moved the ball all the way to the Foxboro 19-yard line but with the new rules, the hosts didn’t get an automatic first down. Instead, on fourth and 2, Foxboro’s Mike Norvish and Anton George got to the Rocketeer runner in the backfield for a loss and a turnover on downs.
“We played seven in the box and took our chances,” Martinelli said of defending DeMattio. “Next year and the year after, I’m sure [DeMattio] is going to be a triple threat, not that he throws a bad ball now, but we had to stop him running first, before we could do anything else and I thought the kids did a nice job, I’m very proud of them.”
Three plays into the ensuing Foxboro drive, Kerrigan fooled the defense by keeping the option himself, broke through a tackle in the secondary, and darted his way for a 64-yard touchdown. A two-point pass from Kerrigan to Sulham made it 21-0 with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
“I thought Foxboro did a good job pressing our quarterback and not letting us get comfortable doing anything on offense,” Johnson said. “We never really got that run game going because they were good inside. And then when we had to throw the ball, they did a nice job getting pressure off the edge. DeMattio is still young and not quite comfortable in every phase of the game but he’s getting better every game.”
Foxboro finished with 279 yards offensive, a strong balance between passing (127) and rushing (152) while picking up an impressive 15 first downs.
“The game got moved so many times, we had two weeks of practice which made Thanksgiving break look [short],” Martinelli said. “So I’m just happy for the kids. But we have to get right back at it. This is the best the league has ever been from top to bottom. Each week there seems to be an implication no matter what the matchup is so this was a key for win us.”