NORTH EASTON, Mass. – It makes things significantly easier on an offense when you have a player that can break big plays at any time. Canton didn’t have to worry about putting together long, time-consuming drives in Friday night’s game at Muscato Stadium because senior Cam Sanchez was capable of finding the end zone from anywhere.
Sanchez (14 carries, 166 yards) scored three times, including once on special teams and twice on plays of more than 80 yards, lifting Canton to a 26-6 victory over Oliver Ames in the first league meeting between these rivals in four years.
“He can go at any time,” said first-year Canton coach Anthony Fallon. “Sometimes you’ve got to just keep tapping the rock and the rock will break. He’s our ‘tap the rock’ guy this year. Last year it was Fitz (Kyle Fitzgerald) and this year it’s Cam.”
It was the Tigers that got on the board first, taking advantage of good starting field position on their second possession. Jake Grimaldi (1-for-11) recorded his lone completion on a 26-yard pass to Jadon Ricci (89 yards of offense) and OA got an extra 15 yards when an official collided with a Canton coach on the sideline. After sophomore Chad Silva (15 carries, 94 yards) gained 14 to the Canton one, Grimaldi reached over the line and just broke the plane.
The two-point conversion attempt was stopped but OA had a 6-0 lead. It lasted 16 seconds.
One the ensuing kickoff, Sanchez grabbed the ball at the nine and took it straight up the middle, getting a couple of key blocks and bursting through the OA coverage for a 91-yard score. Will Keefe’s extra point put Canton in front 7-6.
“We just put that middle return in this week and everyone seemed to hit their assignment, which was great, and Cam took it right up the middle,” Fallon explained.
OA went right back to work on its next drive. The Tigers put together a 13-play drive that got all the way down to Canton eight. Collin Williamson (10 carries, 60 yards) had a pair of carries for 30 yards on the drive and Grimaldi had a three-yard sneak to convert a big third down. On third and goal, Jack Albert came up with his first big defensive play, sacking Grimaldi back to the 16.
The first fourth down and goal attempt resulted in a pass interference on the goal line. That moved the ball half the distance to the goal (the eight-yard-line) but wasn’t an automatic first down. Brian Murphy got to the quarterback on the second fourth and goal attempt, forcing an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
Three plays later, Robert Botelho (3-for-12, 13 yards) audibled on third and six, running an option play to the near sideline. Sanchez took the pitch and hit another gear, flying past the OA defense for an 88-yard touchdown.
“We’re thinking, okay we can get a score here and then we don’t and they come right out and take the ball and run their option, Cam Sanchez is a hell of a player, and they coached it right up” said OA coach Ed DeWitt. “They did a good job with the scheme on that one and he takes it right down the sideline. It’s a 14-point swing.”
It was one of those days for OA. The Tigers continued to move the ball and had some success in the ground game, but penalties and big plays by the Canton pass rush (six sacks, including three by Carson Campbell) seemed to stymie their chances of putting points on the board.
“It’s so frustrating,” DeWitt admitted. “We feel like we had a couple of shots there, where we got the ball either inside the red zone or just to the red zone and then it’s penalty, mistake, holding, turnover down here. Offensively, we’ve got to finish drives.”
On its first possession of the second half, OA again moved the ball into Canton territory. Silva had carries of 10, 11, and 13 yards to get down to the 15. The energy level had picked up on the OA sideline but a fumbled hand-off was recovered by Albert, ending a great scoring chance.
Albert was a standout for the Canton defense. After Botelho was intercepted by Ricci early in the fourth quarter, Albert almost single-handedly ended the OA drive. He made the tackle on first down, stopped Silva for no gain, and then dropped Silva for a loss of two on third down.
“Jack was tremendous on defense,” said Fallon. “His helmet is going to be covered in bones. He had a great defensive game. In big moments he came up, when it was third and we needed a play he did a great job.”
Canton got great field position off that stop, as a short punt gave them the ball at the OA 28. Sanchez had been quiet for a couple of quarters, so he took the first carry straight up the gut, going untouched into the end zone for the score that put the game out of reach.
The Bulldogs continued to have Grimaldi on the run. Pressure from Bahsor Mahn led to an interception for Andrew Butler. Later in the fourth, Campbell and Albert had back-to-back sacks to put OA on its own five. On third down, the duo combined to force an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety.
DeWitt said, “We thought we had some of the run stuff, but when you go down two scores in the fourth quarter that kind of goes out the window. We know we need to score early to get ourselves ahead. We know we have to play with the lead.”
Keefe would cap the scoring with 22 seconds remaining, as the soccer player who is taking advantage of the extra season to play football, nailed a 34-yard field goal.
Fallon said, “Last week (against North Attleboro) we struggled with some guys not knowing their assignments, not doing their assignments, and this week we were better at it. We still have a lot to work on and we’re going to keep grinding it out and getting there.”