MANSFIELD, Mass. – With under eight seconds remaining in the second quarter of Friday night’s rivalry game at Alumni Field, Mansfield faced a third down from the one-yard-line. The Hornets had traveled 61 yards in 45 seconds, now they just had to punch it in. North Attleboro senior Jack Munley had other ideas and stopped Rocco Scarpellini short of the end zone.
Having started the first overtime period with a touchdown, North’s defense had the chance to repeat its earlier trick, stop the Hornets from the one, and clinch a second consecutive impressive road victory. Mansfield QB Connor Curtis tried to keep it himself, looking for a hole in the middle of the line, but was swallowed up by white shirts.
For the second time in the game, North’s defense made a stand, this time sealing a 27-21 win, avenging last year’s double-overtime defeat to the Hornets at Community Field. It was North’s first win at Mansfield since 2015.
“Whether you get the ball first or second, you’ve got to stop them and it came down to that at the end,” said first-year North coach Mike Strachan. “I’m just really proud of my football team, they fought. To beat Mansfield at Mansfield, with this great team, and this great tradition they have here, I’m really proud of my guys.”
Mansfield coach Mike Redding admitted that he will be second-guessing his call on that final play for a while.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” he explained. “I’ll go over this for 10 years on any call that would’ve worked.
“We’re trying to come up with a little bit of a counter to kind of get them overflowing, get Connor back, he’s great off the fake finding the seam to run. Once we get to the one or two, they’ve just got 11 big, strong bodies up front and we’re young up front and we just can’t quite get movement to punch it in.”
The Hornets started the game on top. Aidan Gleavy made a nice read on a screen pass to force a three-and-out. After Munley sacked Conner Zukowski, Mansfield was able to convert third and long with Zukowski (18-of-28, 300 yards) throwing a 20-yard strike to Trevor Foley (five catches, 134 yards) on the near sideline. CJ Bell followed with a nice grab on the far sideline, hauling in a 29-yard reception.
After Zukowski and Foley combined again for another 17 yards, Scarpellini punched it in from a yard out to make it 7-0.
In the second quarter, Kyle Murphy sacked North quarterback Chase Frisoli to force a punt from the three. Mansfield started at the North 30-yard-line but a holding call stalled the drive. North took over possession and took the momentum.
On third and short from the North 42, Frisoli (12-of-22, 180 yards) looked deep down the sideline to Jovany Rivera (six catches, 123 yards). The 41-yard completion put the Rocketeers in the red zone for the first time. Eight yards and three plays later, facing fourth and two Strachan elected to go for it. Greg Berthiaume wouldn’t be stopped, dragging a would-be tackler with him for a nine-yard, game-tying score.
The North defense followed up that score by forcing a three-and-out. A short punt gifted the visitors the ball at the 26 and North took advantage. A timeout before Austin Clemente attempted a 46-yard field goal led to a change of plan, with North electing to go for it and Frisoli finding Rivera for 21 yards to the eight. On the next snap Berthiaume caught a pass in the flat and dove for the pylon to put Big Red in front.
Mansfield only had 53 seconds on the clock but wasted no time racing up field. Zukowski hit Drew Sacco for 15 yards and Bell for 17. He then fired a 30-yard pass to Foley to get the Hornets down to the two. After a false start, Nolan Bordieri took a sweep for six yards but just short of the end zone. An incompletion and Munley’s big stop, left the Hornets down 14-7 at the break.
Strachan said, “I think we were physical up front. I thought we were very physical and controlled the line of scrimmage.”
North added to its lead on its first possession of the third. Frisoli’s quick release to Rivera down the sideline for 25 yards got them into Mansfield territory and a perfectly executed play action left sophomore Ryan Bannon all alone in the secondary for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Hornets were struggling to get the ground game working but Zukowski was having a lot of success through the air. On the first snap of the next drive, he looked down field for Foley, who made a great adjustment to the flight of the ball and pulled in a 47-yard catch. On the next play, Foley out-jumped the defensive back in the back of the end zone, snatching a 20-yard touchdown.
Down seven in the fourth quarter, Mansfield got the ball back at its own 11. A first down got it out to the 23 and Zukowski again looked down the sideline, this time to Brandon Jackman, who made a great catch for 37 yards. Zukowski appeared to get a cramp at the end of the play and had to come to the sideline. Curtis jumped in and immediately broke away for a 40-yard touchdown run that tied the game with under six minutes remaining.
“We let them go up 14 and then we kind of woke up and started playing clean,” Redding said. “Zuk started throwing the ball well, we spread them out. We really started playing great from when they scored to go up 14 until overtime. We showed a lot of heart.”
North had one more chance to win it in regulation. A 10-play drive to the Mansfield 19 gave Clemente a chance from 36 yards out, but his kick was wide left with just 20 seconds to play.
The visitors had the ball first in OT. On first down, Frisoli flipped a pass over the shoulder of Aidan Conrad in the flat and he walked in with the go-ahead score. Ryan DeGirolamo was in tight coverage to breakup the two-point conversion try, leaving North up six.
Mansfield had four plays to try and tie it. Zukowski looked for Foley on each of the first two plays, with Rivera doing a good job in coverage on the second. On third down, Zukowski hit Sacco in the flat and he showed patience to pick a hole but North converged at the goal line to keep him a yard short.
Curtis came in for the final play, trying to force his way through North’s defensive line, but Zachary Gallagher, Bannon, Berthiaume, and others were on hand to keep the Hornets just short and add another exciting chapter to this historic rivalry.
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“We practiced all week in the goal line, what to do, we practiced our new formations, and I really think we just executed it like we’re supposed to,” Berthiaume explained. “When you don’t make mistakes, you win football games.”
Strachan said, “We go to work each week, we talk about that, we say we put the money in the bank and the payout is on Friday nights. This was a big check mark for us and it was a really big test for our team. We’re going to try and enjoy this one, but I’m just really happy with our football team.”
Following a bye week, North Attleboro (2-0) will have its home, and Kelley-Rex, opener when the Rocketeers host currently unbeaten Franklin. Mansfield (1-1) will head out on the road for the first time next Friday, traveling to Worcester to face Doherty.