Stoughton had four players rush for a touchdown and its defense put together a stellar performance as raw Black Knights christened their new home turf field with a 29-7 win over neighboring Oliver Ames.
“Four years…four long years…finally. It’s incredible,” said Stoughton head coach Greg Burke, who has been at the helm since 1990. “We were nervous early, that’s just the nature of the beast but we finally got it going and our defense played tough. We battled, we have some new kids upfront and they were working hard and then we got things going. There’s still room for improvement, had a couple of screw ups but first game, I’ll take it. We got everyone out, no one got hurt.”
It was a slow start for both offenses with the Black Knights stifling the Tigers on their rushing attempts, shutting the visitors out on third down conversions for the entire game (0-for-10). On the flip slide, the Tigers were up for the challenge while Stoughton certainly didn’t help itself with a handful of first quarter penalties.
The first score of the game came on the first drive of the game but it wasn’t in favor of Oliver Ames, who received the opening kickoff. A false start put the visitors in third and long and Stoughton senior Christian Georges (four sacks) came flying in for a sack. On fourth down, the snap to the punter was high and the ball went through the back of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead.
Stoughton carried that 2-0 lead into the second quarter but quickly added onto its lead with its first touchdown on its new turf. Georges had another third-down sack and OA’s punt didn’t travel far, setting the Black Knights up with first down at the Tigers’ 28-yard line.
On the first offensive play, Georges bulldozed his way through traffic and raced away for a touchdown. Jonah Ly hit his first of three extra points on the night and the Black Knights took a 9-0 with 11:01 left in the first half.
Oliver Ames went three-and-out on the ensuing possession as Anthony Girolamo and Sproul Derolus limited the Tigers to one yard on third down. Stoughton had an incomplete pass on first but senior Christopher Ais broke through a handful of would-be tacklers and sprinted the distance for a 51-yard touchdown and a 16-0 advantage with 8:11 left in the first half.
“We know we can rely on our defense, and we know the Wing-T as well as anybody because we run it, so we know the goods and bads,” Burke said of the defense playing well as the offense got going. “They caught us on a couple but not many. We don’t have a ton of size defensively but we have a lot of speed so even if we make a mistake then we can rally. And it felt like we got a bunch of sacks too.”
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The Tigers earned their first first down on the next drive when quarterback Jake Grimaldi kept it on fourth and short, getting a friendly push from sophomore Chad Silva. But the drive didn’t last much longer and Georges added yet another third down sack with just under three minutes left to get Stoughton the ball back.
Stoughton brought a lot of pressure on OA’s punt and it didn’t travel far. The Black Knights took advantage of the short field and on the third play of the drive, Girolamo forced his way past a pair of defenders and into the end zone for a 7-yard score, extending the lead to 23-0 just before halftime.
“They run hard, their guys are tough and physical, super athletic and well-coached…they’ve got the whole thing going on over there,” said OA head coach Ed DeWitt on the Black Knights. “We’re not quite there yet but we’re working towards it. There’s a lot of talk about the switch to the Davenport, but there’s no let up in the league. It’s not a step down, I’ve seen most of these teams and they are good, it’s just different opponents [than the Kelley-Rex]. But we have to focus on our improvement each week.”
It was more of the same in the second half. Senior quarterback John Burke opened the first drive with a 20 yard run of his own the Knights picked up right where they left off. Christian Ais ripped off runs of 11-yards and 30-yards, Christopher Ais took back-to-back carries for 17 yards, and two plays later, Christian Ais plunged in untouched from 1-yard out to make it 29-0.
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Christopher Ais led the way with 104 yards on nine carries, Christian Ais had 63 yards on five carries, and Georges had 43 yards on four carries.
“We have three or four guys that can get it done, and that’s why our offense works well,” Burke said. “You give them all the ball and then they are involved with blocking and fakes. With Chris Ais and Christian Ais and we have Georges too…we have different guys to give it to or to use for blocking.”
The Black Knights got the ball back after forcing another three-and-out but OA came up with a big stop on a third down sack from senior Dante Cocivera.
Stoughton turned to Girolamo and Ly for their fourth quarter offense, marching down the field on a lengthy drive but couldn’t add any points after missing on a 39-yard field goal attempt.
Oliver Ames orchestrated its best drive of the game to end the contest. The Tigers marched 80 yards on 13 plays, finding the end zone with under a minute to go.
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Silva (14 carries, 58 yards) ripped off a 19-yard rush on second down and the Tigers got their first of two fourth down conversions on the drive on another keeper from Grimaldi. Senior Jadon Ricci carried for seven yards and 14 yards to put the Tigers in a position to score but a sack from Stoughton’s Shawn Fargher put OA into a fourth and 18 situation.
Grimaldi floated a pass to the corner end zone and senior Pete Bosader was able to reach out in front of the defender while falling backwards, hauling in a 27-yard touchdown. Drew Nickla split the uprights for the extra point.
“Our guys are fighting and we preach playing four quarters,” DeWitt said. “It was nice to get guys fighting at the end, making a play, that’s exciting to see, that shows the mentality we’re looking for but obviously we want to do it sooner. We thought we were physical enough early but we have to keep that going for four quarters and not just find it at the end.”
Stoughton football (1-0) will stick around Veteran’s Memorial Stadium for another home game next week, hosting Foxboro on Friday at 5:00. Oliver Ames (0-1) will have its home opener on the same night against Canton at 5:00.
So it’s no surprise the teams had nearly identical stats when they clashed on the new turf field at Muscato Stadium.
But in the end, it was Taunton that made just enough plays — scoring on their opening drive of each half, and using a pick-six early in the game to earn a 21-6 over OA in the annual matchup dubbed The Tiger Bowl.
Taunton’s defense quickly forced a punt on the first series of the game and the offense rewarded them with a lengthy drive ending in six points. The visiting Tigers marched 63 yards on 13 plays, including the final seven coming in the red zone.
A healthy dose of Josh Lopes (18 carries, 76 yards) and Bretton Heggs (13 carries, 51 yards) on the ground helped Taunton moved the sticks. The drive included a pair of third down conversions from Lopes and a fourth down conversion from the 10-yard line from Heggs.
Sophomore quarterback Trent Santos (6-for-8, 42 yards) finished the drive with a sneak from one yard out. Taunton took a 7-0 lead following Collin Knorr’s extra point with 1:35 to go in the first quarter.
Oliver Ames looked to respond immediately but a personal foul backed the hosts up, and on third down Taunton junior Kedrick Santos jumped a route, intercepting the pass and taking it to the house for a 25-yard pick-six. Knorr’s point after put Taunton ahead 14-0 with under a minute to go in the opening quarter.
“It was huge, it was right after we had scored so the timing of it was big,” said Taunton head coach Brad Sidwell. “We knew we needed to run the ball but [OA] did a good job getting guys up there so we were running into too many. So it was a big play for us to get a touchdown from our defense and go up two scores.
“We knew their quarterback could throw the ball but [Santos] was able to read it and get under it and make a play.”
That would be the only scoring for the opening half. OA had a nine-play drive in the middle of the second quarter stall at midfield when Taunton stuffed a fourth and one run to force a turnover on downs.
OA’s defense did its part for the remainder of the half, limiting the visitors to just six yards combined over its next two drives, both ending in punts.
Taunton opened the second half at its own 48-yard line after Nathan Arieta was alert to OA’s onside kick attempt. The visiting Tigers picked up key conversions again on this drive with Santos hitting Arieta for a first down, and Lopes rushing for two yards to convert a fourth down, putting Taunton into the red zone.
The visitors ran six plans inside the red zone this time, including an eight-yard scamper from Heggs that moved the chains on third down. Three plays later, Santos kept it himself from one yard out for another touchdown and a 21-0 lead. The 13-play, 52-yard drive took nine minutes off the clock.
“We had a couple of good conversions on third down that helped us move the ball, and it was big to get another touchdown to start the second half,” Sidwell said.
“I think having the two-score lead, which was the first one we’ve had this year, gave the kids some confidence. And I think the defense fed off of that too.”
OA’s first two drives of the second half both ended in a turnover on downs. The first lasted just four plays, giving Taunton the ball at the OA 36-yard line. But OA’s defense held strong and the visiting Tigers missed a 30-yard field goal.
OA found success on its next series, moving 69 yards on nine plays, with the big play coming when Cam Perron (5/16, 66 yards) found Harrison Webster for a 37-yard gain.
The host Tigers got into the red zone on a 13-yard carry from Cabral (12 carries, 65 yards) but back-to-back negative plays preceded back-to-back incomplete passes with Javon Franklin batting down a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
On its second to last drive of the game, OA finally found the end zone, going 33 yards on five plays. Cabral had two straight carries that went for 20 yards, and Stevens broke free for seven yards to move OA inside the 10-yard line.
Attleboro got off to a strong start to the 2018 season, jumping out to a 4-1 record with its only loss coming against eventual D2 South champ King Philip, and allowing only five points per game. But a last-minute loss in a shootout against Mansfield and a fourth quarter comeback by Franklin the following week sparked a six-game losing streak to close out the season. The Bombardiers come into 2019 looking to turn that around and use its experience to make a run at the Kelley-Rex title.
Offensively, the Bombardiers will be led by senior quarterback Jason Weir. At a bruising 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Weir is a punishing runner and has a big arm to make plays downfield in the passing game. Junior Justin Daniels will be the starting tailback with senior Isaac Guidel and a big offensive line trying to open holes for the running game, led by senior Qualeem Charles (6-foot-5 and 325 pounds), who has a host of colleges recruiting him. Senior Ethan Cameron will provide a weapon on the outside, while junior Michael Strachan offers another threat over the middle from his tight end position.
Charles will dominate the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball as well, but the strength of the Attleboro defense will be its experienced linebacker corps. Strachan, a three-year starter who is getting looks from some Div. I colleges, will be joined by Guidel and senior Nolan Jaeger. Weir will play strong safety, after two seasons at defensive end, and will be counted on to step in to help stop the run. Cameron will be at free safety and giving the cornerbacks help over the middle. Attleboro has a large contingent of sophomores who could step in to contribute right away, including Alvin Harrison, Chris Leonardo, Adam Pearlstein, and Freddy Wheaton.
Attleboro coach Mike Strachan said, “We are looking forward to the season getting underway and with the leadership of our four captains we are looking to be explosive on offense and very physical defensively. The Hockomock League is one of the best leagues in the state with some great teams. We will have to play our very best each week if we are going to compete at a high level.”
Franklin nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the 2018 season when the Panthers forced perennial power Xaverian to double overtime in the Div. 1 South semifinal. It was a big step forward for the program and head coach Eian Bain hopes it will be a building block for even more success in 2019.
Offensively, the graduation of quarterback Nick Gordon will be a big loss for the Panthers but senior Thomas Gasbarro saw a lot of time under center last year and he will step in and take the starting job. Gasbarro will have plenty of weapons to choose from, as the Panthers have plenty of speedy, athletic players in the skill positions. Senior Jack Nally is a threat out of the backfield or split out wide and his classmate Jake Davis is a solid receiver over the middle or downfield. Senior Matt Lazarek is a potential target from the tight end position and Owen Palmieri is another dangerous ball carrier. Junior Parker Cheuvront emerged last season as one of the top kickers in the Hock and is another weapon that the Panthers can count on if a drive does stall.
The defense is an experienced group. Senior Evan Wertz has been one of the league’s tackle leaders for the past two seasons and he is the team’s top playmaker from his linebacker position. Nally, Davis, Palmieri, and senior Ben Greco give Franklin a tough secondary to throw against and all are capable of coming up with the big turnover to get the ball back in the hands of the offense. Luke Cunningham and Dom Natale will give the Panthers strength at the line of scrimmage.
“The challenge for this group is to continue to improve and build the program,” said Bain. “They need to add their own chapter and their own stamp on the program. We have the right people in the room. We need to play with the swagger and confidence of a contender, but be humble in our preparation. If we stay true to the process, we have great potential.”
Despite not winning the league title last year, the target on King Philip’s back continues to grow.
The Warriors might have missed out on the Kelley-Rex crown, but they won their third straight sectional title and made their this straight appearance in the state final, this time falling to North Andover (6-0). While this year’s senior class knows other than Super Bowl appearances, head coach Brian Lee says this group is focused on taking it one game, starting with the opener against North Attleboro. KP has a strong core of players back on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Robbie Jarest and running back Ryan Halliday. Both players had really strong junior seasons and should be the leaders of the group this year. The offensive line includes returners Nolan Gunning (left tackle), Sean Piller (center), and Pat Zarba (right guard) while Wyatt Manzi, Jack Collentro, and Griffin MacKay are in the mix to fill the remaining spots. Having an experienced line bodes well for the KP run game that will heavily feature Ryan Halliday plus fullback Shawn Conniff and halfbacks Sam Callanan and Crawford Cantave.
The Warriors’ defense has been one of the best units in the state in recent years, and while the expectations remain high for the group, there will be a lot of new faces. KP graduated its entire secondary so the Warriors are turning to senior Brian Wasserug and Cantave, a sophomore, to take on starting spots. Halliday and Callanan, both captains, will handle outside linebacker duties with Mike Malatesta in the mix for the middle spot. Gunning and Manzi will also see action on the defensive line alongside Conniff. Dillon Conti takes over kicking duties for the departed Cole Baker.
“These kids know how much work, how much effort it takes to get where we want to be,” Lee said. “But it’s all about going game by game, starting this week with a team [North Attleboro] that we have a ton of respect for.”
Looking at the long list of returning players, it is no surprise that expectations around Alumni Field are sky high this fall. Mansfield enters the season with experience at just about every position and with the bitter taste of last year’s South final loss to rival King Philip still stinging. Despite a rash of injuries that forced running back Aidan Sacco to play as an emergency quarterback for most of the season, Mansfield still won a league title and this year’s team may be even more talented, which has ramped up the hype and put the target squarely on the Hornets’ backs.
The line of scrimmage will be a strength for the Hornets on the offensive side of the ball, as they return four of five starters from last year’s unit that allowed the team to rush for more than 2,600 yards. Senior Jason Comeau and reigning HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year TJ Guy will be two key cogs in the line, while senior Noah Jellenik and junior Jake McCoy are also back. Senior Andrew Cowles will step into the fifth spot. They will seek to protect senior quarterback Jack Moussette, who had a cameo under center last year before an injury forced him to miss the bulk of the season. The skill positions will be loaded with athletes. Cincere Gill had a breakout sophomore season at running back and senior Nick Marciano is back after an injury cut short his junior season. Senior Michael DeBolt was one of the top kickers in the league but also gives Mansfield another weapon on the edges, while senior Vinnie Holmes adds a bruising presence coming out of the backfield.
Holmes is the headliner on the defensive side of the ball. Along with fellow linebackers Marciano, DeBolt, and senior Joe Plath, Holmes will be expected to make big plays all over the field. The defensive line will be strong with three returning players: senior Chris Graham, McCoy, and Guy. Junior Nico Holmes will step in as the fourth man on the line. Much like on offense, speed will be a strength and the secondary is loaded with playmakers, including Gill, junior Matt Boen, and senior Makhi Baskin.
“We have a bunch of experience all over the field, but we really have to develop depth with the second team to handle a tough schedule and challenges every week,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “This is one of the fastest group of skill guys we’ve ever had and we could be explosive on offense. We lack a little size up front on defense, but we should be able to overcome that by flying around with pursuit to the ball with our speed.”
There was no question that 2018 was a tough season for the Tigers. Oliver Ames lost by a point in the season opener to Concord-Carlisle and didn’t earn its only win until the penultimate game against Durfee. The Tigers will hope to turn things around quickly with an infusion of young talent under new head coach Ed DeWitt.
On offense, the players will be learning a new system, but there is experience in the backfield to try and implement different schemes. Senior running back Nathan Cabral figures to see plenty of the ball again this year after his breakout junior season in which he ran for more than 1,100 yards. He will be joined by senior quarterback Cam Perron and senior running back Sam Stevens to give the Tigers a strong core. Seniors Harrison Webster and Adam Cann (who is coming off an injury) will give Perron weapons to utilize on the outside.
There will be a lot of new faces on the defensive side, as DeWitt can call on three or four returning starters and will need a number of players to provide contributions on both sides of the ball. The linebacking corps was particularly hit by graduations, although senior Tyler Campbell can provide some experience and leadership in that position and Cabral brings athleticism to the role. Max Anderson and Anthony DeCosta will be important at the line of scrimmage, while Stevens will step into the secondary along with senior corner Nick Gillis and junior corner Jadon Ricci.
“The competition in camp has been great,” DeWitt said. “The players have committed to the program and bought into the day to day work that we need to do. We are focusing on making sure we treat every day as an opportunity to improve and string together some positive momentum.”
The Tigers started last season with three straight wins and then finished with three wins in their final four games to end 2018 with a winning record. Taunton enters this fall with a relatively inexperienced roster, but one that is looking to continue the momentum in the program and try to push forward so it can challenge the top teams in the Kelley-Rex division.
One of the biggest changes for the Tigers will be under center. Noah Leonard was the starter for three seasons, but junior Danny MacDougall will take over this year. MacDougall will also see time at receiver to try and take advantage of his athleticism. He will be joined in the backfield by classmates Bretton Heggs and Josh Lopes, who both got time at running back as sophomores. Juniors Kedrick Santos and Devante McPhail will be the primary weapons at receiver. Up front, the Tigers have decent size. Senior Mike Murray will be at center, senior Hussein Kassab at one tackle, junior Marquis Dalomba at the other tackle, and junior Jordan Manning at guard.
Similar to the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers lack experience on defense and are still learning the schemes, but physical scrimmages have helped prepare them for the season. Senior Woudanly Danger is a force at the line of scrimmage and will require attention from opponents and senior Jackson Wellman has been one of the team’s top tacklers from linebacker. Junior defensive end Deandre McPhail adds to the strength of the line. Senior Curt Marshall and MacDougall will be the safeties and senior Cam Carroca will be at corner.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and trying to get better and to be competitive in the league,” said Taunton coach Brad Sidwell. “We’re definitely inexperienced, but physically we have guys who can do it and we need to coach them up so they’ll be ready to go once the season gets started.”