FRANKLIN, Mass. – As Stoughton fought its way through the ups and downs of the 2015 season to finish with a 6-5 record, there were plenty of positives and negatives.
One big positive was the experience the players got, mainly the young offensive line. That experience paid off big time on Friday night as the Black Knights dominated up front behind it’s five-senior offensive line en route to a 58-19 statement win over Franklin.
“They all played last year,” Stoughton head coach Greg Burke said. “We played some tough games last year so having a senior line this year, senior lines usually win. They’re just a little stronger, have a little more experience. Now we have the seniors [on the line] so I’m hoping it carries us. The line is key, offensively and defensively.”
Stoughton opened the game on a seven play, 72 yard drive, capped with a two-yard rushing score from senior Ryan Sullivan (10 carries, 153 yards, four touchdowns, interception). Dave Cellucci’s (4/4, 60 yards) 20 yard pass to Izon Swain-Price and Sullivan’s 23 yard carry just prior to the score were highlights on the drive.
It didn’t take long for the Black Knights to double their lead as senior Jack Connelly ripped the ball free three plays into Franklin’s drive and Marselis Cox scooped the loose ball up and sprinted in from 45 yards out. Cellucci’s keeper for the two point conversion put Stoughton up 14-0 just over four minutes into the game.
The Black Knights forced a punt but were faced with 3rd and 20 on the ensuing drive. Cellucci floated one up and Connelly went up and grabbed it for a 27 yard completion and a first down. Two plays later, Swain-Price got around the edge for an eight yard touchdown, putting Stoughton up 21-0.
Sullivan came away with an interception on Franklin’s next possession and the Black Knights converted quickly. After a 28 yard gain from Sullivan on the ground, junior Justin Ly (11 carries, 137 yards, one touchdown) pounded it up the middle for a 10 yard touchdown, giving Stoughton a 27-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
After Franklin was unable to convert on fourth down, Ly took the first carry of the next drive 39 yards. Six players later, Sullivan took the toss to the outside for a five yard touchdown run to make it 34-0.
The Panthers were able to get some life back right before halftime, using a couple of screen plays to cut into the lead. Facing 3rd and nine, Franklin QB Jake Noviello (14/33, 215 yards, 2 touchdowns) hit running back Jacob Wolowacki (128 all purpose yards) for a 48 yard completion on the screen. Two plays later, Wolowacki punched it in for the Panthers’ first touchdown.
Franklin got possession back quickly, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Brad Jarosz. On the first play, the Panthers went back to the screen, with Noviello hitting Wolowacki for a 40 yard touchdown to bring the score to 34-12.
Stoughton struck once more in the final minute of the first half, using three straight runs – Sullivan for 24 yards, Ly for 32 yards and then Sullivan for a 10 yard score – to go into the half with a 40-12 lead.
“Just like any year, you want to start off good,” Burke said. “[Franklin] is a young team, I don’t want to see them next year, that’s for sure, they’ll be tough. Our guys have worked really hard. I’m really happy with our seniors. And our strength, that’s all weight room stuff. We have a lot seniors, we have 20 this year and that makes a difference. Seniors win football games, it’s that simple.”
On Stoughton’s first play of their second drive in the second half, Sullivan bust through a hole up the middle and scampered in for a 52 yard touchdown to make it 46-12.
Franklin struck back with Noviello dropping a perfect pass into the hands of Kinley Baird on the sideline and the senior did the rest, sprinting in for a 68 yard touchdown for the Panthers.
Stoughton added a pair of scores in the final quarter with Swain-Price dashing up the middle for a 40 yard touchdown and David Bell getting around the corner for a 34 yard score for the Black Knights.
“Four touchdowns is nice for me but scoring 58 points as a team is better,” Sullivan said. “We like to call it the three-headed monster. Justin goes up the middle, and then me and Izon on the outside. The holes, you could drive a truck through, it was unreal. It’s an all senior line and they stepped up big time. They got a lot of experience last year and now they are ready to go this year.”
“Those two guys [Sullivan and Swain-Price], you have to worry about them but then we did a nice job on the inside on the traps,” Burke said. “We have a line that can block any other line as far as I’m concerned. You have to be able to go inside and you have to be able to go outside, that’s our offense. It might not be high spread, but that’s not who we are.”
Stoughton football (1-0) will welcome Marshfield to town next Friday in a rematch of week two from a season ago. Franklin (0-1) will look to get its first win of the season with a trip to another Davenport division team, Milford (0-1).
Outlook: After falling victim to the playoff system’s alignment and just missing out on a postseason berth, Canton will be relying on a mix of experience and youth to try and get back to the state tournament under the new alignment.
Davenport division MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Jake Ragusa is off playing at Merrimack so that will be a major void for Canton to fill. However, the Bulldogs do return some players in key spots that will help them out of the gates. Senior Anthony Ross is back under center and could see an expanded role in 2016. Dan Alice is back after suffering an injury last season and should lead a stable of running backs, led by fullback Alec Ragusa. Joe Mulkay, Dan Pierre, Tony Harris and Mike Marino should all factor into the offense as well for Canton.
Defensively, Canton has some experience on the line in Brian Smith, who also plays as a tackle on offense, as well as Mark Whalen, who saw valuable minutes last year, and Ben Paolillo. Alec Ragusa will be the anchor in the linebacking corps alongside Thomas Monagle (also the team’s kicker) and Marino. Harris, Alice and Mulkay figure to be important pieces in the Bulldogs’ secondary this year.
“The kids have a strong work ethic and had a good offseason and now a good preseason,” head coach Dave Bohane said. “I think we’ll be strong up front on both sides and we have kids in key spots with experience.”
Outlook: Coming off the program’s first league title since 2010, the Foxboro Warriors are hoping to stay near the top of the Davenport division again this year. And with one of the top returning quarterbacks in Mark Clagg under center for another year, the Warriors will likely be in the thick of the division race.
Clagg threw for nine touchdowns last season, third most among returning quarterbacks. After splitting some time with Darren Kelly last year, it looks like it was be Clagg’s spot full time in 2016. Another positive for having Clagg back is the experienced wide receivers he will have to work with. Jamaine Few is a big, experienced target at 6’3 and will be a tough one on one matchup for defensive backs. Trey Guerrini also has experience with Clagg while Phil Dure and John Whitehouse could be viable options as well. Foxboro will have to fill the void at running back, after the stability of Ronnie Martin and Keeyon Neal in previous years. Eseosa Omuemu, Matt Mullally and Anthony Capachietti are all possible choices to start in the backfield.
Defensively, the Warriors will rely upon experience in the linebacking and defensive back corps. Junior Matt Pond and senior Brandon Corey will be key cogs among the linebackers while Paul Darcy and Guerrini will be key pieces in the Warriors’ secondary. Foxboro will look to develop solid options on both the offensive and defensive lines.
“As always, the senior leadership plays a key role in the success of the 2016 campaign,” head coach Jack Martinelli said.
Outlook: The Scarlet Hawks have posted back-to-back 7-4 seasons and are hoping to continue their winning ways in 2016. With 11 starters returning, Milford is on the right track to do so.
It all starts with Yale-commit Blake Hill, who will be a top player on both offense and defense this season. Offensively he can hurt you in many ways, including running with the ball or catching passes. Hill will have some space to run thanks to an experienced offensive line that includes Riley Burns, Ryan Gray and Pat Brogioli. Junior Matt Curran will take over under center for the Scarlet Hawks and will have Jack Cappelletti, Tony Mobilia and Tyler Joyce as pass catching options to work with.
Defensively, Hill is one of the top linebackers in the league. He’ll be flanked by Harrison Bliss, Asong Aminmentse and Joyce. Burns, Gray and Brogioli will all be two-way linemen for the Scarlet Hawks. Shapel Feaster, who will also see touches on offense, will be in the secondary along with Alec Salamone, Mobilia and Cappelletti.
Outlook: As with any defending league champion, the North Attleboro Rocketeers will have some holes they’ll have to fill this year. But Big Red also has a slew of talented, experienced players back as North Attleboro looks to make a splash in its first season in the Davenport division.
Junior Chad Peterson is back under center after a breakout sophomore season in which he tossed 13 touchdowns, second most in the Hockomock League. While Kelley-Rex MVP Nick Morrison has graduated, North Attleboro returns Bobby Mylod and Nick Rajotte, who will give the Rocketeers a variety of attacking options. Thomas Reynolds will anchor the offensive line from the center position while Peterson will look for Hacmoni Cuevas, David Engler, Mario Bresko and Nick Dean to emerge as receiving threats.
It will be a lot of the same faces making plays on the defensive side of the ball. Reynolds and senior Tom Kummer are two major pieces and will take up the center of the defensive line. Mylod emerged as one of the top linebackers in the Hockomock and in the state last season and will be complemented at the position by Ryan Kingston, Zach DeMattio and Cuevas. Rajotte and Kyle McCarthy both had solid years in the secondary last season and will be big pieces to the defensive puzzle again this season.
“It’s going to be an interesting year switching to the Davenport division,” head coach Don Johnson said. “It certainly isn’t going to be any easier.”
Outlook: A lot of the players listed as key and returning players for Sharon this season were also on last year’s list, and that’s a good thing for the Eagles, who are looking to take the next step forward in 2016.
Junior Drew Naisuler will step into the starting role at quarterback and will have some weapons at his disposal right away. Running back Juvan Elisma had a stellar 2015 campaign as a junior, rushing for eight touchdowns – tied for fourth most in the Hockomock League and tied for second in the Davenport. Now Elisma will look to cap a strong football career at Sharon by leading an Eagles’ rushing attack that will likely include junior Sam Spencer as well. Naisuler will have an experienced receiver as Josh Rotman is back for another year while junior Austin Dodes figures to be another target this season.
“Our season will be decided by how physical we can be and if our new varsity players can step up and make an impact,” head coach Dave Morse said.
The Eagles will also bring back some experience on both sides of the line. Nate Hirsh has been a key cog of the line on both sides of the ball for the Eagles. Ian Langol-Leonard and Wilhelm Bolt also will likely be key experience pieces up front for Sharon. Defensively, Rotman also is back as a talented defensive back. Xavier Hackett is another name to keep an eye on, as the senior has been able to make plays for Sharon in the past and looks to do more of the same in 2016.
Outlook: No matter what team, it’s always going to be difficult to replace a three year starter at quarterback. But with the talented offensive line Stoughton has back this season and senior Dave Cellucci taking over under center, the Black Knights’ offense is in good shape.
The offensive line returns starters Lino Azul, Ryan Pierre and Andrew Iverson while Harry Kimball and Brendan Walsh – who both started on the defensive line – will play on both sides of the ball now. That experience will help give Cellucci a little more time in the pocket when he’s called upon to throw. Meanwhile, Ryan Sullivan, Izon Swain-Price and Justin Ly all figure to be key pieces in the backfield. Sullivan and Swain-Price caused havoc for defenses last season with a combined 10 rushing touchdowns. Swain-Price will also be a receiving option while Jack Connelly is back for another year at tight end.
Stoughton will look to continue its tradition of having a staunch defense. The Black Knights have depth on the defensive line with Pierre, Azul and Kimball all seeing time there along with junior Jason Joseph. Iverson, Ly and Connelly will all see reps at linebacker and Sullivan and Izon Swain-Price will likely be two of the top defensive backs in the entire league.
“We hope to stay healthy and get into the playoffs,” head coach Greg Burke said. “This has been a great group in the weight room and conditioning, that will have to carry us in the league. We know it will be a tough league this year.”
By Ryan Lanigan, Editor-in-Chief
MILFORD, Mass. – Over halfway through the third quarter, Stoughton had a comfortable 30-7 lead and an offense that had moved the ball nearly at will.
But less than six minutes later, Milford had found the end zone twice and pulled within one score. Trailing 30-22 less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Scarlet Hawks suddenly had almost of the momentum and forced Stoughton into a fourth down situation for the first time all game.
The Black Knights kept the offense on the field from the Milford 31 and senior Jake Gibb delivered a 13 yard strike to junior Ryan Sullivan for a first down. Three plays later, Gibb hit senior Steven Elice in the endzone for a 16 yard touchdown. A two point conversion from Sullivan recreated the cushion and the Black Knights emerged with a 38-22 win.
The win earned Stoughton a share of the Hockomock League Davenport Division title, the second straight year that the Black Knights had won a league title. It’s the first time in program history at Stoughton has won back-to-back league titles.
“That play was huge,” Stoughton head coach Greg Burke said of the fourth down conversion. “We were struggling and Gibb had two great throws there. They recovered that onside kick and scored and that throws you back some. It was good to get that play and keep the momentum.”
With a 24-7 lead at halftime, Stoughton took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards on nine plays, capped off with a five yard rush from senior Guy Eddy to make it 30-7.
But there was no quit in the Scarlet Hawks. Milford responded with a 11 play, 56 yard drive to find the end zone. Milford senior quarterback Zach Lanzetta worked the offense down the field, highlighted by an 18 yard reception from Jack Cappelletti, an 11 yard reception from Asong Aminmentse and a 12 yard catch from Ryan Nesta. Lanzetta then his Shapel Feaster for a four yard score to make it 30-14 with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Milford’s Sean Lehane hit a dribbler straight down the middle and Dan Cossette was able to fall onto it to get the ball back for the Scarlet Hawks.
Milford quickly moved up the field as Lanzetta hit Cappalletti for 16 yards and Jack DeSantis (16 carries, 78 yards) ran up the middle for 11 more. Facing third and 2, Lanzetta used the QB keeper for a gain of nine and on the next play, Lanzetta connected with Cappalletti, who was able to haul in the pass with one hand for a seven yard score. Blake Hill plowed into the end zone for the two point conversion to bring Milford within eight at 30-22 with 10:39 left.
“It was great to see our guys battle in the second half,” Milford head coach Joe Todd said. “Obviously [Stoughton] is a very good football team, they have a great offense and run game and great quarterback. Number 20 [Ryan Sullivan] is a great player, he made that catch and I think that was probably the play of the game. If we stop them there we have a chance to go down and tie it. We’re proud of our effort, hats off to them for fighting and we just have to regroup and come back next week ready to go.”
Stoughton moved up the field to the 29 but a tackle for a loss from Feaster and then a pass break up from DeSantis and Feaster put Stoughton into fourth and long. That’s when Gibb hit Sullivan.
“Hats off to them, they made it interesting,” Burke said. “We had trouble getting to their quarterback. I’m glad we put up 38 points and got the win. We played pretty well defensively just couldn’t get to the quarterback and they made a couple of nice plays.”
Gibb finished 8/11 for 173 yards with the one touchdown pass while Sullivan had 95 yards on the ground on 14 carries with a pair of touchdowns and then 84 yards through the air on three receptions. Stoughton amassed for 456 total yards, with 283 coming on the ground.
Lanzetta was 19/34 for 154 yards with a pair of touchdowns for the Scarlet Hawks.
After Milford was forced to punt on their opening series, Lehane pinned Stoughton inside the five at their own three yard line. The field position didn’t phase the Black Knights as they took just eight plays to move the ball field. All eight plays were rushing plays and the last was a 44 yard burst up the right side from Christian Hill for a touchdown.
Milford responded immediately, going 13 plays to move the ball 56 yards. DeSantis had a big run to convert a third down and then hauled in a 14 yard pass from Lanzetta for another first. From one yard out, Hill punched it in and Lehane’s extra point gave the Scarlet Hawks a 7-6 lead with 10:17 left in the second quarter.
It took Stoughton less than a minute to get the lead right back though. Sullivan had a big kick return that set the Black Knights up at the Milford 22 yard line. Three plays later, Sullivan dove in from two yards out to make it 12-7.
Just three plays into MIlford’s next series, Stoughton linebacker Harry Kimball read the screen play perfectly and intercept Lanzetta to give the Black Knights the ball at the Milford 25 yard line. Seven plays later, Sullivan went up the middle for a five yard score to make it 20-7.
Another Milford punt gave Stoughton the ball and Gibb moved it up the field quickly. He hit Elice for 32 yards over the middle and two plays later, Izon Swain-Price (10 carries, 80 yards) took the toss to the left side and raced up the field for a 30 yard score to make it 24-7 with 2:23 left in the half.
Stoughton nearly scored right before the half as Gibb hit Sullivan for 43 yards but he was tackled by Nesta on the two yard line as time expired in the first half.
After losing the first two games of the season Stoughton has bounced back nicely and will likely be the 5th seed in D3 Southwest. Those two first opponents for Stoughton just happened to be Marshfield (7-0), who is widely regarded as the top team in the state, and North Attleboro (7-0), who won the Hockomock League Kelley-Rex and will likely be the second seed in the D3 Southwest.
“That was huge for us to take on two great teams,” Burke said. “People questioned why we played Marshfield but we’ll play anyone, we didn’t want to sit out for a week. We’ll play. Sometimes you want to milk your schedule but we learned a lot and I think we did as well as anyone against Marshfield. We got points from Marshfield and North because they won every week. I’d do it again too.
“I’m happy we’re to win the league title, that’s two years in a row. And that’s really, really important for the town and our program. We have a lot of kids playing their first year so to be where we are, I’m really excited for the kids.”
Stoughton (4-1, 4-3) will likely travel to #4 Walpole in the first round of the playoffs. We will have the playoff seeds posted as soon as they are announced. Milford (2-3, 3-4) looks to have just missed the playoffs, less than .2 points behind Norwood. The Scarlet Hawks will be back in action next week against an opponent to be determined.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.