Trailing 14-7 to Holliston with just under 10 minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs quickly moved into Panther territory and even converted a fourth down that seemingly put the momentum with the hosts.
But two plays later, Canton fumbled in its backfield and Holliston pounced on the loose ball to put an abrupt halt to the drive.
It was just one of those nights for the Bulldogs, who dropped a 27-14 decision to the visiting Panthers in the D5 South Sectional Final. Canton also hurt itself with nearly a dozen penalties.
“We kind of flirted with that all year, I take full responsibility, we were kind of an undisciplined team and got away with it for many games,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane on his team not helping themselves with penalties. “Tonight, in a game like this when you get to the sectional championship, we had some bad penalties and we paid for it. I don’t want that to take away from Holliston though, they executed very well like we thought they would. I thought our defense didn’t do a bad job, we just didn’t do enough to move the ball.
“[Holliston] is a good team and they’re going to do well going forward. I’m just super proud of my guys overall. Just an outstanding two years, it’s been great to be apart of it. It’s a sour taste to lose in the final twice but I don’t want to lose sight of all the accomplishments along the way.”
Canton’s fumble summed up a frustrating night on offense for the Bulldogs, who had to punt five times, turned the ball over on downs twice and finished with a pair of turnovers.
The Bulldogs had just forced Holliston’s high-powered offense (entered the game averaging over 30 points per game) to a three and out and started at their own 40 with 9:14 left in the game, trailing just 14-7.
Senior Johnny Hagan (11/26, 124 yards) hit classmate Jace Emma for eight yards on third down, and senior tailback Kyle Fitzgerald (18 carries, 101 yards; four catches, 26 yards) barreled his way for three yards on fourth and one to give the hosts the ball at the Holliston 44-yard line.
But after the fumble with 6:26 left, the momentum swung in favor of the Panthers and they cashed in on their chance. The Bulldogs defense did its part to force Holliston into a fourth and seven from the Canton 34-yard line, but the Panthers elected to go for it.
Matt Arvanitis dropped back and floated a pass up the middle to a wide-open Kevin Lyons, who had released off the line of scrimmage, and the play went for a touchdown to give Holliston a 21-7 advantage with just 3:58 left in the game.
In true Bulldog fashion, the hosts refused to go away without a fight. Canton orchestrated its best drive of the entire game, marching 73 yards on nine plays to find the end zone for the first time on the offensive side of the ball.
Hagan connected with Gersom Rivera for 32 yards on a fourth-down play to keep the drive alive early and then linked up with Cam Sanchez for 22 yards on third down to move deep into Holliston territory. Two plays later, Fitzgerald made a terrific diving catch in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown, bringing the hosts back within a score at 21-14 with 2:09 left in the game.
Canton elected a squib kick up the middle with their entire kicking unit charging but a Holliston player was able to handle the play and the Dogs were whistled for a penalty on the hit, giving the Panthers possession at the Canton 36-yard line.
Holliston running back Tristan Benson (14 carries, 138 yards, two touchdowns) put an exclamation point on a superb second half, running for 28 yards on first down to get inside the 10 yard line, and two plays later plunged into the end zone from three yards out to restore the Panthers’ two-score lead, up 27-14 with 1:44 to go, securing the D5 south crown.
“I think Holliston had a lot to do with the outcome of the game,” Bohane said. “I don’t think we played our best but I don’t want to take anything away from the opponent that played great tonight and deserved to go on to the next round.
“These kids that have played for us have left an incredible mark on the program. I can’t say anything but great things about all of them, it’s been a pleasure to coach them. It’s been such a fun ride for me personally. I’m a proud coach and I just feel bad because they are crushed. We thought we could move on.”
The majority of the game played out as a defensive chess match with the teams trading stops. Holliston had to punt on two of its first three drives and had its other series come to a screeching halt when Robbie Gallery read a screen pass and hauled an interception.
Canton’s offense didn’t fare much better, turning it over on downs on the opening series after starting in Holliston territory, and then had to punt on its second series. Canton moved the ball on its third series, using nine plays to cover 44 yards but there was another big momentum swing when Holliston blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt. The ball ended up in the hands of Holliston’s Teddy Ratcliffe and he returned it all the way to the Canton 32-yard line.
With good field position, Holliston’s offense went to work and found the end zone two plays later. Arvanitis dropped a perfect pass to Christian Schneeloch, who hauled the pass in despite strong coverage, for a 6-0 lead with 9:45 left in the second quarter.
Canton’s next drive was slowed down early by a holding call but Hagan hit Emma down the left sideline for 26 yards to keep the drive alive. The Bulldogs converted another fourth down and moved into the red zone but a pair of incomplete passes resulted in a turnover on downs at the 11-yard line.
Canton’s defense came up with a big response on the next series though. On 2nd and 10 from the 21, senior linebacker Ben Guerini came flying in and landed a monster sack, jarring the ball free. Senior Jahmi Aldin scooped the ball up at the 12-yard line and raced into the end zone for a touchdown. Owen Lehane’s extra point gave Canton a 7-6 lead late in the second, a lead the hosts took into the halftime break.
“That defense kept me up late all week long, a lot of hours,” said Holliston coach Todd Kiley of the Bulldogs’ defense. “There is no weakness on that team, they are a phenomenal football team, one of the best ever I’ve had to prepare for. We’ve been through a lot of games with this program. That team, that coaching staff has done a phenomenal job, we just made a couple more plays than them.
“Our guys dug down and we made a big play when we needed to. Tristan Benson was huge in the second half, he kind of just took it over. Our line did awesome, and how about our defense today? It was just a total team effort. I’m going through all of our kids that made plays tonight, and it’s a long list.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to add to their lead on the opening drive of the second but went backward and had to punt. Holliston started with good field position at the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line and once again took advantage of the strong starting spot.
After throwing for the majority of the first half, the Panthers turned to Benson. The tailback’s speed gave the Dogs trouble, as he had runs of 12 and 19 before plunging in for a 5-yard score, and then the two-point conversion for a 14-7 lead.
Canton’s ensuing series ended with a three and out after Hagan and Fitzgerald just missed linking up on third down. On the next Canton series, Hagan had a 14-yard scramble erased by a holding call but responded to move the sticks. However, four plays later, a 38-yard pass and catch to Fitzgerald on third down was taken off the board after another hold, and Canton had to punt two plays into the fourth.
“I think they were just a little better in the middle than we thought,” Bohane said. “We’ve been able to stay the course and stay the course, and eventually wear teams down. But in a game like this, kids dig real deep and I give [Holliston] a lot of credit, they are very well-coached. They played hard, and I thought our kids played hard too. It was a good game that got away from us a little bit. [Holliston] does a lot of things offensively to put pressure on you.”
Canton football drops its first game of the season to push its record to 9-1. The Bulldogs will host rival Stoughton (8-2) on Thanksgiving at 10:00 AM.
SHARON, Mass. – With only seven seconds remaining in overtime, Holliston guard Grace Dzindolet went to the line to try and put the Panthers back in front. The senior hit the first, but her second bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Evanjuline Elisma. The Sharon junior took off like a flash, racing up court with an opportunity to win the game for the Eagles.
Elisma went straight at the basket. There was contact between Elisma and a Holliston defender but there was no whistle, only the final horn putting an end to a thriller that the Panthers pulled out 56-55 to sweep the season series by a combined four points.
“We had a chance at the end and was it a foul?” asked first-year Sharon coach Sandra Lombardi. “I don’t know. If the ref doesn’t blow his whistle then it’s not a foul.”
The Eagles seemed to be playing catch-up right from the opening quarter. Sophomore Allyson Brown (seven points) drilled a three to put Sharon ahead 10-8 in the first, but Holliston went on a 7-2 run to close out the quarter with the lead. Dzindolet scored seven of her team-high 14 points in the first.
Holliston extended the lead in the second, as Sharon was held to just one made field goal for the first six minutes of the quarter. Behind four points from Brooke Geoffroy (12 points and 16 rebounds), the Panthers led 25-16 and seemed on the verge of breaking the game open.
It could have been much closer, but for Sharon’s struggles at the free throw line. The Eagles shot just 6-of-14 at the line in the second and 10-for-24 for the game. Still, as the half was winding down, the Eagles were still in it. Miranda Cheung (seven points), the only senior on the Sharon roster, got a steal and a layup, which was followed by a traditional three-point play by Emma Eberhardt (15 points and 15 rebounds).
Sharon trailed by just one at halftime, but Holliston was able to push the lead to five at several points of the third quarter. Geoffroy had six in the quarter, but Eberhardt scored seven points and Kaitlyn Wallace drilled a three to keep it a two-point game with eight minutes left.
“We’re young, we’re inexperienced but they always play hard,” said Lombardi. “They always play aggressive. The other day we were down 17 at halftime and we came back to be down by one. They could have easily packed it in and gave up but they fought back.”
Wallace and Eberhardt went back-to-back on drives to the hoop to tie the game at 39-39 in the fourth quarter and then Elisma kicked out to Telishya Herbert to knock down a jumper from just inside the three-point line to give the Eagles their first lead since it was 10-8 in the first.
The lead was short-lived, as the Panthers proceeded to go an 8-0 run and seemed to have the game in control after Tess Powers completed a four-point play. Sharon answered. Brown picked up a steal and went the length of the court for a basket and then, off another Brown steal, Elisma got free in transition to make it 47-45.
Cheung battled for a loose ball underneath, grabbed an offensive rebound, and went right up to score and tie the game. Sharon got it back with 27 seconds left and the chance to win it with the final shot, but the Eagles turned it over. Dzindolet thought she had the game-winner on the break only for Wallace to block the shot and keep Sharon alive.
“In a game like this,” Lombardi explained, “it’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes that will come out on top. We missed too many layups. We missed too many foul shots and that’s been a thing all season long.”
Geoffroy put the Panthers in front to start overtime, but Herbert scored on a rebound to tie it. Threes by AbbyRae Wells and Kami Kozubal put the visitors up 55-51, but again the host came right back. Cheung had an offensive rebound to cut the lead to two and then Brown also scored with a putback to tie the game.
“They play hard,” said Lombardi of Chueng and Brown. “For little kids, they play hard, they’re physical, and that’s why they don’t come out of the game too often. I don’t think Ally came out of the game at all today.”
In the excitement after the tying basket, Sharon made a critical mistake. The Eagles fouled Dzindolet with 7.5 seconds remaining and sent her to the line for a pair of free throws.
“They played hard today,” Lombardi said of her team, “but in spurts we didn’t play smart and that was the difference in the game.”
Dzindolet made the first and Elisma had a chance off the missed free throw to get out and run. There was no call on the final attempt and the shot came up short.
“We’re trying,” said Lomnbardi. “We’re young…it’s a learning experience for some of these kids who haven’t played varsity basketball before. So, being in those situations and keeping the game close, hopefully next time we find a way to win.”
Sharon (2-8, 1-5) will try to bounce back on Tuesday when it hosts Stoughton.
FOXBORO, Mass. – Almost every second of the opening eight minutes of Sunday afternoon’s game was spent with Holliston in the attack. The Panthers pushed down the right side and spent the beginning of the game parked right in front of the Foxboro bench, but the Warriors did not break under the pressure and got through that spell without allowing a shot.
On Foxboro’s first sustained attack of the game in the 11th minute, the Warriors took the lead. Junior Catherine Luciano corralled a loose ball in the middle of the attacking zone and fired a shot on goal that took a deflection before settling into the bottom corner.
That goal would turn out to be the game-winner, as the Foxboro defense allowed only one shot on goal over 60 minutes and the Warriors pulled out a 1-0 win at Sam Berns Community Field. The victory propels second seeded Foxboro into the Div. 2 South semifinals for the first time “in a long time,” according to head coach Melissa Bordieri.
“I’ve always had a lot of belief in this team,” Bordieri said, “and I’ve always known their potential. Half the battle was them realizing they have potential and I think it’s there now that they realize they’re one of the best teams in the state and that they should be where they are.”
The goal came against the run of play, but set the tone for the match, as the Warriors would absorb pressure for long periods of the game but without ever having Holliston truly threaten. When Foxboro broke, it created good scoring opportunities.
Bordieri was happy to see Luciano step up and get the important first goal. She explained, “I wasn’t sure who had scored it but when I saw her pick up the ball I was so psyched because she’s had so many ‘almost goals’. For Catherine to do it was awesome.”
Eight minutes after scoring the opener, Foxboro nearly doubled its advantage but sophomores Lily Daly and Sophia Dicenso both saw their shots kicked aside by the Holliston goalie. Dicenso had a second chance on the rebound but that shot skimmed the post and stayed out.
Daly would have another chance in the 23rd minute but her off-hand effort went just wide of the near post. Dicenso had one last chance in the final minute off a feed from senior Meredith Cronin but again it went wide.
The Warriors cleared off three corners in the opening half and did not allow the Panthers to get a shot on target. In fact, Foxboro goalie Kelli McCarthy was not forced into a save until the final 11 minutes.
“We’ve been working on [defense] all week,” said Bordieri. “I knew it was going to be a big defensive game because they’re a really good offensive team and if we allowed them to generate any offense they could put us on the ropes.”
The strength of the Warriors throughout was in the midfield with the combination of Luciano, Jackie Brion, and Allison Curran forming a wall across the field that kept the Panthers pinned in their defensive zone for the majority of the second half. Emma Daly and Meghan Curran helped by pressing high up the field and if Holliston did manage a break then Kelly Fisher was there to clean up.
“They did fantastic today,” said Bordieri. “They did a really good job of backing each other up and making sure that when we did push up that we had support behind. Sometimes we get excited and move up field but they remained poised.”
Foxboro went looking for a second goal that could have put the game away and had several good chances in the game’s closing moments. Dicenso had the best look but her shot in the 54th minute was kicked aside. Fisher had a shot off a corner that was blocked into the path of Luciano but again the shot was saved.
According to Bordieri, physical games that come down to the wire are nothing new to the Warriors thanks in large part to the difficult league schedule that the Davenport division champions play.
“Our league is so awesome at preparing us for the tournament because we see incredibly good teams,” she said. Being from the Hockomock League is gigantic, I can’t explain how much it helps us. It really prepares us.”
The Warriors (17-2-1) will now face Cohasset in the next round of the tournament with a possible final to follow. Bordieri is confident her team will not be looking ahead to far and is focused on the task at hand.
She said, “They’ve done a good job of taking it day by day and keeping their eyes on the prize.”