MANSFIELD, Mass. – Although it has been an obviously unusual season, there was a familiar, playoff-like feel to the final game of the regular season at Alumni Field. Mansfield (6-0) hosted fellow unbeaten Marshfield, a team that the Hornets have faced in the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.
There was also a familiar feel to the game, as the Mansfield defense stood tall once again, allowing only four first downs in a 12-9 win. All of Marshfield’s points were scored by its defense, meaning the Hornets did not allow an opposition offense to score a single point over the final 19 quarters of the season (going back to the first quarter against Milford in week two).
“I thought we did a really good job handling their run game and couple of short passes but nothing big,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding about the defensive effort. “They play hard and aggressive and they didn’t give much tonight.”
He added, “I told the guys, look you’re undefeated. It doesn’t matter how many games you won, you got a zero for losses and that’s special. They made the best of this opportunity and this season.”
It was an awkward start for the home team. A couple of penalties ended the first possession and James Gilleran’s punt was blocked by Josh Pires. Gilleran recovered to prevent a Marshfield touchdown by knocking the loose ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
The Rams caused a lot of problems on special teams, blocking two punts and an extra point.
Mansfield’s defense was holding up well to the high-paced, spread formation offense that Marshfield likes to run. James Fichera broke up a pass play and then Rocco Scarpellini made the tackle on third and long forcing a Marshfield punt from its own 11.
Anthony Comer returned the punt to the Rams 25 and Mansfield’s offense took advantage of the short field. Comer (20 carries, 55 yards) set up the touchdown with a 16-yard burst around the left side of the line and then punched it in from two yards out on the next play to put the Hornets in front 6-2.
The coverage continued to be excellent from the Mansfield secondary, as Nick Bertolino threw a big hit to break up a pass, TJ Guy set the edge to stop a sweep, and Jake Goldman made a good break on the third down pass to force an incompletion. Again, Marshfield was forced to punt from deep in its own territory and gave the hosts great starting field position.
This time, it took Mansfield only one play to turn that position into points. Nico Holmes (10 carries, 88 yards) took a counter straight up the gut and raced 49 yards for the touchdown. He was untouched until he got into the end zone. The conversion pass fell incomplete and Mansfield led 12-2 with 3:22 left in the half.
Marshfield moved the chains for the first time on a 14-yard pass from Owen Masterson to Pat Yesinko and, after an offsides call, converted a fourth and two at midfield for their second first down of the night. Everett Knowlton closed out the half with one of Mansfield’s three sacks.
Holmes said there weren’t a lot of adjustments on defense facing the hurry-up offense. He said, “We stuck to what we knew in our base stuff and it worked out. We played Mansfield football, hard-nosed, violent football and we got it done.”
Scarpellini opened the half by recovering a Masterson fumble, but the Mansfield drive ended when Matt Boen was picked off by Sam Sullivan in the end zone. After a 30-yard pass from Ean Scholz to Yesinko got the Rams into Mansfield territory for just the second time, Holmes and Scarpellini stuffed a play for a big loss and then Scarpellini added a tackle on the fourth down keeper to get the ball back.
While the Mansfield defense was dominating, the offense was struggling to find a rhythm, especially without running back Cincere Gill. Boen followed the block of Jake McCoy to convert a fourth and two, but a holding call on the next play negated any momentum.
“We just couldn’t sustain anything,” Redding admitted. “It was hard work for either team to get first downs tonight. I’m glad we were able to get enough there in the second quarter to get some breathing room. This was playoff football for sure.”
Marshfield’s Tim Bunker blocked the ensuing punt, but the Rams couldn’t make the good starting field position count. Ryan DeGirolamo broke up a pass and then Holmes sniffed out an attempted fourth down shovel pass for no gain.
Facing third and 14, Boen (7-of-11, 88 yards) looked down the sideline to Knowlton. The pass was tipped by the Marshfield corner but Knowlton stayed with it for a 24-yard grab. The excitement from that play was fleeting as a holding call and then a fumble ended the drive.
Mansfield got the ball back and looked like it was just going to run the clock out. Boen broke an 18-yard gain on a keeper and then Holmes was close to a first down on the next play, but as he was fighting for extra yards Sullivan ripped the ball loose and took it up the far sideline for a 77-yard touchdown that stunned the home bench.
With 1:42 to play, Mansfield looked like it was going for it on fourth and two from its own 43, but instead Boen quick kicked it and the ball rolled down to the 10.
“We were just trying to hang on, trying to stay calm, do what we do, not get over excited,” said Holmes about the mindset for that final defensive possession.
Marshfield managed one first down on the final drive, just its fourth of the night, but the Hornets were flying to the ball. The Hornets only allowed Marshfield to complete 12-of-29 passes on the night. Bertolino, Jared Fraone, and Holmes all made big plays to stop the final drive and secure the win.
“It’s the story of the year,” said Redding about his defense. “They have played lights out and they won it tonight. Just unbelievable effort.”
When asked about what it was like to have Marshfield rather than traditional Thanksgiving Day rival Foxboro to close out the season, Redding explained, “We miss playing Foxboro with all the tradition, but we’re not too disappointed that when we do play Foxboro it will be next Thanksgiving hopefully in front of 5,000 instead of 300.
“I think it was fun to play a great team like this, who was undefeated. It was a damn good replacement to play kind of a Div. 2 South championship to wrap this thing up.”