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.
TAUNTON, Mass. – In the final minute of the first half, Oliver Ames found the end zone to cut Taunton’s lead in half, taking the momentum into the break.
But Taunton stole the momentum back, sandwiching a pair of 60-yard plus drives around an OA three-and-out to begin the second half. The hosts never looked back from that point on, earning a decisive 30-6 victory in the HockomockSports.com Game of the Week, dubbed the “Tiger Bowl.”
“I thought their offense did a good job of mixing it up on us,” said Taunton head coach Brad Sidwell. “I’ve run a no-huddle spread offense before and it’s different for the defense when you haven’t played against it, our guys had to adjust. But coming out in the second half, that first drive was a big deal. And then it was nice to get a stop and do it again on offense.”
Taunton was looking to add onto its 13-0 lead when it stopped Oliver Ames on fourth down just over midfield late in the second quarter. But the host Tigers fumbled just two plays into the series with OA’s Andrew Fraser falling onto the loose ball.
OA took advantage, marching 57 yards on nine plays to end the first half on a high note. Junior quarterback Cam Perron (7/18, 99 yards) scampered for 15 yards to begin the drive and back-to-back carries to junior Nathan Cabral (20 carries, 103 yards, touchdown) moved OA up the field 30 yards. An encroachment penalty on Taunton allowed Cabral to convert a fourth down inside the red zone on a short run, and two plays later, Cabral took a pitch to the left and ran in for a 9 yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 13-6.
Taunton’s offense was unfazed but its deficit shrinking. Senior Tryton Zavala (18 carries, 117 yards) had four rushes on the drive while senior quarterback Noah Leonard (15/19, 213 yards, three touchdowns) went 3-for-3, hitting Wesner Charles (six receptions, 79 yards two touchdowns) for a 26-yard touchdown over the middle. Coby Adams’ extra point made it 20-6 with 7:45 left in the third quarter.
The defense did its part, highlighted by a sack from Taunton senior Max Moitoso on second down. OA ended up without a yard on the drive and had to punt quickly.
After OA’s three and out, the host Tigers once again worked their way down field. Facing a 4th and 7 at the OA 19-yard line, Leonard hit Cam Carroca, who fought his way past the first down maker. On the next play, sophomore Josh Lopes (seven carries, 59 yards) found a big hole on the left side and went in for a 10-yard touchdown and a 27-6 lead with 1:15 left in the third.
“Our guys battled across the board,” said OA head coach Mike Holland. “I thought our guys fought and it was a competitive game at half. Coming out in the second, we had a chance to do a couple of things. We didn’t and they capitalized to pull ahead. They finished strong and we didn’t.
“Football comes down to who can control the line of scrimmage, who can sustain long drives, and who doesn’t come out and go three and out offensively. They came out and drove the field, and offensively we sputtered and had to punt. They got the ball back, ate up some clock with a long drive and finished.”
To start the game, the teams traded punts and then Oliver Ames’ second drive ended on downs. On Taunton’s second drive, the hosts went 76 yards on 10 plays. Danny MacDougall (six catches, 96 yards) had an 11-yard reception and fullback Damian Manning grabbed a 15-yard pass on the drive. Three plays later, Leonard connected with Charles on a fade route for a 7-0 advantage.
Oliver Ames looked to respond, moving the ball into Taunton territory. Perron’s pass to sophomore Jeremy Clark went for 40 yards early in the drive and the junior quarterback also hit Sam Stevens for 12 yards to inch closer to the red zone.
It looked Perron had a man down the left sideline on the ensuing play but Taunton safety Javon Franklin came flying over and made the interception in the end zone.
Taunton took advantage of the turnover, needing just five plays to go 75 yards. MacDougall laid out to haul in a 34-yard pass, OA was hit with a dead ball foul to move the ball half the distance to the goal, and Leonard his Sean Quinlan in the corner of the end zone for a 13-0 lead.
After Taunton went up 27-6, a 39-yard kickoff return from Stevens put Oliver Ames in good position on the ensuing drive. The visiting Tigers got into the red zone when Perron hit Shane Kilkelly (three catches, 30 yards) for 11 yards and a first down. On fourth and goal from the 5 yard line, Taunton brought pressure and Sebastien Celestin came up with a big sack to keep OA out of the end zone.
It marked the third straight game Taunton has allowed just six points.
“We’ve been a little bit bend but don’t break on defense,” Sidwell said. “We got a big turnover in the first half in the end zone. We had a few more man rushes tonight so he couldn’t get comfortable back there. He had some scrambles on us but we were able to get to him a couple of times.”
Adams added a field goal in the fourth, connecting on a 21-yard field goal to cap Taunton’s only drive of the quarter (10 plays, 76 yards).
Taunton football finished with over 400 yards of offense, with 213 coming off the arm of Leonard and 205 yards on the ground. For Sidwell, it was a welcome sight to see after failing to get the ground game going consistently a week prior.
“I was frustrated last game against Durfee because in the second half, we couldn’t run the ball against similar type defense with everybody up in there,” Sidwell said. “You have to find ways to run the ball and I’m pleased with how we did tonight.”
Taunton football (1-0 Hockomock, 3-0 overall) is on the road next week when it visits Attleboro (0-1, 2-1) on Friday night at 7:00. Oliver Ames (0-1, 0-3) will try to bounce back when it visits Franklin.
Injuries hampered Attleboro right from the start of the 2017 season, but the 2018 Bombardiers are healthy and hoping for a big turnaround this fall to compete with the top teams in the Kelley-Rex division and make a return to the postseason.
The graduation of quarterback Cam Furtado is a significant loss on offense, but the Bombardiers will hand the ball to junior Jason Weir, who has a big arm and a lot of potential at the QB position. Size and strength won’t be a problem for Weir, who played defensive end as a sophomore. Seniors Justin Cote and Alex Rodriguez will be the primary backs for Attleboro this year and give the Bombardiers dynamic weapons out of the backfield. The offensive line is bolstered by 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior Qualeem Charles and 6-foot-3, 265-pound senior Nick Evans. At 6-foot-3, junior Nolan Jaeger will be a weapon at receiver along with senior Josh Therrien and sophomore tight end Michael Strachan.
Evans battled injuries at the start of last season, but he is one of the top defensive linemen in the league and is drawing Div. I college offers. Attleboro will be a tough team to run against this season with Evans on the end and Charles (who is also getting DI looks) and 6-foot-3, 365-pound senior Eddie Porreca on the inside. Strachan and junior Isaac Gudiel will be starting at inside linebacker, while senior Desmond Woodson will be starting on the outside. Therrien is capable of making plays downfield at his free safety position and will be the leader of the secondary.
“I am looking forward to the 2018 season,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have a strong senior class and we have strong leadership on our football team. Our team worked out hard in the off-season and I am looking forward to that hard work paying off this season.”
Third-year head coach Eian Bain is optimistic about the 2018 season, and the long list of players returning with plenty of experience is a big reason why. The Panthers have over a dozen players back that started or saw significant time on offense and the same goes for the defense, include a very seasoned secondary.
Franklin must replace three-year starter Jake Noviello at quarterback but Bain is confident that a healthy competition between senior Nick Gordon and junior Thomas Gasbarro will result in a strong option starting under center for the opening week. While Franklin has to replace its quarterback, they return a ton of skill players on offense including senior tight end Sean Leonard, who hauled in a league-best eight touchdown passes last season. Ryan Driscoll (five touchdowns), Jack Nally, Will Davis, and Jake Davis will fill out the receiving corps while Sean Hofferty and Owen Palmieri man the backfield. Seniors Riley Downing and Liam Arsenault are experienced and will anchor the offensive line.
Junior Evan Wertz will be a key piece in the middle of the Panthers’ defense after having a breakout campaign last year with nearly 100 tackles from his linebacker spot. Senior Spencer Briggs and sophomore Alex Honor will also see time at linebacker while Downing is joined by Jack Jarosz, Dom Natale, and Keenan Bassma on the defensive line. The Panthers boast a seasoned secondary with Nolan McLaney and Driscoll both back, along with Palmieri, Jake Davis, and both Gasbarro and Gordon.
“We have experience on both sides of the ball,” Bain said. “It is a cohesive group that has been working hard together for our first two years and they are eager to the turn the corner with our program.”
The target on King Philip’s back is bigger than ever as the Warriors pulled off a second straight undefeated season and another state championship.
So how will head coach Brian Lee get this year’s team to focus on 2018 and not the past two seasons?
“The work and preparation have been the same but now it’s up to this season class to leave their legacy,” Lee said. “The previous two classes had their moments, now it’s up to these seniors to make their own moment. This team will go as far as these seniors lead them.”
The seniors will have plenty of opportunities to make their mark because King Philip doesn’t have a returning starter on offense. The Warriors need to replace quarterback Brendan Lydon, who didn’t lose a game as a starter. Junior Robbie Jarest looks poised to take over under center this season. While it isn’t a lot of experience, Jarest took over in the second half of the state final after Lydon got hurt and helped the Warriors finish off Lincoln-Sudbury. The toughest shoes to fill will be those of Shane Frommer, who will go down as one of the best players in KP history.
Junior Ryan Halliday will be the feature back while Aidan Bender and Sam Callanan will be in the mix as well. Jack Webster and Jack Collentro will be keys to the offense from the fullback position. Senior Terrell Jacobs Bastons has some experience on both sides of the ball and will likely start at guard while classmate Josh Fice will fill in the other guard spot. Junior Nolan Gunning is likely to get a starting spot as well, either at center or tackle.
Defense has been a staple for the Warriors throughout their successful run over the last couple of years, and that’s what KP will count on again this season. The strength will come from the linebackers with Webster back in an outside spot and Max Armour returning in the middle. Jacobs Bastons will be a big presence in the middle of the defensive line while the secondary will have familiar faces back in Aidan Bender, Timmy Nault, and safety Luke D’Amico.
And as we saw in the state final, having a reliable kicker is priceless. Cole Baker, who booted the winning field goal in the final, is back for his third year. Not only will he be a big help on offense, his kickoffs will be a weapon for the defense.
Mansfield has finished second in the Kelley-Rex in each of the past three seasons and the Hornets will be counting on experience under center and depth at the skill positions to end King Philip’s two-year reign atop the division and return to the top of the league standings for the first time since 2013.
Senior Damani Scott will be the starter at quarterback for the second straight season and he will be backed up by the capable Jack Mousette, giving the Hornets plenty of experience and reliability from their signal caller. Scott will also have a ton of weapons to call on this year with a skill position group that head coach Mike Redding calls one of the best that Mansfield has had in a while. Khristian Conner and Aidan Sacco will be weapons in the passing game while junior Vinnie Holmes is back in the backfield. Juniors Makhi Baskin, Michael DeBolt (who was also an outstanding kicker last year), and Nick Marciano will provide depth in the slot/running back positions. Senior Daenin Walker and junior Jason Comeau will add experience to the offensive line.
Defensively, Holmes will return to the linebacking corps after setting a program record for tackles in a season as a sophomore. Seniors Chris Copponi and Philip Dinov also return and can play as linebackers or as defensive ends depending on matchups. The secondary will be strong for the Hornets this year with Conner and Sacco at the corners and Marciano and Baskin at the safety positions. The only new additions on the defense are Anthony Capece at noseguard and junior Joe Plath at linebacker.
Redding said, “We have an experienced, athletic, aggressive defense that should be tough to score on and we’re young on offense, but have a ton of depth and talent at skill positions. Just need to gain some experience up front with our new guys on OL and DL.”
The 2018 version of the Oliver Ames Tigers have already had to make an audible after star running back Anthony Berksza suffered a season-ending injury over summer. Berksza had a breakout year last season, rushing for over 1,100 yards and finished with 16 total touchdowns, 15 of those rushing.
With Berksza out, Oliver Ames will rely heavily on the rest of its returning starters to carry the load. Junior Cam Perron returns under center after taking over the starting job during the regular season last year. While Perron looks to find some of his options, he has an offensive line protecting him that has some experience but will be looking to form cohesiveness throughout the year. Dean Pacini, Shane Murphy, Billy Tat, Luke Thibeault, and Garrett Wood all return with experience playing on the line. One challenge will be finding someone to step up and be a leader of that group after the graduation of two-time all star Jack Mills.
Nathan Cabral takes over as the feature tailback and OA head coach Mike Holland is confident the junior can get the job done. Holland says Cabral runs hard and is a tough player. Perron will also have the likes of Shane Kilkelly, Jake Erlich, and Evan Craig to work with as targets.
The heart of the defense will be at the linebacker position. Both Pacini, Murphy, and Darnele Ryan return after starting there last year and Holland will count on both senior captains to lead the way for the Tigers. Sam Stevens is back in the secondary at the safety position but OA will need some new faces to emerge alongside him.
“We’re looking forward to the start of the season,” Holland said. “We have a great group across the board. We have some experienced players back and some talented players competing for jobs.”
Taunton started last season with a 3-0 record, one of the program’s best starts in years, but then lost five straight games, including a playoff game against BC High, the top seed in Div. 1 South. The Tigers turned it on again from that point, winning the final three games of the season, including an impressive win against Brockton, to finish with a winning record under second-year head coach Brad Sidwell.
Experience will be a key for the Tigers this season, as Taunton tries to build on that playoff appearance and the momentum from a strong closing stretch. Senior Noah Leonard will be the starting quarterback for the third straight year and is now fluent in Sidwell’s offensive system. Leonard will have familiar targets in senior wideouts Brayden Merrill, Tryton Zavala, and Wesner Charles, while junior Cam Carroca looks to step in as a feature running back and junior Javon Franklin is a new target in the passing game. On the line, Taunton returns plenty of size in 6-foot-3, 337-pound tackle Christian Tourinho and his fellow senior Cam Correiro. Senior Ryan Williams will be the center, while junior Mason Frank, listed at 6-foot-2 and 274 pounds, will be back to battle at the line of scrimmage.
Size and athleticism will be strengths for Taunton on the defensive side of the ball as well. Tourinho, Correiro, and Frank can bottle up opposing running games and will be joined on the line by seniors Corey Pintabone and John Rockwood. Williams will lead the linebacking corps along with classmates Max Moitoso and Kyle Cuoto. Senior Prince Brown will be back at corner and senior Sebastien Celestin looks to step into the safety position.
“Taunton football is progressing forward,” said Sidwell. “Like all teams, we’d like to gain some confidence early in the season and carry it on. The Kelley-Rex division is challenging with great programs, coaching staffs, and communities. We are happy to be a part of it and want to represent Taunton High well by competing at the high standard set by the other league members.”