CANTON, Mass. – The teams were so similar that it was destined to be a close game. Canton and Stoughton both have speed in the backfield, strong offensive and defensive lines, and athletes all over the field. It was like looking in the mirror. So, it came down to turnovers and one drive that decided the game.
Having managed only five first downs to that point, including one drive stuffed inside the Stoughton 10, the Bulldogs took over possession with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. The drive started at their own 35 and nine plays later resulted in the game’s lone touchdown.
Senior quarterback Johnny Hagan (17 carries, 125 yards on the ground and 9-of-18 for 80 yards passing) had the big play on what turned out to be the game-winning drive, breaking free of the Stoughton defense for a 31-yard gain down to the one. Two plays later he got the last yard to give the Bulldogs the lead with just 14.4 seconds to go before halftime of their 10-0 victory in the 100th meeting between the Thanksgiving Day rivals.
“It was definitely a long two weeks,” said Hagan about having a bye last week. “We were itching to play last week, but just to get out here with the crowd and everyone was very fun.”
“I thought they’d be good,” Canton coach Dave Bohane said about his defense, which has now allowed only seven total points in three games. “To beat these guys 10-0, to play well against a very quality team, they maybe exceeded my expectations but we have good speed and some experienced guys. Experience really showed up tonight.”
The Canton defense allowed only three first downs and no points to a Stoughton offense that came into the night averaging 41 points per game. The Bulldogs held talented running backs Christopher and Christian Aiss to a combined 46 yards, while recovering three fumbles. Linebackers Owen Lehane, Lucas Ragusa, Robbie Gallery, and James Murphy were all over the field, making plays from sideline to sideline.
“We play five of them and that’s the strength of our team,” Bohane explained. “There was one play where Ais had the ball and Murphy came out of nowhere. Sometimes James finds another gear on big plays and he was really impressive on that. A lot of kids have had those guys tackled this year and it takes two or three people to bring them down so really credit to our kids tonight getting those guys on the ground.”
On its second possession, Canton came close to making the breakthrough. Hagan had the big play, a 47-yard keeper down the far sideline that got the Bulldogs to the Stoughton 24. They got as close as the two, but Carlvin LaGuerre stuffed Kyle Fitzgerald (21 carries, 64 yards) on third down for a one-yard loss and then Jerry Brisson and Oluwole Fabikun stuffed him again on fourth down.
“We battled,” said Stoughton coach Greg Burke. “They did a good job. Their big player is the quarterback, no doubt. He’s the key and we practiced all week trying to get him but it’s hard to duplicate him.”
It took until its fourth possession for Stoughton to manage a first down. Christian Ais finally got a seam and he broke a 33-yard run down to the Canton 15, but two plays later quarterback Clayton Rahaman couldn’t get a clean hand-off away and Matt Connolly pounced on the loose ball to end the drive.
Burke said, “I thought we hung in there but we fumbled down here and then fumbled down there. Without having the ball, you can’t score. We got the ball back a bunch of times but we didn’t do anything, so back to the drawing board.”
The game seemed destined to be scoreless at the break until the Bulldogs finally succeeded in finishing a drive. It was a huge momentum swing coming in the final seconds before halftime.
“It was huge because it wasn’t really materializing there and then all of a sudden we hit a couple plays and I was like we may put one in here,” said Bohane. “Obviously, we’ve got to work on our short-yardage stuff because that was frustrating to not put them in but Johnny kind of stepped up there.”
He added, “But, we were up 7-0 on Thanksgiving, so that came up a lot in the locker room.”
Canton got the ball to start the second half and marched into Stoughton territory, but stalled at the 36. Bohane elected to punt and David Allen’s effort was dropped at the 10. Murphy dove on top of the fumble to give the Bulldogs new life. A holding penalty denied Hagan his second touchdown, but Canton came away with points on a 27-yard field goal by Lehane.
Hagan said, “That was huge going into half and then coming out third quarter we needed to have a big third quarter. Making it a two-score game was definitely huge for momentum.”
It wasn’t what the hosts were hoping for, but a two-score lead felt insurmountable with the defense continuing to shut the Black Knights down.
The biggest play of the second half for Stoughton was a screen pass from John Burke to Christopher Ais for 15 yards but the ball was pried loose and Lehane recovered. Ais would answer by recovering a Gersom Rivera fumble eight plays later, but by then the clock was winding down and there was no chance for Stoughton to come back.
Canton (3-0, 1-0) will continue its league title defense next Friday night against Foxboro, while Stoughton (2-1, 0-1) will try to bounce back on Thursday night in Sharon.
Canton had its best season in recent memory a year ago, but the 2019 squad is aiming to take it one step further.
With starters back at almost every position, Canton is aiming to defend its Davenport division title and get back to the sectional final for the second straight season. Johnny Hagan is back under center this season and has all of his weapons back. The Bulldogs ran a mix of Wing-T and spread offense a year ago so Hagan is comfortable running whatever is needed this year. Kyle Fitzgerald, Gersom Rivera, and Cam Sanchez are all talented backs that can help grind down opposing defenses while Hagan makes a lot of plays with his feet as well. Jace Emma was one of Hagan’s favorite targets last year and he will be joined by David Allen as options in the passing game. The offensive line will be anchored by senior Jack Connolly, who missed a good amount of last season with an injury. Matt Connolly, Derrell Brown, and Lucas Bryant return to the line as well while Carson Campbell and Brandon Baran are in the mix for the final spot.
A lot of the same names will make plays on the defensive end as well with Jack Connolly and Matt Connolly teaming up with Nnamdi Onyemelukwe to provide size on the line. The strength of the defense will once again be with the linebackers as the Bulldogs have James Murphy back in the middle alongside junior Lucas Ragusa. Owen Lehane and Robbie Gallery both had strong seasons coming from the outside. The entire secondary is back for the Bulldogs with Rivera and Sanchez handle the corners and Fitzgerald and Allen provide physicality from the safety spots. And for special teams, Lehane handles kicking duties, Allen returns as the punter, and Rivera and Fitzgerald handle return duties. The Bulldogs will look to build some depth with so many two-way players in the lineup.
“We have a lot of experience with a lot of guys that have played at this level, and we had the playoff run so that should definitely help us down the road,” said Canton coach Dave Bohane. “We are focused on Dighton-Rehoboth, focusing on one game at a time. We have a lot of competitors that don’t quit.”
Foxboro’s biggest win of the season came in its final game, a thrilling overtime win over rival Mansfield at Fenway Park two days before Thanksgiving. If the Warriors are able to carry any of that momentum into the 2019 season, Foxboro will certainly be in the mix for the Davenport division title.
The Warriors return a good amount of talent from last year but will need to find a replacement for Liam Foley, who came on strong at the end of last season. Senior Shayne Kerrigan and junior Cam Prescott have both taken reps this preseason so longtime coach Jack Martinelli and his staff will have two good options to work with under center. Last year’s leading rusher Mike Luong also graduated so there will be an opportunity for someone to take on carries out of the backfield. The Warriors have good skill options in Brian Derba (three touchdown catches last year) and split ends Elijah Lewis and Ryan Hughes. Foxboro has some experience on the line as well as Zach Jenkins and Aidan Dow are both returning starters at the guard position.
Foxboro’s defense has returning players at all three levels so the Warriors will likely rely on that side of the ball, especially early on against two strong non-league foes. Anton George, a HockomockSports Hock 5 selection for defensive line, is back and will be a force to deal with for opponents. Austin Read will be key in Foxboro’s run defense from the defensive tackle spot. Mike Sheehan returns to anchor the linebackers group after a standout junior season. The secondary should be one of the top units in the league with a lot of experienced playmakers. Derba and Kerrigan made a lot of plays defensively last year and Michael Devlin could be poised for a big year for the Warriors.
“With a challenging scrimmage schedule and formidable non-league opponents, we should be prepared for the Hock grind,” Martinelli said “We have several key components returning to make this possible, but it’s one game at a time.”
Milford just missed out on the playoffs last season but the 2019 Scarlet Hawks are determined to get back to postseason play.
There is a lot of experience on both sides of the ball, and maybe most importantly, at key positions both offensively and defensively. The Hawks have Colby Pires back at quarterback after a big junior season that saw him toss 22 touchdowns, second most in the Hockomock League. But the challenge will be developing chemistry with a brand new set of receivers. Brendan White (12), Sean Lehane (5), and Shapel Feaster (5) all graduated so Milford is looking for new names to step up and make plays offensively. Junior Carter Scudo is a terrific athlete and will be one of the top options while Max Martin, Matt Varteresian, Herrick Louis, Kevin O’Connor, and Xavier Hilton are all battling to get reps on the field. Milford does bring back its leading rusher in Luke Rosa (seven rushing touchdowns), a very powerful back that will help the Hawks pound the ball. Juniors Nick Yohn, Dom Schofield, Mario Lee, and Dom Stallbaum provide a physical yet athletic offensive line.
The linebackers will be the heart of the Hawks’ defense this season. CJ Cerrella had a breakout junior year and will be on the top linebackers in the Hockomock League this season. He will be joined by Rosa, Louis, and O’Connor. A lot of the offensive line will see action on the defensive side of the ball as well while Scudo returns as a top defensive back at the safety position. Look for Martin, Varteresian, and Hilton to factor into the secondary as well for Milford this season.
“We have a very focused, determined, and excited team this season,” said head coach Anthony Vizakis. “They are a hard working group of guys with their eyes on one goal, one mission, and they are determined to do it together.”
The Rocketeers have won four straight league titles, the last three in the Davenport division, and will be looking to make it five straight this year.
If North Attleboro does make it five straight, they will need some new players to step up into new roles to do so. The Big Red graduated a lot of talent in almost every position but the Rocketeers are a program that doesn’t rebuild, they reload. The strength of the offensive will start with the offensive line as there are three returning starters. Ethan Mottinger (6’6, 294), who committed to UMass over the offseason, and John Kummer (5’11, 256) man the tackle positions while Ethan Friberg (6’5, 252) adds additional protection from the tight end position. Senior Casey Poirier, junior Matt Penta, and sophomore Tyler DeMattio are locked in a healthy battle at quarterback with each bringing a unique skill set to the offense. North lost almost all of its skill position players but there are a variety of versatile junior backs battling for time. Friberg, Russell Dunlap, and Robbie Donovan will be options in the passing game.
The strong suit of the Rocketeers’ defense will be in the front seven with several returning lineman and senior captain Tom O’Neill anchoring the linebackers. Friberg will be on one end while Montrel Jackson will see time at the other defensive end position. Kummer is joined by Trevor Hewett at defensive tackle to give North a strong, experienced defensive line. Owen Harding and Jacob Silva are in the mix to join O’Neill at linebacker while North will look for some new names to step up in its secondary alongside Jared and Matt Penta. DeMattio returns as the kicker after a standout freshmen campaign (32-for-35 PAT, 3-for-4 field goals).
“We will need to find a way to stay healthy and quickly develop some depth,” said North Attleboro head coach Don Johnson. “With the inexperience in the skill positions, we expect there to be some early growing pains, but we are hopeful that the great attitude and work ethic that has been displayed in the preseason will help us overcome the lack of experience.”
Sharon might not have as many players as some of the other programs in the league and might not match up in terms of size, but the Eagles have plenty of fight and are looking to showcase that this year.
The Eagles are going to look to capitalize on their team speed this year. Junior Nic Morrero was strong on both sides of the ball last season and will likely feature in the backfield this season for the Eagles. John Saab is another returning play that should pick up carries for the Eagles this year. Junior Kiran Chadrasekaran looks set to take over under center for the Eagles and will have a couple of experienced players to work with in senior receiver Alec Filipkowski and junior tight end Ike Ogbonnanze while junior receiver Owen Conway will likely see an expanded role this season.
Senior Jaden Williams-Thomas returns to anchor both the offensive and defensive lines and will be joined by junior Shea Letendre. Williams-Thomas will handle defensive tackle duties and should be a big part of the Eagles’ defense this year. Marrero anchors the linebackers alongside Saab and Ogbonnanze while Filipkowski and Conway will see time in the secondary.
“We have a great group of relentless players that have the right attitude and understand that they have a ton to prove,” said Sharon head coach Dave Morse.
Stoughton didn’t have the season it wanted in terms of record, but the Black Knights were competitive in just about every game last year and are hoping to get back in the hunt for the Davenport crown this year.
Despite finishing 4-7, Stoughton beat both Davenport champions in North Attleboro (21-10) and Canton (28-7 on Thanksgiving) during the year. If the Black Knights are able to string together those type of performances throughout the year, they will definitely be competing for their first division crown since 2015. Offensively, Stoughton has a good battle at quarterback with junior John Burke and senior Clayton Rahaman. Both saw time last year so head coach Greg Burke has two experienced options to start under center. The offensive line should be a strength for Stoughton with a good group of seniors that includes Oluwole Fabikun, Jaden McCall, Carlvin LaGuerre, and Jerry Brisson. Having a strong and experienced line will set things up nicely for the Black Knights strong run game, which will feature Savion Scott, Christopher Ais, and Christian Ais. Tight end Anthony Pizzano, junior Jake Queeney, and track star David Peters will provide options in the pass game.
Stoughton is often known for its defense and will be looking for that to continue during the 2019 season. Kelven Rodrigues will be a big part of the defensive line for the Black Knights, joined by Brisson, LaGuerre, and Fabikun. Georges had a very strong season on the end last season but will mostly line up as a linebacker this year, alongside Scott and Christopher Ais. Stoughton will have a hard hitting secondary once again this season with Burke, Pizzano, Christian Ais and Kamari Grant all likely to see time.
“We hope to stay healthy and be competitive in the league, all of our athletes improved their strength and conditioning,” Burke said. “We have many juniors also playing and will be a big part of the team. We will need help from all players and try to improve depth.”
CANTON, Mass. – For three and a half quarters, the Canton defense was having its way against the Stoughton offense.
The Bulldogs forced the Black Knights to punt on each of their first seven drives, holding the visitors to negative yards on three of those drives. Stoughton had just one first down early on in the fourth quarter.
But with just under six minutes to go, Stoughton’s offense finally clicked. The Knights cut a 14-point deficit in half with 5:34 to go, and got the ball back down just one score with 1:56 to play.
A big pass play set the Black Knights up in striking distance, but the Bulldogs defense, as it had for the majority of the game, came up with a stop with under 30 seconds to play.
On fourth down, Canton junior Robbie Gallery tracked down Stoughton quarterback John Burke for a sack, preserving a 14-7 win for the Bulldogs.
“I didn’t feel comfortable until Robbie made that play at the end,” said Canton head coach Dave Bohane. “It reminded me of that 2014 game when [Stoughton] drove down the field and won it at the end. Robbie made the play, and he played great. This year, it seems like another kid steps up each game and it was Robbie’s week.”
Canton’s defense did a nice job bottling up Stoughton’s rushing attack. The furthest the Black Knights for prior to its final two drives was 10 yards over midfield — its lone time into Canton territory through three quarters.
A sack from Owen Lehane on first down forced Stoughton starting quarterback George Currier to the sideline. Burke, a sophomore, took over under center and the Knights had one of their biggest plays of the night — a 22-yard reverse from Ajahn Rue — to spark the offense.
After Rue’s run, sophomore Christopher Ais took a sweep and went for 19 yards to get into the red zone. After Canton’s defense stuffed a rush attempt, Burke floated one to the near pylon on the right side and senior Alex Iverson did a nice job fighting through contact and getting a foot down to get the Knights on the board, down 14-7.
Canton’s offense did its best to run time off the block with quarterback Johnny Hagan (5/9, 44 yards; 21 carries 121 yards) converting a third down with his legs. But a sack on the next play from Stoughton’s Jerry Brisson put the Dogs in a long distance scenario. Canton gained eight yards on the next to plays but had to punt with two minutes to go.
Stoughton’s final drive got off to a rocky start when Canton senior Ben Seaman (two sacks) came on a blitz from the blind side, taking Burke down for a loss of 7 yards.
But the Black Knights made things interesting on the next play as Burke lofted one down the left sideline and Rue used his speed to get under it for a 45-yard catch, down to the Canton 30-yard line with 1:09 to play.
But that’s when Canton’s defense came through again. A pass and catch from Burke to Ais was stopped at the line of scrimmage on first down, Burke was forced to throw it away on second down, and a pass over the middle was short on third down.
On fourth down, Burke was able to buy some time by getting out of the pocket but Gallery came flying in to make the tackle.
It was an impressive showing for the Bulldogs defense, which allowed a total of 122 yards while holding the Knights to 0-for-8 on third down. And they did almost all of it without junior linebacker James Murphy, who Bohane called the quarterback of the defense.
“Defense was the story for us,” Bohane said. “Murphy is our linchpin on defense so for our kids to play the bulk of the game without him, they were impressive. All the other key guys really stepped up like Brian Campagna, Brendan Albert, Ben Seaman, and of course Robbie Gallery, who kind of filled into Murphy’s shoes. I’m proud of them to keep plugging away, they are a resilient group.”
Stoughton’s defense also had a strong showing, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on six times and holding off another drive as the first half came to a close.
However, Canton’s offense was able to find the end zone twice — both on eight play, 65-yard drives.
After punting on its first drives, the Dogs moved the sticks when Hagan connected with Jace Emma for 11 yards. Hagan followed that with a 20-yard scramble on a broken play, and Gersom Rivera had runs of 10 and 23-yards, the latter converting a third down and getting the Dogs down to the 1-yard line.
Hagan took it in from there, following his line in for a 1-yard sneak and a 7-0 lead with 7:23 left in the first quarter.
Stoughton’s best drive of the opening half went for 41 yards, all on a run from Iverson. But an incomplete pass and two runs that netted no yards stopped the Black Knights from advancing.
Canton’s defense picked up where it left off, forcing Stoughton backward on its opening drive of the second half. After a three-and-out, Canton took over at its own 35-yard line and orchestrated what turned out to be the winning drive.
Hagan moved the sticks with a run of his own, connected with Ryan Lentol on second down, got a first down on a Stoughton penalty, and then finished the drive with three straight runs from different players: Rivera for 8, Hagan for 12, and Kyle Fitzgerald with a 9-yard touchdown run.
“We’ve been able to shift gears on offense,” Bohane said. “Some teams have been able to take away something we’ve been doing, and no one is better at that than [Stoughton] Coach [Greg] Burke. He’s going to take away what you do well. It was a game of just constantly finding a way.”
Canton football (5-0 overall, 3-0 Hockomock) is back in action on Friday when it hosts Sharon. Stoughton (2-3, 1-2) hits the road to take on North Attleboro at Beaupre Field.