By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
STOUGHTON, Mass. – The Bulldogs are becoming used to dramatic finishes and overtime battles, but there was something special about Friday night’s 22-21 victory over rival Stoughton at Anthony L. Sarno Field.
When Jake Ragusa stopped Guy Eddy at the two-yard line on the final play of overtime, preventing the Black Knights from getting the two-point conversion that would have won the game, the Bulldogs stormed onto the field, cheering a win that keeps them in the Davenport title race, possibly clinches a spot in the postseason, and avenges last year’s heartbreaking defeat.
Still, this felt like more than all of that.
Even 20 minutes after they had cleared the field, with the players piled into two buses for the short ride back to Canton, the cheering had not abated. It felt like the Bulldogs had officially arrived and earned the marquee win to prove that this is a program to watch.
“We’re just on top of the world,” said Canton coach Dave Bohane. “To have those moments like that, you cherish them.”
“I told them before the game that I think our program is heading in the right direction,” he explained. “I think we’re going to be pretty good down the road, but I think tonight is going to be a night you remember as the night that it turned.”
As has been the case all season and as would be expected against a rival and a team that has been in the running for the Davenport title each year since the league split, the victory was not easy.
The first half was ugly for the Bulldogs with the offense sputtering in the rain. Penalties and a pair of turnovers gave Stoughton the ball in Canton territory on its first three possessions. The Black Knights opened the scoring with 5:27 left in the first when Christian Hill’s 19-yard run set up a 1-yard Guy Eddy touchdown.
But that was all Stoughton would get in the first half. Ragusa sacked Stoughton quarterback Jake Gibb twice, sophomore Jude Albert showed the ability to stick with receivers downfield and the aggressive Bulldogs defense bottled up the ground game at the line of scrimmage.
“Our defense kept us in the game,” said Bohane. “Our defense gave us a chance to win that, no doubt.”
Canton finally got something going on its final possession of the half. Ragusa was the main man with nine carries for 59 yards on the drive and finished it with a two-yard dive that gave Canton the lead with 16 seconds before the break.
The lead barely lasted to halftime. Steven Elice took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to paydirt only to have his celebration cut short by a holding call at midfield.
After the break, it was more of the same. The rain may have cleared but the field was still slick and the defenses were in control. Donnie Foley, Devlin Carroll, and Josh Czuba on the Stoughton side and Woanyen Mahn, Joe Bires, and Djimon Harding for Canton were all dominating play and neither side could find any rhythm offensively.
The Black Knights finally got a spark when Elice recovered a Bires fumble at the Canton 35 with the clock winding under five minutes to play. Gibb hit Ryan Sullivan for 11 yards and a first down and then four plays later he hit Eddy in the flat and the running back took it 18 yards for the go-ahead score. The two-point conversion was no good and the lead was 12-7 with 2:41 left to play.
Canton answered right back. The drive started at the Bulldogs’ 43 and was kept alive by junior quarterback Dennis Ross, who kept a fourth down play alive long enough to find Ragusa on the sideline for the first down. Three plays later, Ross looked downfield and found Michael Harris for a 35-yard touchdown pass into double coverage.
Mahn added the two-point conversion and it was 15-12 Bulldogs with just 1:18 left.
“He didn’t get a lot of reps last year,” said Bohane of his starting QB, Ross. “We just need to get better throwing the ball so we spent a lot of time doing it this week and we did it.”
“I don’t know how pretty that play was but I’ve been on the other end of that so many times, I’ll take it.”
Stoughton coach Greg Burke was still wondering how it was that Harris got open on the play. He said, “I thought we should’ve batted it down at least. Two guys were on him, but, you know, what can I tell you.”
The Black Knights were not done. Similar to the game against Milford two weeks ago, the Canton defense let up for just a second and Gibb was able to hit Elice on a slant that went for 43 yards down to the Bulldogs seven with :32 seconds left. Gibb (8-17, 105) threw incomplete on first down, gained two yards on second and missed Eddy in the flat on third.
Facing a fourth down decision, Stoughton received a delay of game penalty that backed the Knights up to the 10. From there, Burke made the choice to go with the field goal.
“It was 10 yards and we didn’t have any timeouts left,” he said. “You just go with the percentage there. I’m going to take the chance that we kick it through. We screwed it up on the pass before that…but we had to go for that.”
Stoughton went for it and Gibb’s kick was hit by at least one Canton player (possibly two) but went through the uprights with 11 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
On its first possession, Canton faced fourth down from the two and rather than go for a Thomas Monagle field goal, Bohane went to Ragusa (24 carries, 116 yards) and the senior plowed into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night.
Gibb scored for Stoughton with a two-yard run of his own. Burke decided to go for two rather than try an extra point and the Knights gave the ball to Eddy on a sweep right but Ragusa read it all the way and made the stop that gave Canton the win.
“We’re going for the win,” said Burke. “I called a timeout and the [ref] didn’t listen to me. I called a timeout; we were going to change and pass the ball. We just wanted to see how they lined up.”
“I thought we did a good job defensively…I just figured we could win it.”
About his senior captain, who made plays on both sides of the ball in overtime, Bohane remarked, “He’s like the straw that stirs the drink. Him and Joe (Bires), they’re the guys that we rally around. Hopefully we keep winning and those guys will be in discussion for MVP of the league.”
Bohane took a moment to reflect on where he was and the emotions of the evening. The Bulldogs have won four times this season and three of those were in OT, but Bohane admitted that this one felt a little different.
“Last year’s game was an absolute kick in the stomach to us, coaching staff and players, so to have this happen just…it’s just a great feeling and I’m so proud of my guys.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.