By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
SHARON, Mass. – Coming into Saturday afternoon’s regular season finale, the conversation between fans from Canton and Sharon centered on seedings, rankings, and coefficients. The uncertainty of the playoff system loomed over the proceedings, even overwhelming the fact that a win would give the Bulldogs their first league title since 1990.
Canton stormed out of the gates and led by two scores in the first half, but the Eagles were intent on spoiling the moment and rattled off 30 straight points, while intercepting four passes and allowing only one Bulldogs first down in the second half of a 30-14 victory.
Sharon coach Dave Morse insisted it was the best half of football that his team had played all season and he believed that it was enough to get the Eagles into the tournament.
“That’s about it man,” he said. “You come out and shut out a team that’s feeling it, they’re rolling, it was an unbelievable half of football for us. When you come out and prepare correctly, we can execute correctly.”
Canton knew that it needed a win to share the Davenport crown with Foxboro, which had won on Friday night, and the Bulldogs were fired up at the start.
An interception by Jude Alpert near the end of the first quarter gave Canton possession at the Sharon 37. Eight plays later, Jake Ragusa (15 carries, 83 yards) punched it in from five yards out and Thomas Monagle added the kick to make it 7-0.
On Sharon’s next possession, the Bulldogs forced a three and out. Woanyen Mahn burst through the line and blocked the punt, which was recovered by Kymauny Roland and returned to the Sharon 32. Two plays later, Dennis Ross (3-11, 71 yards) looked for Michael Harris at the front corner of the end zone. Harris out-jumped two defenders to haul in the pass and make it 14-0.
“I thought there was blood in the water for us at 14-0,” said Canton coach Dave Bohane. “We knew they were good so 21-0, if we could get it would be the type of thing that you can make a good team question themselves, but we didn’t and they came back.”
Sharon needed a response and got it on its next drive. Juvan Elisma had two carries to get it to midfield followed by a Rob Bayha pass to Joey Dowler down to the Canton 33. Elisma (15 carries, 81 yards) did the rest, bursting through the line and sprinting to the far sideline for a 33-yard touchdown that cut the lead in half and gave the Eagles momentum heading into the break.
“It’s almost like in hockey when you go down 3-0 you’re screwed but you go down 2-1 then you’re okay,” explained Morse. “In OA we went down and came back, against Sandwich we went down and came back…mentally we are pretty tough and our guys keep fighting.”
Canton got the ball first and was forced to punt. On its possession, Sharon moved the ball to the Bulldogs 10, with the help of a horse collar and a late hit penalty, but was forced to settle for a 27-yard Josh Rotman field goal that made it 14-10.
Sensing that the Eagles had the upper hand, Morse called for an onside kick. The Eagles were quickest to the loose ball and recovered at their own 47. Canton’s defense held and forced a punt, but the energy was clearly on the home sideline in the third quarter.
Sharon stopped Ragusa for two short gains and then Bryce Smith intercepted Ross’ pass to give the Eagles ball at the Canton 11. Three plays later and Matt Cancian pushed it across from seven yards out to give Sharon its first lead at 17-14.
After another Canton punt, Bayha (7-17, 112) hit Tyler Smith for a 26-yard completion and the Eagles offense was in business again. Following a pass interference call against Canton, Cancian got the corner and went 15 yards for his second touchdown of the half.
“I thought we made the right adjustments at halftime,” said Bohane, “but just never got field position. I thought there were a couple times in the game that we looked a little bit slow but we can attribute that to they had some quick kids.”
With five minutes remaining in the game, Bryce Smith picked off Ross for the second time in the game and would have returned it for a score only to be denied by an illegal block call. Cancian nearly had his third touchdown only to have the ball pop out at the one, which Canton recovered for a touchback.
Rather than be dismayed by the turnover, the Sharon senior captain immediately got the ball back for his team when he picked off Ross’ pass on Canton’s first play. Bayha made sure that the turnover counted when he found Bryce Smith down the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown with just 2:40 on the clock.
“We’re more comfortable moving the ball on the ground,” admitted Bohane. “We thought that we had some mismatches in there and the kids played well for Sharon and it is hard when you’re not getting those plus yards on first down, second down.”
Morse said, “The secondary was exceptional. Four picks is four picks; that’s tough to do.”
He added, “We did on any individual player even though [Ragusa] is great. Scheme-wise we put something together that we liked and our guys executed.”
Not to be outdone by his brother, Tyler Smith picked off the final pass to seal the Eagles victory and give Sharon a chance to look ahead to a possible playoff opponent.
Morse said, “I’m pumped up. We won against a good team to put us in. It’s a great win; it’s a great feeling. I bet our kids will have a real pep in their step this week at practice.”
Bohane was left deflated, as the Bulldogs were left without the league title and possibly left out of the playoffs on the final day for the second straight season.
When asked if he though that the postseason was still a possibility, Bohane responded, “I hope so. We’d love to get in the playoffs and represent the Hockomock League.”
Playoff brackets will be released by the MIAA on Sunday.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.